March 29, 2016 Fisher alumnae showing the versatility of their MAcc degrees

Accountants by trade, alumnae Kelsey Palmer Brenn (MAcc ’11), Michele Kothe (BSBA ’01; MAcc ’01) and Alison Staloch (MAcc '05) are putting their Master of Accounting degrees to work at three non-traditional organizations.

Kelsey Palmer Brenn (MAcc ’11)

Kelsey Palmer Brenn

Kelsey Palmer Brenn

Kelsey Palmer Brenn always planned on a career working in non-profits. What Palmer didn’t anticipate was the opportunity to be a part of a non-profit just a few years after earning her MAcc degree from Fisher.

Palmer Brenn (MAcc ’11) was recently named CFO of Saint Augustine Preparatory Academy, a new K-12 voucher school being built in Milwaukee. The new position is a departure from Palmer Brenn’s most recent role as a senior auditor at EY, where she has spent the past five years.

“This will be quite the transition,” she said. “I always knew someday I would be at a non-profit. I didn’t expect this timing, but this opportunity came up and is a great way for me to combine my experience and skill with a true personal passion.”

Construction of the $40 million school will begin this year, with approximately 500-600 students expected to enroll in 2017. The school, which is being funded by the Ramirez Family Foundation, plans to serve more than 1,000 students by 2022.

Palmer Brenn’s passion for non-profits started well before her decision to study accounting. But she has never viewed the two as being mutually exclusive. As a high school senior working with the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, Palmer Brenn received some advice that helped shape her professional career.

“Everyone in non-profits said that the best way to give back is to get a good understanding of how business works,” she said. “Everybody loves kids and loves animals, but nonprofits that help kids and animals are businesses.

“It’s not enough to have just the love for it. You have to understand the business behind it—and that’s how Fisher has helped me.”

As Palmer Brenn wraps up her career with EY, she’s looking forward to putting her talents to work for an organization that, while different than a public accounting firm, requires similar skills. Her experience as part of Fisher’s interdisciplinary learning environment helped prepare her for the challenges of creating a school from scratch. Among her myriad duties are budgeting, forecasting, picking a benefit plan for employees, choosing a ledger system and countless other to-dos.

“What I loved about the MAcc program was that it wasn’t just about passing the CPA exam,” she said. “It was the diversity of knowledge I received at Fisher. The college encouraged me to take courses on subjects that I cared about, like finance. It made me a better business person.

“I didn’t get this job because I was good at accounting—I got this job because of my diverse set of skills, something I can trace directly back to Fisher.”

Michele Kothe (BSBA ’01; MAcc ’01)

Michele Kothe

Michele Kothe

Among the many skills Michele Kothe acquired as part of Fisher’s inaugural cohort of MAcc students in 2001, she finds herself regularly drawing upon a particular set.

“Fisher really helped me become a critical thinker, to be able to step into a new situation, analyze it and provide feedback to help the team move forward,” she said.

Kothe (BSBA ’01; MAcc ’01) serves as CFO of Aver Inc., a local start-up helping the health care industry transition payment models from fee-for-service to fee-for-value through their patented solutions that manage delivery costs and analyze reimbursement solutions.

"When you’re a part of a start-up, you have the opportunity to wear different hats,” she said. “You’re able to get involved in the operations. My background in accounting and finance has helped me provide information to the operations team to allow them to make better decisions for the company.”

Prior to Aver, Kothe served as CFO of HealthSpot, a telemedicine company that worked with health systems and retail pharmacies. She began her professional career in PwC’s Assurance & Business Advisory Services practice, but the dynamic environment of start-ups drew her away from public accounting.

“It’s exciting to see so much change in health care and so many opportunities in the start-up world,” Kothe said. “What’s really exciting is that the Columbus market has become a high-tech area. It’s an up-and-coming market full of opportunities that didn’t necessarily exist before.”

In addition to critical thinking, Kothe said the interpersonal skills honed while working in groups at Fisher have helped her succeed in the world of start-ups.

“You have to know how to work with people, and I really learned that as part of the MAcc program,” she said. “At Fisher and in start-up companies, you quickly learn that you can’t make decisions to solve a problem without considering every aspect of how they may affect the business, its employees and customers.”

Alison Staloch (MAcc '05)

Alison Staloch

Alison Staloch

If there’s one skill, honed at Fisher, that has made a significant difference in Alison Staloch’s professional career, it’s the ability to adapt to changing conditions.

Staloch (MAcc ’05) first put that skill to work in public accounting at KPMG LLP, but recently, that flexibility has proven even more beneficial in her new role as an assistant chief accountant in the Division of Investment Management at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“When I think back to the MAcc curriculum, it provided me first with a strong accounting foundation but second with the opportunity to explore graduate-level courses in other business disciplines and, through that, to interact with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” Staloch said. “That taught me how to become a strong researcher and how to think through complex topics and to see things from a variety of perspectives.”

In November, after spending 10 years with KPMG where she was a senior manager, Staloch was selected to be a part of the SEC’s prestigious professional accounting fellowship program. In her new position, she is helping to shape the same regulations and policies that she ensured her clients were following at KPMG.

“It’s definitely been eye-opening to move from a gatekeeper role as an auditor to a regulatory one,” she said. “It is fascinating as an accountant to experience the rule-making proposal process first-hand and to see how regulations get made. At the Commission, I work primarily with lawyers, which is a departure from being at a public accounting firm. That’s where my MAcc education has proven to be especially valuable.

“I’m able to adapt to the diverse language and viewpoints that attorneys and regulators have. Because of my experiences at Fisher, I’m used to working in teams – large and small – and building effective relationships across a variety of expertise.”

When she graduated from Fisher in 2005, Staloch envisioned a career in consulting, rather than auditing. But her Fisher education prepared her for both her experience at KPMG and this newest professional change.

“Working as a regulator, you gain so many valuable experiences,” she said. “My career has definitely taken a different path than I expected, but this unique position will allow me to continue to evolve my perspective in the same manner in which I was initially challenged to do at Fisher.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission disclaims responsibility for any private or public statement of any SEC employee or commissioner. This article expresses the author's views and does not necessarily reflect those of the commission, the commissioners or other members of the staff.