Following a 32-year career as a tax partner with Ernst & Young (EY), Barry Gershenovitz ’85 (accounting) is leading change for the tax program at his alma mater. He is a professor of taxation and director of external relations for Mihaylo College’s Department of Accounting. He discusses his vision for the tax program and how alumni and professionals can give back, the tax courses he teaches, and how students can get started in the industry.
For Barry Gershenovitz ’85, earning an undergraduate degree in accounting at Cal State Fullerton’s business school established the foundation for a rewarding career and life. As a student, he was president of the Cal State Fullerton chapter of the accounting honor society Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), which laid the groundwork for what would be more than three decades of service to the accounting program at his alma mater. It would be through BAP that he would meet his future wife, Camille, the daughter of an economics professor at CSUF. The couple were married at the Fullerton Arboretum in 1986.
Today, accounting runs deep in the lifelong Orange County resident’s family. His wife and stepmother-in-law hold CPA certifications and his son is studying accounting.
But for the elder Gershenovitz, who had little exposure to accounting during his upbringing, it would be high school aptitude tests that would first spark an interest in the field. “I took a bookkeeping class in high school and it seemed to come easy to me. They didn’t have another accounting class, but I became an assistant for the teacher, so they gave me special tutoring assignments,” he says. “I then declared accounting as my major at CSUF and took my first two accounting classes here, which were easy, so I stayed at it.”
He is working to ensure that the opportunities available to Mihaylo College accounting students seeking taxation careers are commensurate with today’s realities. While taxation is a growing and dynamic field for today’s young professionals, Gershenovitz notes that the challenges of automation require graduates to have a deeper knowledge of the field than ever before, which means more applied experience and developed aptitudes.
“Tax preparers are seeing their functions taken over by technology. A lot of the functions, such as calculating tax depreciation, are done with programs or bots today,” he says. “And then with outsourcing, a lot of the big firms are sending the day-to-day tasks to outside service centers. So tax professionals need to have more knowledge when they come into a firm.”
A New Chapter for the CSUF Mihaylo College Tax Program
In 2017, Gershenovitz retired from his partnership at EY to focus on teaching tax full time and leading a recalibration of the college’s taxation program.
“I’ve worked to build strong relationships with the accounting firms and fellow alumni. We are trying to build relationships at the department level with all of the firms, including the Big Four, mid-tier and smaller firms,” he says.
Simplifying requirements for the graduate taxation program, which would enable Mihaylo College to better compete with similar programs at other California institutions such as USC, Golden Gate University and UC Irvine, was one of Gershenovitz’s first successful initiatives. “This lets working professionals enroll right away without taking a lot of the prerequisites or the GMAT,” he explains. “We have added classes that are relevant to the profession, such as accounting for income taxes. Our vision is a world-class graduate program that all the firms will want to utilize to educate their employees.”
Gershenovitz encourages fellow industry veterans to consider lecturing opportunities at Mihaylo College. “While we need academics, there is also a need for lecturers with work experience in the field, especially in taxation,” he says.
As a member of the Accounting Advisory Board, which connects the department to alumni and industry expertise and advising, Gershenovitz and the Department of Accounting are attempting to build a broader engaged community of professionals, including alumni, who support the program’s visibility, outreach and connections. As the department’s footprint grows, there are plans to expand the program to a School of Accounting.
The two courses that Gershenovitz teaches – the undergraduate ACCT 308 – Concepts of Federal Income Tax Accounting and the graduate-level ACCT 572 – Seminar in Taxation of Corporations and Shareholders Corporations II, support tax education for undergrads and graduate students.
“ACCT 308 equips students to understand tax at the basic level, such as to take the CPA exam. It is a required course for the accounting program and the students have a wide range of career paths in mind, from regulation and law to tax preparation,” he says. “In contrast, ACCT 572 is for students who are already in the field. I spent my career mostly in corporate tax, especially serving public companies, so much of my experience comes out in 572.”
Among the topics in the graduate course are the tax consequences of corporations, the impacts on shareholders, and the tax implications of mergers and acquisitions.
“We do corporate tax returns, look at the benefits of various entity types, and review relevant court cases,” he says.
For Gershenovitz, giving back to the Department of Accounting has been front and center for the more than 32 years he spent with EY. In addition to connecting students and alumni with opportunities at the accounting giant, he also worked with the department’s now retired chair, Betty Chavis, to forge relationships with the industry and raise awareness.
“I was in charge of fundraising for the Department of Accounting when I was with EY, so we did a lot to raise awareness of what CSUF is doing,” he says. “At EY, we gave fellowships and awards for student and professors. It was and still is a good relationship between the firm and the department.”
When not teaching or practicing taxation as a professional, Gershenovitz is an avid sports fan, cheering on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Anaheim Ducks, the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the years, he has personally attended two World Series championships and several NBA finals and Stanley Cup events. He also has a passion for tennis, attending two grand slams.
Another hobby is collecting bobbleheads – the accounting professor has more than 1,000 of them at his Tustin home – including one with his likeness holding his cell phone, representing his tendency to always check his mobile phone for client messages while working for EY.
Getting Started in the Field
For current students hoping to make taxation a career, Gershenovitz encourages participation in BAP or the Accounting Society (AS). “I might not have gotten a job in the field if I wasn’t president of BAP,” he says. “This is even truer today, as the firms are hiring earlier and earlier and offer a progression of sophomore leadership, internships and then you get your job. You have to start early,” he advises. “Get involved and get work experience when you’re in school. Do VITA [the college’s volunteer tax preparation program] or an internship. It is getting more and more important because the entry-level jobs are requiring more skills than ever before, so they want someone with some knowledge. You’re always building your résumé, especially after your freshman year.”
Endeavoring to land an entry-level job during the summer before your senior year is a good goal for undergrads. “It’s a nice feeling if you have your internship between your junior and senior year, they give you a job offer at the end, and you have a job when you graduate,” he says.
For alumni, Gershenovitz encourages continued engagement with the college, even after graduation. “Once you graduate, still be involved with the school, not necessarily monetarily, but you might be able to teach a class, be involved in recruiting students at your firm,” he says. “That way, we can build a family.”
For More Information
For more on the Mihaylo College accounting program, visit the Department of Accounting online or at SGMH 4313. For more on the graduate-level M.S. in taxation, visit the program’s online page for admission requirements, prerequisites and requirements.
To get involved with the Department of Accounting as an alumnus or alumna or business professional, reach out to Gershenovitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.