Blog Archive

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why I love RSM

Maddy Kranz
RSM Campus Ambassador and Consulting Intern
Minneapolis, MN
RSM prides itself on its values of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and stewardship; and RSM employees experience these principles directly from colleagues, as well as within the RSM culture on a daily basis. As a part-time employee and full-time student with a double-major in Management Information Systems and Accounting, flexibility and understanding are vital to my academic and professional success. Working at RSM this fall on a part-time basis, I have been able to alter my workload in order to cater to my situation. Achievement is important to me, where I aim to perform at maximum capacity in all facets of my life. RSM’s flexibility with my situation has allowed me to leverage my capabilities in order to elicit a maximum return in my school work and professional experience. With  this level of flexibility and control over my work, comes a large amount of responsibility, which I must manage efficiently as well.

One aspect of working at RSM that I enjoy is how they value women in the workplace. It is hard to come across a business that truly practices what it preaches in regard to gender equality in the organic interactions and indirect regard for women operating in the business world. I think that there is a strong presence of “girl power” in the RSM culture, and I have experienced this firsthand. I really look up to the women around me and find myself reaching to be more like them every day. In addition to providing strong influences in my career path, working at RSM has also allowed me to foster relationships with colleagues who are genuine, trusting, and caring. The people I have worked with throughout my experience are more than just co-workers. It is evident that the individuals I work with have a genuine concern for the well-being of others and seek to foster lasting relationships beyond work.

RSM’s culture clearly plays a critical role in the success of its employees. The environment in which you work can greatly affect your performance in both a negative or positive way. I think that the general culture of RSM, and the atmosphere of the Minneapolis office specifically have wildly influenced my experience and work in positive way, and have allowed me to be the best version of myself possible in a professional and personal manner. Without a solid foundation of culture, business performance can truly crumble. Where consultative work is primarily team-based, relationship management is a key success factor when it comes to colleagues as well as clients. It is important for individuals to be able to maximize their capabilities in the work they perform, and I believe RSM has mastered the framework for an exceptional culture in the workplace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How is RSM different than the other firms?

Bahana Ashraf
Talent Acquisition Sourcing Specialist
Irvine, CA
As a Recruiter, I think the one question we are asked the most is: What makes RSM different than all of the other firms out there? And let's face it - there is a lot of competition that for the most part do the exact same thing we do.

So I decided to do a little research and asked our current employees and the candidates that are applying, why they were interested in coming to our firm, and this is what I heard almost every time-

1. Culture Fit
2. Work/Life Balance

Almost every single time, I heard the exact same answers. So you may be thinking - what is so great about the culture fit, and what is your definition of work/life balance? Well, here it is -

The Culture Fit - Although I cannot speak for every single office - for the most part the culture fit at RSM is one that is very down to earth, where everyone seems to really be friends at work, but even outside of work. Partners plan camping trips with their families, and invite the office and their families to attend. The tax staff eat lunch together - EVERY SINGLE DAY, and the others plan trips to Vegas, or weekend getaways all the time. There is probably happy hours going on every week, and almost always a reason to get together. With RSM you have the opportunity to work directly with the Partners, and yes just walk into their office if you have a question - regardless of your level. RSM is a large, internationally recognized firm that has a lot of resources, but when you walk in, you won’t just feel like a number. RSM acts more like a “mom and pop business” - where everyone really knows everyone, and great friendships are made.

The Work/Life Balance - When you’re starting your career in public accounting, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. Yes, you will go through busy season and regardless of which firm you go to, you will work a lot of hours. However I can tell you this, it is typically A LOT LESS than you would if you worked at a larger firm. That is why we are recognized for the “Best Places to Work for New Dads”, “Mother’s Best Companies List” etc.

So here is my advice to you whether you’re a Partner, or even a recent college grad looking to get your foot in the door - take some time to do your research. If all CPA firms do the same thing, understand what their differences are, and make that the reason to start your career with that firm.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Q&A with a First Year Associate

Eric Anzelone
Consulting Associate
Chicago, IL
Briefly describe your role within RSM.
I work in the Transaction Advisory Services group at RSM.  This line of work primarily focuses around performing buy-side/sell-side due diligence for potential mergers and acquisitions.  As a member of the due diligence team, my responsibilities include, but are not limited to, identifying potential earnings and working capital adjustments, client communications, building an excel-based workbook that features several financial statements and schedules, and preparing a report for the client.  In addition to this role, I am also a part of the Business Performance Analytics (“BPA”) team, which is a recently added service for our team.  BPA seeks to perform more extensive levels of analysis of a company’s operations overall, and can ultimately lead to providing our clients with better information for decision-making.

What have been the most exciting things you’ve experienced/learned since beginning your career within RSM?
In my 15 month career with RSM, my most exciting/valuable experiences have revolved around working with several great people within, and outside of the firm, and tremendously increasing my accounting and business knowledge.  In retrospect, it’s remarkable to see how far I’ve come in terms of skillsets and knowledge, and it’s exciting to know that I will continue to improve.  Every individual I have worked with along the way has willingly contributed to my growth.

How have you successfully balanced your career while studying for the CPA?
Since passing the CPA exam had been a goal of mine throughout college, I kept it atop my priority list after graduation and upon entry into RSM.  When I spoke with my Career Advisor at RSM, I made mention of that right away and he strongly encouraged it.  Before studying for any of the sections, I probably had a conversation about the CPA exam with 20-30 different colleagues.  I especially sought commonalities in each of their experiences to better grasp the nature of the exam and how studying for it impacted both their personal and professional lives.  Soon after I began studying, I realized how important it was to hold yourself accountable and to remove distractions throughout the entire process.  The key was communication.  I communicated with friends and family about the level of commitment the exams require, and they supported and respected it.  RSM supported it 100% and I maintained a balance by devoting work hours to client/internal work, and would switch gears to studying. In the early part of my career, I had a considerably more time to study during normal work hours and continue into the night.  Although studying was a priority, I prioritized any teamwork first at work. Achieving the balance is certainly not easy, nor is it the same for every individual.  I found my balance by learning what worked best for me and testing my own limits.  Each test was unique and there are many times where you might not be able to stick to your study regiment.  In addition to communication, confidence was the other key.  Maintaining confidence in what I was doing, even though it required making sacrifices along the way, really helped me strike the balance and ultimately pass the exams.

Any tips for new first year associates? 
Absolutely. Just a brief background - as a first year in the TAS group, I was made aware of being the first associate to be directly hired into the group. I was both excited and nervous.  In order to adjust to such circumstances, I focused on establishing professional relationships right away, gaining insight and knowledge from others, and equipping myself with helpful advice.  I knew I couldn’t learn everything about the line of work overnight, so I would read through some reports, resources, and articles I could find to help kick start my level of understanding.  I was also very eager to learn and contribute, which I’m sure is very common amongst accounting graduates.  My advice for first years is to possess and maintain enthusiasm and curiosity each and every day, and continue asking lots of questions.  Be patient at the same time.  Although this might seem contradictory, it’s important you are also aware skillsets and knowledge will take time to develop, despite how eager you are.  Also, do not beat yourselves up for mistakes you make.  You will find yourself making mistakes on multiple occasions which is completely normal because each project you are tasked with is unique and presents its own set of complications.  With all of this in mind, don’t forget to let yourself have some fun, too! Engage in work activities, and be social with friends [unless you’re studying for the CPA exams too…ha!].

RSM interns quench thirsts for a good cause

RSM takes pride in giving back to the communities where we live and work, and that we have a 90-year tradition of stewardship. But did you know that our interns have embraced the value of stewardship, as well?

In 2009, RSM interns started raising money for the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, an American pediatric cancer charitable organization that raises money to fight childhood cancer. In seven short years, our summer and winter interns have done a phenomenal job of engaging their local offices in support of this worthwhile cause, raising more than $92,000 for Alex's Lemonade Stand.

"We're incredibly proud of the leadership and giving nature our interns have and continue to show each year," said Donna Osteraas – manager of corporate social responsibility. "Clearly, our interns view stewardship as a core value, one that they demonstrate so visibly through their enthusiastic support of Alex's Lemonade Stand. We thank them for their contributions to our firm, and to their communities."

We are truly proud and inspired by our intern classes over the last few years, and can't wait to see what our interns will be able to do for our communities in the coming classes!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lighting Up the Night in Uganda

Dave Campbell - RSM's 90-90-9
Pursue Your Passion Winner
I knew my trip to Bwibere Primary School would be a special one. I was getting the opportunity to see first-hand the completion of the lighting system, where a month before, there had only been candlelight or darkness. But I never could have imagined the feeling I experienced when walking through the school’s entrance on a sunny Saturday morning in July, being greeted by many of Bwibere’s 1,400 students dancing and singing, forming a type of runway into the center courtyard. The energy and excitement were contagious, and I, along with a few of the innovation:Africa team members, danced our way through the crowd to settle in for a full day of speeches, performances, ribbon cutting and demonstrations.

The sub-Saharan region of Africa includes the majority of the continent, and many of the countries within it struggle with poverty, disease, and a lack of clean water and electricity, resources that the developed world often takes for granted. Located in East Africa is Uganda, one of the poorest countries in the world and where roughly 20-percent of inhabitants have access to electricity. Much of that access is concentrated in Uganda’s urban areas, so for those in more rural areas, including the students of Bwibere, the only light comes from daylight, candles and kerosene lamps, which are expensive, often unsafe to operate, and harmful to the environment. The flat-wick type most often used can easily start a fire if broken or spilled, and the inefficiency of such lamps results in an incredible amount of carbon dioxide emissions for what is relatively an inadequate source of light.

It was this issue that got my attention, and when I became aware of RSM US LLP (“RSM”)’s 90-90-9-Puruse Your Passion program, I saw it as a way to get involved and make a real difference on whatever scale I could. The solution was solar power, which through incredible advancements in the technology has become more and more affordable and effective. The benefits are not limited to the reduced carbon emissions; because the capital requirements are so much lower than traditional fossil fuels, solar power is a near-perfect alternative in the developing world where the resources do not exist to build costly coal or nuclear plants. Incredible engineering efforts by a number of for-profit and non-profit organizations have driven the cost down to a competitive range, and the task now is to bring this technology to people in need.





After some initial research, it became evident that I would not be able to do this alone, due to the technical expertise required to install and test the system, as well as the logistics of identifying a community in need and getting the equipment on site. More importantly, for development efforts such as the one I had in mind to be successful and sustainable, there is a degree of ongoing monitoring required which I would not be able to accomplish from across the world. My research led to me to a fairly small but very impactful organization, innovation:Africa, which I was fortunate to find. The issue of improving electricity access is just one that the team at innovation:Africa is focused on, and with 124 solar, water and agricultural projects completed in seven different countries, I could not have found a better partner for my initiative. By the time I got in touch, the team had already identified Bwibere as a great candidate for such a project, and with the funding I was able to provide courtesy of RSM, we were able to provide solar-powered electricity to each of the school’s classrooms and dorm buildings.

One occasionally overlooked aspect of projects in the region, however, is how and whether the local community will be able to sustain the fixtures and technology (i.e., replacing batteries, repairing panels, etc.).  To that end, we spent much of the time at Bwibere meeting with faculty and administrators to teach the mechanics of the system and some basic troubleshooting. One advantage of the system: a portion of the energy generated by the solar panels mounted on the school’s roof feeds a cell phone charging station, which community members are welcome to use for a very small fee, which is collected by the school. The funds are used to pay for any equipment repairs or replacements.

Clearly this was an important project to me, but after spending time with the students and faculty at Bwibere, it became clear their excitement exceeded even mine, as we were treated to hours of a genuine outpouring of appreciation and gratitude. These students, some of them as young as five years old, so prized their educational opportunities that they viewed the newfound light not only as a convenience, but as a way of extending the number of hours per day that they could spend learning, and from the looks of it there was no better gift in the world. We returned on the evening of the first day to see the lights “in action.” What I did not expect was that every seat in the classroom would still be full at 8 p.m., and that I would walk into a room of students no less eager and excited than they were 12 hours earlier, making the most of their new tool. What was intended to be a quick tour turned into an hour-long geography and politics lesson, as I fielded questions about America from the curious and enthusiastic group. This was not something they would be taking for granted, and I was humbled by their boundless acknowledgement and appreciation. Days before, I was a short-tempered traveler, half-sleeping my way through a six-hour Amsterdam layover and wondering if it would all be worth it. No moment could have more effectively put everything in perspective for me.

After spending some time at Bwibere, I traveled for a few days with Robbs and David, two members of the innovation:Africa’s team, to a number of other past and potential project sites to get a sense of both the group’s capabilities and the immense needs of the region. The quantity and reach of the team’s projects are inspiring and impactful; but the needs remain extraordinary. To see first-hand the dirty and often diseased swamp water that many local residents use for everything from drinking to washing, it is clear there is a long way to go. But it is the innovation, generosity and capabilities of organizations such as innovation:Africa and that helped make my dream, and that of 1,400 students at Bwibere Primary School, a reality. Let’s not stop here.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Experiences during London Secondment - Bharat Chandu

Bharat Chandu
Supervisor, Consulting
McLean, VA
Bharat Chandu, a Supervisor on the Netsuite team, calls McLean, VA, his home office. But earlier this year, Bharat had the opportunity to complete a secondment for RSM’s London office. I recently spoke with Bharat about his experience overseas and the unique opportunity that he was given.

Bharat spent about 6 months in London, and the work was a little different in comparison to a typical project he would complete with the Southeast Region Netsuite team. The team in London knew a lot about ERP implementations, but did not have a lot of Netsuite experience specifically. His time in London was more of a teaching/training role rather than just a typical consultant. Not only did he gain valuable experience teaching and training the team on Netsuite, he also learned a lot about European businesses.

Overall, Bharat said the trip was a success, and if given the opportunity would definitely do another secondment. But in his opinion, 6 months was not long enough and in the future would suggest taking on opportunities that are 1-2 years in length.

Not all of Bharat’s trip was about work – he was able to do some traveling, and had the opportunity to travel to India to see his parents. If he had more PTO, he would have traveled even more!

Bharat’s favorite part of the experience? “The happy hours. Our office was in central London with 20 pubs within a ten minute walk of our office. Other co-workers were always up for getting a pint or two after work. It was a great way to unwind, network, and casually talk about work.”


Favorite Part of My Day

I am holding MY book! It is in libraries, schools, homes and on Amazon.
And I'm referred to as "an author". Someone pinch me!

Editor’s Note: Nicole Knudtson was the fourth of nine RSM US LLP (RSM) employees given an opportunity “pursue their passions” as a result of the firm’s 90-90-9 program. Through 90-90-9, RSM is celebrating its 90th anniversary by providing nine employees with $90,000 ($10,000 each) and nine paid days off to fulfill their personal dreams. Read Nicole's story:

After my anonymous application was submitted, I waited – nearly long enough to have forgotten about RSM’s 90-90-9 contest. Until…the call came. I won! I was in complete shock. I wish I had recorded that call because it’s funny as I play it back in my head now. The RSM leader who called was so excited for me, even though I questioned if he called the right person.

After the shock, came pure excitement, then worry as I realized how much I had to do to make this dream a reality. How the heck do I do that – and in less than 12 months? I didn’t have an illustrator or a publisher… And what if it wasn’t any good?!?
 
An illustrator and the creative process I knew I couldn’t take the normal path, as publishers were signing authors for spring of 2017!  I’d have to self-publish. After some research, I selected CreateSpace through Amazon. It gave me full creative license and ownership, while allowing me to set my own price, order on demand and use their procurement process.

Finding an illustrator required less research and more convincing! Katherine and I met in the third grade. I’ve always been amazed by her artistic talent (doodles through math class and singing at my wedding), while I was more into numbers and process. (I was her bridal attendant, tracking things down to make it her wedding go smoothly for her.) Although we’ve been busy raising our own families, we’ve stayed connected and I’ve been watching and supporting her pursuit of her design and illustration career. What better way to pursue my passion than to also help her achieve one of her dreams!  (Check out her blog post from her perspective.)

I just had to convince her.

Katherine was excited but nervous to take on such an important project for me. We decided that we wouldn’t worry about the “right way” to publish a children’s book, but instead do it “our way,” collaboratively. The plan was to get the book ready to launch by the end of tax “busy season,” which aligned well with Katherine, as that was her available time before her husband and kids would be out of the classroom and back home for the summer!

Thus started the creative process! We were so aligned on our vision that it didn’t take long for our story board to take shape. We had so much fun working in meaningful pieces into the illustrations as shout-outs to our families.



And the book is launched!
It was an amazing moment when the books arrived. With our first order of 500, we were ready to hit the road to share the book and our message. And RSM sent a camera with us one day to create a fun video of our story.



Book Tour - 2016
When I wrote the application I had hoped to convince one or two RSM offices to have my family come share our story. Wow. The response was overwhelming! With the girls on summer break, we had just a few short weeks for our “book tour” before our rising freshman had to start high school volleyball.  Somehow we managed to visit 10 offices…between my normal business travels!


As we visited each office, we were given tours so we could learn about the history of the office and the community. Each book event was unique and casual, encouraging lots of interaction. We were able to tell about our family history, our creation of the book, the 90-90-9 program and have the girls read the book. The rooms were often packed with 30-50 employees. It was fun getting the girls comfortable talking to large audiences. Each event also allowed for individual conversations with attendees as our family signed and distributed our book. One of the most popular parts of the events were the Q&A sessions. We’ve never been short on questions, and many generated extreme laughter over something one of the girls said. They certainly are very honest and highly animated kids!

Our “favorite part” so far?
That’s easy. It’s the feedback, comments, and stories we hear. Since publishing, there haven’t been many days that have gone by where we haven’t gotten a note, letter, text, email, IM, voicemail or someone personally telling a story about how they relate to the book or how it’s impacted them. We even received an email the day after my winning application was announced from a gal who asked her husband his favorite part of his day, which resulted in a fantastic conversation over dinner. These stories are powerful, touching and so valuable to my family and me.

Our dream was to make an impact by encouraging others to better connect in a positive way. I have to say that our dream has not only been accomplished but continues to exceed our expectations.

What’s next?
I have a few more office book events this fall, including Boston, New York City and Phoenix. And, we are trying to fit in a Chicago trip, as well.  

With our firm’s focus on diversity and inclusion, I was excited to have my dream so closely aligned with our Family First and Women’s Leadership groups. To be able to make the impact reach a bit further, I decided to create a Spanish version of the book. I didn’t want a literal translation as they often aren’t as fun to read or don’t always make sense. I asked a few friends if they’d tackle this task to make a fun-to-read Spanish version with the same positive message. As soon as they received the book, they had so much fun they worked on it all night and created such a beautiful version that some of my Spanish-speaking proofreaders commended their “knack for Spanish poetic writing!” I’m excited about having that out on Amazon later this fall.



The Unforgettable 2016
I will be eternally grateful to RSM, our offices, our leadership team and the 90-90-9 selection committee who made this dream possible. Not only have I fulfilled my dream to publish my book and share the concept behind it, but I was able to have a once-in-a-lifetime summer with my family where we created memories that will last forever.

A Heart for Haiti

Editor’s Note: Julie Kaehler was the third of nine RSM US LLP (RSM) employees given an opportunity “pursue their passions” as a result of the firm’s 90-90-9 program. Through 90-90-9, RSM is celebrating its 90th anniversary by providing nine employees with $90,000 ($10,000 each) and nine paid days off to fulfill their personal dreams. Read Julie's story:

While I’ve been to Haiti a number of times and have been working with Vision Hope for Haiti (VHH) for a while, my recent 90-90-9 trip to Haiti through RSM’s 90-90-9 program was eye-opening. I now realize the issues and circumstances we often worry about here in the U.S. are minuscule, compared to those in Third World countries. The clean drinking water, regular meals, and ability to go the doctor if we’re ill or injured are things we tend to take for granted. But these aren’t readily available to many, including those in Haiti. Something very important to Third World citizens, including Haiti, though – just as it is to most of us here in the U.S. – is spending time with family and friends, and helping neighbors.

My “passion” through 90-90-9 was to use the $10,000 from RSM to purchase land to be used to build a school that will allow children to attend for free. (Public school isn’t free in Haiti and while most children would like to attend, many families can’t afford to send them.) Since it’s warm year-round in Haiti, schools can be built relatively inexpensively. Next steps will include building a structure and securing sponsorships to pay for children to attend.

Our long-term commitment with VHH is to empower Haitian people with the tools they need to make better lives for their children through education, nutrition and medical care. Haitians don’t necessarily want the lives we have here in the U.S. And we respect their lifestyle, and marvel at how happy they are with what we view as so little.

Before we even left for Haiti, we were blessed with generosity. Through the gracious efforts from Delta airlines and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, MN, we were able to get all our bags checked on the airline at no cost, allowing us to provide two wheelchairs, medical supplies, soccer balls, clothes, school supplies and more to Haitian children in need!

Upon our arrival, we were welcomed with open arms. Jonas and Dou Dou – the co-founders of ‘Vision Hope for Haiti,’ their volunteers and our Haitian “family” were at the airport to greet us. They loaded our bags, and we hopped in the back of the “tap tap” (a Haitian taxi, which is a small pickup with a welded canopy over the back and benches on both sides of the bed). I felt like I was home.

At the guest house, our hosts John David and Ann, along with their seven-year-old son Ralph, served us pumpkin soup, which is a special meal served usually reserved for Christmas and New Years in Haiti. It was delicious! (And this was just one of the many delicious meals we were served while there. Others included, Asian rice, beans, goat and beef bouillon.)

The next morning, Jonas and Dou Dou picked us up in the tap tap, after being stuck in traffic for an hour. (Five million people live in Port au Prince, and I’ve only seen one stop light in Haiti, which also explains why you rarely see a vehicle without dents.) Our first stop was the grocery store to pick up bottled water, bread, peanut butter, jelly and chips. This would be our lunch for the week. We then drove to the church where they have a community program for children. We filled out medical forms for the children, listened to them sing, and “showed them some love.” Our first full day in Haiti was good.

Throughout the remainder of the week, we returned to the church (which had been leveled by an earthquake in 2010, and is slowly being rebuilt) daily to spend time with the children – making crafts, and teaching English, computer and singing programs. We provided basic medical checks; distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste; served meals; and visited a local orphanage.

Louisiane, who manages the orphanage, doesn’t speak English but she was so grateful for everything we brought, including enough food to last the orphanage quite a while, and some much-needed clothing. My favorite part, however, was when we placed Moses and Cassandra in their wheelchairs.  Moses showed his excitement by making noises and clapping; Cassandra sat quietly in her wheelchair with a BIG smile on her face. She looked like a princess. I often wonder if Cassandra and Moses would be able to walk and talk if they lived in the U.S., where they would have access to medical care, and physical and speech therapy.

One afternoon, after the children were fed, families came in for a presentation about beginning an agricultural family assistance program. We brought seeds and Chaya and Moringa twigs to plant. I explained the importance of the Chaya and Moringa, as these plants have many nutrients that help prevent malnutrition, which is so common in Haiti.

Another highlight of the trip included watching a local football club play soccer. Before last year, these children had not played in an organized league. In the summer of 2015, we took soccer balls, ball pumps and soccer shoes to the children. This time, we took more balls and supplies, as they told us that was what they needed. (The soccer fields in Haiti are not groomed like the fields in the U.S. The balls get a lot of wear and tear from all the use.) They have since formed the Santos Football Club, and boys at all age levels play. (To be able to play, they first have to attend practices and learn about being good citizens and the importance of education.)

The week passed so quickly. Before we left, however, we visited a memorial built on a site where more than 25,000 people were buried following the 2010 earthquake. Locals told us about how, after the earthquake, they would pile up the bodies at the end of their blocks, and dump trucks would pick them up to bring them to this site for a mass burial. The memorial isn’t completely finished but when you go inside, there is a feeling of sadness.

Each time I visit Haiti, it gets harder to leave. There is so much I would like to accomplish for our “family” there, so they can live without wondering when they will eat again, when they will have a job, when they will educate all of their children and when the orphans will have a safe place to live.

The people of Haiti have big dreams, and they work tirelessly every day with limited resources to improve their country. My goal is to continue to help by getting the tools they need in their hands so they can make the changes they would like to see in their country.

Read Julie's 90-90-9 submission.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Q&A with a Secondee: Meet Vanita Kataria

Vanita Kataria is a Risk Advisory Services Senior Associate in McLean, VA. She had the opportunity to participate in a secondment and shared her experience with us. Read her story!

Q: What was your background prior to RSM, and what initially attracted you to the Risk Advisory Services (RAS) practice and how long have you been here?

A: I have been lucky to do a lot of different things. I started my career out of college with Watkins Meegan (now CohnReznick) and worked across many lines of business. Then, I worked in external audit with KPMG and realized while I was there that I wanted smaller clients. I wanted to serve clients who were looking for process improvements, and looking for a business partner more than an auditor. When RSM, then RSM McGladrey, came along, it seemed to be the perfect fit! I’ve been here since January 2012.

Q: What were your motivators to go apply for a secondment, and how did you decide with Australia? What were you emotions through the process and thoughts?

A: I was raised in India and went to college in the US. My life in the USA started as a study abroad experience, and I had never worked in any other country. In November of 2014, there was an office wide announcement for a secondment opportunity in London. I remember being in a hotel room in New Jersey wondering what it would be like to work in a different country, different economy, and moreover in a dream city! That opportunity was retracted, and I moved on. The Operations Manager for our National Consulting practice mentioned that she would be in touch should anything else come along and I heard from her in March of 2015 regarding Melbourne, Australia! This was a longer commitment, and on the other side of the world, not just across the pond! But, my excitement to explore another economy, another world class city and its culture, made me say yes to the interview immediately.

Q: What is the Melbourne office like?

A: The Melbourne office reflects the culture of the beautiful land of Australia: it is a country of generally happy, relaxed, environmentally conscious people. They work hard and value the people in their personal and professional environments. During my stay, everyone was very welcoming and helpful. I made some friendships that I know will last a long time!

The RAS practice with in RSM Australia is located in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra with over 50 employees. One of the partners moved from Melbourne to Sydney while I was on the secondment, to grow the practice there.

Q: How was the Australian economy different than the US?

A: As a developed, English speaking country, it was considerably easy to adjust to the environment. What took some time, however, was to understand how to be mindful of everything around me. As a smaller economy, about 24 million people as compared to 300 million in the United States, it functions a bit differently; It is not behind in any way, but people value their resources more.

Q: What were you exposed to in Australia that helped to broaden your skill set? How were the clients different? How was the work different? How did this exposure this help you professionally?

A: I mostly performed audits for state government and agencies, an industry that I had not been exposed to in the US yet.  Insights into how the legislative and regulatory bodies operate in a different developed country brought new perspectives and a deeper understanding.  I have since been able to apply that experience at one of our local county government internal audit engagements. I was also grateful for opportunities to be part of proposal presentations with some of the Partners in the Melbourne office. I watched them bring in conversation their vast experiences and skills while preparing and practicing for the presentations. I now better understand how RSM competencies are communicated to stakeholders.

Q: In your free time, what did you get to experience? (Ex: Did you travel anywhere or see any sights? Different Food? Did this help with any hobbies? Etc.)

A: In the beginning of the secondment, it was winter in Australia. So, I stayed local and explored almost every nook and cranny of the beautiful coffee capital of the world, Melbourne. The architecture, national parks, street graffiti, world renowned restaurants, beautiful skyline, all provided great content for my favorite hobby, photography. Some of the pictures can be seen here. I was able to travel to most of the cities and parks on the east coast as well as the Great Barrier Reef and New Zealand! I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to explore so wide if it wasn’t for this secondment.

Q: What would you say the overall experience made you feel about the firm and your career with RSM?

A: Overall, this experience has made me feel a part of this vast firm like never before. I connect to it across the borders, across cultures, and have witnessed others within the firm live up to our core values. It assimilated me in the firm in such a way that now it’s not just about my current projects at hand or my own career, but a balanced relationship of how I can add value to the firm and how it is helping me grow. I am motivated to always look for opportunities for the firm, for my coworkers, for current college students who reflect the RSM culture. It’s not just about Mondays to Fridays, or just completing engagements or assignments anymore. It’s a happy constant in my life.

Group of secondees at a local cricket event


Thursday, July 7, 2016

#200women

Editor’s Note: Terri Andrews was the second of nine RSM US LLP (RSM) employees given an opportunity “pursue their passions” as a result of the firm’s 90-90-9 program. Through 90-90-9, RSM is celebrating its 90th anniversary by providing nine employees with $90,000 ($10,000 each) and nine paid days off to fulfill their personal dreams. Terri’s dream? Provide mammograms to 200 women in Jamaica – not only to help those women, but to help her friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, Laura, achieve a long-time dream of her own. Read Terri’s story:

#200Women 
Life is full of surprises. One day, you’re tooling along minding your own business when, BAM!, something happens to turn your life upside down. That “something” for me was breast cancer. I received my diagnosis on April 30, 2014. Just a little more than two years later, I was smack in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with my relatively new friend and fellow cancer survivor, Laura Renegar – all thanks to my employer RSM US LLP (RSM).

It’s hard to believe that two-and-a-half short years ago, Laura and I didn’t even know one another. Sadly, we met as a result of our diagnoses. But happily, we did meet and, as a result of our friendship and my employment with RSM, we were able to bring mammograms to 200 women in Jamaica – a country Laura’s heart calls home, although she lives near me in Charlotte. Jamaica is where Laura and her husband honeymooned seven years ago. It’s a place they return to year-after-year to celebrate life. And it’s now a part of our shared story – a story of friendship, hope and survival.

Laura has been actively involved in the breast cancer community in the U.S. for years. She began raising money for and awareness about the importance of early detection and regular screening after her mother battled the disease three times, and ultimately lost. Then, the unimaginable happened: Laura received her own diagnosis. After undergoing her personal battle with the disease, Laura is now a five-year survivor. And she continues to give back to the breast cancer community. In fact that’s how we met. A mutual friend introduced us shortly after I received my diagnosis and Laura became one of my biggest cheerleaders, supporting me before, during and after every chemo treatment, every surgery, every doctor’s visit, every medical test, and the uncertainty and anxiety related to each. While I had MANY, MANY “angels” loving me through my illness, Laura was able to provide a unique perspective because she had ‘been through it.’ She was a survivor. And I wanted to be one, too!

Fast-forward about a year-and-a-half and RSM, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, held an employee contest late last fall encouraging employees to share their ideas for what they would do to help celebrate this anniversary if they were selected as recipients of one of the firm’s 90-90-9: Pursue Your Passion awards. The program awarded $90,000 ($10,000 each) to nine employees in celebration of the firm’s 90th anniversary. I immediately thought of Laura, and wondered if there might be something I could do to thank her for everything she’d done for me. We talked. We had an idea. We submitted our passion. And we won. We were going to Jamaica to bring mammograms to the women in that country!

We packed our bags and headed to Jamaica June 18, 2016, and returned a week later after lots of sharing.

  • We shared stories of hope and survivorship with the women of Jamaica – one-on-one, as each woman prepared to enter the mammography room. 
  • We shared tears with the women who were afraid, and with one who had been recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. 
  • We shared smiles with those who got the “all clear” from their mammograms. 
  • We shared hugs with those who had suspicious findings and who had to go to the next level for ultrasounds, and with those who then had to go to the hospital for biopsies.
  • We shared information, hopes and dreams – with Dr. Titus, chief medical officer at St. Ann’s Bay Hospital, where a staff of 90 doctors works tirelessly to keep the people of Jamaica healthy, and with Dr. Neita, who so graciously agreed to perform the 200 mammograms at a discounted rate to accommodate as many women as possible. 
  • (Laura and I even shared a room at Couples Tower Island resort to help keep costs down, as we wanted as much of the funds contributed by RSM to go to the women of Jamaica as possible.) 
  • And we shared laughter – lots and lots of laughter. 
    • We laughed with nearly 30 survivors during a luncheon sponsored by RSM. 
    • We laughed with the resort staff who were happy to see Laura (a repeat visitor) and who were so welcoming to me. 
    • We laughed with our driver, Henry, who delivered us safely to the clinic each morning while telling us about life in Jamaica. 
    • We laughed with the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) workers and volunteers, especially with Yulit Gordon, one of our original contacts on the island who helped orchestrate our visit and who orchestrated a bit of downtime for lunch at Miss T’s (a local favorite) and an afternoon visit of bobsledding and sight-seeing at Mystic Mountain; Marilyn Williams, who leads the Ocho Rios chapter of the JCS and who has a passion for helping women in her country maintain their health; with Madilyn Whitter, who is a JCS board member and owner of Glenn’s restaurant, which provided the venue and delicious for the survivor luncheon; and Beverly Sailsman, JCS volunteer extraordinaire, who not only helped at the clinic, but chauffeured us around the island, showing us off-the-beaten-path sites that we would have never seen otherwise. 

In short, we shared our hearts. And we are so grateful to RSM for sharing its success to make this dream a reality.

Read Terri’s 90-90-9 submission.

Donate to the Jamaica Cancer Society. (Tag “Terri and Laura” if you want to let the JCS know that you’re supporting them due to their story.)

 

 
 



Thursday, June 16, 2016

RSM Internships: More than a resume builder

Written by: Sarah Benedetto, Campus Recruiting Coordinator, Minneapolis, MN
Interviewees: Tony Schoenberg (Assurance Intern), Patrick Smith (Assurance Intern) & David Snell (Tax Intern), Minneapolis, MN

As the weather has warmed up and Tax Season has become a thing of the past, that means this year’s winter internships have also come to an end. Many students view having an internship as a resume builder to help land that “dream job.” But if you ask someone who has interned at RSM, they might say something more.

RSM strives to provide interns with a ‘true experience.’ From on the job training to exposure to the industry and firm by working directly with clients, key decision makers and company owners (perks of focusing on the middle market!). Now, it’s been a few years since I have had to worry about obtaining an internship, but working in Campus Recruiting has reminded me about that pressure. It can be scary and intimidating, but also rewarding and exciting at the same time. RSM Internships offer a lot of surprises, no matter what Line of Business you are focusing on. Like most interns, their hopes after finishing an RSM internship is to walk away with an Associate offer, but many of our interns walk away with more than that.

I asked some recent winter interns, what they truly got out of an internship with RSM.

Element of surprise
RSM internships, like most others are full of surprises and the unknown, especially as you are first starting. Usually those surprises come from the workload, but in this case it was something that not all companies can brag about. “I think the biggest surprise was how great the people who work here are. During the interview process companies preach how great their employees are and everyone I interviewed with here I thought fit that mold. But when I began working my internship, I was amazed how great the people I worked with were. It made me want to come to work and made the experience I had at RSM that much more enjoyable” (Tony Schoenberg). But I guess there can be surprises are the workload too. “While there was a learning curve at first, it was a great experience having real responsibility in a professional setting. Instead of filing documents and doing obscure work, the interns were a key component of a successful audit” (Patrick Smith).

Is accounting right for me?
When you are asked to declare a major in college, that decision is not always one you are definite on. It’s hard enough deciding what you will have for dinner tonight, but on top of that what you want to do with the rest of your life?! As Patrick Smith learned, “while this career (accounting) is demanding, it is extremely rewarding.” While accounting is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea,’ RSM helps many interns cement their decision to pursue accounting.  “I think my internship helped solidify my decision to major in accounting. I have felt that my accounting classes have always come easy to me, but it was much more beneficial to get experience outside the classroom with such a successful accounting firm like RSM” (David Snell).

I just met with my client’s CEO, no big deal…
Not every intern can say that they have met with a client’s CEO, CFO or owner. But RSM is proud to specialize in the middle market, which means even interns have the opportunity to meet with executives and CEO’s. “I had the chance to work with both higher level people within RSM as well as out in the field with a client. From staff to partner, everyone was great to work with and were role models for the interns. One of my favorite parts of the internship was being in on high-level meetings or conversations between a partner and the CFO/CEO of the client. Just listening to two people who are at the top of their professional converse in this setting was an awesome experience. RSM exposed their interns to everything regarding the engagement which was something I appreciated” (Patrick Smith).

There is even the opportunity to interact with upper-management within the RSM walls. “There were numerous occasions where I worked and discussed projects with Directors from my team at RSM. They viewed me as a valued member of the team and made sure I was being included in a variety of projects” (David Snell).

Bring on the Confidence
You can’t put confidence on a resume, but you can bring that with you wherever you go. “I feel much more confident after my internship. It's amazing to go from in the beginning of January not really knowing much about an audit to the end of March and pretty much being able to do sections of an audit on my own” (Tony Schoenberg).

The real world isn’t that bad…
If you thought getting through your next round of finals was hard, entering the ‘real world,’ isn’t much easier. But, RSM truly tries to show you the ‘whole picture’ when it comes to what to expect out of a career at the firm. “To be honest, I was pretty nervous coming into the internship. However, RSM made it a very smooth transition to adjust to the corporate lifestyle and I felt comfortable within a week of my internship” (David Snell).

Anthony Schoenberg
David Snell













Sarah Benedetto
Patrick Smith

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why I love RSM

Libby Almond
Tax Associate, Des Moines, IA
I knew I would like doing my job - the technical aspects, the physical calculations, the tax forms. But would I like my job? As someone who has only known classes, homework, and syllabi, this was a scary question. Then I started at RSM, and knew it was the perfect fit.

The culture here at RSM is, in one word, positive. The people are welcoming, encouraging, and simply excited about their job. Upon starting, I had plenty of opportunities to get to know my coworkers thanks to multiple office get-togethers, and I was surprised at how easy it was to connect with people of all levels and positions within the company. Through CPE courses, flexible schedules, and multiple industries and business lines, each person is able to find what they’re passionate about and choose the work experience they strive for. To me, it was immediately evident that RSM and the people that work here truly want each of us to succeed.

Having people around that care about me and my career have made this a great first year at RSM. I enjoy doing something different every day and have been able to work on more complicated projects through the guidance of my coworkers. I’ve learned an incredible amount, worked with awesome clients, and met great people. So to answer that question: thanks to the positive culture of RSM, I love my job!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hakuna Matata

Editor’s Note: Michelle Nolan was the first of nine RSM US LLP (RSM) employees given an opportunity “pursue their passions” through the firm’s 90-90-9 program. Through 90-90-9, RSM is celebrating its 90th anniversary by providing nine employees with $90,000 ($10,000 each) and nine paid days off to fulfill their personal dreams. Michelle’s dream? Provide water to orphans in Africa, while achieving a personal goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Read her story:


This all started with one small idea a few years ago. Over time, with the support of others, I ALLOWED it to grow into one HUGE crazy dream. Now, in 2016 that dream grew even BIGGER and also came true! I emphasized ‘allowed,’ because often what holds us back from dreaming or accomplishing things is ourselves; it’s our fears, our self-doubts and our worries. The longer we let those linger, the more hold they have over our lives and decisions. I believe that happiness is a choice and the only one who can ensure that for myself is me! I’ve also found the bigger supporter I am of myself, the more I believe in myself, the less fears I have… I’m giving others the confidence to be supporters, as well, and to be confident in me too!

I’d like to give a special shout-out to Becca Brown (travel partner extraordinaire. “Asante Sana Rafiki!” (That’s Kiswahili for, “Thank you very much, friend!”) Looking back on this trip and the experiences leading up to it, I think I speak for both of us when I say I am humbled and grateful. I went into this wanting to gain strength, courage and inspiration. I got that and so much more. I continue to struggle to find the words to describe my experiences! I’m simply and utterly in awe –  of myself, of Becca, of the generosity of RSM, our friends and families and all of those who reached out to support us physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially; in awe of Kilimanjaro, of the 20+ children at Living Water Children Center of the 600+ kids of Yakini Primary School and  of all those in Africa who have devoted their lives to the children and making their communities a better place, to those who have so little financially, yet have more true “wealth” than most I know. The beauty of this trip is that even though it ended, the impact continues to grow!

We arrived in Tanzania, after traveling 27 hours, with emotions ranging from excitement to fear to disbelief. Our luggage included 90 pounds of donations: school supplies, sports equipment and clothing. (Many thanks to those at RSM who donated!) Yes, 90 pounds, a bit ironic huh!? (Insert Alanis Morissette song lyric here.) We were tired and nervous, but strong and ready. This is also when it started sinking in that running water, plumbing, a solid roof and beds were a thing of the past for the coming week.

You might think that as novice climbers we’d pick a small mountain, but no! We went with the “go big or go home” approach, and chose a difficult route, with only a 46-percent success rate for the ascent and descent in seven days. Why? Good question! I wondered that myself – from the day we booked it until the day we reached the base of the mountain. The route was rated high in scenic value and low in traffic. (I wonder why?!). Apparently we’re suckers for a good view and a huge challenge! Becca and I both also chose to have a sensible level of naivety. We went with the “know enough not to get ourselves killed, but leave the rest alone” approach. We figured we’d tackle each thing as it came. And we did.

SUMMIT DAY! The day had come, one day sooner than expected, for us to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Our guide informed us that the night we planned to climb, a storm was expected, so he recommended we go a day early! (Insert freak out moment here, and reminder: I’m a moderately fit asthmatic!) We took the guide’s advice. This meant that within a 26-hour period, Becca and I spent just over 20 hours climbing and hiking. I still cannot put into words what that experience was like. It was life-altering, breathtaking (figuratively and literally – the air is sparse and thin), and truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Those moments are etched in my memory and will forever bring me joy!

After summiting the mountain, we headed to Arusha to stay with the Kimaro family, who founded both Living Water Children’s Centre and Yakinni Primary School. They graciously opened their home and their hearts to us, as they have to so many others and countless children. The children’s center is just up the hill from the family’s home. Becca and I, raced up the hill, as I couldn’t wait to see the children and she was anxious to meet them. Instantly I fell in love all over again as I saw the smiling faces of children I remembered, as well as a number of new smiles. It didn’t take long for Becca to fall in love either. (Love at first sight does exist!) We spent the afternoon playing games, singing and taking #selfies.

Over the coming, days we made several trips to both the children’s center and the primary school. We met with the head master of the primary school to discuss the school’s challenges. The lack of funds for textbooks has been a struggle for the children, their families and the teachers. With a passion for education and reading, I was overjoyed to be able to support the school by buying and donating 422 textbooks. Previously, one textbook was shared among 10-20 students, but now nearly every student has his or her own. The children, teachers, and the school’s support staff were tremendously thankful, as they truly believe in the power of a good education.

Also at the school and in the surrounding communities, accessibility to clean drinking water has been an issue. I was honored to fund a project that now supplies the 600+ children of the primary school with access to clean water daily. This water will also be accessible for those in the surrounding communities.

I’m continually amazed when I reflect on the impact of this trip. There schools and communities in Africa who now have access to clean water and more opportunities in education because of this trip and because of RSM. The greatest gift, is that these projects will continue to impact future generations. At some point, the reach of these will be immeasurable.


Closing Thoughts
Continue to create dreams that initially seem impossible! 
  • All things truly are possible if you believe in yourself.
  • Happiness is a choice; make it a priority.
  • Running water and plumbing is a luxury to many.
  • Life lessons and growth come when you push yourself outside your comfort zone.
  • Pumba in The Lion King led me to believe warthogs would be fun and cuddly. They're neither.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt said a lot of inspiring things in her day, so I'll close out with some of her words... "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Jacqueline Pacquette

Jacqueline Pacquette | Audit Senior Associate | Omaha, NE
I grew up in a family of cigarette smokers, from in utero to the day I moved out of my parents’ house, I was surrounded by second hand smoke. While this never affected my health, it did affect my teeth. I always had cavities, no matter how often I brushed, each trip to the dentist showed new cavities. By the time I was in high school I had been through numerous root canals, and had a few teeth pulled altogether. The results of all these procedures were purely to stop any further damage. I was left with, cosmetically, an ugly smile. One of my front teeth was set a full centimeter behind all the others, another was completely sideways, and multiple others were covered in fillings that didn’t quite match the color of my teeth.

My ugly smile was always a cause of self-consciousness. I wouldn’t smile showing my teeth for pictures, and I’d cover my mouth with a hand when laughing around others. My freshman year of college, my front tooth, the one that was completely sideways, broke off at the gums. I was devastated. As if my smile wasn’t bad enough, I was now missing one of my front teeth. I reluctantly called to make an appointment at a local dentist. When I showed up for my appointment, I was in tears. The procedure to fix my one tooth would cost hundreds of dollars, but he nearly refused to do that without fixing everything else, upwards of $6,000. I knew my family couldn’t afford it.

I called my parents to discuss what the dentist had told me; my step dad told me he’d take a loan out against his 401(k) to pay for the procedures. I showed up to my next dentist appointment, with this information in hand, when I told my doctor he replied that he wouldn’t take any money from us. I was confused for a few minutes, until he thoughtfully explained that he would do all the work necessary to give me a perfect smile under a few conditions. First, he would take as much money as my dental insurance would cover. Second, I needed to keep my grades up. Third, I needed to graduate from college. Finally, fourth, that one day I would pay it forward. I heartily agreed, once again full of tears. I was so thankful for his generosity.

The next year was full of pain, having teeth pulled and all my other dental work done, before finally at the end of my freshman year having the last piece put in. For the first time in my life, I had a perfect smile. In photographs now, I’m smiling wide, and I’m not ashamed to laugh in public. The work that Dr. Chris did for me changed me as a person, he gave me so much confidence and I’ll never be able to truly thank him for what he has done.

With the help of Teammates (a mentoring program), I’d like to identify a high school student in need, in Omaha with a promising future, who could use a new smile. I would use extra time off for the process of identifying the student, becoming their mentor, and attending appointments with them. In the process of mentoring them I would like to take the student and their family to Storm Lake, IA to meet my dentist, Dr. Chris.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: David Campbell

David Campbell | Consulting Supervisor | Boston, MA
During my first summer as an employee I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful sub-Saharan African country of Cameroon. The context was a visit to a friend in the Peace Corps who focused on cultivating a community farm, and as part of my visit I spent time working on the farm in preparation for the harvest. It was through this experience that I was able to see first-hand an example of the ingenuity possessed by many across the continent.

One afternoon a young boy (whom we called Calvin) who was helping on the farm ran over to a mango tree on the walk home, and began to climb it with a stick he’d fashioned into a kind of sword. Moments later mangoes began to rain down from the branches, until enough had accumulated on the ground. After climbing down Calvin then took off his shirt, filled it with the felled mangoes and loaded them into his expertly tied shirt which he then placed on his head. Two miles later when we returned to the village, Calvin went house to house until every mango had been sold.

Unfortunately for many individuals in developing countries this enterprising attitude is without an outlet, due to a general lack of opportunity and resources. Most notable is electricity, to which an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access, roughly half of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 700+ million in the region rely on dangerous and inefficient forms of energy, such as solid biomass, leading to indoor air pollution and often deadly fires. Among these people are millions like Calvin who have the inventiveness, ambition and intelligence to make better lives for themselves and their families, but are limited by an inability to tap into commercial markets via phones and computers as well as health problems arising from the dangerous energy alternatives upon which they currently rely.

Energy sources and policies have always been of special interest to me, given the incredibly significant worldwide impact that they have economically, geopolitically, ethically and environmentally. As part of my senior thesis as a student at Boston College, I explored these implications by studying the renewable energy investments made by Texas and Massachusetts. Both states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards which stipulate for the state’s utilities what proportion of electricity generated and sold to consumers must come from renewable sources, and both have illustrated a) the enormous potential for clean energy capacity, which is even more exaggerated in sun-soaked sub-Saharan Africa, and b) the resulting benefits in the form of eventually lower recurring energy costs, cleaner air, reduced reliance on oil-producing nations in the Middle East, and growth in domestic green energy industry. All of these potential benefits exist in developing Africa, an area which desperately needs the economic growth that investment in and availability of clean energy can provide.

One very promising source of such clean electricity is solar power. The abundance of sunlight makes photovoltaic panels extremely effective, and advances in conversion and storage technologies have drastically lowered the end user costs to purchase and install the panels. A company that has made incredible progress in spreading solar power to rural areas is M-KOPA, which as of this year has provided energy access to more than 250,000 off-grid homes in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with its ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. Customers make an up-front deposit for the PV unit, in addition to daily payments for a year after which they own the unit outright. Based on the economics the company estimates households save $750 over a four-year as compared to kerosene purchases, savings which do not consider the very significant health benefits of eliminating kerosene usage and the resulting air pollution.

My proposal is to work with M-KOPA or a similar organization to obtain and distribute these solar units, to households, businesses and administration buildings which will be identified using networks established through my prior visit to Cameroon, as well as through organizations devoted to the cause. One such organization is the Solar Electric Light Fund, a nonprofit which has completed projects in more than 20 countries over 25 years. The budget attached illustrates that as many as 200 units can be distributed, all the while providing opportunities to speak and connect with local communities to identify specific needs and teach about the mechanics of the equipment and the opportunities it can provide. Given the scale of this initiative a significant portion of the time and effort required to carry it out will need to occur prior to being on site; thus the two-week trip represents only a portion of the total investment, and the coordination to identify recipients and acquire and distribute units will occur prior to the departure date. I have already begun to identify companies and NGO’s which have presences in the region to make this process most efficient and effective and will continue to do so. Additionally the distribution process will likely require more than the two-week trip, and partnering with these organizations will allow for it to occur organically over the necessary time period, so that my time on site can be focused on development and issue resolution. Given that the daily financing cost of 40 KSh/day ($0.40) is less than the average daily cost of kerosene, these payments will be the responsibility of the user.

As fortunate as we are, it’s often easy to overlook the threats and dangers faced by hundreds of millions of Africans, from severe air pollution to the presence and influence of terrorist groups. One of the most effective ways to combat these threats is to help improve local economics and opportunities, and the distribution of clean electricity represents a uniquely affordable way to achieve just that.

Thank you for this opportunity. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is so seriously committed to its employees and their values, and I am excited at the prospect of displaying these values of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence and stewardship as I pursue my passion.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Nyasha Gopo

Nyasha Gopo | Consulting Manager | Charlotte, NC
“Coaching is all about having someone believe in you and encourage you, about getting valuable feedback, about seeing things from new perspectives and setting your sights on new horizons.” - author unknown

Imagine if you can for a moment a young Zimbabwean man with an American wife and a year-old child. They pack their bags in their Cape Town home and move to America because the wife misses her family. So in the aftermath of a huge North Carolina snowstorm, they arrive in Charlotte with the intention of beginning a new life. If you can imagine this, you will see me five years ago, a young Zimbabwean man full of anticipation and hope for his new life in the U.S.

When I look back at that first winter, I shudder thinking about the na├»ve man I was five years ago. I was a Zimbabwean with an established career in South Africa. I believed once I arrived in the U.S.—as a result of an internal transfer with the firm I worked for in South Africa—I would be able to carry on from where I had left off. Little did I know that when I immigrated to the United States, I was to begin the painful journey of joining a new culture.

After barely a month in the U.S., I realized something was wrong. My senses were struggling to keep up with everything new that bombarded me. The accents. The business culture. The focus on managing perceptions and self-image. Early on my manager said, “Nyasha, perception is reality.” These words added a weight that hung heavy over my shoulders, this responsibility of ensuring that other people thought well of me.

In South Africa I had been selected for leadership programs, and I had given presentations that met with a roomful of applause. However, in the U.S., I was losing confidence. Full of self-doubt, I retreated into a shell because of how often I had to repeat myself because of my accent. I felt sidelined at client meetings when people spoke over me or just ignored me.

Instead of being the potential leader and talented speaker others once called me, I was now called, “Too quiet. Too soft. Lacking in technical competencies.”

Those early months and years in the U.S. left me confused, lonely, and defeated. Most of all, I started to believe what people were saying about me. Maybe I wasn’t smart after all. Maybe I was too soft and too quiet. Maybe all that perceived leadership potential had just been sympathetic talk from people who felt too sorry to tell me the truth.

I felt my managers inaccurately suggested areas of improvement for me without fully understanding the challenges of transition I was going through. No one was there to believe in me and encourage me. No one provided me with valuable feedback to help me see things from new perspectives and set my sights on new horizons.

Fast forward to the present day, and I have found my voice again. With the help of family, counselors, wisdom, faith, and the passage of time, I have come to understand the culture in my adopted home, and I have come to know myself better. My new culture holds many ideals: the extroverted ideal, the body image ideal, the loud no-nonsense business type ideal. I’ve realized it is easy to become lost in this culture if you don’t meet these ideals.

With a greater understanding of my adopted home, I have more enthusiasm. I share with people who I meet how one can navigate this culture especially as an immigrant. A friend of mine recently began the same journey that I did five years ago. I have spent time talking with him about the new life here. “Take your time,” I have said to him. “You’ve just gone through major change. It will take time for you to figure things out.”

As I spoke with him, I was reminded of my enthusiasm for helping other people thrive. I have long known myself to be an encourager of others. I have a passion for helping other people realize their potential in spite of the odds they may face. This past summer my newly immigrated friend and I had another intense conversation about the process of learning to thrive in a new culture. My friend told me, “You are a great coach. You should do this for more people like me.”

For me those words confirmed a passion that has been growing in me for a long time. There is so much rich experience and knowledge new Americans and immigrants can bring to our country and our businesses. However, the transition to a new culture often involves shaky starts and a reduction of confidence. As an immigrant who is now proudly a new American, I want to see new Americans and immigrants reach their fullest potential and realize from early on that they are not alone.

When the 90-90-9 opportunity was announced, excitement filled my thoughts as I dreamed of the possibility of pursuing formal training as a life coach with a focus on immigrant and new American populations. Our very own firm, RSM, has a fairly significant number of immigrants and new Americans. I want to help these individuals and others like them tap into their potential and achieve the best for themselves and society at large.

Coach U is an organization focused on the training and accreditation of life coaches through the International Coach Federation (ICF). I dream of being formally trained as a certified life coach through Coach U. This would be a huge step toward extracting the potential of immigrants and new Americans here at RSM, in my own community, and in our country as a whole.

As a certified coach, I will be able to help others like my newly immigrated friend to find their voice, stand tall, and be all they were born to be for the benefit of our society.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Nicole Knudtson

Nicole Knudtson | ICS Director | Minneapolis, MN

One evening, over 11 years ago, I asked my 2 year old daughter a question.

I had been working at RSM for two years and my projects were picking up steam and my work demands increasing. It was professionally fantastic as I was finally finding my career path. Personally, the timing was tough on a young married 20-something with a small child. Every day with a 2 year old holds something new and my husband was there to experience it all. I knew my career was very important to our family, but I also wanted to stay as connected as I could to my family.

On that regular evening years ago, I was tucking Cassidy into bed after the normal LONG bedtime routine. I looked her in the eye and asked her what her favorite part of her day was.

That night changed our family.

Cassidy’s eyes lit up. And she shared.

To this day, I can’t remember the specifics of that first “favorite part,” but I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I was fully engaged and focused into finding out what was the best part of her day. It was the first time I stopped and practiced my empathetic listening skills from my college communication courses. And my daughter felt heard, understood, and important.

Every night since then, we close out our evening by sharing what our favorite part of our day was. This now includes our second daughter, Samantha, and anyone we happen to be with at bedtime. Every evening we learn a little more from our girls on what is important to them, even at nine and thirteen years old. And our girls learn about Mom and Dad’s day too. Was Dad’s favorite part the success of having everyone try a new dinner, the good run he had that morning, or when he heard Cassidy was student of the month? Was Mom’s favorite part the fun she had playing volleyball, the success of a work project, or getting to go to Samantha’s choir concert?

Seven years ago I saw the power of this new routine and was inspired to write a children’s book called “Favorite Part of My Day.” I had the intention to get it printed and share our family’s tradition with others. Time and money have always been a hurdle. This opportunity would provide me the means to navigate both obstacles.

My proposal is to make my publishing dream a reality. The alignment of my project to our values and our brand promise is amazing. It is about connecting and truly understanding each other. I’m looking to showcase the stewardship value and attempt to leave a lasting impact to individuals within our organization and beyond. In addition to the actual publishing process, I plan to use three of my PTO days out in our RSM offices speaking to the Family First Employee Network groups and have also included the cost of some books to be distributed at these events. I would also look to have each of my daughters accompany me on an office visit.

I propose that 25% of any further royalties beyond the initial book purchase go to the RSM Foundation to allow me to continue my stewardship to the firm. With my current estimations of the book cost at $6 and the retail at $10, each book sale would produce $1 to go to the RSM Foundation general fund. This will allow for me to not only impact individuals within RSM US, but also to the RSM Foundation we’ve established for years to come. I believe that the intent of my passion is in direct alignment with the purpose and focus of the RSM Foundation to advance the education and well-being of children.

If my family routine can help other young families stay connected, I will feel that I am upholding our stewardship value and the delivery of our brand promise to our most important personal clients…our loved ones.