After graduating, Eric began his career in the Assurance Services group at Deloitte and Touche, and earned his CPA. Since leaving Deloitte, Eric has held multiple roles in finance and has served in the role of Chief Financial Officer since 2011, including his current role as CFO at Lighthouse and previous positions as CFO and Treasurer at A Place for Mom, and Blucora, where he previously served as Chief Acounting Officer.
When Eric is not working, he and his family enjoy time on the water and cheering for Husky football. He and his wife have been season ticket holders and Tyee club members since 2004. They have generously created a student scholarship in the Milgard School that aligns with their belief in the value of education and their commitment to academic excellence.
Dean Altaf Merchant recently had the opportunity to sit down with Eric to discuss his Milgard School education, lessons learned both while in school and after and to gather advice for current students and alumni. He’s been a guest speaker in our classes, exempliying volunteerism and advocacy for the Milgard School and higher education as a great equalizer.
- Tell us about your journey to the Milgard School and UWT? Any vivid memories, classes or school work that stand out?
My last class at UWT really stands out for me. It was a 400 level business class that divided the class members, based upon area of concentration, into teams to run a publicly traded sneaker (shoe) company. The teams make strategic business decisions, such as what market to target, price point, inventory, etc., and these decisions were run through a weekly simulation. Then each team would need to react to the simulation outcomes with additional decisions to drive the performance of the company. At the end of the simulation, each team was to deliver a full set of financial statements and a presentation to shareholders. This was such a great experience to cap off my time at UWT. I was able to work with a team to drive an outcome that turned out great for our shareholders. Further it confirmed that I had made the right choice to pursue a career in business and that UWT provided me a strong foundation upon which I could build.
- In what ways did your education prepare you for your career after attending the Milgard School?
I felt my classes prepared me well. My first job after UWT was a staff auditor for Deloitte and Touche and I passed my CPA exam in my first year, further confirming the strength of the curriculum. Additionally, I felt the time in class and even the class work encouraged collaboration with my classmates. Working with others and a classroom environment that encouraged discussion and sharing provided me confidence as I entered the workforce.
- What is the best Business Decision that you’ve ever made?
When I decided to leave public accounting I focused less on the Company and more on the person I would be working for – it turned out to be the best business decision I made. This individual invested in me and my career, allowing me to take on challenges that were beyond my experience. He gave me access to senior leadership and invited me to meetings that I had no business being in just so I could see how senior leaders think, strategize and attack problems. This allowed me to promote quickly into leadership and expand my functional responsibility. To this day this person remains a mentor and friend.
- What would you look for if you were in a position to hire a new graduate from the Milgard School?
For me it comes down to fit, ability, and the desire to solve problems. I will be confident that the person has a great education from UWT, so my focus will be on the drive and cultural fit of the individual. Lastly, I need the person to be a good communicator and willing to speak up to share an opinion, even if it is contrary to the current views of the majority.
- What are the most important pieces of educational and professional advice that you would impart on our future/current students and alumni?
So many things come to mind but if I had to choose one I would say don’t be afraid to fail. I truly believe the fear of failure is the number one reason why individuals don’t reach their potential. Be willing to speak up and share an idea, even if it is not in the majority. Take on challenging business problems, even if you have not solved a similar problem. Ask the “stupid” question in the room, I guarantee you are not the only person with that question, and likely it was not “stupid” at all. When you fail or have to ask for help, learn from it, you will be better for it. One of my top interview questions for candidates is tell me a time that you failed or did not get the desired outcome. If they cannot provide an example, then they are likely not getting the job.
Written by: Kevin Dugan / February 2021
Shane Benoit / Milgard staff