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Roommates to EY Partners

The road to partner in public accounting is not an easy one, and the decision to follow that path is not made lightly. Many Master of Accounting graduates don’t pursue it.

Two NC State MAC alumni – who were undergraduate roommates at NC State – are among those who did. Today, Mark Baxter (MAC ’98) and Travis Elrod (MAC ’99) are proud alumni who both hold the title of assurance partner at EY. They provided the following reflections on the journey and advice for MAC program graduates.

Career path

Mark: Upon graduation from the NC State MAC Program in 1998, I worked at KPMG in Raleigh for two years and now am at EY Raleigh for 17.  I made partner in 2012.  Campus partner for NC State recruiting is one of my roles at EY.

Travis: After graduating from the NC State MAC program in 1999, I started my career in EY’s Raleigh office audit practice where I worked for about four years. At that point, I asked the firm for a transfer to our Atlanta office. After serving clients in Atlanta for about five years, I had the opportunity to do a three-year residency in the firm’s National Professional Practice group in New York City. Following that was a move to Tampa and then a residency in the firm’s National Professional Practice group in Washington, D.C. I was promoted to Partner in 2014 during that residency. At the end of the residency, I returned to Tampa, where I currently reside, working with my former EY client.

Decision to commit to the partner track

Mark: I was a manager and explored a few opportunities outside of the firm and realized the long-term career was really what I was most passionate about.

Travis: Throughout my career prior to promotion to senior manager, I periodically assessed whether I should consider leaving the firm. Each time, I asked myself whether I still enjoyed the work, whether I felt challenged and was continuing to learn, and whether I still enjoyed working with my co-workers. The answer to these questions was “yes” each time, so I decided to continue my career with EY.

What skills do you think are most important for students to have as they come out of MAC programs today?  

Mark: Of course, communication skills are vital – along with being confident, genuine, intelligent, collaborative, outgoing, these are all great characteristics to have coming out.  However, technical ability is a premium. Being able to consistently understand technical financial related issues quickly, to get to an answer, is coveted. Layering in with that technology and data analytics.

Travis: In addition to strong technical accounting and finance skills, it is critical for students to be well rounded with “soft” skills, including strong verbal and written communication skills, organization skills, project management skills, and the ability to collaborate and work effectively on a team.

What advice do you have for students going into the accounting profession today?

Mark: I would say that, no matter what job a student has when graduating, quickly figure out what unique value are you truly going to be able to bring to an organization. The profession is continuing to change and there are people that just want a “job” and people that want a “career.” With technology continuing to evolve, there will be fewer and fewer positions for people who just want a job.

Travis: My advice is to keep an open mind to new experiences and opportunities. The profession has a lot to offer and is continuing to evolve and change. The more students are open to new opportunities (e.g., new roles, assignments, geographic locations) the more they will grow professionally.

What do you remember most from your time in the NC State MAC Program?

Mark: I was in one of the early MAC classes and remember a teacher (C.J. Skender) who taught the CPA review course and was one of the more influential people in my life. Back then we had to take all four parts in one sitting over two eight-hour days. I believe 55 percent of our MAC class passed in the first sitting (including me), which I attribute to the undergrad curriculum, the MAC program, faculty and C.J. I had a great experience and am honored to still be connected with the program.

Travis: I remember the camaraderie among the students in the MAC Program. At that time, there were about 50 students in the program, so we knew each other well. I also remember how engaged the professors were with the students – the professors took special interest in helping each student be successful. While challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in the program and felt very well prepared to begin my career at EY.