Earlier this week Professor Alex Woods was officially installed as the newest recipient of the KPMG Professorship Award. Soft spoken, mild mannered and genuinely modest about the title, Professor Woods says, “I am thankful for having been recommended. The reality is, if I didn’t receive the award my life wouldn’t be any different than it is today. I am not downplaying [it]; I’m only saying that I don’t do things to get awards. That’s not why I’m here. I’m a helper, a servant.”
In reflecting upon his life, Woods recalls having no intention of going back to college after completing his undergraduate studies. He fell into accounting because he didn’t like anything else that was offered. It was the “least worst” area of study. At that point in his life, Woods didn’t need to try to earn good grades. High marks came naturally, so he approached accounting with an indifferent mindset. He confesses to being dispassionate about the subject in the beginning. Not until his mid-twenties, when he became good friends with a mentor who was retired Air Force, did Woods realize what he truly wanted to do in the field of business. At the time, Woods was working for the Air Force Auditing Agency as a civilian contractor at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, not far from his childhood stomping ground. Over the years he grew to know a fellow seasoned auditor who encouraged him. The pivotal relationship made Woods realize he wanted to do the same work as his mentor, only on a larger scale. The latter met one-on-one with individuals. Woods emphatically states, “It became my mission to be an encourager to a whole bunch of people.” Though it proved to be an experience he wouldn’t trade for the world, after ten years as an auditor, Woods was eagerly prepared to move on – to put his mission into action. He earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. Eventually, Woods traveled south for warmer climates. Having grown up in Ohio, one would imagine becoming acclimated to cold temperatures. Woods is not a proponent of the cold, however. It never suited him. Compared to Ohio, Virginia’s winters are amenable.
When asked what advice he offers to rising graduates, Woods says, “I always invite students to sit down so I can ask some questions. I need to get to know the person before I can tailor my response to the student as an individual.”
For Professor Woods, the KPMG Professorship communicates to him that his work is valued in a bigger way than just a pat on the back. It’s the old adage: Actions speak louder than words. What was friendly conversation and praise amongst colleagues manifested into something more; the professorship – a culmination of his efforts and dedicated skills. On a practical note, Woods admits, “I have an 8th and 10th grader at home. I’m trying to push them in the direction of college. The extra income helps.” Woods enjoys meaningful work, stressing the importance of stewardship. Beyond teaching, he currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Management Accounting Research.
Dean Pulley’s sentiments for those entering the job market are equally poignant for professors who are longstanding in the field of business. “Be confident. Embrace your abilities; you are uniquely valuable. Be prepared [and] innovative.” Professor Woods embodies these attributes every day. Looking back at the uncertainty of his early career as an undergrad, it is helpful to remember how flexibility and openness create opportunities. Woods didn’t have his entire future planned and scored like a pop-up map; nor was a chart conveniently handed to him. He had to search out his course which can be overwhelming to a new graduate. The critical part is putting yourself out there, forging connections, learning from the stories and lives of others, maybe even in an area outside of your comfort zone. Success is defined differently for each person. As a professor serving the student body, Woods hopes his insight when talking with students can make the transition from learning to application a bit smoother, if not clearer, as they enter a new chapter in their lives.