Finance Professionals Invest a Day in Future Colleagues

Feb. 1, 2011

Inspired. Awed. Psyched. Pumped. Management students used these words to describe their recent mentoring day spent in the Financial Executives Experience program.

The endeavor paired accounting and finance students with Dallas-Fort Worth area executives for a day of one-on-one shadowing.

The Dallas Chapter of Financial Executives International sponsored the program, which it devised, in partnership with the UT Dallas School of Management and Southern Methodist University.

Program Lets Undergraduates
Test-Drive Finance Career Ideas

Jim Strand and Michael Conley, Strand’s FEI co-chairman for external relations and publicity, spent much of the last one and a half years putting together the Financial Executives Experience mentoring program.

“We decided we wanted to partner with colleges and universities locally to give business students an idea of what it’s like to be a senior financial executive,” Strand said. “We got about 25 [corporate] folks who wanted to participate and take a student under their wings for a day.” In the end, they signed up 33 students and 25 mentors.

John Barden

John Barden

Besides Avnet and Scottish Rite Hospital, other participating companies include Baylor Healthcare, PepsiCo, North Texas Food Bank, MAAD, Dresser Inc. and La Quinta.

Currently, the program is limited to UT Dallas and SMU students.

At the School of Management, Frank W. Anderson, director of the undergraduate finance program, and John P. Barden, director of the undergraduate accounting program, worked closely with Conley to produce the pilot encounter.

Frank Anderson

Frank Anderson

“The program is an opportunity for students to see if they like the subject,” Barden said. “This is a win-win as long as the student does the research and the companies give the students four to five hours of their time.”

Anderson agreed. “It’s a great opportunity for students to see the job market and get real-world experience, he said, adding that he hopes the shadowing program will become an annual event.

Jim Strand

Jim Strand

Executives who participated seemed pleased to share their expertise. The program gives students a snapshot of the real world from a financial perspective, said mentor Sharon Ellis, chief financial officer at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.

Jim Strand, financial vice president at Avnet, a Richardson-based distributor of computer components, said that although it is difficult to understand the financial profession in just one encounter, “I think the students get a glimpse of the challenges and the opportunities that we face each day.”

UT Dallas senior Faith Smith, an accounting major, teamed with Strand, who is also FEI’s co-chair for external communications and publicity. She was especially impressed that Strand seemed to know everyone at Avnet by name.

Ketul Kansagra

Ketul Kansagra

Ketul Kansagra, a UT Dallas senior finance major, said the same about Ellis.

“A good CFO will realize that the people who work at their company are their most valuable asset and will make every effort to meet and know everyone,” Ellis explained. “I’ve only been here one year, so it’s personally important to me to know names.”

Kansagra started his shadowing experience in a meeting at which Ellis, other hospital executives and an actuarial consultant reviewed the financial assets and obligations of Scottish Rite’s benefit plans — as Ellis said, “a real-life corporate finance exercise.”

Next came a hospital tour that Ellis led, which left Kansagra impressed with the atmosphere. “Everyone had a genuine – not a corporate – smile,” he said. Later, he was given a 2009 financial statement to review.

Smith’s mentoring experience began with a voice mail from Strand advising her to wear Texas Rangers’ gear — the Rangers were in the World Series at the time. On the shadowing day, he started by introducing Smith — wearing the Rangers’ T-shirt — to staff members. The pair then attended a ceremony for an employee being recognized for record-setting online order-taking.

Sharon Ellis

Sharon Ellis

Later, Strand took Smith to a meeting with the Richardson Chamber of Commerce.

At lunch, Strand, a 1995 School of Management Executive MBA alum, brainstormed career possibilities with Smith, who plans to pursue an MBA.

He also stressed the value of relationships. Having a master’s degree or impressive résumé is great, but often, who you know helps, he told Smith.

Encouraged to ask questions, Smith said, “I asked a lot. … I asked him if he used what he learned in school in his job. He told me that he used about 50 percent and that the other 50 percent he picked up on the job.”

Strand said he is a big believer in education as the foundation of success. He added that “having various mentors within the organization made a significant difference in my career.”

From Strand’s perspective, it was a productive first acquaintance. “My main purpose was to share with her what goes on in the finance department of a major corporation and to focus on the human aspects of what it takes to succeed in today’s environment.”

He felt confident that students would “take away one or two things that they might focus on or think differently about as they pursue their studies and career aspirations.”

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Media Contact: Kris Imherr, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-4793, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
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June 21, 2018