July 31, 2017
Most certified public accountants (CPA) would consider the greatest day of their professional life to be the day they are made partner at one of the Big Four accounting firms. For Vaughn Cook, an audit partner at EY in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that day was just a bit different.
“People always ask me what is my most rewarding experience about being with the firm? Everyone expects me to say it was the day I got promoted to partner. We have a superb internship program here. We have this process where the interns actually sit down and interview the partners just so they can get a feel for what it's like to be a partner. There are a couple of guys that I worked with for a number of years since they started who were promoted to partner about two years ago,” Cook said. “My proudest moment with the firm was actually when those guys got promoted because it was an opportunity where I could look at them and realize that they finally had become everything that I thought they could be even if they didn't always believe in themselves. Feeling like I had had some small hand in helping them develop their career along that path was certainly very rewarding for me.”
Cook is a 1996 accounting graduate of the WVU College of Business and Economics, and he has been with EY for 21 years. When launching his career path at B&E, Cook knew the accounting route was where he could really make a difference.
“I liked the idea that public accounting gave you exposure to so many different types of experiences. I liked the idea of working directly with clients, face-to-face,” he said. “I liked the idea of working with different clients in different industries and just getting exposure to so many different opportunities. That always seemed like a natural path for me. I'm not one of those guys that does really well sitting at a desk doing the same thing day after day.”
In his current role, Cook is responsible for the overall client relationship in terms of making sure the audit gets done, working with them on specific transactions, understanding where their business is going and helping them identify and drive solutions to try to get them on the right path. And even after 21 years, Cook says he loves the opportunity to work with clients in a very deep and caring level.
“To boil it all down, it really is about the people that you work with. I have always loved the people interaction that is part of the profession, not just with our clients and us as the auditors, but even within audit firm and just having the ability to develop and shape careers and help people so that they grow and achieve whatever it is that their particular goals are. I've always enjoyed that piece of it, as well,” he said.
In addition to his affinity for public accounting and building relationships with clients, it is also very apparent Cook serves as an inspiration for the future leaders of the industry, especially for those who are in the WVU accounting program. Even as a partner, he is very involved in the recruiting process and hopes to help students also find the right fit at EY.
“I always tell [students], ‘Just keep your mind open to all the experiences and opportunities that are in front of you whether you choose to go in public accounting or just accounting on a broader basis. If you’re in public accounting, you'll develop a set of skills very quickly. They're very broad, very deep, that people are going to value outside of public accounting. You owe it to yourself to open those doors and peek on the other side and see what's there. Sometimes that means through the great opportunity. Sometimes it validates that the opportunity is not what you want it to be and you're still on the right path. But I think that career in accounting opens so many doors and opportunities,’” he said.
On top of his support and encouragement through advice, mentorship and recruitment, the CPA also continues to show his appreciation for his alma mater and the accounting department at B&E through a generous gift to the department.
“It has been over 20 years since I graduated, but to this day, I am still extremely grateful for the education that I got there. Given the career path that I've traveled and where I am as a partner, I've got maybe more of an opportunity to give back than others do. I certainly want to maximize that. I still feel a strong sense of loyalty and pride to WVU, and in particular B&E and t accounting department,” he said. “When I look at the experience I had and the education I got there, it gave me such a great foundation to do what I'm still doing now.”
But while Cook is proud of his career and his ability to give back, he has three other accomplishments that illuminate his life – his wife, Kristin, and their seven-year-old twins, Jonathan and JoAnn.
“I love spending time with the kids. They're very active in all sorts of different things. My daughter is on the swim team now. They both play soccer, softball and baseball. I just love spending time with them,” he said.