Today’s guest is Spencer Glenn. Spencer is a PwC alum and made an interesting transition from tax to FP&A. We had so much good content with Spencer that we had to split the interview into two parts. Read the first part below!
Advice for students and young professionals
The Big 4 experience
Transitioning out of tax
Grim: Thanks for being here, Spencer! Will you tell us about your background?
Hi guys. Thanks for having me.
I earned my undergraduate degree and Master of Accounting from the University of Kansas. Similar to others on the KBS Blog, I chose accounting because “there are always jobs for accountants.” From what I’ve seen professionally, it's hard to argue with the fact that the world needs accountants.
Another factor that led me to pursue accounting was my dad. My dad has spent his entire career in the accounting profession, specifically tax law. As a kid, I would overhear some of the complex conversations he would have but wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about. At an early age, I had a curiosity to participate in those conversations. I took my first accounting class in high school and continued in college. The curriculum was something I enjoyed, and I enjoyed calling my dad, having conversations about the tax code, and asking him for advice. There were even a few occasions when he called and asked for MY opinion!
Very cool. Any advice for young professionals in public accounting on how to learn about different career opportunities?
I’m going to take a step back in case any college students read this. Take advantage of the resources your school provides! They want what is best for you. Specifically at KU, the faculty and staff truly care about your post grad path and will provide whatever guidance is needed to help you navigate tough decisions.
For public accounting professionals, there is so much out there that it is hard to be aware of some truly great opportunities. You get emails daily from recruiters on LinkedIn, which makes it hard to distinguish between solid opportunities from lateral moves. After a while, all job postings sound the same. Jobs opportunities range from positions at smaller high growth businesses, private equity, corporate accounting, FP&A, etc. The options are endless. Many people today coming out of public accounting lean toward third party recruiters because they don’t know what else is available.
Right now, there isn’t a good way to see the array of great opportunities and learn about them. There are so many great opportunities outside of standard accounting roles that would be a great fit for those coming from public. I also don't necessarily think there's a lot of peer to peer resources out there that can provide insight into… this is what it would be like if you're going to be in an FP&A role, this is the day-to-day role, career path, etc… Kill Busy Season will help with both.
Going back to your dad who is a tax accountant. Talk a bit more about his background.
Like me, he started his career in public accounting but ultimately decided it wasn’t for him. He attended law school and upon graduation pivoted to become a tax attorney. My dad currently works at Koch Industries in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. He’s been at Koch for almost 28 years in various roles.
You did a couple of internships, one with PwC and one with KPMG. Can you discuss those experiences?
KU does a great job of working to get their accounting students placed into internship roles through the Business Career Services Center and hosted networking events. I took advantage of the resources provided and got my foot in the door with the big four accounting firms early. I started attending those events as a freshman and sophomore so there was familiarity with my name the year before I was planning to intern.
In order to get a broad range of experiences from different firms and cities, I completed internships with PwC and KPMG. The last semester of my senior year I was a winter/spring intern in Kansas City with PwC in their tax department. A couple months later, after finishing my undergrad, I headed to Chicago for the summer and worked with KPMG in tax services as well.
After completing both internships, I decided I wanted to live in Chicago. I think a lot of personal and professional development can take place when you pack up and move to city knowing almost no one. Chicago was a better fit for me personally for where I was in my life. I knew PwC was the right firm for me, and I was fortunate enough to have my Kansas City full-time offer transferred to PwC’s Chicago office as a tax associate in a group called Private Company Services “PCS”.
Within PCS, our clients were predominantly family owned businesses or portfolio companies of PE firms. The work was a combination of income tax preparation and consulting for those companies.
After three amazing years in Chicago, I decided it was time to be a little closer to my family. I was able to transfer to PwC’s Kansas City office and spent a couple of years working in a similar role. PwC gave me the ability to move to Chicago and back to Kansas City, and for that I'm forever grateful. I owe a great debt of gratitude to what I view as an incredible company.
Interesting. So you requested those transfers between offices. Was it as easy as talking to your coach?
I started the conversation with my dad. He's been a role model for me, both professionally and personally. I then went to a partner with whom I’d developed a very strong relationship. I had an open and honest conversation with him asking questions: Am I thinking about this move correctly? What are the implications for my career? I was able to pick his brain and confirm I wanted the transition. I then had discussions with my coach and HR.
Surprisingly, it was an easy transition to move offices. In public accounting, the firms put so much investment into you upfront that they’d much rather keep you than lose you. It makes the transition process easier if the firm values you within your current market and knows you will add value to your next market. I don't know if the firms enjoy people transferring cities, but it does happen. Life happens.
In general, how was your experience with PwC and public accounting?
A friend of mine who was also a guest on this blog, Sean Kennedy, eloquently worded the experience…You can reference his interview! Public accounting puts you in a situation where you're either going to sink or swim. There's a lot demanded from you. If you don't develop organizational skills, time management and the ability to communicate effectively, you're going to find out pretty quickly that public accounting isn't for you. But if you have those skills coming in, or quickly develop them, it’s going to be a very beneficial experience for your professional career. Starting in public accounting will give you a foundational skill set that will be immensely beneficial for the rest of your career.
What advice would you give to a new associate starting in public accounting?
Maintain a positive attitude throughout the whole process. It is absolutely imperative in order to enjoy the experience. Also, you need to take advantage of the resources that the firm provides to you. Finally, I think you need to give it time. It's a big transition starting off as your first job post college. It might not go exactly how you thought it would start, but you need to ride it out. At a minimum, I think folks need to give it 2 years. Leaving too early or for the wrong job can set you back professionally. Short-term decisions have long-term consequences.
Also, seek out partners, directors, and managers that will be advocates for your career. I was incredibly fortunate to have a great mentors during my time with PwC.
Why did you end up leaving public accounting?
There was no animosity whatsoever with my exit from public accounting. I enjoyed what I was doing, and I really enjoyed who I was doing it for. At some point, I decided public accounting wasn’t what I wanted long term. I knew the longer I stuck around, the harder it was going to be for me to leave. The desire to do something a little bit outside the tax world really kicked off the transition process.
You were coming up upon a manager role. A common thought in public is if you make manager your career will have a better trajectory. Any thoughts on that?
You're right. I left PwC knocking on the door of making manager. I think there's some truth to the notion that you should stick around until you make manager, but I also think that's dependent on what you're exiting for. From my perspective, I was looking to transition out of tax. There wasn't a ton to gain from sticking around.
Talk about your transition from tax. Is it rare for somebody to go from tax into a role like yours?
Definitely. I also want to tie in how I think Kill Busy Season could be a great resource for someone who was in my shoes trying to pivot from tax into something more finance driven.
My exit from public accounting presented some challenges. I was actually met with some headwinds. Many resumes like mine with a tax background get thrown out when applying for a job outside of tax. There are companies that have the mindset that if someone has a tax background the only skill they're bringing to the table is a knowledge of the tax code. I don't think that's true. You actually know how to think about the financials of the business because the starting point for any tax work is the P&L and the balance sheet. In tax, you have a great base of knowledge around financial statements.
I also think there's this false narrative out there that tax professionals don't necessarily have the ability to become proficient in finance and business processes. However, in my personal experience, the best hires are people that can communicate effectively, work hard and demonstrate they can learn quickly. They don’t necessarily need to check every job requirement box.
I think the Kill Busy Season platform allows candidates like myself to easily find and / or be contacted by companies that value the proven work ethic, financial literacy and learning ability of someone coming out of public accounting.
In my case, I was fortunate to have a good friend of mine at SelectQuote who vouched for me in the interview process. I didn't have this continuous struggle to get out of tax that a lot of people do.
Stay tuned next week to read the second part of Spencer’s interview! We discuss:
Choosing your next employer
Leaping into FP&A
The first-ever virtual IPO
The value of analytics
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