An Interview with President Julie Sullivan
On November 28, 2022, Officers Andrew Amerio and Noah Chak from the Santa Clara University Accounting Association had the opportunity to interview SCU’s newly inaugurated President, Julie Sullivan. Andrew and Noah were able to learn more about President Sullivan’s accounting experience, her overall view of the future of accounting, and her perspective on what makes a great leader.
Dr. Julie Sullivan was officially inaugurated on October 7, 2022. Appointed in March of 2022 and starting July 1, 2022, she became the first woman and layperson to be inaugurated as President of Santa Clara University in its history. The Board of Trustees at the institution decided to choose her unanimously after 149 nominations and 58 applicants.
As a first-generation college student from a small town in North Florida, President Sullivan was unsure of what to expect for her college journey. She moved from Jacksonville, Florida to a small town and then ventured off to the University of Florida after her junior year of high school planning to major in pre-med. She came to college as a pre-med major because she thought that was the best option for her at the time. Julie Sullivan decided after two years in pre-med that this was not going to be her path, the main reason being that she was not good with her hands while doing the labs assigned in school.
After her realization, she decided to venture into the business world, especially since she came from a family of small business owners. President Sullivan was fond of more quantitative-focused concentrations, so she considered statistics and actuary science but then settled with a major in Accounting. She stated, “I always had a quantitative aptitude” so she viewed accounting as a hybrid between business and her quantitative aptitude.
She had a 6-month internship at Ernst & Ernst (now known as Ernst & Young), one of the Big 8 Accounting firms, in Tampa, Florida at the time where she had the opportunity to experience audit for 3 months and tax for the other 3 months of the internship. She loved the tax work, where she was paired with a partner on a court case and performed the tax research for the case. It was riveting and she knew she wanted to go into tax post-graduation. Even with offers from each of the Big 8 firms, the firms would only allow her to begin in audit, so she chose to get a Masters in Taxation at the University of Florida. While getting that degree, she began teaching as a teaching assistant where she uncovered her true passion for teaching. She then decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Accounting & Economics.
During our interview, President Sullivan acknowledged the strength and recognition of Santa Clara’s Accounting Department and program: “I am proud of it; I know it is very well respected by industry. I think it gives you a great background and you will be able to get a job easily anywhere.”
Q: What advice can you offer an Undergraduate Accounting or Accounting and Information Systems major during their time at Santa Clara University and after graduation?
President Sullivan offered wonderful advice for SCU students and alumni. One of the key takeaways she touched on was to supplement accounting courses with classes that elevate general business knowledge and other areas of interest. It is important to focus on obtaining a rounded education – which is something Santa Clara University excels in.
Another piece of advice shared by President Sullivan was to focus on certain marketing, finance, technology, or other STEM fields that may be relevant to your career depending on where you are planning to work. For example, the accounting field is centered around industry depending on your office location. If biomedical technology is a prominent field in your area, consider learning more about those prominent subjects.
She explained the benefits of an accounting degree, as it teaches how to read financial statements, and most importantly, how to think logically and analytically. These skills will always be relevant whether one actually ends up practicing accounting or not. “The skills you learn will always be valuable.”
Q: “How can Santa Clara University best prepare its students to succeed in the hybrid or virtual working environment?
It is essential to prioritize time in the office, especially in a hybrid workplace environment. President Sullivan explained the importance of making meaningful relationships that will be important for your success. She suggested meeting colleagues for a bike ride or grabbing a cup of coffee. “Still find a way to get to know people even if your work is in a hybrid or remote setting.”
Q: Has there been anyone during your time in school or during your professional life that you viewed as a mentor?
President Sullivan mentioned the various mentors she has had throughout her life. As a student, President Sullivan had a professor named Jesse Boyles that taught tax and he used the internal revenue code and the treasury regulations as his textbook. This teaching style had an impact on her love for taxation, especially since she is strong in logic and enjoys the reading and legal aspects of business. This ultimately led President Sullivan to have a better understanding of the construction of codes and regulations.
More influential mentors of President Sullivan were her Ph.D. advisors, Jack Kramer and Eleanor Brown. Dr. Brown, specifically, led her more to the public economic side of taxation and how taxation impacts companies' behaviors and the decisions of public policymakers.
Dr. Sullivan further explained how there were “several people that have expanded [her] horizons” and helped pave the way for her to become a teacher:
“I started as a professor in 1983 and I was a full-time professor…until about 2005. Early in that time I went to a course at Stanford. It was a week-long course for professors in accounting and it was taught by Myron Scholes, who was a Nobel Prize winner in finance and Mark Wilson, who was an accounting professor. [The course] was about their framework of how tax impacts business decisions. They were writing a textbook and decided the best way to write the textbook was to bring [together] accounting faculty and try to teach [the concepts] to them. If that works, then that'll be [the] textbook. [Scholes and Wilson’s teachings impacted how] I started teaching MBA students about...how tax impacts business decisions and also financial statement analysis.”
Q: What are qualities that you believe make a good leader?
President Sullivan believes a “good leader is [someone who is] authentic, genuine, and has a purpose. [We] should not be leading for [our] own egos or for any kind of power. [We] should be servant leaders and be willing to be vulnerable. [Leaders] should be willing to make mistakes and be candid about admitting to those mistakes...None of us are perfect, so [we] have to have enough confidence to be able to make a mistake and move on.”
Furthermore, President Sullivan believes in the importance of leaders having a “purpose.” President Sullivan elaborated that her purpose is education and described that “leading in a university setting is very meaningful.” Leadership “needs to be something you enjoy.”
Written by: Melanie Cooper (Accounting, 2023), Andrew Amerio (Accounting 2023), Noah Chak (Accounting 2024), and Bethany Candler (Accounting 2023) December 1, 2022