Around the World with an Accounting Degree: Jane Poulin ’84

August, 2010

by Barbra Alan

Who says a career in accounting can’t be exciting?

John Anderson photo.

Jane Poulin’s career has taken her around the globe to Austria, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, China, and the Netherlands, among other places. She has served as chief accounting officer at a Fortune 500 company and has twice served at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where she’s been privy to some high-profile corporate and accounting fraud cases. Now she’s involved in negotiating newly-proposed international auditing standards with expert accountants from around the world.

A Great Start

Poulin, a native of Lee, NH was the first in her family to attend college. A good student, she was accepted at all of her top choices, including Plymouth State. Eager to start studying in her field of choice, she chose Plymouth State, which she says, “worked for me financially and allowed me to immediately major in accounting.”

To friends and family, Poulin’s choice in major came as no surprise. Growing up, she had an affinity for numbers, was a frequent visitor to her salesman-father’s office, and often joined her parents on business trips. Early in her college career, however, she learned that it would take more than just a natural ability with numbers to succeed. “I thought I had understood my intermediate accounting class, but then we had our first test and I didn’t do very well,” she recalls. Sensing her disappointment, her professor, former business department chair Paul Buck, pulled her aside after class. “We had a little conversation and after that, I buckled down, worked harder, and did well. It wasn’t easy, but I needed that wake-up call.”

Poulin maintained a strong GPA throughout her time at PSU, consistently earning a place on the Dean’s List and the President’s List. Shortly after graduating in 1984, she embarked on what has become a highly successful accounting career. Every position she has taken has offered her not only more responsibility, but also, as Poulin notes, “more opportunities to learn and to be challenged.”

A World of Opportunity

In 2000, after working as an auditor for well-known firms in New England, Poulin was ready for a new challenge. On a whim, she applied for an associate chief accountant position at the SEC and got the job. From 2000 to 2005—a period that saw many high-profile corporate and accounting scandals, including Enron, WorldCom, and Adelphia—Poulin served as a technical accounting and auditing expert, providing advice to commission accountants, SEC registrants, and public accounting firms.

After five years at the SEC, Poulin was ready for a new opportunity, and for four years served as chief accounting officer at Corning Incorporated. She returned to the SEC in 2009 as associate chief accountant, again in the Office of the Chief Accountant, but now focused on international matters. In this role, she works on policy, standards setting, and the convergence of global accounting, auditing, and ethics standards. “It’s a lot of reading, writing, and interpreting rules,” she says.

Because of the nature of her work, Jane has developed strategies for politely deflecting questions from everyone from cunning reporters to curious dinner party guests who may ask about confidential matters. And while she maintains an unflappable demeanor publicly, privately, she enjoys the excitement and intrigue of her work. “I remember I used to call my mom and say, ‘My issue’s on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today!’” she says. “It was kind of neat to know you were working on an issue that would rise to the upper left column of the front page of the Wall Street Journal.”

Giving Back

“I’ve done so much that I never envisioned doing, and I think it all comes back to having great parents who raised me well and the opportunities I had at Plymouth State,” Poulin says. “I learned that good things happen when you work hard and do the right thing. Now I have the opportunity to give something back.”

That “something” has taken a number of forms. Last February, she came back to her alma mater to present a session on the SEC and meet with College of Business Administration faculty and students, who were especially interested in her work negotiating new international auditing standards and her thoughts about the recent financial crisis.

During her visit, she met PSU accounting major Mitch Shortell, for whom she has since served as a mentor. At Poulin’s urging, Shortell applied to a competitive summer internship opportunity with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in Washington, DC. The board, which reports to the SEC, oversees the auditors of public companies to protect investors and the public interest by promoting independent audit reports. After a 30-minute interview and a reference from Poulin, Shortell landed the internship. “Jane was a tremendous help to me throughout the process,” he says.

Poulin is also supporting PSU in the form of charitable giving that will help make a PSU education more accessible to deserving accounting majors. Who knows? Maybe someday, they, too, will launch an exciting career beyond anything they envisioned.

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