University of Iowa alumnus Brian Lein is quickly moving up the career ladder at the Department of Defense—becoming an audit manager for the U.S. Navy at the age of 29—thanks to his accounting education from the Tippie College of Business.
Story and photography
Tom Snee

Brian Lein has dealt with some daunting challenges as an auditor for the Department of Defense, but it’s nothing compared to what he had to do in Tom Carroll’s Valuation of Financial Claims class.

“Professor Carroll told us on day one: if you can make it through this class, you will be prepared for anything in your career. And he was right,” says Lein, a 2012 graduate of the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business with BA degrees in accounting and finance. “I’ve never done anything that challenging. He made you think about what you were doing, and not just what to do.”

Lein has worked for the Defense Department’s Naval Audit Service for seven years, becoming an audit manager in 2018. His auditing team works at the Washington Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., and is part of a larger group that ensures Navy organizations are in compliance with federal laws and regulations and looks to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

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“The (Iowa) accounting department in general does a great job of preparing undergraduates for any situation, and the other classes provide a well-rounded business background,” says Lein.

He was so well-rounded and prepared that he became a manager at the age of 29, making him the youngest new manager in his 10-member promotion cohort. “The numerous management classes I took are extremely helpful now that I manage a team,” Lein says.

Lein grew up in Hayward, Wisconsin, a small town in the state’s Northwoods best known for muskie fishing and the annual American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross-country ski race. When considering colleges, he also looked at the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but their big-city vibe didn’t quite feel right. Iowa City seemed more comfortable, he says, its smaller, rural setting more like his hometown, even without the muskies and the Birkebeiner.

“It was a big adjustment going from a small town in the Northwoods to what seemed at the time like a big city, but it helped propel me and developed me to be who I am today,” he says.

While at Iowa, Lein also participated in Relay for Life, eventually serving as the fundraiser’s treasurer, and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, preparing tax returns for low-income Johnson County residents. He also worked as a resident assistant in Slater Hall, learning organizational, leadership, and coaching skills at the hand of AJ Lutz, his RA hall coordinator.

“He was one of the greatest bosses I ever had,” Lein says. “He cared for his staff, he cared for his students, and he knew how to build community bonds. He looked for ways his staff could connect and break down barriers, and now that I’m a manager, I try to do those same things with my team.”

“Brian is a perfect example of a student using his education to carve his own path. His example will encourage our current students and aspiring students to think more broadly about their career opportunities.”

Tom Carroll
professor of instruction, Department of Accounting

Lein found his job as the result of an accounting internship at the Department of Defense following his junior year through Iowa’s partnership with the Washington Center. One of his co-workers was so impressed with Lein’s work that summer that he passed his résumé around to other departments. One of them landed on the right desk.

“Two weeks after I got back from the internship, I got a call from the Navy saying they wanted to talk to me about a job,” Lein says. He was also offered jobs by multiple accounting firms, but he turned them down because he wanted to have a go at living out East. His internship in the hot, muggy summer in Washington, D.C, showed him two things: not only was he going down the right career path as an accountant and auditor, but he wanted to live in the capital. Sure, the traffic stinks and it’s all politics all the time, but he wanted to make Washington his home and work in government service.

It’s not just the city’s vibrant cultural life and power buzz that appeals to him. A history minor at Iowa, Lein is thrilled by being close to where so many momentous events shaped the country and the world.

“I’ve lived here more than seven years now, and I still haven’t scratched the surface of learning about all the history,” he says.

He loves history so much that he sprinkles historical asides in conversation, such as the fact that his home in Alexandria, Virginia, is near an apothecary that once catered to Martha Washington, whose signature is still on the customer ledgers, and that the city itself was originally laid out by none other than George Washington in 1748. His Navy Yard office also overlooks the bridge located at the spot where John Wilkes Booth crossed the Anacostia River as he fled after assassinating Abraham Lincoln.

Tom Carroll, whose torturous class gave Lein the confidence to go where he’s gone so quickly, remembers him as a smart, hard-working student. He says Lein’s success shows the versatility of an accounting education.

“I am asked quite often what you can do with an accounting degree, and I answer by saying that there are innumerable career paths,” says Carroll. “The key is finding one that suits your skills, temperament, and interests. Brian is a perfect example of a student using his education to carve his own path. His example will encourage our current students and aspiring students to think more broadly about their career opportunities.”