Russ Charlton

How would you describe the accounting program at UNC Charlotte? 
I would describe the program as being rigorous. Other students looked up to the accounting majors because everyone knew that it was difficult to make it through. The gateway to success was Intermediate Accounting! I took a lot of pride in being in the UNC Charlotte accounting program. Back then, the university was not as well known as some of the other big-named schools in North Carolina, but the accounting program held its own. The firms sought us out with seemingly the same vigor as they did the students from UNC Chapel Hill or Wake Forest. The thing that stands out most in my mind was receiving my first offer letter. I lived just across Highway 49 in an old, rundown, apartment complex that has since been demolished. I remember standing in the kitchen and calling my Mom to tell her that I had gotten a job. It was a thrilling moment.
 
Russ Charlton is the Senior Vice President and Chief Auditor at Time Inc. in New York City. He graduated in 1988 from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor of science degree in Accounting. He has vivid memories of his time at UNC Charlotte.
 
Why did you choose UNC Charlotte?  
To be honest, my best friend and my girlfriend were both going to UNC Charlotte. I really did not know what I wanted to do when I “grew up,” I just wanted to be with them.  After my first visit to campus, I was hooked. It was also my girlfriend who suggested that I study accounting. She knew in high school that she wanted to be an accountant. It just took me longer to figure it out.
 
What was the best part of your Belk College/accounting program experience?  
Wow, you are asking me to reflect back 30 years! I think one of my best experiences was the interaction with the accounting firms. It started early and made me feel like a “professional” well before I graduated. I liked getting dressed up in a suit and attending the accounting society meetings and then socializing with representatives of what was then the Big Eight. That would not have been possible if it were not for the quality and the reputation of the program and, importantly, the professors.
 
What was your first job after graduation?
My first job was Staff Auditor at Arthur Andersen. Though they called the position “Inexperienced Assistant.” It was not a great title!
 
What is your current role? 
I am currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Auditor at Time Inc. in New York City. It is a much better title!
 
What are some of the characteristics that you would attribute to your career growth?
Hard work is the first thing that jumped to mind. At Arthur Andersen, we had many sayings but one of them was “Work Hard, Play Hard.”  When it is time to work, you work hard…nights, weekends, etc. As a Staff and Senior Auditor, I observed many physical inventories on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, etc. If something needed to get done, I held my hand high. That work ethic has been recognized over and over throughout my career. On the other hand, we all need down time. When an opportunity to relax presented itself, I of course took it. Another characteristic that has been very helpful is strong communication skills – both verbal and written. Being able to communicate your thoughts, ideas and/or opinions clearly and concisely is a huge benefit in the business world and in life in general. Lastly, I’ll mention relationship building. Strong professional relationships have allowed me to achieve my goals. Strong relationships are dependent on both hard work and communication. If you work hard for your boss and communicate well with him or her, he or she is more likely to be there for you when you need it.
 
What has been a challenge you have overcome during your career?
In 2002, Arthur Andersen went out of business as a result of the Enron scandal. I had been there for 14 years and was on track to become a Partner the next year. I suddenly found myself needing to look for a job for the first time since college. Luckily for me, I had built and maintained very strong relationships with a number of my previous and current bosses. By the time the dust had settled, I had three job offers all working for former Arthur Andersen Partners. I took the job of Director-Internal Audit at what was then AOL Time Warner. I have been at some variation of that company for over 15 years.
 
What did you learn in the Belk College and/or Turner School of Accountancy that has best prepared you for your career?
The accounting classes that I took provided the foundation for my technical accounting knowledge on which I have continued to build over the nearly 30 years since I graduated. I also developed dedication and grit while an accounting student there. I can distinctly remember (and this is really true) sitting in a study room in Atkins Library on a very beautiful spring day. I did not want to be inside. I did not want to study! But, I said to myself, “OK, Russ, what you do over the next few hours is going to have a big impact on the rest of your life. Either you stay here, study and make the grade in your final accounting class, or you go outside, slack off, and risk losing the job at Arthur Andersen.”  I think you can guess what I decided.
 
How would you describe UNC Charlotte to someone unfamiliar with the university?
The UNC Charlotte of today is not the same UNC Charlotte that I attended. In the mid-1980s, UNCC was a sleepy little campus out in the country. There was still farm land with grazing cows across the highway. Today, UNC Charlotte is a vibrant, world-class, research and academic community. I marvel at how much it has changed every time I visit campus. I would describe it to the unfamiliar person as a large university that never lost its hometown roots. It is big, dynamic and fascinating while at the same time being a warm, close-knit community.
 
What excites you about the future of UNC Charlotte and specifically the Turner School of Accountancy?
I am excited for the future graduates. As I enter the twilight of my professional career, I am excited for all those who have their careers ahead of them. They will take what they have learned at UNC Charlotte and build fantastic careers as auditors, tax professionals or accountants. It is going to be a great ride.
 
What advice do you have for current Belk College students?
Pay attention in Principles of Accounting! Debits on the left, Credits on the right. Then take it one day at a time and have fun!
 
Do you have anything else you would like to share about UNC Charlotte?  
Be glad that you have Halton Arena on campus. When I was at UNC Charlotte, we had to drive about 30 minutes down to Independence Boulevard to what is now Bojangles Coliseum.  We’d get caught in normal Charlotte heavy traffic and joke, “It must be ‘game’ traffic,” even though only a couple hundred of us, if that, were actually at the games. Go Niners!