“Every day I wake up and it’s like a dream,” says Riheem. “My role at BDO has allowed me to continue my personal and professional growth in a truly supportive environment."
Born in Atlanta, Riheem Jefferson was one of five children. From age 2, he bounced around foster homes, rebelling against authority, while simply wanting a place to call “home.”
Suffering through the hardships of abuse, losing a brother, and having to beg for money at such a young age, Jefferson was forced to grow up quickly.
This did not deter his hopes of overcoming the odds that he was facing, though.
“At 14, my life turned around for the better,” says Riheem. Being placed in a group home in the heart of Atlanta called the Carrie Steele Pitts home, Riheem was given things he had never dreamed of, like new clothes, his own spending money and structure.
“I was rebellious at first,” says Riheem. “Eventually, I caught on and realized I did not want to live the life I had lived before, so I started participating in all the programs Carrie Steele Pitts home had to offer.”
With the support of his group home and mentors he met along the way, Riheem graduated from high school, became the “model kid” at his group home and enrolled at Savannah State University.
As a business management major in his junior year, Riheem realized he was running out of money to pay for his final year. With a great idea and some help from Google, Riheem found nsoro, an organization whose mission is to provide access to post-secondary education for youth in foster care.
After meeting with Riheem in Atlanta, the organization immediately provided him with money to finish school, allowing him to graduate in December 2018.
With his tassel flipped and his cap thrown, Riheem took on an internship with a small accounting firm in Atlanta, where he was able to learn valuable skills and gain experience.
While interning, he was still working with nsoro, and was honored to be the keynote speaker at their 2019 Starfish Ball fundraiser, helping it raise over $1.2 million.
He is now in charge of choosing a nsoro student to work for the organization — getting paid, learning about the corporate world and gaining job experience — something Jefferson began as the first nsoro student to work for the organization.
Riheem was truly living BDO’s core values long before his time at the firm, making him a great fit.
While working for his previous employer, Riheem was introduced to Assurance Partner Peter Popo who spoke to him about BDO and invited him to apply. Although they connected on a personal level, Riheem didn’t think Popo was serious about helping him find a job within BDO until hearing from him a few days later. After a series of interviews, Popo shared, “My fellow partners and I would like to extend an offer for you to join BDO.”
“Every day I am grateful for where I am,” says Riheem. “I’m now able to take care of myself and I’m 100% independent. I’m lucky to have the best co-workers and thankful for this great opportunity at BDO.”
For Jacob LaFreniere, there are strong similarities between being a drill sergeant and being an accountant.
“As a drill sergeant, you have to plan, organize, and make sure everything happens the way it’s supposed to,” Jacob said. “Being able to juggle multiple things at once is a valuable skill in the army and as a CPA. At BDO, when I’m working with multiple clients, tracking where everyone – and every project – is at, it’s not that dissimilar from my days in the service.”
A senior tax associate in BDO’s Grand Rapids, Michigan office, Jacob started his career as an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army. After completing two tours in Iraq, Jacob transitioned to the Army Reserves so he could pursue his bachelor degree. Then, he joined BDO.
“Being in the military exposed me to a wide variety of people, from all different backgrounds,” Jacob explained. “So when I started at BDO, I was already comfortable getting to know people, making connections, and talking with clients. I knew how to be flexible and open to different ideas and perspectives.”
And although Jacob was settling into life at an office, he was still an active member of the Army Reserves, which required him to attend annual two-week training sessions. Often, at less-than-convenient times.
“One year, my training fell right after busy season, when we are still handling a higher work load,” Jacob said. “The area the army trains in doesn’t have any internet or cell service, so I was completely out of the loop. Thankfully, my colleagues stepped up, and with some solid communication, projects stayed on track.”
Because of the support he’s gotten from his office, Jacob makes a particular effort to help support other people’s flex time, and to reach out to other people serving in the Reserves.
“Since I started here, I’ve met a few people who are also in the Reserves,” Jacob said. “When it came time for them to start planning their leave for annual training, I made sure to connect with them. It’s nice to have someone there to help you figure out how to organize your projects and let clients know of your absence. I’ve tried to help make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.”
And although he left the reserves in 2015, Jacob is confident that he’ll continue to take the skills he acquired during his service throughout the rest of his career.
“Frankly, a lot of skills I learned in the military transfer well to the business world,” Jacob said. “It’s all about drive and self-motivation. In this industry – just like in the army – no one is going to do the hard work for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.”
ATLANTIC TAX REGIONAL MANAGING PARTNER
“I truly feel like flexibility is ingrained in the culture here at BDO. It’s not just another HR initiative.”
For Karen Stone, the flexibility that BDO offers not only helped her decide to stay at the firm – it helped her advance her career.
“When I had my third child, I decided to stay home with him until he was ready for kindergarten,” Karen explained. “I was nervous that I might fall behind professionally, but it ended up being a very good career reset. I was ready to jump back into things and achieve my professional goals.”
Since returning to work 12 years ago on a reduced schedule, Karen reached several major milestones in her career. She relocated to Nashville to help with the opening of a new BDO office, eventually becoming the Tax Office Managing Partner there. Along with sitting on BDO’s Board of Directors, Karen also became the firm’s first female regional managing partner.
“I’m just starting my second year in the Tax Regional Managing Partner role, and I’m absolutely loving it,” Karen said. “I spend half my time in the Charlotte office serving clients, and the other half traveling to different offices in the region. During those office visits, I’m talking strategy with office leaders, discussing what they’re doing, and other matters like partner promotion and succession planning. It’s challenging, but also very rewarding.”
As the first woman in the position, Karen knows the importance of diversity in leadership, and its role in BDO’s continued success.
“Having diversity gives us different perspectives,” Karen explained. “As a firm, we value everyone’s input and contributions. If everyone thinks alike, we’re not going to have nearly the amount of good ideas than if we open up opportunities for talented people across all backgrounds and experiences.”
Along with her management role, Karen also served as the co-leader of the Women’s Inclusion Initiative at BDO for four years, during which she focused on retaining top talent in the firm.
“My work with the initiative was centered on giving other women the support, resources, and encouragement they need to have great careers here, too,” Karen said. “I really wanted to give back, because I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great leaders who have inspired and mentored me.”
One of those great mentors was Karen’s college professor, who encouraged her to pursue her master’s degree in accounting, before it became industry standard. He also told her public accounting is a great career for women because the flexibility allows for time to take care of family.
“He was the head of the school of accounting, and told me I should participate in the school’s new, five-year program,” Karen recalled. “He was very straight-forward about it. He said ‘As you work in public accounting, you’ll have the same credentials that future accountants are all going to have – and that will set you apart.’ He even secured a grant to pay for my tuition! I was very lucky that he believed in me so much – it really jumpstarted my career, in a great way.”
When Grant Hogan was a college student in Connecticut, he and his classmates saw a need for a dedicated LGBT student center on campus. So they created one.
“We really built the center from the ground up,” Grant said. “I was already a student government leader, so I was able to help take the lead on a number of aspects, such as getting support from the administration and developing the center’s framework. It was a lot of work, but it gave me a lot of valuable skills.”
Years after graduation, Grant is still involved with the center, which serves the unique needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students by providing a supportive space, resource library, social events and educational programming. Grant goes back for campus visits to participate in panel discussions and is currently working to increase engagement with the organization’s alumni network.
“We’ve built a really great community, and we want to help people stay connected,” Grant explained. “It’s important to me that other LGBT professionals have access to the center’s networking opportunities and other resources.”
Grant joined BDO in 2014 in the firm’s Public Sector Practice. There, he works directly with top government agencies, providing key management consultancy work, including advice on workforce planning and human capital initiatives.
Grant has also become actively involved in the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiative. Eric Sobota, partner and executive sponsor of BDO’s Pride Alliance, tapped Grant to help establish the firm’s national LGBT employee network. Along with getting the support of BDO leadership, the team had the task of spreading the word and recruiting members.
“When we started the Pride Alliance, we were lucky to have support on every level, from new associates to executive leaders. But the big challenge was reaching people who wanted to be involved,” Grant explained. “We started with about a dozen members, but that number has grown exponentially since then. We have leaders identified in local offices who organize events internally and in their communities, which is great to see.”
These days, Grant acts as a coordinator of BDO’s Pride Alliance, working with offices to plan activities. This year alone, the group participated in over 30 events nation-wide, including the Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run and the Time Out Youth Platinum Gala.
Grant works with clients on-site full-time, so his involvement with BDO’s Pride Alliance helps him stay connected to the firm’s culture.
“This is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the firm,” he said. “BDO has a really supportive, inclusive culture, and I genuinely enjoy staying involved.”
“When I arrived, I didn’t have a U.S. driver’s license, a car, or even an apartment.”
For Sherwin Ignacio, moving to the United States was the adventure of a lifetime. Originally from the Philippines, he spent several years working for BDO in Indonesia, before an opportunity in Pittsburgh presented itself.
“I needed to look it up,” Sherwin said. “I had never heard of Pittsburgh before, and my friend had told me that it would be different than the cities you typically think of when you think of The States – New York, San Francisco, Chicago. I also didn’t know anyone in Pittsburgh, which was bit intimidating.”
But when he arrived, someone was waiting for him. Andy Kalas, an Assurance Senior at BDO Pittsburgh, volunteered to help Sherwin get acquainted with his new city.
“Andy showed me the city, helped me look at apartments. When I got there, he had already pinpointed a few neighborhoods I might like,” Sherwin said. “I ended up settling in Bloomfield, which is like Pittsburgh’s version of Little Italy. It was nice having someone there to help me figure everything out. We still spend a lot of time together, both in and out of the office, which is great. ”
Sherwin quickly acclimated himself to his new city, making friends and bonding with his colleagues.
“People were very welcoming,” Sherwin said. “From my first day in the office, my colleagues went out of their way to get to know me. When I first arrived, the Office Managing Partner was there to greet me and show me around. Seeing everyone so excited to meet me made me feel like I made a good decision. I immediately felt at home.”
But even he was settling well in the office, Sherwin had to adapt to other kinds of changing conditions: like the Pittsburgh weather.
“The bigger challenge was figuring out what I needed for winter. I really love having four seasons, but I think I over-prepared on the winter clothes – there was a lot I didn’t end up using!”
And although Sherwin had significant experience in the manufacturing industry in Indonesia, he also had to adapt to new accounting standards while navigating a challenging engagement.
“Most of my clients were in manufacturing, which offered some consistency for me, but my first project was a tough one. The company we were working with was filing for bankruptcy, so the audit was a bit unusual,” Sherwin said. “On top of that, I was trying to get used to my new role, transition to a new city, and learn how to work in a new culture. I wanted to give up and quit! But the people at BDO Pittsburgh were really encouraging and helpful. They gave me the support I needed to push through. Thankfully, I’ve never had an engagement quite that difficult since.”
“I’ve been to Phoenix and San Francisco for work,” Sherwin said. “But I’m always ready to pack my bags and get on a plane. I really want to visit the Grand Canyon within the next year!”