When it comes to the Mountain State and West Virginia University, you could say Gary LeDonne has come full circle. Growing up in Fairmont, West Virginia, he earned his undergraduate degree in accounting from Fairmont State University and then went on to earn his Master of Professional Accountancy (now known as the Master of Accountancy or MAcc) in 1985 at the WVU College of Business and Economics.
After graduation, he stepped out of West Virginia and into a 30-year-long career with one of the Big Four accounting firms, then Ernst & Whinney (which became Ernst & Young and eventually its current name of EY), which took him to many different areas of the country.
“I started in the Pittsburgh office and spent my first 10 years there. I’ve worked throughout my career in EY's tax practice serving financial services industry clients. I started working in the tax consulting group, which gave me an opportunity to create a business line in Pittsburgh at an early point in my career as an EY manager,” LeDonne said. “That first growth opportunity became a nice springboard into being entrepreneurial inside the firm, and I also provided an opportunity to run a business unit. The way public accounting works, is if you do a project and you do it well, you just get a bigger project.”
From Pittsburgh, LeDonne and his family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he made partner in 1997, and then quickly made another transition to New York where he worked with some of the largest financial companies in the world. But that was not his last stop with EY. In 2009, he was offered the opportunity to be the regional tax managing partner for the Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and D.C. region. So, back to Ohio the LeDonne family went. In 2015, after 30 years, he returned to his West Virginia roots.
Now you again can find LeDonne in a B&E classroom — the front of the classroom to be exact — working as the WVU accounting department executive-in-residence and the MAcc program coordinator. LeDonne teaches income tax accounting and counsels students on career development.
“I like helping students in the classroom and really enjoy advising them in their careers, getting them to think about where they want to go and what they want to do. That's a lot of fun,” he said.
LeDonne said in his time as a student, many of his professors provided guidance that led him to his successful career. Among those whom he expressed gratitude toward are Glen Harman, a retired Fairmont State professor Dr. Adolph Neidermeyer, a retired WVU professor, who each made a significant impact on his life and career. And now, as an educator himself, he hopes to pay that kindness forward.
“I would say my favorite part of teaching at B&E is trying to assist the students the way my professors helped me, and I hope I am doing that. The greatest honor since being back at WVU was last year when I was named a Beta Gamma Sigma Professor of the Year,” LeDonne said. “The award is picked by the students, so it made me feel really good.”
On top of being able to teach at his alma mater, he feels fortunate to be back in West Virginia. LeDonne and his wife Renee, who is also a native of Fairmont, made the decision long ago that they would make their way back to the Mountain State, and they do not regret that decision.
“One of the greatest things about West Virginia is the people.After having been away for 30 years, people would say welcome home. That just makes you feel good,” LeDonne said. “Part of our motivation to come back home is to see what we could do to help move West Virginia forward, which is also a motivation to be part of WVU, since WVU is the growth engine for the state.”
The LeDonnes demonstrate this commitment by serving as ambassadors for the state, noting that West Virginia is not always well understood outside of the state and that the national stereotypes are bothersome.
“We interact with friends from all of the different places we have lived. When they come to West Virginia to visit us here, they see this is a beautiful place,” he said.
When you ask LeDonne about what his greatest professional accomplishment is, it is easy to see he has always been an educator at heart.
“On the professional side at EY, probably the most rewarding thing would be telling somebody that they made partner. Joining the partnership changes their lives and changes the lives of their families,” he said. “Developing the next generation of partners has kept the firm in business for over 100 years.”
In addition to his role at WVU, LeDonne serves as a member of the MVB Financial (MVBF) Corporation Board of Directors. MVBF is one of the few publicly traded corporations headquartered in WV. LeDonne also serves on the Board of the Fairmont State University Foundation. The LeDonnes are also active members of Saint Francis de Sales Parish in Morgantown.
In his spare time, LeDonne likes to work out, bike on the local trails and spend time with his family, which he considers to be his greatest personal blessing.
“Renee and I are fortunate to have two great kids, Garrett and Haley. Getting them through college and helping them along life’s journey has been far and away the most rewarding aspect of my life,” he said.