Member spotlight: Alex K. Gunnerson

May 31, 2019

GunnersonAlex K. Gunnerson

Tax associate, KPMG LLP, Portland

Hometown: Coeur d'Alene, ID
Degrees: Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Master of Taxation from Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
OSCPA member since: 2019

New OSCPA member Alex K. Gunnerson is one of four Oregon winners of the presitigous 2018 Elijah Watt Sells Award. To qualify for the award, CPA candidates must obtain a cumulative average score above 95.50 across all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination, pass all four sections on their first attempt and have completed testing in 2018. (A condensed version of this interview appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of The Accountant magazine.)

Where did you grow up? Tell us a little about your background and the people who have influenced you along the way.

I grew up in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, just a mile and a half away from where my wife lived. I always enjoyed math and science but made a commitment early in life that I would never be an accountant — both my father and grandfather were accountants so I knew how busy they could be. However, after taking an accounting class for a different major in college, my feelings toward the profession changed, and I began to pursue a degree in accounting instead. Growing up, smart spending and money management were always popular topics in our home. My parents openly discussed money and finances with the kids, so I became quite interested in the topic myself.

Later while in graduate school, I made it a point to get to know my professors and ask a lot of questions not just about class content but about the professional industry and what career advice they had for me. Finally, my wife, Lyndsey, and son, Karden, have been so incredibly supportive of my education and career choice, enduring countless hours of study and work so that we can be where we are today. I could not, and would not want to, be here without them.

What are your responsibilities at KPMG LLP?

As a tax associate, my responsibilities include preparing federal and state income tax returns, preparing quarterly tax estimates, conducting technical tax research for consulting engagements, and making sure my daily timesheets are submitted on time.

What strategies did you use to study and prepare for the Uniform CPA Examination?

I was only working part time while studying for my exams, so I was able to dedicate large chunks of time each day to preparing. As comfortable as it was to study at home, I felt I studied best at the public library where I could really focus free of distractions. This allowed me to take most of my tests after only a week or two or studying. Taking the exams after such a short study window worked best for me because most of the content was still fresh in my mind. I know this study habit might not work for most people, but it is what worked best for myself and my family at the time.

What advice do you have for new CPA candidates as they are preparing?

First and foremost, don’t feel like you’re all alone. If you ever feel stuck, use your professional network to ask for some help. My experience has been that friends and co-workers are always happy to help.  

Another tactic that really helped me is to study the lessons as if you had to teach it to a friend or family member. This approach helps you master the basics pretty quickly and provides you with the foundation you need in order to learn the more technical parts of the exam.

Lastly, make a study plan that fits with your schedule, and do everything you can to stick to it. But also don’t forget to reward yourself along the way and as you hit major checkpoints.

What were your first thoughts when you found out you qualified for the prestigious Elijah Watt Sells award?

I never was the smartest or fastest learner in school, so the news was an exciting surprise to me. My wife and I were even more excited when we found out that KPMG would be giving me a very generous bonus for receiving the award. We’re in the process of renovating our first condo, so the bonus is going to help pay for our new kitchen layout!

How do you think earning this award will impact you in the future, personally and professionally?

Personally, I feel like the award has given me a boost of confidence and optimism for the future. Professionally, I’m a little nervous that my coworkers might find out I’m not nearly as smart as they think I am.

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