November is National Career Development Month. In honor of this month-long celebration dedicated to encouraging individuals to focus on their professional development, we spoke with a few employees about their career journeys and what they have learned along the way.
Whether you are in the accounting industry or not, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Big 4 Firm.” This term refers to the four largest accounting firms in the U.S. — Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG).
While Big 4 firms have been praised for their prestige, competitive pay, and opportunity, they are not immune to criticism. Many have shared stories of toxic culture, long hours, and demanding clients.
We talked with four of our People, Kevin Testo, Jen Wood, Leah Swarthout, and Jarrett McDonald to learn about their personal experiences at Big 4 firms, why they left, and what drew them to and keeps them at The Bonadio Group (TBG).
Personal Connections and Culture
Kevin Testo, Partner—Albany, NY
With nearly 20 years of experience in public accounting with a focus on tax-exempt clients, Kevin is well versed in the unique requirements and reporting matters affecting a variety of these organizations. He is also a leader in firm’s employee benefit plan practice and conducts educational seminars in the employee benefits area.
Kevin joined Bonadio in 2009 after working for a national Big 4 Firm, which he joined after college because that was what he was most familiar with.
“During my time in college, the professors heavily pushed Big 4. In a way, that is all I knew, so I ended up only interviewing with Big 4 firms,” said Kevin. And when he received a job offer, he immediately accepted it without truly knowing what his new role would entail.
Kevin decided to switch from the Big 4 to TBG during the Great Recession of 2008.
“During this time, many Big 4 firms were downsizing, while Bonadio was expanding statewide and within the Capital Region. It was a great time to try something new, without leaving public accounting,” shared Kevin.
After 13 years at TBG, one of the main reasons Kevin has stayed is the amazing opportunity for growth, including making it to the Partner level. “As a Partner now, my role is to continue creating those same opportunities for others.”
Among the many differences between Big 4 firms and TBG, one of the main ones Kevin noticed was the culture. “Our People are our top priority,” says Kevin. He furthered, “Partners at TBG really get to know our People on a personal level and interact with them daily.”
A Sound Support System
Jen Wood, Partner—Rochester, NY
Jen came to Bonadio back in 2019 with over 18 years of audit experience. She is currently a Partner within the firm’s Commercial Audit practice as well as the Director of Audit Innovation. In her present role, Jen brings new tools and technology to the firm to create a more efficient and effective audit practice.
Jen attended college at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, NY. Despite growing up in Rochester and having no intention of moving outside of the area, her professors directed her towards multinational Big 4 firms. She trusted her advisors and sought out PwC as they had the biggest presence in Rochester. “I suppose I didn’t have the ‘professional skepticism’ I needed at the time to challenge that recommendation!” joked Jen.
After almost 18 years at PwC, Jen realized she had reached her glass ceiling there. “I was told that I would need to relocate in order to enter the partner pipeline, but I didn’t want to leave Rochester.” While she enjoyed the work she was doing and was pleased to be in Rochester with her family, whom she attributes much of her career success to, it was not possible for her to move past Director at PwC in Rochester. She stated, “I was a top performer, but it was defeating knowing that I would not be considered for the partnership simply because of my geography.”
Although she was skeptical and did not want to start over at a new firm, her husband and Partner at TBG, Charlie Wood, encouraged her to explore switching over. She decided to meet with Mike Parrinello, Partner, and leader of the Firm’s Advisory and Commercial Practices, to discuss further. Jen was immediately impressed with Mike and the firm’s aspirations for growth and development and before long, she began her career at TBG.
Jen enjoys the flexibility, continuous learning, and support for her ideas in her position at TBG. “I’ve never felt so supported in my 21-year career. Whether I need a budget for a new pilot, resources for a special a project, or simply sound advice, I have a team of collaborative professionals who support me and my development,” said Jen.
Flexibility and Atmosphere
Leah Swarthout, Scheduling Senior Specialist—Rochester, NY
Leah started with TBG back in June 2022 as the firm’s Scheduling Senior Specialist in the Rochester office. In her current role, she is responsible for general scheduling and monthly reporting for the audit practice, project management system implementation, and more.
During on-campus college recruiting, Leah focused on interviewing with the Big 4 since these firms generally offer a wide variety of locations and competitive starting pay. After completing graduate school, Leah worked at PwC for five years.
Although Leah generally enjoyed her time at PwC, she was ready for a change. “I was losing interest in the job and was not feeling satisfied with the number of hours I was constantly working,” said Leah.
Around the time Leah was looking to make a change, her former PwC coworker and current TBG employee, Danielle Fiorello, reached out with an opportunity at TBG. Leah followed up with this lead and applied shortly after.
“I was initially drawn to TBG as I have a handful of friends who have loved working at the firm!” shared Leah. She continued, “I have enjoyed my job and the flexibility that comes along with it. My direct supervisor, Lindsay Thaine, is very accommodating and has made me feel very welcomed. I love the culture of the office and the work I do. I could not be happier with my switch!”
Small Firm Mentality with Big Firm Capabilities
Jarrett McDonald, Senior Accountant—Syracuse, NY
Jarrett recently started as a Senior Accountant at our Syracuse office. While Jarrett interned at TBG during his undergraduate years, he decided to start his career at a Big 4 firm because he was interested in the big city lifestyle as well as working with publicly traded F500 clients. He interned at PwC in NYC and ultimately started full-time with them out of their Boston, MA office.
In addition to the desire for a big city lifestyle, Jarrett wanted experience at Big 4 firm. “Exposure to SEC reporting requirements, and controls tested allowed me to better understand the inner workings of F500 companies. However, having the Big 4 experience opened the door for me to make the jump back to Bonadio,” said Jarrett.
Jarrett decided to switch back to TBG as he found his personal goals changing. He realized he wanted to stay in Syracuse long-term and the switch to TBG allowed for him to stay in public accounting, while beginning to integrate back into the Syracuse professional market. “The regional firm aspect of TBG gave me the right balance of small firm feel, with the same capabilities I was used to at PwC,” shared Jarrett.
If you’re interested in learning more about a career with Bonadio, don’t hesitate to reach out or
check out our current openings on our careers page.