Amanda Miller
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
By Rebekah Tilley

When Amanda Miller graduated with a degree in accounting and finance in 2002, she saw her career path clearly laid out before her. After two internships with KPMG while a student at Tippie, she had a job offer and the ambition to make partner at the Big Four firm.

But in addition to ambition, Miller also had an open mind. This attitude took her on an unexpected journey and today she is the Google Cloud revenue systems and operations controller at the Google parent company, Alphabet Inc.

While on a short-term leave from Google this spring, Miller returned to Tippie to re-connect with faculty and share her story with current Tippie accounting students.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to take risks and be open to opportunities,” Miller told Managerial Accounting students. After three years at KPMG, she was offered a job with the international audit team at Abbott – a health care company based in the Chicago suburbs.

“It was a cool opportunity to travel the world, but it was really scary to leave KPMG,” recalls Miller. “When I was trying to make the decision to leave, I was sitting in the office with one of the female partners crying: ‘I don’t know if I’m making the right decision.’ And her feedback to me was, ‘We’re not going anywhere. Go try this out. If you decide it’s not the right move, you can always come back.’ That was the nudge I needed to take that risk.”

The risk paid off. The Bettendorf, Iowa, native spent two years traveling to 32 countries performing audits, then transitioned to the Transaction Advisory Services practice at FTI Consulting counseling private equity and strategic buyers on their potential acquisitions as well as working on several restructuring projects during the 2008-10 automotive industry crisis. 

After so many years of living out of a suitcase, Miller took another chance and applied for a finance integration mergers & acquisitions position at Google.

“I thought my application was going into a black box and I’d never see it again. But six weeks later, I got a call from a recruiter,” says Miller.

It was at Google that she had the opportunity to work on her first $12 billion deal: the acquisition and subsequent divestitures of Motorola Mobility. That experience sharpened her ability to work across different continents and workplace decision-making structures.

“During the sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo, the deal required significant hours of cross-border communications and negotiations,” Miller explains. “Our company decision-making processes were very different. At Google, we are empowered to make a lot of decisions, while Lenovo has a much more traditional hierarchy for decision making. The person you are negotiating with on the phone may not be the ultimate decision maker; so understanding those cultural differences was important in navigating the process and reaching successful outcomes.” 

At Google, Miller has also discovered how much she enjoys the operational aspect of accounting. She explained how she uses her accounting knowledge as basis to help the business understand the financial implications and operational impacts of acquiring new companies or launching new products.  She told the class how in her role as a controller, she is constantly going back to financial accounting as the basis of everything she does. If there is a problem they are struggling to answer, “… we always default back into whiteboarding debits and credits. That’s how we figure out what the right answer is,” says Miller.

“What’s the difference between operational and technical accounting?” asks a student.

“I didn’t figure out the difference until I got to industry,” confessed Miller. “If you decide for a career at a Big Four firm, that’s technical accounting. Your job is to measure performance and compliance with US GAAP, and you stay up on all accounting pronouncements. If you decide to take your career into consulting, that’s a more operational role. You’re advising on processes and systems, implementation of accounting guidance, but you may not be up to speed on the latest and greatest of accounting pronouncements. I like the aspect of processes and deals and how you implement accounting operationally versus how you technically meet US GAAP.”

Later, in a small group discussion with current accounting students, Miller talked about some of the interesting accounting conundrums she’s faced working with Google Cloud. The Google Cloud Platform is offered on a usage basis rather than as a subscription basis, meaning customers get charged at the end of the month based on services consumed.

“When working with our advisors and external auditors on implementation of the new Revenue Recognition Standard 606, we had interesting conversations on the application of the new US GAAP guidance as this is an emerging product area where there is not a lot of precedent to guide us,” Miller says. 

New ways of doing things also apply to workplace culture. At Google, says Miller, very few decisions are made by one person. Problems are solved by gathering teams in a conference room to talk it out and come to a consensus solution.

“Relationships become even more important because it’s about getting all of those people around the table on board with your idea,” says Miller. “You don’t convince just one person; you have to convince everybody.”

In these situations, Miller says it’s imperative that employees are able see beyond their own perspectives and recognize there are pros and cons to every decision made.

“The guiding principle is: what is the best decision for Google? I know this decision will impact your team and cause X more hours of work,” says Miller. “How do we share the burden? How do we compromise? That’s the way things work.”

When Miller graduated from Tippie 15 years ago, Google was four years old and “the cloud” was a particular grouping of water vapor floating across the sky. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. Miller’s career is a compelling anecdote on how adaptable accounting as a profession is to any economy and any industry – even those yet unimagined.

Advice from Amanda Miller

Be open to opportunity

“I didn’t know the international financial auditor role existed when I was at Iowa. I didn’t know a finance integration role existed. You’ll come across those opportunities and it’s important to be open to them.”

Relationships are everything

“Don’t burn bridges. Keep those professional connections. I have a great apartment in San Francisco that I got based on a good relationship with a managing director that I used to work for at FTI Consulting. It is connections like those that can impact your life in ways you don’t expect.”

Your Midwestern work ethic is a big asset

“Work ethic is a really attractive quality and character trait. I hire people now and the two Midwesterners on my staff are my go-to team. If I’m working on a project where I know I need someone to roll up their sleeves and grind it out, I take it to them. That’s how they were raised, that’s how they were educated, and those are values that we share and I look for when hiring.”

Establish work/life balance

“You have to set your boundaries and stick to them. You’re the only one who can do that. Plus, work/life balance means something different to every person. At Google Finance, we tried to implement a rule: no emails between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. so that people didn’t feel obligated to be working and checking their email in the evenings. The pilot wasn’t successful because some people want to leave work at 4:00 p.m., have dinner with their families, and then come back online in the evening after their kids go to bed because that’s their schedule and that’s what works for them.  Work/life balance is not a one size fits all solution.” 

Take risk in bite-size chunks

“I was 30 when I decided to leave Chicago and move to California. The idea of recreating my social circle at 30 was scary. So I told myself, ‘Get the experience of working at Google for two years, and then decide if you’ll stay.’”

This article first appeared in the 2017 edition of The Iowa Ledger, a magazine for alumni and friends of the UI Department of Accounting.