Year of Graduation: 2007
Current Position: Controller, One Acre Fund
Please give a brief description of your current position: I work with One Acre Fund to change the lives of 300,000 (and growing) smallholder farm families in East Africa through improved food security and access to modern farming technology. Scaling this proven social enterprise requires rock solid finance systems and records. As the Controller, I develop and manage the team responsible for maintaining the integrity of our accounting data through developing and documenting internal policies in conformity with US GAAP, designing and implementing internal audit procedures to verify compliance with those policies and ensuring financial statement validity through independent review of all accounts.
What path did you follow to get to this point? I started my career by interning with PwC between my junior and senior years of college. I continued with PwC as a tax associate in Minneapolis after graduation, focusing on alternative investment fund and mutual fund tax compliance. After four years I transferred to PwC's Washington DC office to provide tax consulting services to a large private equity firm. I did that for two years, realized it wasn't my passion and relocated with my wife to Nairobi, Kenya to use my accounting background in the NGO sector.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career? Always be cognizant of your end goal and take steps in your career to move closer to that goal. Working in public accounting wasn't where I wanted to end up but it was a really great place to learn from some very smart people. You should also remember that your "end goal" will always be a bit of a moving target. You may not know what you want until you get there.
What skills are important in your field? Patience. Humility. Excel skills. Email diplomacy. Determination.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? Comparing today to one year ago. Time flies and it is easy to think you're stuck in a rut or not accomplishing as much as you should. But when I take a step back and compare today to 1 year ago, I realize how far my team and I have come. It is a powerful feeling and something I recommend thinking about often.
Moving my career to East Africa has also put me in some very cool surroundings and situations. My greatest legacy here may very well be organizing a Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving Day each year it Iten, Kenya. Iten is located just above 7,000 feet altitude and is where many elite Kenyan distance runners train. Watching people wearing turkey hats and costumes sprint around the track alongside elite runners is not something I anticipated.
Most challenging? Deadlines. Whether it was tax filing deadlines at PwC or internal Board reporting deadlines at One Acre Fund, nothing gets the stress level higher than having to show your work when it is due, whether it is completed or not quite done.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career? I ran cross country at CSB/SJU and nothing is better for teaching patience and perseverance than embarking on a long run in January knowing that you're going to settle in for an hour and half while your beard freezes. Working at the circulation desk at Alcuin taught me the value of relying on colleagues, especially those in other "departments" like the IT desk whom you have to rely on to run the AV rooms. Working as a freshman at Sexton taught me how to drink coffee at 8 AM on a Saturday when everyone else is sleeping. In the Accounting department, Prof. Pladson taught me to wear my seat belt to the office every day, because it is going to be a wild ride. Prof. "Boz" Bostrom was a great model of leaving public accounting to do something you really enjoy. The entire Accounting department transformed during my time at CSB/SJU to be hyper-focused on preparation for the CPA exam which allowed me to pass within one year of graduating.