Leonardo Kim Looks To Kelley MSA Program To Propel Career

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When Leonardo Kim took his first accounting class while pursuing his online MBA through Kelley Direct, it’s safe to say he never envisioned himself working as an auditor for the Indiana Department of Revenue.

“I hated it,” said Kim.

But time and experience have funny ways of shaping a person’s perspective. And for Kim, who is now pursuing a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) at the Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis, accounting has become the gateway to a rewarding career with unlimited potential.

“I had a stereotype in my head that accountants were just bookkeepers,” he said. “I thought CEO and COO titles were only for people who had finance degrees. I was wrong. The MSA program has helped me really understand what accounting means and the true potential I can achieve in an accounting career.”

Kim’s journey into life as a government auditor was anything but ordinary.

After graduating with a degree in violin performance and composition with a minor in piano from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Kim started his career as a general manager with McDonald's. He had worked part-time for the fast-food chain while in college, and upon completing the company's management training program in Oak Brook, Ill., Kim looked forward to working his way up through the organization.

But the musician-turned-manager wasn't satisfied with the direction his young career was taking. The McDonald's management development system was too restricted in its focus, and Kim didn't like that the business knowledge he was gaining seemed limited to the practices of the fast-food giant.

“I thought it was a very narrow view of the world of business,” said Kim, who quit his job and began the Kelley Direct program. “Even though I had experience as a manager and gained many strong managerial skills while at McDonald's, I still felt like I lacked basic business knowledge.”

“As a leader in your profession, you have to be well-rounded. I always wanted to get an MBA to help fill the void of not having a strong business education, and Kelley was on the top of my list.”

After zipping through the Kelley Direct program in just 20 months, Kim again found himself working for a global giant in the services industry. This time it was Starbucks. And, as before, he found himself unfulfilled in his career.

“I had laid out a 2- to 3-year career path with my Starbucks recruiters, but after two years things were not moving as quickly as I would like," he said. "I did a lot of soul searching, and a friend told me to look into accounting. Once I did, I found what I wanted to do in business.”

In the fall of 2013, barely two years after finishing his MBA., Kim was preparing to enter his second master’s program at Kelley. But his aspirations to attend the Indianapolis MSA program full-time – students can complete the program on a full-time or part-time basis – unexpectedly changed after a meeting with a Kelley Indianapolis Career Services advisor.

With his mind now focused on a career in accounting, Kim visited the KICS office to get help changing his résumé and cover letter to better appeal to accounting recruiters. While there, he was encouraged to apply for two accounting internships that had just posted – one with Rolls Royce, the other with the state. With no significant background in accounting, Kim thought both opportunities were long shots.

"But my advisor told me that I had a strong résumé and that recruiters will be looking for transferable skills," he said.

Kim’s interview at the state Department of Revenue resulted in a full-time internship as an individual tax analyst. Two months later, he was offered a full-time job and began his new career in June.

“With my MBA in hand, some of my friends told me to just study hard for the CPA,” Kim said. “But I know the Kelley MSA will prepare me for my career beyond the CPA exam. There are a lot of places that offer accounting degrees – undergraduate and graduate – but they’re not the same.”

“This is the best thing I've ever done. I've probably never been so happy in a career.”

The Kelley Effect

What has surprised you most about the MSA program in Indianapolis?

The commitment to the students from the faculty at the MSA program in Indianapolis is high. In the spring, I took two classes – tax research and federal taxation. Federal taxation was very hard. I've never had a class like that. When I struggled on the first test, I asked professor (James) Motter if I could go over it with him during office hours. I expected to spend 10 minutes with him, but I ended up being with him for nearly two hours covering every single question. He said to me, “This is how you should approach it.” I was like, “Wow.” I don’t see huge egos saying, “I don’t have time to spend with you.”

What do you like best about the MSA program?

I spend a lot of time with volunteer activities with the Graduate Accounting Student Board (GASB). The students on the board are different in background and experience. More importantly, there are differences in cultures in the board members. To me, this is a reflection of the student body at Kelley on the IUPUI campus, which makes the experience rewarding and educational. But even though we (students) have differences in background and experience, everyone is in the MSA program to further their careers and to learn from other MSA and MST students. You get to hear stories about what it’s like in the banking sector or accounting firms in other countries or other states. Its helps students in a small way define his or her career path. And that’s education in itself, which is beyond reading a class book.

You’re president of GASB. What are your goals for the organization?

With GASB, my next goal is to get another five to eight students involved. Right now, there are 22 members in GASB. I've developed stronger friendships and stronger working connections through the organization. It will help you find a job. Recruiters are looking at character. I also think it will help the brand image of Kelley to have our students out in the community volunteering. If GASB can grow in membership, then we can make a greater impact to the Kelley school and to the community.