Karl Frey

When Karl Frey (BSBA ’89) was pursuing his degree in accounting at Fisher, he received some sage advice.

“Be willing to try different things and be open to life’s endless possibilities.”

That advice came from none other than Thomas J. Burns, a popular professor who taught at the college from the late 1960s until 1994 and established the Accounting Honors program.

Little did Frey know at that moment that Professor Burns would become a beloved personal mentor and that his advice would shape the remainder of Frey’s undergraduate studies, influence his decision to pursue an MBA, and act as a driving force for many of his career decisions.

The Inspiring Professor Burns

Whenever Frey reflects on his Ohio State and Fisher experience, he credits that period in his life with broadening his horizons and fostering a willingness to step out of his comfort zone. But at the center of that willingness was the continued influence of Professor Burns.

Frey recalls Professor Burns being strong-minded in how he ran the Accounting Honors Program. Part of that strong-mindedness was his willingness to push students to be their best. It was a method that some students responded to better than others.. As part of his approach to building the program into what has become today, Professor Burns would hold mandatory debates, which Frey said made the program even more rigorous. But to test students’ mettle, Professor Burns added a twist.

“Professor Burns would hold the debates on football Saturdays,” Frey said.

In the late 1980s, there were dorms rooms beneath the seats on Ohio Stadium’s west side, and, for two years, Frey called the Horseshoe home. He enjoyed the perks of living there, including running the stadium’s stairs for exercise.

“We had easy access to the field,” Frey said. “It was literally our back yard. Today, when I tell people I used to live inside the ’Shoe, they have trouble believing me.”

But on football Saturdays when Professor Burns would hold those debates, Frey would go against the grain.

“The trek across the Oval to Hagerty Hall while other students and fans were wearing their scarlet and gray and heading to the stadium was grueling,” he said.

However, Frey is quick to point out that his affinity for Professor Burns has grown even more with the passing of time.

“His approach was borderline intimidating, and as a student, you began to respond to it — positively or negatively,” Frey said. “There are many who rose to the challenge, and I’d like to think I rose to the challenge. It was a great experience all around.”

Frey’s advice to current Fisher students or recent grads echoes the advice he received from Professor Burns as he approached graduation.

“You need to be willing to explore the unknown and to take chances in life,” Frey said. “Don’t be afraid to fail. If a particular opportunity doesn’t work out, you’ll try something else.”

Finding success as a career and family man

Frey found success as a certified financial analyst and CPA. He is the senior managing director for advanced strategies at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. He began working for the independent financial services firm in 2003 after a seven-year stint at the Dutch bank ABN Amro. He admits it was a stretch for him to pursue the opportunity and to change industries, but — adhering to the advice from Professor Burns — Frey’s own willingness to be open to new opportunities benefitted him in the transition from banking to investment management.

Frey feels a sense of accomplishment for his work at Mesirow, which manages money for a number of pension systems.

“The work we do allows people to live more comfortably and with dignity during the later years of life,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re truly helping people.”

But above all, Frey puts family first. He and his wife, Meg, a corporate lawyer, have two children, ages 8 and 6. Much of the couple’s free time is spent focusing on their young family. When he’s not chaperoning his children at various activities, Frey enjoys running, working out and an occasional round of golf.

Building a legacy

Frey has remained an active alumnus with Fisher and the university.

“In the early days, my involvement mainly centered around keeping in touch with former professors and returning to campus to speak in classes,” he said. “But because Fisher and Ohio State are so important to me and have been such an integral part of my life, I wanted to give back more. It’s been a natural progression for me to increase my involvement throughout the years.”

He’s maintained involvement with the Student Investment Club, served as a mentor to accounting students and hosted Accounting Honors students at Mesirow during the organization’s annual trips.

Frey’s engagement with Fisher throughout his career has given him perspective on the increasing prominence of Ohio State, Fisher and the Accounting Honors program. He’s pleased with what he’s seen in terms of the caliber of students who choose to study accounting at Fisher.

“The continued advancement of Fisher and the Accounting program has been tremendous,” Frey said. “It’s increasingly recognized around the country for the Accounting Honors program and graduate studies. As an alumnus, you benefit from the increased branding, and I’ve been very impressed with how the school has continued to develop its reputation and, most importantly, the development and placement of its students.”

In 2011, Frey joined with Professor Emeritus Dan Jensen, another mentor during his time as at Fisher, to create the Thomas J. Burns Accounting Honors Endowment Fund to honor Professor Burns and the Accounting Honors program.

For Frey, the recipient of two Pace Setters Awards — as a student and then as the 2017 Executive Award Winner, establishing the endowed scholarship fund was a way to give back to Fisher and to the university — and for the legacy of mentorship from Professor Burns and Professor Jensen to live on through Frey’s ongoing support of accounting students at Fisher.

“I take great pride in working with Professor Jensen to get the fund up and running,” Frey said. “It’s something that is going to continue on for many years.”