MS’84 - Accounting
For most of the corporate world, the 2002 passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act—powerful legislation that reformed business practices—brought a deluge of pressure and scrutiny. But for Karin French, it meant the start of a new career.
“You could say the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley created an entirely new industry,” French explains. And French carved herself a niche right at the center, at accounting giant Grant Thornton LLP, where she oversees 60 partners and managers—who keep corporate clients up on the latest regulations and their impact on accounting, auditing and financial reporting practices. As the National Managing Partner of Professional Standards, French is based in the firm’s Chicago headquarters, but her management reach extends to all 51 Grant Thornton offices nationwide.
Her firm’s clients, which include Fortune 500 companies, face potential challenges from new and future regulatory actions that could affect the bottom line by hundreds of millions of dollars. “The major scandals that rocked the corporate world less than a decade ago had a profound impact on how companies do business,” French says. “We provide oversight and advice that ensures our clients are in ongoing compliance with all federal requirements, while we also help them anticipate possible changes.”
French began her work in understanding and responding to the effects of government regulations from 1990 to 1997 when she served as the assistant chief accountant in the division of corporate finance at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). There, she oversaw the SEC’s reviews of public bank holding companies, savings and loan associations, mortgage bankers, finance companies, chemical, mining and other retail companies.
The Port Arthur native did not initially plan a career in accounting. In fact, French began college at Stephen F. Austin University as an education major. “I enjoyed the coursework, but realized fairly soon that this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. A move to Dallas for a stint as an accountant with a small oil and gas company sealed the deal. French knew it was time for a graduate degree. “I’m so glad I chose accounting,” she said. Looking back, French says, “My UT Dallas experience played a key role in my success. I’ve worked in both the public and private sector, and experienced one of the largest upheavals in the way business works in this country. Dealing with change has been a constant, but the grounding I received at UT Dallas helped me keep focused on what’s important.”