A UC Berkeley Haas School of Business alumnus, Yan then went on to receive an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Post-graduation, he began his storied career, setting out first in the finance sector as controller at Jumpstart Automotive Media and then on to VP of finance and administration at Savicom.
“I worked with startups and then transitioned to the HR field,” Yan adds. “In HR, I worked with emerging companies as the VP of People.”
These companies included:
“Currently, I am Head of People at FinLync, a financial technology company that develops and sells real-time treasury software. I focus on creating a great culture and atmosphere for my colleagues and ensure that they are happy in their positions.”
Outside of the 9-to-5, Yan has given back by teaching both HR and accounting courses part time for more than 20 years. “Teaching a couple classes a semester has been a great change of pace for me,” he enthuses. “I am able to apply what I do on a day-to-day basis with my teaching.”
All of Yan’s work experiences play a huge role in his classroom. Without relying on a textbook or a set curriculum, students are able to see how accounting can play into real-life scenarios.
“I use my own professional experiences in each and every lecture. I explain what has worked, what didn’t work, along with the mistakes I have made,” Yan explains. “This is something a textbook can’t teach you. When you share these examples with students, they make accounting come to life.”
I had the pleasure of chatting with Yan and getting an inside look at what taking a course with him is really like.
What made you decide to go into teaching?
When I was a student at UC Berkeley, I took a difficult economics course. My peers and I formed a study group to which I began explaining the content to my classmates. The information seemed to “click” with them immediately and they had great feedback on the way I explained the course content.
After this moment, I realized that people actually listened to what I had to say and that I had a knack for explaining things. I also really enjoy public speaking. This all got me thinking about teaching as a career.
At UC Berkeley, they allow students to create and teach their own class. These are now called DeCal courses. I decided to start a course with my good friend, Anoop Grover, who is now also a UC Berkeley Extension instructor! Teaching a DeCal course helped me see if I would enjoy being an instructor and get my foot in the door.
I am thrilled to now have come full circle by teaching at UC Berkeley Extension and giving back to my alma mater.
Why do you enjoy teaching at UC Berkeley Extension?
Let’s be honest: Typically, people aren’t interested in taking an accounting course. Many students take this because they have to. However, I don’t want my students to dread coming to my class. I want them to feel like they learned and enjoyed my courses.
My favorite moment in teaching is the “instant gratification”: This is where the students say, “I get it now,” and you can see it in their eyes. It is why I teach and the moment I live for. You feel like you have made a difference.
Being an instructor is almost like a hobby for me, not a job. This is because of how much I love doing it. What I’ve learned in teaching is that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you have to have patience and the desire to explain things. It’s important to really talk the student through the concept. When you have both patience and mutual respect between you and your student, you will be a successful instructor.
Tell me about the topics you discuss in your accounting courses.
I start every class with a session on ethics. I believe ethics is a really important topic in accounting—or any class for that matter. I can’t tell people what to do and what not to do, but I can show people what to look out for and understand the consequences of their actions.
I also enjoy bringing business cases to every class. This allows students to get a real-life perspective on the topic. I teach how to negotiate in my lectures, which can get emotional for my students. Students can really get into these activities.
Instead of tests, I ask my students to provide a financial report of a company and then describe it to me based on the topics that we covered in class. I ask them to really think about what it means to get a deeper understanding. This also teaches them how to apply these concepts to real life.
I like to ask for genuine feedback from my students such as what worked and what didn't work after a class has completed. I always take their responses into consideration for future courses.
Based on this feedback, my past students seemed to have appreciated my overall teaching style. I don’t teach from a book or a set of notes–I teach from what I know. They will see the practical side of accounting from my own personal experiences. I try to make each class entertaining so that they can see that even accounting can be fun!
My students also seem to enjoy the dialogue and conversations in class. I don’t just lecture the entire class period but we discuss these topics and learn from one another.
Over time as an instructor, you learn how to make class exciting and relevant for students.
As a professional in the accounting field, are there specific advances that you’re excited about?
Yes, definitely! Accounting used to be a male-dominated field. It was about 80-percent male and 20-percent female when I first started. Now it is about 50/50, which is exciting. Today, more quality and new perspectives are being brought into the field.
When I graduated with an accounting degree, there were a couple major accounting scandals occurring—Enron and WorldCom. At the time, I was a bit reticent about being in the corporate accounting world. But now accounting has made its turnaround and become trusted among the public.
Additionally, computers have begun to replace the bookkeeping of accounting, which isn’t a bad thing. The computer won’t tell you what stocks to invest in. It’s important to still have a human component to this.
Accountants' roles may change but will still be needed in a lot more interesting and innovative ways. Accountants today can leave mundane, banal tasks such as tying out journal entries and balancing the trial balance to the computers. Instead, they can focus on making strategic decisions while helping their company's bottom line.