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Lessons learned on the job get a thumbs-up

Jason Wood was ready to conquer the world when he was done with college. But he still had more to learn.
"When I got into the workforce, I realized my professors did not teach me all the skills I needed to know," says Wood, president of WoodCPA Plus P.C., a 2008 Forty Under 40 alum.
He is not alone. Like Wood, other young professionals have learned on the job-not in college-some of the most important lessons about being successful in business.
While earning his BBA at Southern Methodist University and an MBA from the University of Dallas, Wood studied liberal arts and business administration.
One of Wood’s earliest lessons in the workforce was about perception. In school he learned early on that facts are facts, but on the job he discovered that others’ perceptions of a situation also count.
"I quickly adapted to manage others’ expectations and ensured that the perceptions that existed were what I wanted others to perceive. I wanted to ensure that I portrayed the image that I wanted others to see," Wood says.
Students today need to realize that what others think becomes reality, sometimes despite the facts, he adds.
Amy Brisson, a partner at the CPA firm DeJoy, Knauf and Blood LLP, says working taught her that relationships are extremely important. It was something she did not learn in college.
"On the job I learned the importance of developing strong, lasting, personal relationships with my clients as well as my co-workers and employees," says Brisson, who graduated from SUNY College at Geneseo in 1996 and specializes in entrepreneurial services at DeJoy, Knauf and Blood.
This is something that has taken years to put into practice.
"Clients trust that I have the technical knowledge and education to meet their needs, but what they are really looking for is someone who can provide them with the security to know their family will be taken care of financially if something were to happen," Brisson says.
The firm is more successful when co-workers build relationships with each other and care about each other’s success, she adds.
"These lessons are important, since it has taught me it’s not just about the debits and credits," Brisson says.
When Brisson, a 2010 Forty Under 40 honoree, meets regularly with her clients, she focuses on their current and future plans and has learned to step back to ask how she can help them reach their goals.
Similarly, Jeffrey Calabrese, an attorney with Harter Secrest & Emery, says building relationships is key. After graduating from SUNY Buffalo in 1995, Calabrese worked as a law clerk in the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court. Today he is an employment litigator.
Calabrese, who belongs to the 2005 class of Forty Under 40 honorees, learned how to think like a lawyer and to write like a lawyer in law school but not how to build client relationships. Building trust with clients is something learned while working.
"Getting to know other businesses and understanding how my skill set could help those clients was a challenge as a new lawyer," Calabrese says.
Another workplace lesson has been that each business has its own needs.
"You have to figure out the best way for them; you can’t apply the same set of rules. You have to be nimble," Calabrese says.
For him, college did not stress the importance of maintaining a good work/family balance. It is hard to do when you are just starting out and working hard to prove yourself, Calabrese says.
"But by the same token, you have to make sure you’re there for your family and take care of your health," Calabrese says.
Calabrese believes colleges do a better job these days than they did when he was going to school nearly two decades ago. Internships and classes better prepare students for the real world.
One reason colleges prepare students better, he says, is that the practice of law has become much more like a business.
Today more than ever, "clients expect creative and economical solutions from their lawyers, and it is important that we train new lawyers to recognize this," he says.
Wood tries to convey his work experiences to his own students, hoping that the anecdotes are helpful. He is a professor at Chancellor University in Cleveland and serves as the undergraduate program chairman at its College of Business.
At WoodCPA Plus, he specializes in information technology auditing. He also is a frequent speaker for professional organizations and an adjunct instructor at universities in this area.
Wood has learned about taking risks in real-world practice. As an accounting major, he was always taught to minimize risks. Even though he had undergraduate and graduate education in business administration, he was never taught how to take risks, Wood says. He played it safe in school and in the workforce, at the beginning.
Then, he says, "I realized that the individuals who were willing to take the big risks were the ones that were promoted faster and typically made more money. So I adapted. I started taking risks, and fortunately many of them paid off."
He found success working at large accounting firms like Deliotte & Touche LLP and later in his own business.
"Today I manage my perceptions of others and am willing to take risks," Wood says. "I am not certain how exactly my professors could have ever taught that to me without me directly experiencing it myself."
As a professor, he tries to teach how business really operates and how to manage perceptions and take risks.
"I am not the professor who has had years of academic training without the real-world experience," he says. "I bring to my students the theoretical knowledge balanced with the practical experience of the real world."
Wood encourages students to get the most out of their academic experience. But they also need to realize that many tools needed to be effective in a chosen field are found outside university walls.
"You learn so much on the job," he says. "The lessons you learn are invaluable."   

Lynette Haaland is a freelance writer and a former Rochester Business Journal reporter.

11/11/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail


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