Apple executive, Kennesaw State alum encourages students to aim high
KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 16, 2021) — A moment of clarity during an intro-level accounting class nearly 30 years ago started Aaron Gagnon on a journey that has taken the Kennesaw State University alumnus around the globe and led him to become the top internal auditor for Apple, the world’s largest technology company.
Gagnon, Apple’s chief audit executive, earned his accounting degree from Kennesaw State in 1994. He returned to campus this week from his home in Austin, Texas, to speak with students in the Master of Accounting program about careers in the industry and the role Kennesaw State has played in his success.
“You can do whatever you want with your degree from KSU,” Gagnon said during the talk at the KSU Center. “It can take you around the world and to the top levels at any company.”
He speaks from experience. After graduation, Gagnon spent 20 years at Ernst & Young – including seven as a partner – performing audits and other professional services for major companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Walmart and McDonald’s. These positions allowed him to live and work in Germany for five years and in Japan for nearly four. Gagnon later served as chief audit executive for Abercrombie and Fitch for three years before moving to Apple, where he currently manages all global internal audit activity for the $250+ billion company.
Gagnon traces his career back to a moment of clarity he experienced early in his college education.
“I was taking an intro to accounting class and, halfway through it, I realized accounting made sense to me while many of my classmates were struggling to understand it,” Gagnon said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I might be good at this. I should make this my career.’ From that point on, I was all in.”
He began working closely with accounting faculty to explore professional opportunities while also participating in extracurricular activities like the Student Government Association and Beta Alpha Psi, the international honor society for accounting, finance and information systems students. During his senior year, Gagnon was president of the petitioning chapter of Kennesaw State’s Beta Alpha Psi chapter, which was granted full status the following year and is active today.
Master of Accounting student and fellow Beta Alpha Psi member Angie Jackson attended Gagnon’s presentation and thanked him for helping launch the chapter, which was instrumental in Jackson landing her job as a business assurance staff accountant for Moore Colson CPAs and Advisors.
“It was great meeting someone who is the main reason KSU has a Beta Alpha Psi chapter,” Jackson said. “I got my job at a Beta Alpha Psi recruitment event. I would not be as successful without it. I appreciate that Aaron continues to give back like this.”
Gagnon’s Beta Alpha Psi faculty advisor was Steve Smalt, who now is the director of the Michael J. Coles College of Business School of Accountancy. As Gagnon’s teacher, Smalt was impressed by his student’s determination. Today, he is proud of Gagnon’s continued success.
“It’s hard to measure or describe the value for the students in hearing from such a high-profile professional who once sat where they are currently sitting,” Smalt said. “Seeing that such a career is possible for them is an immensely motivating experience.”
“Aaron not only brought a wealth of information and great advice to the students,” said Brad Schafer, one of two accounting professors who hosted Gagnon in their classes, “but his relaxed, engaging personality created an amazing learning experience.”
Drawing on his own time in the accounting program, Gagnon talked to students about the importance of developing soft skills, such as working on a team, solving problems and communicating effectively.
“KSU gave me a great technical foundation as I started into public accounting,” Gagnon said, “but the experiences I had with Beta Alpha Psi, student government, in-class presentations and interactions with fellow students were significant in forming and developing the soft skills that became important in my career.”
Gagnon’s visit also included a meeting with School of Accountancy faculty and Coles College Dean Robin Cheramie. Gagnon remarked that he is always taken aback when he returns to campus by how much Kennesaw State has grown in both size and stature since he was a student.
“Seeing the difference from when I graduated to where it is now is amazing,” he said, jokingly adding, “if I were applying today, I wonder if I could even get in.”
– Patrick Harbin
Photos by Jason Getz
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.