Alumni Awards 2011: Brad Sparks '97 '98

Brad Sparks is a director with the accounting firm KPMG LLP, working in KPMG Corporate Responsibility, a division of KPMG Forensic, in Los Angeles.

A 1997 graduate of Appalachian's Walker College of Business, Sparks earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. In 1998, earned a master's degree in accounting at Appalachian. He returned to graduate study at UNC Chapel Hill, where he completed his M.B.A. in 2004.

While an undergraduate at Appalachian, Sparks served as a student ambassador and was among the first group of student scholars to participate in the William R. Holland Fellows for Business Study in Asia program, helping establish Appalachian's long and close relationship with Fudan University.

At KPMG, one of the world's largest accounting firms, Sparks is responsible for the firm's internal climate changes strategy, which provides commitments to measure, report and reduce KPMG's carbon footprint. Sparks works with all KPMG member entities to establish greenhouse gas reporting protocols and to verify the data reported. In addition, he works with teams throughout the firm to implement emission reduction programs and reduce KPMG's environmental impact.

Sparks joined KPMG in 1998 as a staff accountant. He left the firm in 2000 to take a senior auditor position with Gateway Inc. While pursuing his master's degree in business administration, he worked as a consultant for the Kenan Institute Asia and completed an internship with KPMG in its Sustainability Services Group. He rejoined KMPG on a full-time basis in 2004.

Prior to his current position at KPMG, Sparks served as a member of the firm's forensic practice, assisting clients with corporate responsibility initiatives such as sustainability, reporting, supply chain integrity and codes of conduct.

"Brad Sparks has not only distinguished himself in the accounting and sustainability, he also has extensive international experience and embodies what we hope our alumni will become—global leaders," said Dr. Randy Edwards, dean of the Walker College of Business. "In addition, Brad is very willing to share his experience and inspire future business leaders by speaking to and engaging with ASU students and prospective students any time he has an opportunity. Despite his location on the West Coast, he has been more than willing to interact with our students and provide presentations that will have lifelong impact."

In 2009, Sparks established the Bullock/Sparks Explore Yosef Scholarship Endowment and has provided support to other scholarships in the Walker College of Business.


Brad Sparks '97 '98: When I was looking at different universities, I knew that I wanted to study accounting and Appalachian had a great accounting program that I already knew about, even being in Atlanta. My oldest sister, Jill, had gone to Appalachian and when I was looking for schools it was basically an easy choice to say that Appalachian was where I wanted to go.

BS: I guess one of the most meaningful experiences that I had at Appalachian was being involved with the Student Ambassador organization. I joined during my junior year and I got to meet a great group of friends that I still keep in touch with today and just had a great time being able to go out and represent the university to prospective students and alumni. I got a really good understanding of what the university offered, broadening even my understanding of the school outside of the business school, which I was a part of. So, definitely being part of Ambassadors was one of the most unique and great parts of my education at App.

BS: I guess one of the things that Appalachian offers its students that helped me and, I think helps a lot students and can help a lot of students today, is the number of international programs that are offered through the school. I majored in accounting and as part of that, through the Walker College of Business, really focused on international opportunities that were presented through the school. In fact, going to Appalachian allowed me to travel abroad for the first time, in which I went during my junior year to the University of Sunderland through an exchange program that the school offered with the university in the U.K. That was the first time that I had ever been on a plane, the first time out of the country, and that experience alone really opened up my eyes to what type of global community that we actually all live in.

BS: I was fortunate enough to go on two trips with the Holland Fellows program—an initial, kind of, scouting trip where we were setting up the program and the first trip of the program itself. Through those experiences we got to meet and work with a team of Chinese students that were studying there and worked together on a variety of business school case studies and present and learn about the local economy within China as well. Those international experiences really help prepare students to better understand the international business world that they'll all be entering upon graduation.

BS: Currently, my role is to work for KPMG International in our global citizenship department, reporting to our head of global citizenship and diversity.

BS: What Appalachian did for me was to help me really prepare for the job I'm doing today, specifically around understanding international business. At KPMG, what we're focused on is, one, making our own operations sustainable, and that's the role that I get to do today, is helping KPMG as an entity in 150 countries reduce its own environmental impacts. And, also, we're working with our clients to help them become more sustainable. So helping companies understand their own environmental and social impacts as well as their financial impacts is part of the key for our service line as well.

BS: One thing that we do is offer sustainability assurance. Much like we would do auditing or assurance of financial statements, we'll go in and actually look at the broader statements that a company will report and the information that they're disclosing around environmental or social impacts and audit that information as well. So, again, applying the key concepts of auditing but looking at non-financial information.

BS: Several years ago, two of my good friends and myself, Chris Wilkie and Kirk West, wanted to contribute something back to Appalachian and so we decided we wanted to set up a scholarship that would be specifically targeted to students interested in traveling abroad. When I was a student at Appalachian I was fortunate enought to receive a few scholarships to go travel and study abroad. Those experiences themselves made me want to give something back to the university and hopefully help some students today be able to participate in those same types of programs that were so valuable to me when I was a student at App.

BS: So we set up the Bullock/Sparks Explore Yosef Scholarship to really help students be able to afford those trips.

BS: One of the great things about living in Southern California is you get to do things like this. To get up early in the morning, go out surfing before work during the week and just enjoy the outdoors every day.

BS: My wife and I live in El Segundo, California, which is a small town just outside Los Angeles. One of the things I like most about it, is it's a small community much in the way Boone, North Carolina is. You have a very small, hometown feel where you get a real sense of community in a manner very similar to Appalachian State University in Boone. We have hometown fairs. We have annual Fourth of July picnics. It's actually a small town in a big city, letting you take advantage of all of the things that a small town offers while also being able to do things that a big city offers as well. All being at the beach at the same time.

BS: One of the things I liked about Appalachian was you had a great community with a good diverse group of people from a very diverse group of backgrounds. One of the things that I really enjoy about Los Angeles, and Southern California in particular, is that you have that sense of diversity but in a much more amplified manner.

BS: One of the things I liked about Appalachian was that there was a tremendous appreciation for the environment, even when I was there about 15 years ago. I think having that appreciation and awareness of environmental issues, even when I was a student, has helped translate into my own interest in working in environmental sustainability today. So starting to appreciate the environment as a student at Appalachian really lended itself to the career I'm following today.

BS: I guess, for me, going to Appalachian was just a fantastic experience. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and choose a path of study that I actually wanted to focus on. Receiving the Young Alumni Award is a great honor and something that I really appreciate and value. It's great to have gone to Appalachian, to be a part of Appalachian, and getting this recognition for what I've been able to do since leaving Appalachian is just a true honor and I feel very honored to receive it.