Sarah and Bryan Martin: Back to where it all began
Sarah and Bryan Martin: Back to where it all began
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There is an adage that one should “never mix business with pleasure.” Sarah and Bryan Martin learned a lot of lessons as Accounting Honors students at Fisher, but that wasn’t one of them.
Sarah Hamad (BSBA ’01) and Bryan Martin (BSBA ’01) grew up in central Ohio — Reynoldsburg and Westerville, respectively — but the two didn’t meet until joining the Accounting Honors program as Ohio State students.
By their sophomore year, everyone in the program, including their professors, knew they were dating.
“We don’t think the professors were really wild about our dating. Because it’s such a close-knit group, they thought that if the relationship went south, everyone in the cohort would be affected,” says Bryan.
“Clearly we didn’t follow that advice,” Sarah says, smiling. “But we did invite them to the wedding!”
Two decades later, they are still married and have added two children and a couple of cats to their family.
Today, the Martins have come full circle. After heading to the West Coast upon graduation, they are now firmly rooted back in Columbus and taking the time to give back to Fisher by sharing their experiences and advice to Accounting Honors students.
Make the BIG, small
Following several internships and after graduating from Fisher, Sarah and Bryan shared a desire to move out of the Midwest to gain different experiences. Both received job offers in San Francisco, and it wasn’t long before Sarah found herself leaning on lessons learned as a Buckeye student.
“For me, what made my Fisher experience so special was Accounting Honors and the fact that I could make this gigantic university feel small,” says Sarah, vice president and chief audit executive at Abercrombie & Fitch. “We really found our home at the university and created ways to both impact the community around us and to leave a lasting mark.”
“I was able to make the university mine. And I continued to use that strategy when we moved, when I started my career at a global public accounting firm, and when we returned to Columbus. If you can do that at Ohio State, you can do it anywhere.”
That is how they discovered the Ohio State Alumni Club of the San Francisco Bay Area and found themselves watching football games and connecting with other Buckeyes. Sarah says watching a game with 300 fellow Buckeyes at 10 a.m. on a Saturday felt like being in Columbus, even though they were 2,500 miles away. They made the big city feel small by finding a home among other Buckeyes.
“You can find connections to Ohio State wherever you go,” says Bryan. “Even when we were hiking the Cinque Terre in Italy, we passed someone wearing a Buckeye alumni t-shirt and gave a little ‘O-H.’ Ohio State is special — you don’t have that with every university.”
‘Nothing is ever black and white’
As national assurance partner with BDO USA, Bryan’s role is a technical one in which he sets policy, guides best practices and has responsibility for the tools and technology used across the firm’s assurance practice.
“I’ve been very fortunate with the opportunities that have been put before me, but I think the Fisher education prepared me to seize those opportunities,” says Bryan.
The structure of the courses in the Accounting Honors program, where independent research, writing clear and concise position papers, and structured debates with other classmates were academic highlights that helped prepare him professionally.
“Some have the misconception that public accounting is just rules and numbers, but in reality there is significant judgment that comes into play in both accounting and auditing,” says Bryan. “Working through complex assessments with colleagues and clients, you have to know how to critically think through an issue, clearly communicate your position and anticipate potential objections from the other side in order to influence the process and reach the right outcome.”
Sarah points to business writing and learning how to articulate her ideas among her academic highlights, and credits those skills for helping her move up the corporate ladder. At Abercrombie & Fitch, Sarah leads the Internal Audit department, a function dedicated to independently assessing financial and operational processes for control gaps and process opportunities. She works with senior leaders across the organization to distill information and communicate in a way that influences change.
“Nothing is ever black and white – you have to know what questions to ask and be able to articulate a point of view that is grounded in fact,” she says. “Without effective business writing, and an emphasis on communication skills more broadly, I wouldn’t be successful. For me, that’s the number one academic lesson I learned from Fisher. It isn’t enough to have the idea; you have to be able to effectively communicate it as well.”
Giving advice and giving back
As students, Sarah and Bryan were involved in Fisher’s Accounting Association, Delta Sigma Pi and Beta Alpha Psi fraternities. With Bryan as president of Beta Alpha Psi and Sarah as secretary, the two resurrected the inactive chapter and eventually created a personal finance boot camp for students from any academic major.
“We recognized that students were about to graduate and make ‘real money’ but there wasn’t a class about personal finances and managing your money,” says Bryan.
Connecting with other student groups and partners across campus, they found a real need to learn about personal finances. And that’s how the Finance Boot Camp got its start.
“The Boot Camp wasn’t just self-serving, we saw a need in our community and found a way to help people,” says Bryan.
Twenty years later, the Martins’ desire to help business students is ongoing.
In a recent Accounting Honors virtual event, Sarah and Bryan shared how the program benefitted their careers and offered advice of their own.
Sarah encouraged students to raise their hand, get involved and to say “yes” to opportunities outside of the classroom.
“For all the amazing classroom education I received, I have to be honest: I learned the most in those external experiences,” says Sarah. “Whether it was being a leader in Beta Alpha Psi or Delta Sig or my internships — the entire portfolio of Fisher experiences is what developed me into who I am.”
Bryan advised students to be assertive as soon-to-be professionals.
“Advocate for yourself,” he says. “You have to take responsibility for your own career. Make your interests known and express them to others so they can help you find your path forward. If advisors and mentors know you have a specific interest, such as an industry focus or emerging technology, they can keep an eye open for opportunities that match.”
Charley Heyd, a fourth-year undergraduate, a member of the Accounting Honors program and a Master of Accounting student, was inspired by the Martins’ success and how it all started at Fisher.
“When alumni come back and share their stories, it’s such an impactful moment because not only are they sharing what the program did for them, but they believe in Accounting Honors so much that they are graciously volunteering their time to come back and share their insights,” says Charley. “It’s one thing to have a professor tell you about accounting in the real world, but when you hear it from someone who has graduated and is working in the firm or specialization that you want to be in, it definitely influences my desire to get to a place in my career where I can give back like that. Hopefully someday students will want to hear what I have to say!”
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My favorite spot on campus is The Long Walk. Campus lore is that if you walk hand and hand down the Oval’s Long Walk, you’ll be married forever. We did that on our wedding day.
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