John Clark spends his days poring over accounting documents for Texas A&M College of Dentistry. That could run the gamut of anything from a clinic reconciliation report to a student fee check. But if you ask him about his primary role, he’s likely to offer a different take.
“I view myself as a problem solver and helper, and that’s what I like to do,” says Clark, who started working at the College of Dentistry in March 2000. “I have certain duties, but what I mainly do is help solve problems. I consider my job to be helping people, and I’ve been here long enough, if somebody has a problem, and it’s one I can’t solve, I may know someone who can help them, or at least where to start.
“An important aspect of being able to help others is having a supervisor who also cares about helping others. I feel lucky that my supervisor, Juanna Moore, also feels that helping others is a major component of our jobs in Financial Services.”
Clark’s professional path to the dental school is a winding one, with its start in an unlikely place. In the mid-1980s, Clark, then a steel mill worker in a small East Texas town, was feeling the flagging momentum of Texas’ boom-and-bust oil economy.
“The steel mill I worked at made oil field casings, but the work fluctuated with oil prices,” he explains. “As soon as I started at the mill, the oil prices dropped globally. I think there was 46 percent unemployment in East Texas then.”
Thus began a vicious on-again, off-again work cycle.
“I would be laid off for a month or two, then be called back for a couple of weeks to work,” Clark says.
Then Northeast Texas Community College (NTCC) was built less than a mile from Clark’s home near Mount Pleasant, Texas. At that point he was in his mid-30s and married with three young sons. With the support of his wife, Deborah — now the dental school’s alumni relations senior administrative coordinator who works just down the hall — he enrolled in introductory computer science and accounting courses.
“The intro to computer science was easy, and everyone stayed in the class,” Clark recalls. “But the intro to accounting started with 30 to 40 people, and it ended up with about six. I thought that might be a better career choice, so I began an associate degree in accounting.”
That mindset led to more courses in accounting and then a decision to pursue a four-year degree and a certified public accountant (CPA) license instead of the two-year associate degree.
After practicing accounting for Domino’s Pizza and Tony Roma’s, Clark worked as chief accountant for several tech startups before landing the position at the dental school. During those early days at the college he was strictly devoted to reconciling several accounts — a task that took months.
“Through reconciling accounts, you can see what processes need to be implemented for the accounts to stay straight,” he explains. “This led to developing and writing procedures for Financial Services,” says Clark, who now oversees several staff members in the school’s Financial Services office and interacts with dozens more across the school.
Dale Lewis, clinic manager in the professional services division of oral and maxillofacial surgery, sums up what it’s like to work with Clark: “My favorite projects with John start with an email — ‘Juanna needs information, do you have a few minutes?’ Together we have worked as a team for audit preparations, reconciling accounts to the nearest penny. He is always up to the challenge of resolving a problem or calming me down.”
On a lighthearted note: “One secret I will share, John Clark is an alien from Planet Excel Spreadsheet,” Lewis adds. “He is one of the few people I know who smiles while formulating a multiple-page spreadsheet; his fingers zoom over the keyboard, and he enjoys creating them.”
Clark points out one unique facet of working in the accounting arena: the need to always consider what lies just beyond the horizon.
“We may get a question three years from now asking why a minute detail happened, and we have to be able to look back and explain. Maintaining a clear audit trail from year to year requires so much documentation!”
It’s all in efforts to simplify the lives of co-workers, regardless of their office or department.
“I don’t want anyone’s job to be more difficult,” says Clark. “If I can help keep someone else’s job from being harder through implementing procedures and documentation, that’s what I do. There really is a sense of family here, and I feel that we are all here for each other.”