Two Comm School classmates took two different paths to professional success, but both credit McIntire with the perspective, determination, and creativity to thrive in each area of business they chose to pursue.
During their time on Grounds, the two formed a UVA student chapter of NABA, the National Association of Black Accountants, with Hardy as President, Alonso as Treasurer, and fellow classmate Adrienne White serving as Vice President.
The organization regularly partnered with McIntire, helping to connect many pre-Comm students of color to get an introduction to business education and professional development.
“While the name suggests its primary focus was for Black Accounting students, we strongly championed a banner of inclusion,” Hardy recalls. Indeed, Alonso, who has Colombian and Cuban heritage, notes how important it was—and remains to both alumni today—to “have allies that may identify with a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds to champion true change and achieve something special.”
The result of their outreach to create an inclusive group was a robust annual membership of nearly 50 members that represented a culturally diverse group of students with business, non-business, and undecided majors. “A key benefit for all NABA student chapters is the affiliation with regional chapters and professional members,” Hardy says. “This relationship enabled us to provide our student members a unique opportunity for career development, networking, panel discussions, and speaker series, with professionals not only from ‘Big Four’ accounting firms but also a range of other business trades, including finance, banking, real estate, advertising, strategy and consulting, and major professional sports.”
Hardy and Alonso’s group helped to connect students with internships and job openings that stretched beyond accounting. And what openings did they find for themselves? Though both received offers from Big Four firms before graduating, they each decided to forge their paths elsewhere.
Alonso stayed on the East Coast, leaning into his Management education to start a family real estate title and escrow company. He founded Elite Settlements LLC in 2006, and he’s a Licensed Realtor and Settlement Agent in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
Hardy first moved to New York for a position in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ audit and assurance practice before leaving for Los Angeles, where he now serves as Director of Financial Reporting for CBS Global Distribution, the global content licensing division of CBS Entertainment and producer of popular daytime television shows. He’s also remained committed to the Black employee experience and education: He was selected as the West Coast Co-Chair for ViacomCBS’ Black Employee Resource Group, which promotes cultural celebration, diversity education, and inclusion across all of the company’s channels, production studios, and platforms; later this year, he’ll earn double certification from UCLA in TV and Film Producing and Business and Entertainment Management.
Though NABA no longer has a UVA chapter, the student organization was a vital part of student life and career preparation during its time. We recently spoke with Hardy and Alonso about their Commerce School experiences, how NABA enhanced it, and their thoughts about the School’s future.
You were both Accounting concentrators as undergraduates, but ultimately went beyond the traditional career path that many tend to take following that field of study. So how did your McIntire education prepare you for the jobs that you’re doing now?
Hardy: For me, the caliber of the Comm School’s approach to learning was so much more than simply amazing. The Integrated Core Experience provided a robust business foundation, encouraged open dialogue and free thought amongst fellow students, and instilled a confidence that made me feel beyond adequately prepared to launch into my profession. As a Director of Financial Reporting and CPA, I have built my entire career on the principles taught to me in my Accounting and Finance concentration curriculum.
However, it was my fourth-year course in Entrepreneurship, which required my project partner, Emilio Alonso, and me to create a robust business plan, that proved to be most pivotal, as it leveraged all of my newly acquired business education. The perspective on how to start and operate a small business actually proves useful when it comes to assisting in the navigation of a large ship such as CBS and its collection of television productions.
Alonso: It gave me the confidence to tackle any problems that come up. Oftentimes, our professors would not give us much direction when working on various projects in order to push us to create our own solutions. Not knowing anything about the real estate industry, I had to learn everything from ground zero. My Accounting background has proven to be invaluable in managing and reconciling our escrow accounts and managing our annual audits. My Management experience, particularly my Entrepreneurship class, gave me the confidence to start a business right out of college, and navigate a new industry and develop innovative solutions for our business.
How did being a part of NABA enhance your Commerce School experience?
Alonso: As Treasurer, I had the opportunity to implement some of the skills I was learning in class, in a real-world setting. It also gave me an opportunity to take on a leadership role, and work closely with like-minded classmates to open up networks to corporate America, and grow a base of young, ambitious individuals from a diverse set of backgrounds and interests.
Hardy: During my time in the Comm School, I was one of few African American students. The presence of NABA further diversified and actively contributed to the student community walking the halls of McIntire and University Grounds. I would strongly encourage the current McIntire students of color to re-establish the organization, and continue to expand its reach beyond just Black accountants. I am happy to contribute to its return in any way I can.
How would you describe the career opportunities available to you as graduates of the Commerce School? How do you think that the School can continue to advocate for Black students as they embark on their professional journey?
Hardy: While I strongly believe barriers to entry, advancement, and inclusion continue to challenge African Americans in corporate America, McIntire did an incredible job in providing me access to resources that well positioned me in a job market that was then, and is still striving to embrace change. As a student in the early 2000s, I leveraged the Comm School’s office of Career Services for internships, resume workshops, and alumni networking. The annual career fair gave me rare access to potential employers who were eager to discuss opportunities. Though the barriers for African Americans have not eroded completely due to these resources, the McIntire education and brand do assist in pushing one through.
In addition, I am really excited McIntire has increased its focus on diversity and inclusion. Prior to entering Comm School, I was a student in a pilot course taught by then Dean of Admissions Rebecca Leonard. This course was my first introduction to formal diversity education, and its core concepts have been the foundation in my approach to employee management and execution of company-wide diversity initiatives. Since I graduated, Nicole Thorne Jenkins has become the second African American Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce [after Bonnie G. Hill (1992-1996)], and Rebecca Leonard has become the first dedicated McIntire Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This is amazing because I believe both of them working together will further equip all Commerce students in pushing the needle forward for equality at the University and in their future careers.
Do you have a favorite McIntire memory? What stays with you?
Alonso: My favorite McIntire memory was working on my Entrepreneurship project with Jahan. I’ve never worked so hard towards a goal in my life, while enjoying all the hours we put in. The project was so successful that our professor (Elizabeth Thurston) used our project as the sample for the next class. Professor Thurston demanded a level of attention to detail like I had never put into a project before. I am thankful for her pushing us to give our best efforts. The confidence and ability to develop creative solutions that I gained from putting together all of the disciplines we studied in McIntire into our final project have always stayed with me as I approach some of the most challenging projects in my profession today.
Hardy: Besides reading my Comm School acceptance letter and a very rewarding experience working with Emilio on our Entrepreneurship class business plan (which served as an example for future classes), my favorite memory of McIntire was the comradery I had then—and continue to share today with both Emilio and Adrienne. In addition to co-founding NABA, they both continue to be key contributors in my life. From pre-Comm…to Comm, the McIntire experience not only challenges and prepares you to take on amazing endeavors, but it can also forge some pretty amazing bonds that can last a lifetime. To all the current pre-Comm and Comm School students, I encourage you to embrace and cherish all those around you. Enjoy the ride. Looking back, there’s truly nothing like it!