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Employee Spotlight

Teaching Truth

For Mary & Ellis professor Mark Zimbelman, teaching at the BYU Marriott School of Business is about helping students find spiritual and intellectual truth. As he retires from the School of Accountancy (SOA), he reflects on how his faith has helped him make a lasting impact through both his research and his interactions with students.

Mark and Karen Zimbelman stand in a field during golden hour with trees in the background, smiling widely at the camera.
Mark and Karen Zimbelman have been married for over 40 years.
Photo courtesy of Mark Zimbelman.

Almost 40 years ago, after he graduated from BYU Marriott with an undergraduate degree in accounting, Zimbelman worked in public accounting and auditing—but he felt that something was missing. “I put together a spreadsheet with a whole bunch of different career paths and evaluated them on several different dimensions: family life, career satisfaction, stress, etc.” Zimbelman says. “Being a professor rose to the top.”

So with encouragement from his wife, Zimbelman returned to school. After earning his PhD from the University of Arizona, he began working as a professor. He kept in contact with the BYU Marriott accounting program through his early years at other universities. “My wife and I were praying,” he says, “and I told the Lord that if I got an offer at BYU, I would take it because I love BYU. So I better not get an offer if He doesn't want me there.”

It took several years and applications, but that offer did come. Zimbelman says that when he arrived at BYU he was told: “We ask a lot of you at BYU. We ask you to be really good at both research and teaching, while most schools focus on one or the other. But we know that the Lord will help you do more than you possibly could on your own.”

Zimbelman sits in front of his final class. The board behind him reads: "Flashback: Why learn about fraud?"
Zimbelman recently taught his final class at BYU Marriott after decades of inspiring students.
Photo courtesy of Mark Zimbelman.

Despite—or perhaps because of these high expectations—Zimbelman’s love of the university only grew as he settled in and began his long career in the SOA. “At other universities, I couldn’t bring the spiritual, religious part of my life into the classroom,” he says. “The opportunity to be one person—someone who can help students temporally but also spiritually—is the best part of this job.”

As the topics he has taught overlap with his faith, Zimbelman explains how his work helps him understand the gospel. “Auditing is about truth—and what I mean by that is, it's about finding truth. That’s what the gospel is about, too. One of the Savior's names is The Truth,” he says. As he teaches fraud examination, Zimbelman incorporates the ethics of the subject as well, relating to his students that “in real life, the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Zimbelman stands at the front of a room with five other men, holding an award for scholarly excellence.
Zimbelman won a BYU award for scholarly excellence in 2013.
Photo courtesy of Mark Zimbelman.

He also strengthens the curriculum by adding his research on behavioral patterns that indicate fraud. “Fraud is such a nasty reality in our world, and doing something to stop it or to prevent it is really exciting to me,” Zimbelman says. He teaches his students about the signs to look for to recognize fraud. Then he helps them learn how to handle fraud once they find it. “Auditors need to think and act in less predictable ways. If fraud perpetrators can predict ahead of time what the auditor will be testing, it allows the perpetrator to hide their fraud. Because auditors perform similar tests on each audit and from year to year, they are very predictable, which makes it easy for fraud perpetrators to conceal a fraud.”

By sharing his academic research and professional experience with students, Zimbelman prepares students to face real-world problems in the workplace. “There's so much fraud out there that they could become a victim of fraud or get themselves caught up in a fraud if they're not careful.”

As he reflects on his career, Zimbelman acknowledges that his abilities were magnified, as he had been promised at the beginning of his career at BYU. “I can testify that the Lord has helped me do more than I could possibly do on my own.”


Written by Melissa Een