Donald Neal Jr., ’03, arrived at the College of Business from Rochester, New York, ready to focus on accounting and shine on the Husker track team. Twenty years later, he combines his competitive spirit with what he learned at Nebraska to advance his accounting career and lead the charge for other diverse students to follow in his footsteps at KPMG in Omaha.
“Getting Black students and more minorities into the accounting profession is extremely important moving forward,” said Neal, who helps lead diversity and inclusion efforts at KPMG in Omaha, Nebraska, where he works as a senior tax manager in development and exempt organizations. “I believe it starts at the high school level when students get a chance to see individuals like me serving in leadership positions. It helps change the narrative for young people. They see it’s achievable.”
According to the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), in 1969 less than 150 Black certified public accountants existed among the more than 100,000 total in the U.S. Today, Neal helps elevate those numbers by mentoring students as a member of NABA, and by returning to college to speak in classes and network with students interested in internships at KPMG. Neal, who decided to pursue football in addition to track during his freshman year, credits others at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and in his profession with giving him career-building tools.
“Keith Zimmer in the Nebraska Department of Athletics helped teach me how to balance my schedule between athletics and academics. Tutoring and scheduled study time kept me on the straight and narrow to support my grades. After a couple years, he also helped me realize I needed to stop playing football to balance my time because the intermediary accounting classes got a lot tougher,” he said.
Zimmer, senior associate athletic director of life skills, saw Neal’s positive contributions as a Husker and in his professional years thereafter as a leader in Nebraska business.
“Don has an infectious smile combined with determination and drive,” said Zimmer. “He serves as a role-model for student-athletes when they see him recruiting at our career fairs. He was a talented multi-sport athlete and remains a proud ambassador of Husker Athletics.”
Neal, who came back to college last fall to speak to students as part of Multicultural Homecoming, also credits others in the accounting industry for helping navigate his career. A six-month stint in 2010 shadowing Scott Wooten, former CFO of Alegent Health (now CHI Health), taught him the nuances of interacting with executives.
“That experience turned my career around because it allowed me to understand what it meant to have an executive presence and how to work a room when networking. I’m still learning new things myself and today I have about eight mentors, a very diverse group who provide different perspectives,” said Neal, who sparked his interest in accounting as a child, watching his parents get their taxes done.
He commits time helping NABA fulfill their mission of facilitating minority hiring in the industry, and achieving academic and professional excellence. Andee Capell, ’20, a first-generation college student who graduated from Nebraska Business in May and plans to pursue her MPA, credits Neal as an important influence.
“From the moment I began recruiting with KPMG, Donald Neal was a great resource,” Capell said. “He attended our Multicultural Business Student Association networking event and also came to our DREAMBIG Academy networking held for high school students in the summer of 2017.”
Capell participated in the KPMG Embark Scholars program for underrepresented students studying accounting or related fields. She attended the Future Diversity Leaders Conference and participated in an eight-week internship program.
“Being the first Embark intern, Donald was influential in making sure I benefited from the experience. We discussed positives and concerns of the internship, and he gave tips on improving my experience, while taking to heart how KPMG could enhance the program for the next Embark intern. He speaks to every intern class about creating an inclusive environment at the company, in addition to informing us how we can get involved,” she said.
As former president of the NABA chapter in Omaha, Neal made sure local students from the University of Nebraska system maintained a professional connection when attending the Central Region Conference. Capell cites Neal as helping start the process to develop a NABA student chapter in the state.
“We started the NABA chapter in Nebraska five years ago,” said Neal. “Our goal is to eventually get a student chapter. Having students like Andee take charge is huge. It lets us know the footprint we started is paying dividends.”
In March 2020, Neal along with most of the KPMG staff, began working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His job assisting clients with tax implications continued through remote technologies, which he already had a good handle on before the pandemic, regularly working with team members across the country. He still credits foundational principles he learned at Nebraska for his success.
“Having that competitive nature to want to move up is what still drives me today. Working hard and putting forth the effort like getting up at 4 a.m. to train. It’s no different now working and having a family. The structure I learned in college is the same structure I’m using now to keep my competitive advantage. I want to be as successful as I can be,” he said.
To learn more about the School of Accountancy, visit: https://business.unl.edu/accounting.
Published: August 21, 2020