Stephen Belyn
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
By Rebekah Tilley

Iowa has a special place in Stephen Belyn's life. He spent his formative years in Iowa City while his mother, Virginia Reynolds (PhD84; MA78), completed a master's and PhD in business education at the University of Iowa. When it came time for him to go to college, he returned to the place that felt like home.  

Belyn's family valued education – his mother was then a professor at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC and his grandfather was U.S. District Court Judge George N. Leighton – but no one in the family was in the accounting profession. Toward the end of Belyn's sophomore year, his classmates were heading off to summer internships in various accounting firms, but Belyn didn't have anything lined up.

Accounting Professor Bruce Johnson, Belyn's instructor for the intermediate financial accounting, stepped in and provided some well-timed professional guidance. He made a call to a contact at Arthur Andersen in Chicago, which led to a last-minute opportunity for Belyn to interview for a summer internship. Then he offered to lend Belyn money to purchase the suits he would need for his interview and to dress appropriately for the internship.

"This story brings home that people need a lot of guidance," reflected Belyn. "My mother has two degrees in business, but she was an academic. I had no idea what an internship entailed and why it was important. Bruce broke it down for me. I didn't own any suits at the time; I didn't have a need to own a suit. He knew that would be a requirement to work at that firm in that city. In the end, my grandfather provided the money to buy the suits, but his offer emphasized how important it was to be professionally dressed."

"It was a few minutes out of his day, but those few minutes had a significant impact on my career," Belyn continued. "Those little nudges meant I went to Chicago where, not only did I start my career at one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world, but also where I met my wife. When I wanted to get an MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management, I had two recommendations: Bruce wrote one and the other one was from my coach at Andersen. I wouldn't have had that recommendation if not for Bruce."

"Those little nudges can have a really big impact on the rest of your life."

Belyn worked in public accounting and industry until 2000 when he joined FTI Consulting in Chicago.  He is currently a managing director within the company's Corporate Finance and Restructuring practice. There he serves as an advisor to lenders, public companies, and other financing sources primarily on asset-back loan and accounts receivable securitization facilities.

After Professor Doug DeJong reached out to him in 2007, Belyn began serving on the department's Professional Accounting Council where he was uniquely situated to advise the department on its efforts to diversify the student body – especially in a world where accounting firms and corporations were starved for diverse, high-performing accounting and finance talent.

"From my professional vantage point, I could see the same need from two different perspectives: larger companies wanted to diversify their workforce and there were many high school students who had the ability to do collegiate-level work but didn't know anything about business or anyone who worked in a corporate setting," said Belyn. "There are many opportunities out there. People just need to be made aware of them and steered in the right direction."

Recalling the "little nudges" that guided him, Belyn worked with the college to support the launch Tippie Gateway, a summer program for high school juniors from backgrounds underrepresented in business. Belyn and his wife Pamela, a Chicago business owner and attorney, personally helped fund the program its inaugural year so the week-long, on-campus program would be completely free for participants. After its first-year success, PwC added its financial support and the program recently completed its fourth year.

The college recognized Belyn’s service with the 2016 Tippie Alum of the Year award. In December 2017, he delivered the commencement address for the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

In April 2018, Belyn returned to Iowa City with his wife and his two children, where he was recognized as the Outstanding Accounting Alumnus at the Beta Alpha Psi banquet. Bruce Johnson made a special trip from his retirement home in Arizona to see his former student accept the award.

During his remarks, Belyn recounted the story of how, through small, well-timed actions that reflected the basic Iowa values of kindness and neighborliness, Johnson set him up for success.

This article first appeared in the 2018 edition of The Iowa Ledger, a magazine for alumni and friends of the UI Department of Accounting.