Beyond the Ivory Tower

Where accounting professors go when they want to go back to school. Plus, signs that Yahoo's Susan Decker may doff her CFO hat.

With seven years in public accounting, a Ph.D., and teaching experience at Washington University and Villanova University, associate accounting professor Shelley Rhoades-Catanach would seem somewhat overqualified for an internship. But she eagerly applied to KPMG’s professor-in-residence program — an internship for academics — last year in hopes of making herself a more valuable resource at Villanova. “I wanted a current perspective to make me the best possible career adviser for my students,” says Rhoades-Catanach, who spent three and a half months working in KPMG’s Chicago office last spring.

KPMG developed the program as part of an ongoing effort to bolster its relationships with universities and, by extension, their accounting students. During recruiting events, “we had a lot of faculty say, ‘I wish I could do an internship,’” says Blane Ruschak, national director for campus recruiting. “Faculty [members] want to stay current on the industry.” KPMG piloted the program in its tax practice, with Rhoades-Catanach the first professor accepted. This year, the firm will offer internships in the audit and advisory groups as well.

While at KPMG, Rhoades-Catanach researched international tax issues and dug into tax controversies for clients undergoing audits. “The program was structured so that I would be a working professional, not an observer or educator,” she says. As a result, she was able to return to her classroom and stress the importance of research and teamwork. “Sometimes students will complain that I give them too much group work. But often in a professional setting you’re trying to work with a partner, a manager, and a client, and coordinating that is part of the job.”

Rhoades-Catanach sees opportunities for similar internships at other types of companies. “There are always projects in the finance department that an academic could work on,” she says. If your company recruits on campus, don’t overlook the faculty talent pool. — Kate O’Sullivan

A CFO’s Search for Revenue

Susan Decker is trading in general ledgers for page clicks. As part of a massive reorganization, the now-interim CFO of Yahoo has been named head of its Advertiser & Publisher Group in hopes that she can pump up revenue and create more value for advertisers, an area where the roughly $37 billion Internet giant has floundered.

Yahoo’s stock price fell more than 35 percent in 2006 as it struggled to compete with Google’s aggressive advertising strategy and a technology gap caused by the delayed release of Panama, the company’s new advertising technology. But analysts say the new streamlined focus of the organization and a position that leverages Decker’s background will help relieve the chaos. Decker was once a publishing and advertising research analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

“The fact that she got a job more consistent with her background suggests that management liked her but just didn’t feel she had what they needed in a CFO,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. This new role, however, could have additional benefits. “Usually you don’t take someone out of a top-level position to lead a unit, but it is closely tailored to her strengths and could put her in line as [CEO Terry] Semel’s replacement,” says Enderle.

That possibility might suit her well. In 2005, Decker told CFO she spent “a lot of time setting the tone and the vision, finding the people, and rethinking the priorities and accountabilities” for Yahoo (see On the Record, September 2005). — Laura DeMars

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