Week 7: Teacher Created Materials

September 29th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

During my last week in Huntington Beach, all of the work that I accomplished and the concepts that I learned all tied together. I completed projects in each of the divisions of accounts payable, accounts receivable, and the general ledger. Many of the tasks that required a great amount of guidance and assistance at the beginning of my time at TCM became routine. For example, I was able to take over account receivable for a day with no review, and my mentor could now simply place journal entries on my desk for me to enter without any further instruction.
For the past year, the accounting department at TCM has been consolidating two separate companies into one. Teacher Created Materials sells educational products directly to schools, while Shell Education sells products to wholesellers and retailers. The companies have merged within the past two years, so the accounting department has needed to combine the two so that their financials will run together. In order for this to work, the “coding” needs to change, and the journal entries need to be consolidated into one company, TCM, rather than the separate companies that they had been working with, TC3 and SEP. Throughout my time here, my main project was going through all of the entries in TC3 and SEP, and reproducing them in TCM with their new coding. The reason for this change is due to the expansion of the Teacher Created Materials business. They have been selling a great deal of new products, and the new coding is a much more efficient way of distinguishing which products were sold, and which sales rep initiated the sale.
My last week was largely spent with the consolidation of the two businesses, but I also completed many tasks that I had not done since the first month of my internship. I worked with inventory invoices for accounts payable, and I took over for accounts receivable for one day. Remembering how to do these assignments on my own was extremely rewarding, and showed how much I truly learned during my time here. In addition to the typical accounting duties, I also talked a great deal with my mentor about the business. He told me how certain things ran through each of the departments, particularly with one problem that took them a week to solve. One of their main clients is the Baltimore Public Schools. There was an order discrepancy, which required production, customer service, sales, and accounting to all work together and compare records. I learned a lot about how small businesses are run, and the cooperation of everyone as a team is extremely important.
I had a great time working with TCM. I learned a great deal about accounting, received real-world experience, and made some great business connections. This was by far the greatest extracurricular experience that I have had so far at Cornell, and I know that it will be of great help to me in my future career. I feel that I will be able to incorporate what I have learned at TCM to better my education during my senior year at Cornell. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that I was given, and I highly recommend it to any Cornell student.

Week 6: Teacher Created Materials

September 17th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

As my time at Teacher Created Materials is drawing to a close, all of the concepts and ideas that I have learned are beginning to tie together. This week, I was finally able to view and analyze the consolidated company financials, which are a complete reflection of all of the numbers that I have been working with through all of the individualized reports and projects that I have been assigned. Along with this, I was able to experience a company-wide meeting which involved revealing a few of the newly developed products that will be introduced to customers during the new school year. This meeting also went into the company culture at a more in depth level, and I was able to observe more what TCM hopes to become in both the short term and the long term.

TCM’s mission statement is: “Teacher Created Materials develops innovative and imaginative educational materials and services for students worldwide. Everything we do is created by teachers for teachers and students to make teaching more effective and learning more fun.” This mission statement was formed within the last few years, and effectively embodies TCM as a brand and a company. It was good to have this meeting, because I, from the aspect of finance and accounting, had not really experienced the driving factors behind the business and the goals. This meeting was an eye opener, and really encouraged employees to work harder for something extremely important.

While the meeting was influential from an aspect of understanding the business, being able to review the company financials was significant in furthering my understanding of accounting and financial reporting. In order to run the financials, Jared and I needed to complete any remaining journal entries that needed to be booked for the month of August, and we needed to reconcile any accounts that these entries would be effecting. One account that we had trouble with is the Operating Account. This account essentially draws all of the information from accounts payable and accounts receivable throughout the month. The result is an extremely large report with many Excel pages that need to be reviewed and corrected if there are any numerical issues. Since this account can be reconciled as soon as AP and AR are closed, we had been working on the finalized numbers for five working days with no success in getting the balance to tie. On about the tenth time of going through the report, I found a few numbers that were out of place on the AR side. There were two credits that we were to issue to customers that were posted in to our accounting software, but these credits had not yet been reflected in the bank account numbers provided by Comerica. Jared and I went over this scenario, and he placed a strong importance on being able to tell a story regarding the numbers, because simply showing that the misplaced numbers exist is not enough if an auditor were to question their validity. After we worked this issue out, we were able to run the preliminary financials. This report would not be finalized until all of the members of the financial team reviewed and approved of its contents. The CFO was able to notice a few issues with commission statements, so we fixed these problems and ran the finalized financial report. Due to confidentially reasons, I am not able to give any of the finalized numbers, percentages, or figures.

This week I was finally able to connect with one of my best friends from home who had moved out to Los Angeles just over a year ago. His brother is a professional comedian who tours nationwide, and he performed at the Irvine Improv last Thursday, which is only about twenty minutes from my residence in Huntington Beach. It was great seeing them for the first time in a few years, and we were even able to stay after the performance and talk with all of the comedians. As a huge fan of stand-up comedy, it was very cool to have normal conversations with a lot of the people that I listen to who are not as highly recognizable to the normal public. Week 6 was a great week for me at TCM. With only one more full week, I hope I get to continue learning about the financials of the small business in new ways.

Week 5: Teacher Created Materials

September 10th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

This week was month end, which involved a great deal of account reconciliation, posting journal entries, reclassing transactions, and building reports. For the entire week, I worked alongside my mentor and Senior Accountant, Jared Silva. During month close, it is the job of the Senior Accountant at any business to gather and consolidate the reports of all other accountants. For example, accounts receivable is completely finished on the last day of the month, because any incoming funds on the next day will simply be recorded for the following month. Accounts payable, on the other hand, is usually done four to five business days after the last day of the month, because all of the last second checks are being paid, and these payments are booked for that current month. Therefore, much of the week is spent in preparation for the receipt of these reports.

My first job for this week was to reconcile accounts from the previous month of July. This involved comparing the General Ledger Detail Reports, which show all of the transactions coming in and out of a certain account over a given period of time. This is done to ensure that all of the transactions in the accounting software match up with the Excel data that they keep for backup. There are many different kinds of accounting software, and TCM uses SAGE MAS. In my opinion, the SAGE software is very inefficient in some aspects. For example, there is no way to directly transfer data from Excel to the software, which would make posting data and reconciling accounts much easier. Regardless, it costs a great deal of time and money to switch software, which TCM cannot afford to do as they are completely changing their accounting practices as they grow to one with much more detail and description.

Once the accounts were reconciled, I was given many journal entries to enter into MAS. These entries reflected all of the incoming funds, outgoing funds, and transfers from account to account throughout the previous month. Once I entered an entry, I had to print in out, attach any significant documents, and file it away. There is also an Excel sheet, which keeps track of all of the journal entries, so I had to update that sheet as well. Each entry that I made was added to the general ledger detail, which will be used to reconcile the accounts in the following month close. Once all of the entries were put into the system, we had to reclass any necessary transactions. Reclassing transactions is simply the process of transferring funds from one account to another when either an entry was input incorrectly, or the accounting standards change.

As of today, we are still not finished with month-end close. We should have all the final reports completed by sometime tomorrow, which means that all of the members of the finance department will be meeting to discuss the income statement and bank reconciliation from August. I learned a great deal of what it is like to be a Senior Accountant this week. I was able to complete a great deal of tasks independently, and I would like to think that I made month-end close a little easier on everyone by being able to do various tasks. I look forward to seeing the finished product in the next few days, and being able to start new projects for the beginning of this month.

Week 4: Teacher Created Materials

September 3rd, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

During my fourth week at Teacher Created Materials, all of my school studies in accounting came together with all of my experiences and training in the first three weeks. During this week, and most likely for the rest of my time here, I will now be working side by side with my mentor, the Senior Accountant, on projects dealing with the General Ledger and Reconciliation sheets. This is the aspect of accounting that most directly corresponds with the methods taught in Cornell courses, and the biggest challenge now facing me is combining theory with practice.

The first thing that I learned this week, which is definitely one of the most important aspects of the job, is how to post journal entries. These are the entries that are reflected in balance sheets, cash flow statements, and income statements. These entries must net to zero, involve both a debit and a credit, and reflect a transfer of funds from one account of the company to another. The first journal entry that I had to post dealt with transferring funds from cash to an account, which human resources could draw from in order to pay the semi-monthly paychecks to employees. I input these entries into TCM’s Sage accounting software, printed out the entry, attached it to the necessary documents, and filed it away for month-end close. If I were to make a mistake, such as placing the funds into an inappropriate account, I would have to post a reversing entry. This involves making the exact opposite entries that I made in the first place. After that, I would be able to make the appropriate entry that I made in the first place.

One very important thing I learned was the typical schedule for a senior accountant. Jared explained to me that the first week of each month typically involves in month-end close for the previous month. This involves reconciling all accounts, turning in all reports, and adjusting balance sheets and income statements. These are all of the reports that a company uses as a judge of how well business is going, and what they need to do in order to improve. The next week is typically utilized for projects that the particular accountant chooses to work on, and this is followed by a week of preparation for month-end close. Finally, it is time for month-end close. Therefore, this particular week greatly involved preparing for the month-end close with tasks such as submitting journal entries and reconciling all accounts. With month-end close being this week, I assume that I will be very busy with finishing journal entries and helping Jared reconcile any accounts that need to be in order for him to submit his final reports.

I was extremely fortunate to have my cousin come and visit me this week. He is in the Navy and is currently stationed in San Diego, so he made the one and a half hour drive to come visit me. It was great to catch up with him because I had not seen him since before I began studying at Cornell. We went to Venice Beach in Los Angeles and had a great time simply enjoying the sights and walking the boardwalk. On Saturday night, we went to the world famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. This was definitely my favorite experience of the trip, as I am an avid fan of stand-up comedy. We got to see a total of fourteen comics perform that night, including a few of my favorites. It was great to get into downtown Los Angeles, see my cousin, and finally have many concepts and studies tie together at TCM.

Week 3: Teacher Created Materials

August 27th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

My third week here at Teacher Created Materials certainly has been the best, from both a professional, social, and leisurely aspect.  I have made great strides in the workplace, been given new and more challenging tasks and projects, and have had numerous influential conversations on how to approach my future in the financial industry.  On top of all of this, I got to experience some essential Los Angeles tourist attractions and sights.

I began my week working more in Accounts Payable, with a focus in keeping track of inventory.  This is a recurring project that I have been working on, and with each week I must do a different task, whether it be inputting invoices into Excel, keeping track of preparation and freight expenses for each shipment, or beginning to create the code necessary to upload the information into SAGE, the accounting software that TCM uses.  This took up only about the first day and a half, then my focus shifted entirely towards Accounts Receivable.  My coworker specializing in this position had a scheduled vacation for Thursday the 22nd and Friday the 23rd, so it was my responsibility to completely take over for her and keep everything moving smoothly.  This was a great experience, because it gave me a good idea of how much that I have learned thus far.

Working on my inventory project: My Excel spreadsheet has over 4,000 lines.

Working on my inventory project: My Excel spreadsheet has over 4,000 lines.Some more work on my inventory project: The invoices that I am analyzing.

Some more work on my inventory project: The invoices that I am analyzing.

I began each day with the Daily Deposit Reconciliation, where I made sure that the deposits made to the bank in the previous day matched up to what we had input into our accounting software.  Once this was reconciled, I entered all of the ACH and wire payments into ELAN, the booking module that TCM uses.  After that, I processed all of the credit card transactions that are typically emailed or phoned in to the company.  This completed my morning tasks, so I worked on a project regarding building costs for the current year to date until the checks come in from the mail around two or three o’clock.  When the check came in, I had to first input them into ELAN in order to close any paid off invoices.  Then, I deposited the checks to the bank through their portable check processor.  At this point, I had made all of the necessary deposits and bookings, so I finished the day with the Daily Deposit Reconciliation as I had started with.  Everything went much better than I had originally though, showing that I have, in fact, been absorbing a good deal of information.  Beginning this week, I finally get to begin working with the General Ledger (GL), which involves writing journal entries and combining accounting theory with practice.

My view from the Dodgers game!

My view at the Dodgers game!

I was extremely fortunate to have my girlfriend come and visit me, which allowed me to get out and explore LA.  We went to see the live filming of a new NBC sitcom “Undateable” at Warner Brother’s Studios, and it was an absolute blast.  It was very cool to see everything behind the scenes of show business.  Over the weekend, we also went to an LA Dodgers game, which was also an incredible experience.  This fellowship has brought me to a place that I have never been before, and has allowed to me to have experiences that I quite possibly would never have had on my own.  I look forward to the next month here, and I hope to make just as many strides in the workplace as I have in this first month.

Week 2: Teacher Created Materials

August 20th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

My second week at Teacher Created Materials had me heavily focused on the accounts payable aspect of the business. In order to better understand the accounting principals, I first had to learn the companies that TCM must pay in order to keep their own business functioning properly. My first task was to enter inventory invoices into the system through excel. This allowed me to become familiar with the printing companies that TCM uses to create their products and to see more financial material and transactions. The next project that they had me accomplish was going through expense reports submitted by TCM sales reps throughout the country and determining whether they qualified for expense reimbursements based on their receipts. I used a program called Expensewire to monitor and double-check these expenses. It was then my responsibility to get in touch with a particular sales rep if there were any issues.

The largest project that was given to me this week was not under accounts payable, but it was given to me by the Senior Accountant. One of TCM’s largest clients is a public school district which I cannot name. This school district falls in an area with great financial and municipal restrictions, which makes it hard for TCM to have a single sales rep in this area. Therefore, TCM hires an independent sales team which specializes in the sales for this region. A problem had arisen when paying commissions to this sales team because their accounting year began on a different date than TCM’s, and ran by different timing standards. Therefore, there was a timing difference between what commissions that they felt they needed as compared to what TCM felt they should be paying. It was my job to consolidate all of the commissions records that we had on file into one, easy to access excel spreadsheet. In order to do this, I had to go through about fifteen reports, combine like invoices, and make sure that it would be easy for this firm to be able to observe that we had been paying them all of their earned commissions in proper timing. Overall, this project took me about ten hours of focused work time, and I felt as though I had finally independently accomplished something in order to help the accounting team. In addition to this project, I also did more small tasks involving accounts payable such as organize the payments that we needed to make to the freelance writers and proofreaders that help to check the new products before they hit the shelves.

Overall, this week was a great deal of hands on learning that further prepares me to work on more independent projects in the future. I am learning a great deal of how a small business functions and what it takes in order for such a company to be successful. I had a great talk with CFO Rich Levitt over lunch last week. We discussed his pathway to becoming a CFO, along with possible career options that he sees as great stepping stones towards becoming the CFO or an executive of a business. I hope to talk with him again in the future at a time where I can prepare some questions in order to form a better business connection with him along with asking for more specific career advice. My duties in the upcoming week will shift back to the accounts receivable side, as my coworker in A/R will be taking a vacation, deferring all responsibilities to myself. I look forward to working independently, and I hope the notes that I took were good enough!

Week 1: Teacher Created Materials

August 13th, 2013

John Srodulski ’14, Hanson Fellow in Finance

After about a week and a half of adjusting, Huntington Beach, CA is beginning to feel like home!  I moved into my apartment, which is a mile away from the beach, on July 31st, and I jumped right into my finance internship at Teacher Created Materials the next day..  Being so far from home and completely on my own has definitely taken some getting used to, but all of my peers at TCM along with some basketball players that I have met at a local gym have made the transition an incredible experience.

Teacher Created Materials is a publishing firm specializing in educational materials for schools and supplemental materials for teachers.  It is considered to be two separate businesses, with Teacher Created Materials (TCM) doing business with schools and Shell Education doing business with resellers such as bookstores and other vendors.  The business has two buildings, one which is typically used for product creation, and one which contains more of the business aspects, such as the finance department, the IT department, marketing, and the warehouse.

Teacher Created Materials

When I first met with my mentor, Controller Lisa Whiteman, she made it clear that the first week would be a lot of observation due to the financial month having just ended.  Every member of the accounting team had six to seven days to complete his or her month-end figures, along with a sales tax audit that was being executed that same week.  This turned out to be for the better, because I was able to observe some of the most dense and thorough accounting practices right away and to see the final product before seeing all of the intermittent steps.  My first “job-shadow” was in accounts receivable.  Here, I learned all of the necessary collections practices for a small business, along with how all of the incoming cash is accounted for and deposited.  I was able to see all of TCM’s business partners and vendors, along with the size of these accounts.  My first four days were spent heavily in A/R, because Vanessa, who is in charge of A/R, will be going on a vacation in the next two weeks, and her duties will become my responsibility for that duration.

My Workspace

Once I had gotten a good handle on Accounts Receivable, they transferred me over to Accounts Payable, where I am currently learning how TCM pays their bills, and how they account for and keep track of the hundreds of checks that go out of the company each week.  When talking with Lisa last week (unfortunately she will be taking a medical leave of absence for the duration of my internship), she informed me that I will be given a project regarding one of their largest clients who I cannot name due to confidentiality reasons.  Since it has only been one week, I am still learning that basics, but I have become very comfortable with the accounting team.  Each coworker is extremely helpful and open to helping me.  In addition, there is currently another intern (he returns to school at the end of this week) who has helped make the transition much smoother.  He, Christian, has been teaching me his daily tasks so that I can take over when he leaves, along with being able to complete more intense projects.

Huntington Beach Sunset

Along with TCM and all of its employees, the city of Huntington Beach has been incredibly open and friendly to me.  My roommate is an older lady who is friendly but also respects my privacy; however, between work and preparing for the upcoming basketball season at the gym, I am not often home!  I have been to the beach a few times as it is right down the street, and it is always entertaining to walk the pier and watch the surfers.  My parents came along for the thirty-hour drive and helped me to get settled.  We stayed in downtown Los Angeles, which is an incredible city as far as the entertainment business to the diverse Venice Beach Boardwalk.  As my internship progresses, I hope to not only learn more about finance and accounting, but I also want to explore the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, as I may not ever get the chance to be out here again.  Either way, I can already tell that this will be an amazing experience, and I have only been here for a week and a half.

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