Schollenberger Teaches Best Practices

    GRAND RAPIDS — Jeanette Schollenberger started out as a food technologist and later became a dietician.

    Today she’s a principal with Ernst & Young’s West Michigan practice and doesn’t see her transition from nutritionist to accountant as all that unusual.

    “Whether you’re a dietician or accountant, it’s all about dealing with numbers and rules. It’s just a difference of whether you’re dealing with calories or milligrams. You use a lot of the same skill sets.”

    Schollenberger’s original bachelor’s degree was in food nutrition research and on her way to becoming a licensed nutritionist she had to take some business courses. She decided to take accounting.

    “I loved it. I said if I ever did something different, this was what it was going to be.”

    Ten years later she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting and earned CPA designation in 1992.

    “There was a lot more opportunity in accounting. I enjoyed it a lot more,” she said.

    Schollenberger started her accounting career as an assistant controller doing tax returns for an Indiana-based grain elevator company that operated in three states.

    After four and half years she moved on to Great Lakes Chemical, which was an Ernst & Young client. She worked a lot with Ernst & Young Chicago partners in the five years she was there. There, she did a lot of work with federal, state and local tax returns. When she decided to move to Grand Rapids, her connections with Ernst & Young helped land her a job with the firm’s West Michigan practice.

    “At the time, state and local tax consulting was a very big area. To find people that had a lot of background in state and local you had to go to the industry,” she recalled.

    Schollenberger joined Ernst and Young in 1996 and has since served as a state engagement manager for major outsourcing engagements and later as a senior manager in national state and local tax (SALT) consulting, with special focus on corporate income and franchise taxation.

    “That was kind of like going home because I came from industry,” she said. “I had the opportunity to work on some really large engagements. That’s what’s been fun about this; I’ve always gotten to do a lot of different things.”

    When she took on the role of national practice leader for tax operations in 2002, she started putting on internal seminars on a regular basis for Ernst & Young accountants across the nation to keep them abreast of changes in SALT rules.

    Earlier this month she was promoted to the level of principal of the firm’s Tax Operations Group, which is comprised of about 2,500 tax accountants, and serves as the SALT practice leader. As such, she’s the highest ranking female executive in the Grand Rapids office.

    Schollenberger said she spends a good part of her workday researching and making sure she’s up to date on changing tax regulations and helping clients find the answers to their questions.

    She considers herself more of a “functional specialist” in the area of state and local tax, and as a principal she shares her expertise internally and helps develop best practices in that area.

    Schollenberger does a lot of teaching and mentoring, which she finds highly rewarding.

    “What I have done to try to contribute is to truly help and mentor professionals throughout the firm that are working in the state and local area. State rules and instructions are not easy.

    “When I see the light bulb go off and see that somebody now understands something that’s complex it’s very rewarding to me. The best part of my day is when I know I’ve really helped somebody, whether it’s a client or somebody within the firm.”

    Schollenberger, who describes herself as “one of those people that is ready for a new challenge every five years,” said in her current position there are always new challenges, so she won’t have to change jobs again.

    As she sees it, Ernst & Young has given her opportunities above and beyond what she would have had in an industry job.

    “It makes a big difference when you enjoy what you do,” she added. “I know I’ve been blessed to have a job that I enjoy.”

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