BDO ASSURANCE PARTNER TRACY LEWIS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING STRONG PROFESSIONAL CONNECTIONS
Tracy Lewis, MAcc ’02 was a 22-year-old accounting major at Emory & Henry College in need of a fifth year of credits in order to sit for the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam. A Poquoson native, William & Mary was an easy sell; it was a great school with a reputable Master of Accounting (MAcc) program, and Williamsburg was close to home.
“I really enjoyed my time at William & Mary,” Lewis said. “It was the stepping-stone I needed to move from my undergraduate degree to the real world. The curriculum, including group projects, prepared me better to start my career and for the CPA exam. My cohort had a good mix of William & Mary undergraduate students and those of us who were from other schools, so it was a great way to build out my peer network.”
After graduation, Lewis went on to sit for, and pass, the CPA exam. She accepted a job with major accounting firm BDO, and went on to work in the Assurance practice for nearly 20 years. During that time, she also married and had three children. In 2017, she was named Assurance Partner, the first female partner for BDO in Richmond, Virginia
“I would have lost a good sum of money if I bet as a 22-year-old grad student that I would still be at my first job out of college and be partner,” she laughed. “But this profession has allowed me to make it all work, and I’ve been able to attain both personal and professional success as a mother and partner.”
Building a Network
Lewis says her network is key to her success. Growing up in a small town, she saw how important connections were in building a strong community. When it came time to look at colleges, it was close family friends who introduced her to Emory & Henry.
“I went as far away as I could and yet still stayed in state,” she explained. “There were about 1,000 students total when I was there, and only 14 of us graduating in the accounting program, so you got to know a lot of people and quickly.”
For Lewis, there is power in a network and the decision to go to William & Mary amplified her ability to build relationships with people who have gone on to also build successful careers in business.
“When you’re in college, you’re not worried about your professional network. We all graduated from William & Mary and went on to different firms. Now, I’m an audit partner, my friends are CFOs and leading organizations. We stayed in touch and having a peer network tap into to is powerful. The companies we are associated with may be different, but the challenges are the same,” she said.
In addition to resourcing through her peers, Lewis says mentorship is a critical component to professional success. She has leaned on several mentors throughout her career, including her former William & Mary professor, Kim Smith, who she worked for as a graduate assistant while in the MAcc program, and Denise Stanley, her Emory & Henry accounting professor. Over the years, she’s also mentored students who were looking for advice on school selection or their career paths.
“Mentoring is so important because I only know my experiences. If I can share mine and learn other peoples’ perspectives, we can all improve and become better leaders,” she said. “I think collaboration and asking for help are also important. I don’t know all of the answers, that’s why I’m a part of a large partnership and not on an island by myself. Collaboration is key in all things in life.”
One such collaboration that has caused her worlds to collide, is the new partnership between Emory & Henry and William & Mary’s MAcc program through which undergraduate accounting students may pursue their graduate degree if they meet certain qualifications.
“I’ve been involved with the Mason Accounting Programs Board for many years and knew the school was open to exploring new partnerships. I am excited to see this collaboration happen,” she said.
Choosing A Path Less-Traveled
Lewis hopes her story can serve as an example of a different path available in the field of accounting. She knows many of her peers who went into public accounting went to Big Four or other major firms, worked 3-5 years, and then went to work for a client.
“That’s a perfectly acceptable path, but there are 400 other paths you can take. The best advice I can give students is to have an open mindset, try things you know nothing about, and be innovative along the way. Raise your hand for the opportunity because you never know which opportunity will lead you to the next one,” she said.
The accounting industry has certainly evolved since Lewis began her career, especially with advances in technology affecting how work is done and the incorporation of business analytics. But she says some things are timeless, like possessing strong communication skills and a confidence in your education, and those can have a positive impact on an individual’s success.
“There is a prestige associated with William & Mary. When someone learns you are alumni, they listen more attentively,” she said. “William & Mary is such a conduit in setting you up so well to be successful in whatever career path you choose.”