Alumni Council member Chris Sears (‘01) talks with Natalie Straughn (MSA ’14), a senior financial analyst at The Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about this accounting alum’s career path, personal interests, and advice for other alumni.
Chris: As a UNC alumna, how did you make your way to Wake Forest?
Natalie: “Being from the northeast, I’d always wanted to work in New York and was looking at Northeastern schools. Wake distinguished itself in the application process with Red Carpet Weekend (an event for admitted students). In general, Wake was far more encouraging than other schools to come for a visit, sit-in on a class, talk to professors, etc. during the decision-making process.” Natalie considered other programs for her master’s in accounting, but knew she had some networking shortcomings that she needed to improve upon. “I felt I could ‘hide’ more at a larger school, whereas Wake would hold me more accountable for my professional interactions, given the focus on each student.”
Chris: How did you get into the accounting profession?
Natalie: “As an undergrad, I gravitated towards quantitative courses. Once I was accepted to Kenan-Flagler Business School my sophomore year at UNC, I was able to pursue a general business course of study and was exposed to marketing, management, operations, and accounting. Ultimately, I decided upon accounting due to my interest in quant courses. That, and both my parents are MBAs, so their influence was always present growing up. My mom works in finance, and my dad in accounting!”
“The MSA program had an internship opportunity during the second semester, and I interned with Deloitte in New York. I was able to meet senior-level people at Deloitte who advised me to set a goal to focus on a primary industry. I solidified my industry as media and entertainment and was able to work on major media accounts and ultimately, was approached by Disney.”
Chris: What caused you to make the switch from public accounting to NBCUniversal to Disney?
Natalie: “I wanted to be more involved on set. There were opportunities with NBC in New York, but I wanted more. Getting to the West Coast was the answer.”
Chris: What is it like working at the “happiest place on Earth” during one of the worst times on Earth?
Natalie: “Magical! Everyone is so passionate about what the company is doing; they keep in mind the importance of spreading happiness and joy when the public needs it most. I do miss the park, though.” Natalie put in a plug for WandaVision and the Marvel series (by Disney Plus), and Pixar’s Soul and Onward. “I highly recommend all of these while we are still in lockdown mode!”
Chris: Describe your biggest professional challenge and how you overcame it.
Natalie: “I’m in it: COVID. My plate in finance was full, then COVID hit – the shift and transformation over the last 10 months has been continuous. The challenge is not knowing how it all will turn out.”
Chris: What accomplishment (personal or professional) are you most proud of?
Natalie: “Earning a master’s degree from Wake Forest. It immediately distinguished me; in the interview process companies knew that I had a superior technical set compared to other [non-Wake] candidates.
Chris: Any career advice for other alumni and/or current students? What are your “Do’s” and “Don’ts”?
Natalie: “Do have a strategy in place. I never had companies in mind but focused on an industry first (public accounting), then dug down to the next level (media and entertainment). I communicated that to my mentor, who was the HR director at Deloitte. I credit Wake for making sure I was set up for success and well-supported.”
“Do be humble and gracious with everyone you interact with. Keep in mind that each person you meet is a potential advocate in your career. Recognize early-on the influence that people can have on the opportunities that you are presented with. I’ve been recommended and referred to multiple jobs and internal projects by colleagues without prompting them to do so. Be aware of how powerful LinkedIn is and how easy it is for folks to connect.”
“Don’t underestimate the impact that virtual interactions can have on your professional path.”
“Don’t forget that the accounting and finance community is a small world; don’t be arrogant or have a poor attitude.”
Chris: What is your professional pet peeve?
Natalie: “When folks ignore my IM’s for half the day – it’s a very critical contact device now with COVID.”
Chris: Any secrets to being effective working from home?
Natalie: “Constant check-ins with my team, not just supervisory. The finance team has over 20 people, so it is a big team. Using Zoom, Skype, etc. to make sure everyone feels supported at work using technology.”
Chris: What does Pro Humanitate mean to you?
Natalie: “I try to always think of ways to be involved and give back to Wake Forest. My job translated well to working from home, but I try to focus more on Wake alumni who have reached out to me on LinkedIn, who may need support.”
Chris: How do you like to stay connected to WFU?
Natalie: “Originally by doing things in-person and attending networking events through the WakeNewYork Community.
Chris: What is one thing you can’t live without?
Natalie: “My yoga mat! I’m incredibly devoted to fitness, which has kept me sane during COVID. I go to the beach and practice yoga; it is my solace.”
Chris: Do you have any interesting hobbies?
Natalie: “Paddle boarding is my new hobby now that I’m on the West Coast. It works well with COVID, as you are by yourself on the water. I hike every weekend and explore other water sports. I also cook now, but don’t enjoy it.”
Chris: Share something about yourself that no one would know about you by looking at your resume.
Natalie: “I’m trying to pursue my certification in yoga and hope to eventually teach in the LA area. I’d love to have Wake grads come to my classes! I would like to teach at work, too, as Disney currently offers meditation classes but not yoga. I hope to start that up.”
Chris: In 10 years, what do you think will come to mind when you look back on 2020?
Natalie: “I’ll remember how supportive my colleagues were and how impressed I was by their outreach. They didn’t have a chance to get to know me when I moved to LA (due to the timing and the virus), but nonetheless have gone out of their way to express their concern and care (Uber Eats, providing coffee and meals, dropping off food at each other’s houses, other small acts of kindness, unprovoked acts).”