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Accounting for Opportunity

LIU Post School of Professional Accountancy Alumni Demonstrate Unlimited Paths to Success
By Robin D. Schatz, LIU Magazine Spring 2015

The School of Professional Accountancy is the oldest school of its kind in the nation. Founded in 1972—long before the Internet changed everything and the Big Eight became the Big Four—the LIU Post School of Professional Accountancy has continued to maintain its relevance, in the face of changing technology, by offering new programs—like the online master's degree in taxation, which was launched in 2014—as well as incorporating state-of-the-art technology into the classroom.

Much has changed in both the business world and higher education, but two very important things have remained constant: First, accounting is one of the most valuable and versatile degrees available. Second, LIU Post graduates are innovative, well-trained, entrepreneurial thinkers who build practical skills through internships and contacts through a robust network of leaders in the profession. School of Professional Accountancy graduates are eagerly recruited by top firms in a broad range of industries and roles—as accountants, tax preparers, estate and financial planners, business managers and more.

The five accomplished alumni profiled hereare just some examples of the accomplishments and unlimited opportunity accounting graduates have to apply the knowledge and skills they earned in the School of Professional Accountancy to any area of business and industry.

From executive leadership at Big Four firms to controlling financials for major league sports and global media and entertainment companies, what they all share is a strong appreciation of the school that gave them their start and an active role in the future of LIU.

Robert Damon P’80
SVP and Chief Accounting Officer
SFX Entertainment Inc.

Robert Damon knew nothing about electronic dance music (EDM) when SFX Entertainment, a leader in that industry, recruited him as senior vice president and chief accounting officer two years ago.

“Today, I could recite the top 20 or so deejays in the EDM world,” the 60-year-old boasted.

Damon and his wife frequently attend live events sponsored by SFX—and attended by fans half his age—across the United States, and around the world. In September, he’ll travel to Brazil for “Rock in Rio” and “Tomorrowland” in Sao Paolo. “If you’re going to work somewhere, you might as well enjoy the product,” he said.

Damon transferred to LIU Post in his junior year because of the School of Professional Accountancy’s stellar reputation and strong faculty, many of whom worked in the accounting profession and knew its rigors and challenges.

“What really was helpful was the guidance the professors offered on how to structure a career and what to look for first. Until I got that guidance I wasn’t sure what I should do,” Damon said. After graduating, Damon built a strong foundation for his career in public accounting at one of the Big Eight firms that dominated public accounting in the 1980s. He spent eight years at Ernst & Young, getting his first taste of the entertainment business with a client in the advertising and media industry. 

Throughout his professional life, Damon built an extensive network that has helped him advance and branch out in new directions. In 1991, as the public accounting firms were going through a wave of consolidation, he was recruited by one of his former clients at Ernst & Young to become the controller of Liberty Fabrics Inc. Four years later, he made his full-time move into the entertainment world when he was recruited by a former partner at Ernst & Young to become senior vice president and chief financial officer of Katz Entertainment, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications. The company had just gone through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and needed someone who could help them upgrade their accounting systems and processes, said Damon.

By 2012, Katz was restructuring and Damon began reassessing how to move forward in his career. “Fortunately, I had broad-based experience that helped me to find a position through networking and contacts,” Damon said.

Enter SFX, a startup in the electronic dance music world. Damon helped the business grow through acquisitions and raised money through IPOs and bond offerings. He has watched the company become, in a short span of time, the largest producer of live EDM entertainment and festivals in the world as well the owner of Beatport, the biggest digital download business for EDM.

While it doesn’t hurt that Damon gets to work at a place that feels a bit like a party every day—dance music playing in the lobby of the Manhattan-based company, no more ties—the thing he enjoys most about his job is the challenge of building an international business from the ground up. “The speed at which we move and grow is unlike any place I have ever worked,” said Damon. SFX has grown from $25 million in revenue in 2012 to $355 million in revenue in 2014, mostly from acquisitions and some organic growth. “As a result of the complexity of our transactions we have had to deal with some very challenging technical accounting and tax matters.”

Damon also pointed to the financial aspects of producing large-scale EDM events as one of the most interesting parts of his job. “The amount of planning, design and production that goes into one of our multi day festivals is staggering. As you would imagine it takes quite an amount of financial support from budgeting, ticket sales, transaction processing, and day of event support.” But, he said, it’s rewarding to see it all come together and watch 50,000 people enjoy a great event. “It is very exciting and very fast paced. It keeps you going.”

Robert Arning P’84
Vice Chair for Market Development

Forget the stereotype of the accountant hunched over a spreadsheet. Robert Arning, who recently celebrated his 32nd anniversary at the Big Four accounting firm KPMG LLP, has found the opposite:  “The most exciting thing about my job, and I would venture to say about any of the jobs in accounting, is that it’s very much a people business. It’s a very social, market-facing business,” Arning said.

“I’d like to think I woke up one day and knew I wanted to be an accountant.” Arning reflected. In reality, the first-generation college student who grew up in Astoria gravitated to the School of Professional Accountancy out of practicality. His brother was also studying accounting, and the goal was to “get a good job.”

The School of Professional Accountancy, located in today’s Lorber Hall, a handsome red brick Georgian building that was called Hutton House at the time, fairly buzzed with talk about accounting. “It had a very special feel about it,” Arning recalled.

“The setting just made you feel really good and really special about wanting to be in the profession.” Arning particularly liked the diverse faculty, made up of full-time academics and current or former professionals in private practice. “You had a very good mix of real world and academia, so you felt you were being equipped to go out and be successful,” he said.

Right from the beginning, Arning immersed himself in campus life, becoming an active member of student government and the accounting society. He also worked as a bank teller and at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts. In his junior year, he fortuitously learned of an opportunity at the Long Island office of what was then called Peat Marwick Mitchell for a “a pre-professional position.” He devoted himself to the job, working 20 hours a week during the school year and full time during breaks.

With job offers from six of the then-Big Eight accounting firms after graduation, Arning chose to stay with Peat Marwick, which would later become KPMG, and his responsibilities progressively increased and evolved along with the profession itself.

“The profession has grown and expanded in a very significant way to cover a lot more than it had years ago,” Arning said. “It’s now about data security, regulation, knowledge management, and business advice, in addition to the core mission of delivering high quality financial statement audits.”

In his current position as vice chair for market development, Arning is responsible for nurturing KPMG’s most important client relationships across the country. “I travel quite a bit around the United States, meeting with clients and prospective clients, and meeting with our people and our leadership teams to discuss how to improve and expand on how we serve our clients,” he said. “I try to identify what clients may need from us—both today
and tomorrow.”

Thirty-one years after graduation, Arning still fondly recalls his time on the verdant campus of LIU Post. It’s where he developed the foundation for his career, and, not insignificantly, where he met his wife of 28 years, Lisa Capuzzi (also Class of 1984). “I had the time of my life at LIU Post,” Arning said, “but thankfully not too much fun.”

When he’s not working, Arning enjoys boating and fishing and is active in many nonprofit organizations. He serves on Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees and is an advisor to the Partnership for New York City.

He also remains active at his alma mater, serving on the Board of Directors and Executive Board of Advisors at LIU’s School of Management and returning to campus every year to help teach an M.B.A class. Arning also speaks to accounting students whenever he has a chance, letting them know that “The opportunities in accounting are tremendous, and maybe even greater today.”

Rosemary Roser P’81
Vice President and Controller
National Football League

Rose Roser attends the Super Bowl every year. It’s one of the perks as VP and controller of the National Football League, a position this football fan has enjoyed since 2004. This year’s nail-biting game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots was a particular thrill. “It was a tremendous game. It was a crushing loss for the Seahawks and an amazing victory for the Patriots,” said Roser, staying neutral despite the drama. “When you work for the NFL, you root for all 32 teams.”

Roser’s philosophy is that a career isn’t a linear, straight-up-the-ladder path. It’s about keeping skills sharp and building a “mosaic of experiences,” she said. “It’s about getting an amalgamation of skills that positions you for where you want
to be.”

And she has certainly created a rich and colorful mosaic for herself. When she was in high school, Roser thought she would do anything but accounting, her father’s
profession. An accomplished classical pianist who practiced for hours each day, she considered a career in music. But like many students, she explored various majors at LIU Post. “Then I latched on to accounting, and I saw that I was very good at it,” she said.

Roser, who graduated summa cum laude from the School of Professional Accountancy, credits the strong curriculum and dedicated professors at LIU for giving her the grounding she needed for success. “The education was excellent. Top notch,” she said. “Some of the professors were quite tough, but they were preparing you for a challenging position in real life.” She received job offers from a number of the Big Eight accounting firms, and, like many of her LIU Post classmates, chose to join KPMG, in Jericho, N.Y.  

At KPMG, she rose from assistant accountant to senior audit manager over the course of a decade. Next, Roser moved into the  private sector, first as vice president and controller at Roosevelt Savings Bank in Garden City, N.Y., then as the controller of Comforce Corp., a temporary staffing services company in Woodbury, N.Y., followed by a five-year run as controller of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the largest and most prestigious international law firms in the world.

When Roser was recruited to become VP and controller of the NFL, the high-profile organization liked her wide-ranging experience. “The rigor and discipline of being a bank controller and managing a lot of money, having implemented a PeopleSoft accounting system at Comforce, and experience working in an entrepreneurial organization at Skadden gave me the right mix of skills,” she said.

As a privately held business organization, the NFL puts a tremendous emphasis on publishing sound financial information, Roser said. “A lot of time at my level is spent making sure we are aligned—that finance understands the accounting and that accounting understands the finance, and that we’re getting the right input in our new business opportunities.”

“Throughout your life, doors will open and others will close,” Roser said. “[LIU] taught me the importance of excellence, hard work, and continuous learning. After that, the rest was up to me.”

David Antin P’97
Chief Executive Officer
Institutional Investor

Accounting wasn’t the obvious path for David Antin. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. But after an affecting conversation with a successful older cousin, he realized that accounting was a good foundation for law school or whatever he might choose to do in the business world later on.

With this new perspective, Antin went from a full academic scholarship to earning his bachelor’s degree from the School of Professional Accountancy, a foundation that led him from an entry-level public accountant to chief executive officer of the  publishing division of Institutional Investor, a leading international financial business media company. 

Antin got his first taste of the media business as an intern at a telecom company doing payroll and other functions. As graduation approached, he decided to take a break before committing to law school. “I did enjoy the accounting work, and I wanted to give it a try,” he said.

As it turned out, Antin never found the need to go to law school. Before graduation he had offers from several major accounting firms. He accepted a position at Arthur Anderson, where he worked in public accounting for several years. He moved on to a role as vice president of finance and operations at Argent Trading Company, a private equity-backed international trading firm. “I’m an entrepreneurial spirit. I enjoyed the business aspects more than accounting,” he says. 

In 2002, Antin joined Institutional Investor as director of finance and operations. He learned the ins and outs of the publishing business at the company, owner of the eponymous flagship financial magazine and other business titles, as well as a conference business. Over the next decade, Antin leveraged his accounting and business background, taking on management roles within the organization, starting with smaller projects and moving on to progressively larger ventures.

Antin became Institutional Investor’s chief executive officer, a position that requires a wide range of business and leadership skills. “You don’t have to be an accountant, to be a CEO, but it definitely helps,” Antin said. “Being able to read and understand financial statements really helps you make informed decisions about where to apply your capital in the business.” Antin said.

The publishing industry is both exciting and challenging, Antin said. “Technology has drastically changed the publishing industry in many ways. For us, it’s about our competitive advantages and our reach in the industry, using our brand and our know-how.”

Antin remains active in the LIU Post alumni network, and is impressed by the great achievements of his fellow School of Professional Accountancy alumni and their commitment to giving back to the school. He serves on the alumni Board of Directors and the Board of Advisors for the College of Management. He also serves on the selection committee for a new dean for the College of Management at LIU Post.

James F. Flanagan P’82
East Region Vice Chair
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Jim Flanagan decided in high school that he wanted to be an accountant. “I never wavered. That was my declared major when I started college, and when I ended. Thirty-three years later I’m still doing it.”

Flanagan was the first in his family to go to college. He started at Suffolk Community College and transferred to LIU Post, where he thrived in the School of Professional Accountancy.

“The teachers were very practical and hands-on,” said Flanagan. “Many were in their own practices or they worked in firms. They could take topics and apply a real-life context to them.”

After graduation, Flanagan joined the small Long Island office of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). He thought he would spend two years there, pass his CPA exam and then move on. But he enjoyed the work as a public
accountant and received good feedback from his supervisors.

Soon, Flanagan began advancing into leadership roles as senior public accountant, then manager in the audit practice. Next, he was offered the opportunity to move to the giant Manhattan headquarters to work in a new business called Transaction Services, which handled mergers and acquisitions. “I was doing well at that, and it became the path I stayed on, and I said to myself, ‘I think I’ll have a run at partnership.’”

In 1994, Flanagan moved with his family to Cleveland, where he was charged with expanding the Transaction Services practice into the Midwest. “From a professional point of view, it was the most important action I took in my career,” he said. “I had to basically go out and build a business where there was none. It went well, and seven years later I went back to New York and ran that business on a national basis.”

In 2006, Flanagan took on yet another challenge, becoming U.S. Leader of the firm’s Financial Services practice, which he led through the 2008 financial crisis, including testifying before the Senate Banking Committee about mortgage foreclosures.

“I never thought that a kid who was going to be here for two years was going to end up testifying in front of a Senate panel,” said Flanagan.

In September, Flanagan was elevated to his current position as east region vice chair. “My job is to be out talking to our clients all the time to see if we are serving them the way they expect,” Flanagan said.  

When he speaks to students at Suffolk Community College and LIU about his career journey, Flanagan doesn’t focus on the suit and the fact that he is the vice chair of one of the world’s top financial firms. “I didn’t start out thinking I would be a partner and travel to 50 countries and lead a big practice. I was just trying to get through school, work hard and see where it would take me,” he said. “I want [students] to look at me and say, here’s a guy whose parents emigrated. I was the first person [in my family] to go to college, and you can do this too.”