This fall the James Benjamin Department of Accounting at Mays Business School held its annual Outstanding Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) Alumni and Accounting Hall of Honor Awards Dinner honoring the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the Lifetime Achievement and Rising Star awards as well as the 2020 and 2021 inductees to the Accounting Hall of Honor.
Honored with the 2020 and 2021 Rising Star Award respectively, Rachel Bentley ’08 and Kyle Koehler ’09 each founded successful companies that uphold the Aggie Core Values. Bentley is the Co-Founder, COO, and President of The Citizenry, a direct-to-consumer furnishings retailer that has pioneered the ethical and transparent sourcing of home goods. Koehler is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wildway, a food production company that supports a, “natural, sustainable, and connected future,” by creating granolas using natural, real-food ingredients. He was also recently featured on Episode 127 of Mays Mastercast (Listen here or watch on Inside Mays).
Receiving the 2020 Lifetime Achievement award was Devina Rankin ’98 the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Waste Management (WM), a Fortune 250 environmental services company with ∼$15B in annual revenue and $22B in assets. She is joined by Brent Smith ’97, the 2021 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, who served as the CFO and Treasurer of Main Street Capital Corporation and has continued to show his generosity by establishing a scholarship for PPA students at Mays Business School. Read more on his journey from a rural Texas farm to CFO in a recent profile.
Along with the presentation of the Rising Star and Lifetime Achievement Awards, Former Students Gary Brauchle ’95 and Shawn Lafferty ’90 were inducted into the Accounting Hall of Honor for their continued support and contributions to the accounting department at Mays Business School.
Brent Smith ’97 ’98 learned to appreciate family, integrity, and a strong work ethic growing up in rural Central Texas. His understanding of these values deepened during his undergraduate and graduate experience at Texas A&M University, creating a strong foundation for Smith’s successful professional success and personal life.
Now Mays Business School is honoring Main Street Capital’s CFO and treasurer with the Mays 2021 Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) Lifetime Achievement Award. “Brent Smith embodies the Aggie core values and has earned the respect of leaders across the financial industry through his personal integrity,” said Dr. Nate Sharp, head of Mays’ James Benjamin Department of Accounting. “Brent has risen to the CFO position at two different companies thus far, and his career achievements reflect positively on Texas A&M University, Mays Business School, and the PPA program in the James Benjamin Department of Accounting. We are so pleased to honor Brent with the PPA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.”
Committed to Hard Work
Smith spent his early life growing up and working on the family’s century-old farm in Round Top, Texas. The importance of family and community was underscored when his father died of cancer when Smith was 12. “My brother and I were raised by my mom, who was incredible—and still is an incredible woman,” he said, adding that the small community’s commitment to hard work also influenced his approach to life.
As Smith and his brother, Brad ‘91 ‘92 grew up, education remained a top priority. Both became the first generation in their family to attend college and earn a degree. “In general, most of the people in our community were Aggies,” Smith said. “Certainly, the culture of A&M—that historically supported blue collar students from a rural environment–led to having more Aggies in the area where I grew up.”
A Stable Career
As a freshman, Smith still was unclear about his career direction. Eventually, he decided to major in accounting because of his family’s financial struggles. “I was always told that if you wanted a safe and consistent job and you wanted to go into business, you couldn’t go wrong with accounting,” he said. “People are always going to need accountants.”
Soon, he realized that he had an affinity for the accounting coursework. “I had a general interest in business. I was very detail-oriented by nature and very analytical,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit.”
The university’s culture also supported the future executive’s development as a leader. “Texas A&M fosters teamwork, and a sense of community and togetherness. We can work together to figure things out,” said the member of PPA’s Group 5. “Texas A&M also offers a humble, hard-working environment and a down-to-earth mentality where, in general, Aggies don’t think they’re above you. We’re a roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-to-work kind of people.”
That work ethic, along with the technical accounting skills that Texas A&M provided, were instrumental in Smith’s rapid success in his first job at Arthur Andersen’s Houston office. “When you go into an organization like Arthur Andersen, you try to distinguish yourself,” Smith said. “The way to do that is through hard work, a can-do attitude, and being a team player.”
After working in public accounting for a few years, Smith joined FTI Consulting to concentrate on financial investigative work. He worked with FTI for three years before deciding to switch jobs to prioritize his young family.
Smith’s reputation for hard work and willingness to learn, combined with his deep network, led to a position at Cal Dive, a multinational marine construction company serving the offshore oil and gas industry. “Like most opportunities, this one came out of something that was broken,” he said. “They were having issues with their operational accounting, which they wanted me to come in and improve.”
While he knew that he ultimately did not want to do operational accounting long-term, this position was a way to get his foot in the door at Cal Dive. “That started a 10-year run that led to a lot of opportunities for me to move through the organization very quickly,” he said.
Smith followed a circuitous professional route—including working for one of Cal Dive’s spin-off companies that ultimately went public–that broadened his experience. “I jumped at the chance because it was a way for me to pivot a little bit away from accounting and do more on the finance side, which I hadn’t done a lot of,” he explained, adding that he advanced to become the company’s vice president.
These varied experiences prepared him to become the CFO at Cal Dive at the age of 35. “This was a great experience in a very tough industry,” he said. “There were lots of ups and downs. I went from record-level financial performance to worrying about meeting payroll. There were extreme circumstances that I had to manage through. Looking back, you learn invaluable lessons about how to manage things.”
Investing in People
Eventually, the oil and gas industry’s ups and downs took a toll, causing Smith to be receptive to other opportunities. Several of his former Arthur Andersen colleagues approached Smith about the Main Street CFO position. “This was completely different from my previous experience,” he said. “It’s a publicly-traded investment firm. It was such a great opportunity that I decided to make that change.”
The Houston resident has continued to hone his leadership skills during his seven-year tenure at Main Street. “I’m a big believer in effective communication,” he said. “To be a successful leader you have to have effective communication—to be direct and have tough conversations when needed.”
Smith also has embraced mentoring to invest in the company’s employees. “When you take someone under your wing and bring them along in their career, you’re making a big investment in people,” he said. “If you can do that consistently, it’s going to pay off through less turnover.”
While career and family have occupied much of his time, Smith has found ways to give back to Mays. Smith and his wife, Kristi, established a scholarship for PPA students. This fund already provided financial support to two Mays students during the 2020-21 academic year.
He enjoys meeting with PPA students and MBA students and has participated in roundtable discussions. The senior executive also regularly participates in Mays Alumni Forum, where he shares the critical lessons from throughout his career. “I always tell people that it is very difficult to be patient. If you have some idea of how your career path will line out, that’s great; it’s good to have long-term goals,” he said. “But don’t get too caught up in specific titles, because I can guarantee it won’t work out exactly the way you planned. The key is putting yourself in a position to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they come.”
A Foundation of Family
While career is important, Smith always puts his family—his wife of nearly two decades and their two children, Hunter and Jenna—first. “Nothing is more important than spending time with them,” he said. “The big buzzword that I’ve learned throughout my career is perspective. Especially early in your career, a problem or challenge might seem like it’s overwhelming and the end of the world. But at the end of the day, nothing is more important than your family. Having that balance and keeping in mind what you think is most important is critical.”
Unsurprisingly, Smith’s family and roots are at the center of his reaction to receiving the PPA Lifetime Achievement Award. “I was very humbled. This award is something my family can be proud of,” Smith said. “I came from humble beginnings, and I still consider myself very humble, but I have had some success in the corporate world. This just shows that you don’t have to be raised in a wealthy family or in a large city to achieve a very high level of success in the corporate world.”
Mays’ leaders feel that Smith personifies the type of transformational leader that the school is trying to develop. “Brent Smith is the kind of person who gives capitalism a good name. He has demonstrated excellence throughout his career while maintaining his perspective on what is important. Around Aggieland, we call it selfless service, but for Brent it has just meant being who he is, a deeply skilled professional who leverages his abilities to make others successful,” said Dr. Mike Shaub, Mays clinical professor and Deloitte Professional Program Director Professor. “He is generous in giving back in time and resources to those who are following behind him in Mays and PPA, because his legacy is not centered on accomplishments, but on changed lives. He is patiently building a legacy not just in the business world or in Mays Business School, but in life.”
The American Accounting Association (AAA) recently announced the recipients of the 2021 Distinguished Contribution Award, including Dr. Nate Y. Sharp, Head of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting at Mays Business School
COLLEGE STATION, TX — On June 15, 2021, the American Accounting Association (AAA) announced Dr. Nate Y. Sharp as a recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Contributions to Accounting Literature Award. This award is among the most prestigious research awards granted by the AAA.
The Distinguished Contributions to Accounting Literature Award is presented annually to that work or related works published more than 5 years but not more than 15 years prior to the year of the award. The award recognizes accounting research based on uniqueness and magnitude of contribution to accounting education, practice, and/or future accounting research; originality and innovative content; clarity and organization of exposition; and soundness and appropriateness of methodology. Sharp and his co-authors, Lawrence D. Brown, Andrew C. Call, and Michael B. Clement, were given this award for their work entitled, “Inside the ‘Black Box’ of Sell-Side Financial Analysts,” published in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Accounting Research.
“This is a highly significant award for Nate and his co-authors to receive to recognize the quality of their scholarship,” shared Mays Business School’s interim dean, R. Duane Ireland. “We at Mays Business School are proud of Nate’s research projects and the questions he addresses through his studies—questions that when answered through his work, inform the academic literature as well as managerial practice. Nate’s research is quite descriptive of the Mays mission to ‘create impactful knowledge.’ On behalf of Mays Business School and Texas A&M University, I am truly pleased to highlight the importance of the award Nate is receiving.”
This AAA award will be presented to Professors Brown, Call, Clement, and Sharp in the form of unique glass art pieces and a monetary prize at the 2021 AAA Annual Meeting during the awards presentation on Tuesday, August 3rd from 11:30 am-12:00 pm Eastern.
More information about the 2021 AAA Awards can be found here.
About the James Benjamin Department of Accounting
The James Benjamin Department of Accounting aims to provide notable contributions to the university, public, and accounting profession. The James Benjamin Department of Accounting designs environments that engender creativity and innovation while close relationships among students and faculty foster ingenuity through a sharing of interests and aspirations.
About Mays Business School at Texas A&M University
At Mays Business School, our vision is to advance the world’s prosperity. Our mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays Business School educates more than 6,400 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools for its programs and faculty research.
In gratitude for the dedication and leadership of Mr. Bruce D. Upshaw, retired Sr. Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer and current member of the Merichem Board of Directors, Merichem Company endowed a scholarship in Accounting and Finance at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School. Mr. Upshaw has served Merichem since 1981 and graduated from Texas A&M University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration – Finance.
“Leaders like Bruce are the reason why Merichem has delivered innovative solutions to customers for over three-quarters of a century. Our vision is scholarships like this one will enable more business leaders to rise up and I couldn’t think of a better place than Mays Business School for Bruce to select as the place to direct this investment,” shared Kendra Lee, Merichem Company Chairman & CEO.
Upshaw joined Merichem in 1981 after filling a variety of accounting and supervisory positions over eleven years with Shell Oil Company. He began his Merichem career as Accounting Manager, became Controller in 1985, and was elected Treasurer of Merichem Company in 1995.
In 1997 Upshaw was elected CFO of Merisol USA, the Texas Operating Company of Merisol, a Merichem-Sasol Joint Venture. In 1999 he rejoined Merichem and became CFO in 2002. Upshaw has served on Merichem’s board of directors since 2006.
“I was blessed to join an amazing organization and work with wonderful people in my career,” shared Bruce Upshaw. “I’m thrilled Merichem has this program in place and we, together, contribute to fostering the next generation of leaders.”
Bruce demonstrates his continuing passion for Texas A&M through support for The Texas A&M Foundation, The 12th Man Foundation, The Association of Former Students, the Aggie Band, Parson’s Mounted Cavalry and the Yell Leaders.
“The faculty and students at Mays Business School are grateful for the generosity of Merichem Company and Bruce Upshaw,” shared Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School. “Scholarships allow students an opportunity to experience all that Texas A&M has to offer and to fulfill our vision at Mays to advance the world’s prosperity. We are developing transformational leaders and support from individuals and organizations are how we raise up equipped and experienced talent.”
The Bruce D. Upshaw ’70 Endowed Scholarship in Accounting and Finance was established at Texas A&M University on August 21, 2020 for the benefit of Mays School of Business. Merichem Company of Houston, Texas provided the gift funds and the endowment honors Mr. Upshaw of Hays County, Texas.
About Merichem Company
Founded in 1945, Merichem Company serves the global oil and gas and petrochemical industries as a leader in full-service sulfur removal, caustic treating and spent caustic treatment technologies. Merichem also provides safe and reliable spent caustic handling services through beneficial reuse and recycling of spent caustics, turning would-be waste into valuable and viable commodities.
An article forthcoming in the peer-reviewed American Accounting Association Journal, Issues in Accounting Education, has found that the James Benjamin Department of Accounting at Mays Business School has the most underrepresented Ph.D. graduates and the most underrepresented accounting faculty of any top business school in the country.
The essay, the first-ever report of its kind on the state of the accounting academy, “Towards a More Inclusive Accounting Academy,” details the state of underrepresented minority Ph.D. students and faculty in the top 50 accounting departments. The number of underrepresented minorities has nearly tripled in the last 24 years, largely to the credit of The Ph.D. Project. However, despite almost tripling, the proportion of underrepresented minority faculty remains less than 5% of all accounting Ph.D. faculty.
Nate Sharp, Ph.D., the Nelson D. Durst Endowed Chair in Accounting and head of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting said, “Although we would all acknowledge that these results represent only one of many ways to measure a program’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the overall numbers of underrepresented faculty and Ph.D. students across the academy are low, I am proud that our department is receiving recognition for its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion among Ph.D. students and faculty.”
COLLEGE STATION, TX, June 29, 2020 – Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program has been named a top ten public program by The Economist, the international publication headquartered in London. The program, delivered at CityCentre Houston, is ranked the #1 public program in Texas, the #9 public program in the U.S., the #21 overall program in the U.S., and #37 overall globally.
TheEconomist survey was based on feedback from current students (classes of 2020 and 2021) and Former Students (alumni) from the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program received the top mark in both “Quality of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Teaching Quality” categories above the rest of the 70 international programs ranked this year. The program ranked #2 in the “Student Rating of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Content” categories, a testament to the sentiment current and former students have for the value of the program.
“I am savoring this moment knowing we have been judged by The Economist as the #9 U.S. Public Program,” said Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Arvind Mahajan. “This ranking is a major recognition of the incredible students we have matriculate through our program. The expertise and dedication of our faculty and the hard work and perseverance of these students results in an incredible experience and transformation for each cohort. That vast change is the true output; these rankings are an outcome that measures how our students’ entire lives are improved.”
“It’s wonderful to have The Economist recognize the hard work and dedication that the Executive MBA program faculty and staff put in every semester,” said Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School. “Congratulations to the faculty, staff, and students that comprise this Executive MBA program and the impact each of them makes to advance the world’s prosperity. I want to specifically thank Julie Orzabal, the director of the program, who since its inception 20 years ago, has led executive leaders and gained results like these.”
Applications for the Texas A&M Executive MBA program are being accepted now for the class of 2022. For more information, visit mba.tamu.edu.
The 6th Annual KPMG Fraud Case Competition was held on April 21-23 at Mays Business School via Zoom.
Seven teams presented case solutions culminating the semester-long fraud case competition. Final judging of the competition was facilitated by Kelsey Wright, KPMG Advisor, with the help of several of her colleagues, representing KPMG’s US Forensic Advisory Practice.
On April 24, hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and former students packed Wehner lobby for James Benjamin Day. Energy and excitement pulsed through the room, as attendees wearing t-shirts and stickers that showed “I heart James Benjamin” filed into the lobby.
The event was standing room only as participants waited eagerly from the balcony, lined the stairs, and filled the elevator banks for the celebration to begin.
Dean Jones began the celebration by welcoming students, faculty and staff, and the accounting advisory board to the special event. Among his numerous high praises for Benjamin, Dean Jones declared that Benjamin epitomized the Aggie core values of excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. Dean Jones also shared that at the beginning of the naming campaign, naysayers told them, “Crowdsourcing won’t work.” However, the campaign ultimately proved otherwise and raised over $10 million for the department. Dean Jones added that Benjamin has served Texas A&M and Mays Business School for 45 years as faculty, and 37 years as the accounting department head. Benjamin positively impacted countless students’ lives and set an example of excellence during his time at the university.
Brian Bishop, the Assistant Vice President of Development at Mays Business School, delivered some words of affirmation and praise for Benjamin. Bishop stated that to have a department named after an individual, “40 years of service and $10 million raised” would be a fantastic place to start. Bishop continued in his praise for Benjamin, describing him as an “excellent human being and an educator.” Bishop encouraged the current students attending the celebration to look around the room and appreciate the accomplishments of those before them. He then instructed each student to ask themselves, “How can I give back, and how can I make my degree more valuable?”
Christy Bauman ’95 took the stage to share her thoughts, insights, and appreciation for Benjamin. Bauman was a member of the third group of PPA students and explained that raising money for the department was, “One of the easiest things to ask for because of Jim and who he is as an individual.”
Professor Mary Lea McAnally then joined the excitement by kicking off a round-robin share out about the magnitude during Benjamin’s tenure in a segment titled, “James Benjamin by the Numbers.”
4,617,600 minutes worked, $8 per minute of funds raised
17,102 students graduated
5,008 PPA graduates
15 former students now serving as professors at Mays
2,113 Business Honors graduates during his tenure
1998 – Outstanding Professor of the Year from Texas A&M
1992 – Benjamin began the PPA program
1968 – Benjamin earned his CPA, in Maryland, with the second highest score in the state
1600 companies employ his graduates
960 business honors students in his Accounting 229 course
314 publications by Ph.D. graduates
258 graduates who are partners at CPA firms
Accounting 229 – countless students have taken Benjamin’s course
199 – the average number of words in a paragraph in an email from Benjamin
158 Ph.D. graduates since Benjamin
61 computers in KPMG lab on cutting edge of technology
42 years in the Department of Accounting
37 years as department head
8 accounting faculty have become administrators at Mays
5 deans Benjamin has served under
40 years ago – James Benjamin was Strawser’s professor
3 PPA Directors reported to Benjamin during his tenure
Finally, Benjamin took the opportunity to share his thoughts and appreciation for the celebration. He said that one of the most rewarding aspects of his career has been watching students he once taught reach retirement. In humility, he added that though he may be the face of the accounting department, there are four necessary ingredients to his success:
Deeply caring faculty built to mirror students
Leaders – he has been at the business school under five deans, and never had a bad boss in his life
Incredibly supportive former students
In a nod to his engaging demeanor, Benjamin expressed that he thinks it is fitting that the accounting department will now share the nickname for 100 dollar bills.
Three driven Mays Business School undergraduates will be interning with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center this upcoming summer. In their internship, they will apply their education in complex revenue cycle operations and health care administration with the primary goal to define, measure, analyze, and improve revenue cycle processes. This unique opportunity is available to Mays undergraduate students as a result of Mays’ recent partnership with MD Anderson. This strategic partnership seeks to develop transformational leaders in the rapidly expanding health care industry.
Prause aspires to make strategic decisions in healthcare
Grace Prause is an accounting major from Beaumont, TX, and is eager to learn more about revenue cycle analytics in the health care industry. Prause’s interest in the health care industry stems from the fact that her father is a pediatrician, and he instilled in her the desire to find a career that improves people’s lives. She has a passion for hard work and dedication and desires to use her drive to make a difference in the field of healthcare administration.
“Healthcare administration interests me for the fact that it is so expansive and requires a lot of teamwork and coordination,” said Prause. “All departments of the hospital need to be in constant communication to not only ensure all the finances are correct, but to fulfill the bigger picture of keeping the hospital a well-respected institution by having continued top patient care.”
As for her accounting degree from Mays Business School, Prause believes that accounting is the “true language of business.” She knows that all companies, including MD Anderson, must have a thorough understanding of their finances in order to be successful. Prause is confident that her accounting degree will help her make strategic decisions that advance MD Anderson’s mission of “Making Cancer History”.
Cullinane’s ultimate goal is to run his own hospital
Daniel Cullinane is a business honors and management major from Dallas, and looks forward to understanding the factors that set MD Anderson apart from other leading cancer centers. Cullinane had an interest in the health care industry as an incoming freshman at Mays, as he was also pursuing pre-medical studies. He also believes that Mays has helped equip him with the necessary tools for success in his upcoming internship.
“Mays has also launched new initiatives focusing on the business side of medicine and started a club called the Mays Medical Guild, which helps PreMedicine/PreDental business students through their classes and applications for post-undergraduate school,” said Cullinane. “Mays also has so many fantastic professors who encourage, inspire, and assist students daily.”
Cullinane’s ultimate goal is to one day run his own hospital. He plans to use his experiences with working in teams from various classes to better understand how healthcare could be made more accessible for all.
Johnson will use big data to create healthcare solutions
Sydney Johnson is a marketing major with an economics minor from Houston. Johnson’s interest in a career in the health care industry is tied to her fascination with data and understanding the reasoning behind numbers. Johnson believes that big data is the key to narrowing down and learning where outbreaks occur, who is being affected, +and efficiently finding solutions to problems. She aspires to use her analytical mindset to tackle cancer as an intern for MD Anderson.
“Cancer affects everyone in some fashion, whether it is themselves who is affected, a parent, loved one or friend,” said Johnson. “I want to use my abilities in data analysis to help with the fight against cancer in any way possible.”
Johnson also explained that Mays Business School allowed her the opportunity to study abroad in Italy this spring at Bocconi University, where she is taking a big data in business analytics class. This course has helped her to further understand big data collection and how it can be used to create solutions for businesses.
Partnership bonds make this fledgling program successful
Sorin Sorescu, the Head of the Department of Finance at Mays Business School, played an integral role in creating the partnership between Mays and MD Anderson.
“The Educational Experience Program is a high-impact internship that will reshape how our students advance the world’s prosperity, our vision at Mays Business School,” said Sorescu. “We have been discussing the right fit and right time with leaders at MD Anderson for several months, and I am thrilled this program is coming to fruition with the incredible individuals at this great organization.”