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Dec 15, 2021

Alumni Highlight

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

UNCW Alumni Follow the Path to Partner at EY
The mission of the Cameron School of Business is to prepare students for knowledge-based decisions, career progression, and business leadership in a global environment.  The stories of four UNCW alumni at Ernst & Young (EY) provide powerful evidence of a clear “mission success.” Cameron School alumni Jim Bongiorno, Malcomb Coley, Michael Lucente, and Patrick Ryan are all partners in the global professional services firm.  Their successes illustrate how education, combined with talent and perseverance, can fuel achievement.

EY is a $40 billion professional services network headquartered in London, England with 700 offices in 170 countries around the world and over 300,000 employees.  The firm helps clients ranging from startup businesses to Fortune 500 companies in four service lines—Assurance, Consulting, Strategy and Transactions, and Tax.  In the United States only about 3400EY employees have reached the coveted, premier leadership position of Partner. 

Jim Bongiorno, an Assurance Services Partner in the Raleigh, North Carolina office graduated from UNCW in 1994 and has been a strong supporter of the University and the accounting program for over 25 years. 

Malcomb Coley earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting and MBA at UNCW and currently serves in multiple leadership roles in the firm, including EY Central Region Private Leader and Charlotte Managing Partner.  Coley was also recently appointed to a four-year term on the UNCW Board of Trustees.  Like Bongiorno, Mr. Coley has been a generous contributor to the university and an inspirational mentor to a host of accounting students and aspiring professionals. 

Michael Lucente and Patrick Ryan achieved this career milestone in 2021 and agreed to share some of their thoughts and experiences.  Both men earned undergraduate and Master of Science in Accountancy degrees at UNCW and currently serve in the Charlotte, North Carolina office.

Patrick Ryan (MSA, 2006) remembers exploring career alternatives and attending college in upstate New York before moving to Wilmington, North Carolina to find work and eventually engaging with UNCW’s Department of Accountancy and Business Law.  Ryan credits UNCW faculty, including Professors Joanne and Howard Rockness (now retired), with introducing him to the accounting profession and the opportunities available at the “Big 4” accounting firms (including EY).  He notes that gaining work experience before deciding on a career path was the right choice for him, because he learned in different jobs that the business operations aspect of the work was where he felt most comfortable.  Patrick also credits the MSA Program with helping him build both a professional network and the technical, writing and teamwork skills that have supported his development into a subject matter expert on state income and franchise taxes.  In his own words,  

“The programs, infrastructure, and the Cameron Executive Network were all key to my success; because I didn’t have a formal business or corporate background, the support at the school was a key component to this introduction. I was free to ask questions, get more background, and learn what intelligent questions would be,” Ryan reflected. “The extracurricular opportunities provided beneficial aspects, like the professional dress seminars, dining etiquette, and Beta Alpha Psi. Even the networking opportunities in the classes themselves - and seeing my classmates succeed too.”

Michael Lucente (MSA, 2003) found himself on a similar journey of exploration at the beginning of his college career. He attended UNCW with the goal of playing soccer on a scholarship, only to be cut three weeks into the season. Finding himself in his dorm room considering leaving the school, a teammate who was in the same situation poked his head through the door and suggested they head to the beach. The salt air did them good, and they decided to try their hand at the business program. Lucente first studied under the guidance of Dr. Tom Janicki, who still teaches in the Cameron School of Business. After securing an internship focused on Information Systems, Lucente realized his heart wasn’t in it and switched to the accounting concentration.  Like Ryan, this decision launched him on the path to Partnership at EY, where he works in Transaction Advisory Services.

Michael Lucente’s peers remember him as “eating salad and studying a lot,” while Lucente remembers spending most of his time on the water and attending sporting events. Balancing work and play, Lucente also remarked that the closeness of the faculty, staff and peers in the accounting programs contributed to his development of foundational leadership and networking skills he would need to move into the partner role.  Reflecting on his year in the MSA Program, Lucente mentions his accounting “flash cards” that were present on many occasions, including a road trip to Nashville to watch UNCW play in the NCAA tournament!

Ryan and Lucente followed similar paths after graduation. Both were recruited to work for another Big 4 firm out of college, before eventually moving to EY.  The two wouldn’t meet until years later, on the UNCW MSA Advisory Board, where they also got to know Malcomb Coley.   As with many other aspiring professionals, Mr. Coley took interest in the two alumni, ultimately participating in their recommendations for the partnership this year.

When asked how the Cameron School of Business helped prepare them for career success, all highlighted similar themes, including:

  • Building strong technical skills in accounting
  • Honing the skills need to work with, develop, and lead team members
  • Learning to navigate and resolve complex situations
  • Focusing on core competencies to provide great service to clients
Lucente, Ryan, Bongiorno  and Coley all noted that UNCW faculty and staff take a personal interest in students, offering genuine guidance and friendship through the programs and beyond.  Members of the MSA cohort also provide a network of support that follows UNCW graduates into their careers.   The fact that many other EY employees are UNCW graduates brings a stronger sense of community to their teams. 

Accounting professor and department chair, David Mautz, shares that UNCW is fortunate to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with EY.  Providing skilled professionals to EY and other accounting employers is a key goal for the Department of Accountancy and Business Law.  In return, the firm and its UNCW alumni contribute on many levels.  EY provides internship and career opportunities to many UNCW students each year.  Students receive financial support through multiple endowed scholarships funded by EY partners and employees.  EY funds a faculty fellowship to recognize an outstanding professor and provides professional speakers for Business Week and other campus events.  Two retired EY partners, David Jessen and Neil Harris, have also served as Executives in Residence in our Department. 

Mautz recalls multiple occasions on which students at Business Week have asked Malcomb Coley “What does it takes to become a partner at a major firm like EY?”  Coley’s consistent response has been to master the task immediately before them and keep advancing to the next level of responsibility.  Great advice, and the evidence suggests that this approach has paid dividends to for Michael Lucente and Patrick Ryan.  We look forward to more success stories going forward.  Congratulations Michael and Patrick!
 Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 90 full-time faculty members and 30 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,600 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 750 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].

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