Emory University Goizueta Business School
“Professor Kays has had an enormously positive impact on our community both inside and outside the classroom. One especially poignant student recommendation was from a first-generation alumnus who initially felt very unsure of her belonging at Goizueta. This student described how Professor Kays made a special effort to make her feel welcome and shared other life and career lessons with her, both accounting-related and for personal success after graduation. This alumnus took four of Professor Kays’ classes and also became her Teaching Assistant, a testament to the significant, positive influence Allison’s actions had on this alumnus’ Emory academic experience.” – Melanie Buckmaster, Goizueta Business School
Allison Kays, 33, is Assistant Professor in the Practice of Accounting at Emory University Goizueta Business School.
She received the Emory Williams Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award at Emory University in 2021 and the Mary Pickford Foundation Doctoral Teaching Award when she was a PhD student at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.
Kays is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion inside of and outside of business schools. She serves as the co-chair of Goizueta’s DEI Committee and was recognized with Goizueta Business School’s Faculty Diversity Champion Award in 2022. She was the lead organizer in a campus-wide discussion on confronting racism in business environments.
Prior to earning her PhD, she worked as a tax accountant for Ernst & Young in Atlanta.
At current institution since what year? 2018
- University of Southern California, Ph.D. in Business Administration (Accounting)
- University of Florida, Master of Accounting (Tax); Bachelor of Science (Accounting)
List of Undergraduate courses you teach:
- Data Analytics for Financial Business Decisions
- Financial Reporting for Debt and Equity
- Accounting: The Language of Business
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… When I was an undergraduate student, I worked about 20 hours a week as an assistant coach of high school cross country in the fall and track in the spring. I absolutely loved that job. I love to run but what I really loved about that job was getting to mentor my athletes. I also truly love accounting. After college, I realized I could combine my two passions by becoming an accounting professor.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I recently published a paper studying corporate tax transparency in Australia. In most countries, including the U.S., tax return information is not publicly disclosed, even for public companies. Australia is one of the few countries that publicly discloses information from large corporation’s tax returns; specifically, the government discloses each company’s annual revenue, taxable income and tax liability. The Australian legislature enacted this law with the hopes that public disclosure would discourage firms from aggressively avoiding taxes. Prior research found that at least initially, the average firm did not change its tax planning behavior.
My research finds that instead of changing their tax planning strategies, some firms respond to the law change by voluntarily providing additional information that supplements the government’s disclosure. Specifically, firms with unexpectedly low tax liabilities that engage in non-aggressive tax planning voluntarily issue supplemental information to better explain their low Australian tax liabilities. It is important to understand that just because a firm’s tax liability is low relative to its taxable income, financial accounting income and/or annual revenue does not mean that it is “aggressively” avoiding taxes. The tax law in Australia, and the U.S., allows many profitable companies to legally pay very little taxes. One common way is with research and development tax credits. The government wants to encourage corporate research and development because it can lead to innovation and subsequently, to economic growth. To encourage research and development, the Australian (and U.S.) governments provide research and development tax credits. Tax credits are a dollar for dollar reduction to a corporation’s tax liability. Essentially, the government gives corporations back the money they owe in taxes to supplement the corporation’s research and development activity.
Overall, I find that although the Australian legislature’s goal of “discouraging large corporate entities from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance practices” was not met, the legislature’s secondary goal “to provide more information to inform public debate about tax policy” was at least partially met.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… A high school math teacher. I love math, I love teaching, I love students. Plus, in this alternate reality perhaps I could also pick up coaching again.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I try my best to bring accounting to life. Unfortunately, I think that accounting is often taught as a series of rules to memorize. This framing causes students to view accounting as a hurdle they have to pass to get to their “more interesting” business school classes. But accounting itself is so interesting! In my classes, we of course learn how to account for transactions but we focus on learning what businesses actually do and how the transactions they engage in affect their financial positions. I use lots of real world examples.
I think the biggest thing that makes me stand out is that I no longer give closed book exams. During online classes in 2020 and 2021, there was far too much cheating so I switched to assigning case studies that I write myself. Students cannot cheat on these case studies because I allow them to use any resources they would like. But more importantly, I think that these case studies really bring accounting to life. The case studies are all based on real company 10-Ks and ask students to apply what they learned in class to explain what type of business model a company has, is the company making good decisions, how does the company compare to its peers, what are the tradeoffs to some of the transactions it has engaged in. The cases are hard but I think they make students realize how important it is to understand accounting and to be able to “speak” accounting fluently.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Sweaty
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Students come to business school for all different reasons and not one student fits into a box. They are all unique and have such interesting and varied interests and ambitions. They will keep you on your toes!
Professor I most admire and why: Allison Burdette. She is an all star professor who since day one has served as an excellent mentor to me. Like me, she also goes out of her way to try to push students away from rote memorization and towards application and real understanding. She has been teaching for 20 something years and is still updating her materials! I hope to be that engaged, motivated and excited about teaching 15-20 years from now too. I am so grateful that I get to work with her.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I am not sure that this is unique to business students but I am so spoiled to have such smart, curious and engaged students. My students’ questions encourage me to ask my own questions and every day is new and interesting.
What is most challenging? Figuring out why a student is not understanding the material. Sometimes students need you to start from scratch and explain the concept in a completely different manner. Figuring out what completely different manner will click for each student is a constant challenge.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Whiny
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Tough. I expect a lot out of my students. Even in the introductory classes I ask students to go beyond knowing what a concept is to be able to apply it in an unfamiliar situation. Once students realize my expectations, they rise to them and always impress me with their abilities but there is generally a hump to get over at the beginning of the semester.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? I am a runner. I love running by myself, I love running in groups, I love just being outside. I also enjoy baking bread and my newest favorite hobby is watching my 11 month old son grow up (is that a hobby?).
How will you spend your summer? I am not sure! My husband and I enjoy traveling but life with a baby is a bit different. I’m sure we’ll take a domestic vacation. I will also spend lots of time reading, updating my curriculum, working on the DEI committee, and perhaps writing a few new case studies.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: I love nature-y vacations that involve mountains and lakes. I really enjoy America’s National Park system. But I also love going to places with great food! Unfortunately, great nature and great food are hard to find together.
Favorite book(s): I love almost all of Jodi Piccoult’s books. I think I have read every single one. She writes about controversial topics and brings them to life through fictional stories.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I believe a new season of The Crown just came out! I never appreciated history when I was going through school. I think because the subject was not brought to life in a way that resonated with me. Now, I really enjoy learning about history through podcasts, historical fiction, and period dramas.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I like all sorts of different music, it really depends on my mood. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Disney music and Broadway show tunes with my son.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Diversity and critical thinking. Businesses are such an important part of society. I hope that the business schools of the future teach students to view businesses as important contributors to society. A holistic view of the role of business in society requires students to understand the importance of who they employ and how they employ them, the messages they send through marketing, the voice they have in politics and the economic value they bring to all.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Realizing how much influence they have on the world we live in and taking ownership that they can change the future.
I’m grateful for… All of the wonderful educators I’ve had throughout my life, both formal and informal. I developed a love of learning early on and I am so grateful that I get to continue to learn every day for a living!
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