What can you do with a liberal arts or fine arts degree? It is a question that many millennials (and their parents) are asking more and more since the crash of 2008. Recent statistics showing flat or declining humanities majors and rising STEM majors back this up. However, students that lead with their dreams may discover, to their delight, that their degrees lead them to good salaries and satisfying work. Psychology majors may not wind up seeing patients but love management, where empathy and encouraging employee growth are considered key skills. English majors become content marketers and painters can become web designers. Gender studies majors might find a mission in human resources. Musicians become … tax professionals or accountants? That’s right.
AJ Major, a partner in a California CPA firm, plays in a rock band and notes that he has run into a lot of accountant-musicians. In a blog post on music and accounting, he quotes a colleague who said: “I think there’s a connection between the left and right side of the brain. Accounting and music [are areas] where there can be that crossover.” It may be more than coincidence that audio and audit have the same Latin root that means “to listen.” Janet Jackson and Mick Jagger studied to be accountants, after all.
“You need some creativity and individual thought in both.
–Linda Weng, Assistant Tax Manager, The Clorox Company
and GGU student
From Symphonies to Schedules
Linda Weng was a top-notch violinist in the Shanghai Wanfang Symphony Orchestra, traveling to several cities in China to give performances. Playing Mozart’s music filled her with a sense of well-being and is her favorite composer to this day. She calls herself part of the “professional audience” now, “because I know what I like. But music is a better hobby than a career path.” Does Weng draw a connection between her music background and journey toward a CPA designation? She says yes:
“You need some creativity and individual thought in both. The law is interpretive, like looking at a music score. You can listen to other symphonies, but each has its own way to understand a piece. We use software in tax and accounting, but there are different ways to solve problems. You don’t have to do like you did it last year. So it is each employee’s responsibility to solve a problem. My company encourages finding a way of your own.
Learning to adapt is important because in the symphony we are always learning new pieces. This kind of change keeps things interesting in both the symphony and my current field. You must learn quickly, or you get behind—especially with the recent state and federal tax reforms.
In a symphony, you must work together. You must be seamless in the business world too, as we always rely on another department’s calculations.
Weng is currently working as an Assistant Tax Manager at The Clorox Company’s world headquarters in Oakland, with a number of Golden Gate University Graduates who are in the senior manager and director-level roles.She has two classes left in GGU’s MS in Taxation program.
Music Majors in Tax & Accounting Schools
Weng is not alone in experiencing the “audio-audit” connection while getting a master’s degree in taxation at Golden Gate University’s Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation. The school’s Dean, Fred Sroka, says:
“Many of our successful accounting alumni have a background in liberal arts. In Taxation, laws are always changing and are subject to interpretation. Our graduates describe how they enjoy collaborating with executives to analyze situations and decide what moves to make. We have many music majors that have thrived in the GGU Master of Accountancy program, because musical literacy rests on an understanding of patterns and structures, along with a strong creative streak!”
In addition to musicians, The Braden School is populated by a good number of former history, psychology & sociology, and criminal justice majors. Accountants are not, as Sroka says, simply “math people.”
“One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes…This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company.”
Music Majors on the Job
When Rod Hurd first joined Deloitte in San Francisco in the 1980s, about a quarter of Deloitte’s new hires were liberal arts or music majors. Deloitte’s recruiter sought out graduates with these non-accounting degrees based on the firm’s experience with similar hires in the past. Deloitte sought graduates who exhibited strong critical thinking and communication skills with the expectation of drawing on these skills for auditing field work. “One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes,” Hurd says. “He was one of the standout performers of our class.”
This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company. Again, musicians proved to be top performers. Hurd has also been involved with a trade group, principally as the Chair of its Financial Accounting Committee, in the development of tax laws & accounting standards. “Several of the top performers on that committee are non-accountants who bring unique insights and perspectives to the issues facing the industry,” Hurd says.
Rich Carson, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was a professional jazz drum and trombone player who toured the US and Europe with his band as a young adult. PwC, he says, has periodically refocused recruiting to seek candidates from liberal arts undergraduate programs. “In a way, varying tempos, meters, key signatures, chord orientations and progressions, pitch and volume discipline, and teamwork are critical and are transferable skills to the profession,” he says. People with other fine arts degrees also do well in the profession. A dance major who Carson mentored worked her way up to Assurance Partner: “I saw her grow quite nicely in the firm. She was a very thoughtful and productive Partner and there are many more like her.”
Carson offers that computer gamers may be another non-traditional incarnation of the successful accounting candidate. A student of Carson’s at GGU (and new Deloitte associate) reached the highest competitive rank League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike and played with or against professionals. “This type of student,” Carson says, “might be more adept at the analytics and communication needed…even though he is not a ‘liberal arts type.’ He had a great capacity to recall, orient, and analyze data. I am very curious how his Deloitte internship will turn out.”
If you are surprised that musicians find a home in tax and accounting fields, you might want to look at the rest of Fred Sroka’s blog post that debunks accountant stereotypes or learn more about GGU’s tax and accounting degrees.