Accomplished EY tax specialist delivers life lessons and career tips to students
By Mark Tosczak
A top Ernst & Young tax executive told Wake Forest University School of Business students that integrity, technical ability and a respect for established rules and procedures were keys to successful career in accounting — no matter what specialty they choose.
“Quality’s going to run through everything you do,” said Ray Krelitz, Americas Tax Quality Leader at EY. “If something doesn’t feel right, you need to raise your hand, go find someone to talk to.”
Krelitz delivered the 2015 Hylton Lecture on Accountancy to an audience of students, faculty and staff members. The event was also available via Livestream.
This year’s talk was only the second time the speaker series featured someone who specialized outside financial accounting. Despite Krelitz’s career in tax accounting, though, her comments resonated with 200 or so students, faculty and visitors who attended the talk — no matter their backgrounds.
“I was pleasantly surprised by what she was talking about,” said Paul Yamane, a junior finance and economics major. Yamane said he was especially struck by how Krelitz had, over the course of her career, transitioned from roles focused on technical details to management and leadership positions.
Krelitz, who started with EY in 1983, is both a CPA and an attorney. She began her career in the National Tax Department in Washington, D.C., became partner in 1992 and worked her way through a series of ever more senior roles within EY. She took on her current role 2010.
“It’s great for our students to have exposure to her,” said Dr. John Duchac, associate dean of accounting programs and Wayne Calloway Professor of Accounting. “Where she got the career opportunities through her technical skillset, that’s where the life lessons come in.”
Krelitz dispensed advice based on her experiences and her current job, which involves helping EY maintain high levels of quality in its tax services and manage risk. She told students that they were building their brand right now — even if they didn’t realize it.
“Your interaction with professor, how you handle things, how you deal with challenges,” she said, are all part of students’ personal brands. Those will evolve into their “internal brands” at companies as they start work as accountants.
“When I started … I didn’t think about a brand plan or having a brand plan,” she said. “What I thought was I wanted to do good work, I wanted to be technical, I wanted to be responsible, I wanted to be loyal.”
Though she began her career over three decades ago, many of those attributes still serve accountants well. Even seemingly inconsequential actions — like how you dress when traveling for business — can make a difference.
“I didn’t wear jeans when I traveled for work,” she said. “You never know who you’re going to meet.”
Even in today’s much more casual business world, her views haven’t changed.
“When I see some of the youngsters come on the plane when we’re traveling, I think to myself ‘Really .. ‘,” she said. “Think of yourself as a brand ambassador. I know it sounds a little corny, but it’s important.”
That resonated with Laura Shen, a third-semester Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) student.
“She made the comment ‘You’re always representing your brand’,” Shen said. “You realize that maybe there are partners, managers from another office [even while traveling].”
In addition to appearance and professionalism, Krelitz also hammered on the importance of technical knowledge and quality.
“When you come out of school, getting smart and getting technical is the No. 1 thing you should focus on,” she said. That doesn’t mean that students should expect to know everything, or that they should never ask for help. In fact, consulting with others and continuing to learn throughout one’s career is vital, she said. That means doing the research, asking questions and looking for opportunities to do new and different kinds of projects.
“Take every engagement opportunity,” Krelitz said. “Don’t say ‘No.'”
While initiative and learning is vital, it’s also essential that accountants learn to follow and trust established policies and procedures — even if they don’t seem, at first glance, to make sense or be important.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” she said. “One of the things that somebody will question you about is ‘Did you follow XYZ policy and did you consult as you were required to?’”
That means not just GAAP rules and IRS regulations, but also things like being respectful of clients’ rules when you’re at a client’s office: Following their procedures about network logins, security badges and other routines is a hallmark of professionalism in accounting, Krelitz said.
“In the jobs that you have, you will have access to a lot of personal information and confidential information,” she said. Clients, regulators and bosses, Krelitz noted, are all concerned about data security, privacy and confidentiality. She said she doesn’t do client work on airplanes, for example, to reduce the chance that another passenger might see confidential client information.
Young accountants must also be careful how they communicate — at work and elsewhere. That means carefully crafting emails and text messages that could be deposed years later or that might be needed by others in the future to document why a transaction was handled a certain way.
“You need to figure out who your audience is, what you’re saying, what’s the tone,” she said. “When you hit the send button it goes. It’s gone forever; you can’t take it back.”
And client information, she noted, should never end up in a tweet or Facebook post.
“If you don’t want to see it on the front page of the [Wall Street] Journal or The [New York] Times, don’t say it or do it,” she said. “I think about what my father used to tell me: ‘Don’t do something for which you’re going to have to say your sorry.”
Kelsey Bairnsfather, a third-semester MSA student who will go into auditing, said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she saw the Hylton speaker was a tax accountant. She said she was pleasantly surprised by how applicable Krelitz’s talk was to everyone in the audience, and was inspired.
“I thought it was really cool to see a woman that was in that senior of a position,” Bairnsfather said.
The Hylton Lecture Series in Accountancy was established in 1980 to honor Delmer Paul Hylton, who started Wake Forest’s accountancy program in 1949 and helped build it into one of the top accounting programs in the nation.
Mark Tosczak is a North Carolina-based freelance writer and consultant.