Alumni of Distinction: Elizabeth Stuart

September 21, 2016

Elizabeth Stuart, B.B.A. Accounting ’94, will  receive the 2016 Alumni of Achievement award at Green & Gold Gala on Oct. 1.

Elizabeth Stuart, 2016 Alumni of Achievement recipient (Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage).

Elizabeth Stuart, 2016 Alumni of Achievement recipient. (Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

When Beth graduated with her accounting degree, she had false inklings that she’d need to get, as she says, “old and serious.” Then, she connected with KPMG, a vibrant group of effervescent accountants who convinced her—via kayaking, trail running, and making the most of Alaska—that this career was actually a lot more energetic and exciting than most people expect. She’s been a valuable advocate for the company, the career field and for connecting current students to future opportunities ever since.

Today, Beth is managing partner of KPMG’s Alaska office, helming a 50-person crew that offers audit, tax and advisory services across the state. Thanks to her career success—achieving a management position with an international company, all from her hometown in Alaska—and her continued dedication to current students, Beth will receive the Alumni of Distinction Alumni of Achievement award at Green & Gold Gala on Oct. 1.

A is for Accounting

“I wanted to be a heavy equipment operator,” Beth said, explaining the unorthodox, roundabout road that led her to accounting. A high-achieving student in Eagle River, she qualified for a tuition waiver to UAA and opted to delay her construction career plan. As a freshman student, the accounting degree caught her eye. Why? Because it was listed first alphabetically. “So that’s why I went into accounting,” she laughed.

She continued netting high grades, maintaining her academic scholarships each semester. On campus, she joined the Accounting Club and worked for the College of Business & Public Policy (CBPP), two organizations she is still involved with today.

Heading into her senior year, she started a summer internship in Juneau with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. The gig coincided with the Fund’s annual audit from KPMG. For a busy three weeks, KPMG’s team of energetic accountants descended on the Alaska Permanent Fund office to crunch numbers by day and plan their after-work bike rides and night hikes. Beth got to know the team and, by the end of their short visit, she had a job offer. But first… she had to finish college.

Beth graduated in 1994 and started her career with KPMG, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms, soon after.

Have calculator, will travel

And she’s been there ever since, thanks to the unique benefits of accounting in Alaska. During her career, Beth has built longstanding relationships with her clients, returning to certain projects and people year after year, even as her positions changed. Her annual calendar is full of variety; she works with a diverse group of industries and companies, including serving as the lead audit partner for the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Secondly, she’s had the opportunity to see the state. Accounting is an unlikely avenue for travel, but KPMG teams circulate throughout Alaska, focusing on projects for a few weeks at a time in fishing towns, rural hubs and any office in need of an assessment.

Lastly, she’s enjoyed various avenues for career growth with KPMG, with new challenges at every next step. For example, several years ago, KPMG tapped her for a rotation in its Department of Professional Practice. So she moved her young family to Manhattan to join the company’s top team of national advisors for a spell.

Connecting the college to careers

Though she appreciated the East Coast opportunity, she’s glad to be part of the Anchorage community again. She sits on boards for Junior Achievement of Alaska, Habitat for Humanity Anchorage and United Way of Anchorage. In addition, she’s on the CBPP Advisory Board, strengthening the connection between current students and their future careers. Her drive to connect her alma mater and her company speaks volumes about her commitment to both.

When Beth first started at KPMG, about 20 percent of new hires in Anchorage came from Alaska, with 80 percent from Outside. As a valued voice at CBPP, Beth has worked to shift that balance, shaping long-term strategies that pinpoint areas for improvement in Alaska grads. KPMG recruiters now frequently talk to classes about accounting careers and, each summer, Beth’s office accepts about a half-dozen student interns, many from UAA. Many, like her, get a job offer before even starting their senior years. As a result, the numbers have flipped; about 80 percent of new hires come from Alaska, and four of the five partners in Anchorage are UAA grads.

“It’s nice to be connected with the students,” said Beth, who received CBPP’s Outstanding Alumna award in 2011. “They want your advice and trust what you say. You can really make a difference in their careers.”

Speaking of influence, Beth has made a significant impact on students. She eagerly participated when two of her staff started a scholarship fund drive in 2011 and, together with a match from KPMG, the office contributed $10,000 to provide scholarships for UAA accounting majors. In 2015, Beth encouraged UAA alumni on her staff to raise funds again. Along with another KPMG match (and a personal match), they raised another $10,000. In five years, nine accounting students have received a significant financial boost from alumni employed at KPMG.

Oct. 1 is a big night

In a lot of ways, KMPG’s Anchorage office is a reflection of Alaska’s close-knit communities. “I like that our office is small enough that we’re all connected,” said Beth. “I’m managing partner of the office, but that doesn’t mean a new associate and I can’t just chat.” After all, thanks to her focus on educating Alaskans at UAA, she has more than a few things in common with each new addition to the team.

It’s one of many reasons she’s grateful for UAA. “To be able to encourage students 20 years later? There’s no reason to go elsewhere.”

Twenty-two years into her accounting career, Beth hasn’t become that “old and serious” person she feared. Need proof? On Oct. 1, while she’s accepting her Alumni of Distinction prize at the Alaska Airlines Center, her family will be at Kincaid Park accepting her other award of the night—the 2016 Anchorage women’s motocross title. Yes, this managing partner still finds plenty of time for adventuring in Alaska.

 

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement

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