MSA Alumnus Sees the Other Side of Wake Forest

6.28.2022 Alumni News
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Alumnus Zach Anderson (’15, MSA ‘16), Senior Financial Reporting Analyst at Wake Forest University, speaks with Stacy Owen, Executive Director, Alumni Engagement, about his return to campus as a staff member.

Stacy: You spent almost six years in public accounting, working for PwC in Charlotte. What made you decide to transition out of the corporate world to higher education?

Zach: My wife (Bridget Hochwalt Anderson ’14) and I moved to Winston-Salem before I made a job change. We met at Wake Forest and loved Winston-Salem. Because she was a year ahead of me in school and remained in Winston to work for AmeriCorps after graduation – and then I stayed for another year to do the MSA program – we had an opportunity to really get to know the city in a different way than we did as undergraduates. I grew up in Burlington, NC, and wanted to move closer to my family, especially when we learned that we were expecting.

I appreciated my time in public accounting. My track in the MSA program was tax, and I worked on a lot of different projects at PwC, specializing in state tax but working on federal and international tax, as well. I eventually realized that I didn’t want to do this long term and wanted to be more connected to my work and clients. I remembered a conversation I had with Professor Cynthia Tessien, my accounting 101 professor who advised me as a student to stay in public accounting at least five years. Once the clock struck five years, I asked if we could meet to talk about options within accounting. She gave me a handful of contacts who did different things – from someone at a smaller firm to someone in private equity; I reached out and met with each of them for their insights. I heard things that resonated with me. I wanted a positive work environment where I could engage in an office setting.

Stacy: There’s a tendency to forget that while Wake Forest is a university, it’s still a business. What’s it like “seeing the other side” now that you are a Wake Forest staff member?

Zach: I just started my role at Wake Forest three weeks ago, so it’s too soon to tell. But attending the staff appreciation picnic last week helped me to see what it takes to run this University. There is so much to it – from IT and Facilities to Financial Services. It might look effortless, but there are a lot of people working hard behind the scenes.

Stacy: What does your role entail?

Zach: My job is to help prepare all financial reports – those for the University Trustees, the NCAA reports for athletics, reports about WFDD (Wake Forest’s radio station), Reynolda House, Graylyn. There are many businesses within a business.

Stacy: What’s it been like moving from Charlotte to Winston-Salem? How has Winston-Salem changed since you were a student?

Zach: It felt like we were coming home, but nicer – like our parents had remodeled while were away! When we were here before, there was no Bailey Park; there were two breweries (now there are at least eight); there are more restaurants; the downtown is thriving. The Ardmore area, where we live, feels the same. Campus feels familiar, but there are new buildings (i.e., the Maya Angelou Residence Hall). Wake Forest is now integrated with downtown. It feels great to be back.

Stacy: How has the accounting/MSA curriculum prepared you for this position?

Zach: I’m going back into financial accounting, a language that I haven’t spoken in six years. The MSA gave me the groundwork to get back into it quickly. I’m also applying the Governmental & Non-Profit Accounting class we had – it’s coming in handy.

Stacy: Have you reconnected with any of your former faculty members at the School of Business?

Zach: Only a few so far. Other than Professor Tessien, I saw Mary Knapp (Associate Director, MSA Integrative Student Services) at the staff picnic – she never met a stranger! My office is at the University Corporate Center (adjacent to Truist Field), so I am not on campus regularly. But I look forward to reconnecting with others soon!