Accounting and Liberal Arts A Foundation for Professional Success
by Bruce Beans
Judd Wright ‘98, Gerohn Lanns ’04 and Matthew McNelis ’05 all demonstrate how the power of an accounting degree from the Sigmund Weiss School of Business helps pave the way for professional success.
While touting Susquehanna’s strong accounting and business fundamentals, all three believe that the university’s small class sizes and strong liberal arts emphasis made a huge difference in their ability to achieve partner status at their respective firms.
“The foundation of my success is my ability to build relationships, which Susquehanna fortified with its small classes and opportunities to form personal relationships with professors” says Wright, who leads Grant Thornton’s Atlantic Coast Asset Management Audit Practice in Philadelphia. “Every day I cursed the liberal arts courses that I thought weren’t relevant. But I realize now that having that well-rounded background has allowed me to be agile in conversations I have with prospects and clients.”
Lanns, who has been with Ernst & Young since graduation, agrees. “To be successful in business, you have to get to know people,” he says.
A year after earning his degree, Lanns was a key member in an initial public offering. Now a partner in EY’s Baltimore office, he is growing its financial accounting and advisory services practice. The Sigmund Weiss School of Business Advisory Council member learned early at SU that “the key was understanding how a business operates, then being able to translate that into a story that resonates with stakeholders using financial information.”
Jerry Habegger, associate professor, head of the accounting department and London Program executive director, also considers the liberal arts essential.
“It gives our graduates a better ability to understand problems and issues from different perspectives, to think critically and to enhance their ability to understand and lead people,” he says.
Habegger also notes that the Sigmund Weiss School of Business is one of the few business schools that offers 150 credits in just four years, which qualifies graduates to immediately take the CPA exam.
In addition, McNelis, who returned home to run an expanding tax services practice at Baker Tilly Virchow Krause’s Wilkes-Barre office, cites his semester abroad in the London Program.
“It really opened my eyes regarding how to make connections and get along with people unlike me,” says McNelis, who made partner three years ago. “Officially I am a tax partner, but I joke that I’m almost a psychiatrist for our clients. If your clients feel comfortable with you, they will approach you with any issues beyond taxes that arise.”
Assistant Professor Michael Ozlanski, a classmate of McNelis who has also directed the London Program for a semester, adds that all business students take liberal arts courses, including a laboratory science course where they learn to apply the scientific method. He says, “All business professionals must evaluate evidence and make judgements.
“Likewise, as you move through your career and start managing people, you are forced to deal with issues involving increasing ambiguity and complexity,” he continues. “The skills that enable you to handle these issues, such as ethics and diversity, and to clearly communicate your ideas, are the hallmarks of the kind of liberal arts education Susquehanna provides.”