Zack Fortsch ’83 leads the way for future accounting professionals
Zack Fortsch ’83 is a member of the College of Business Hall of Fame and a tax partner at RSM US LLP (“RSM”), the fifth largest audit, tax, and consulting firm in the United States. Objectively, Fortsch has been successful in his career. Now, he turns his focus towards the next generation of Illinois State alums. Through gifts, commitments, and matching gifts, Fortsch has been responsible for more than $200,000 in donations to the University. Fortsch’s scholarship, the William A. Fortsch Accounting Scholarship provides multi-year scholarships for accounting students. Fortsch’s firm, RSM, has also been a strong supporter of Illinois State students and faculty.
Fortsch credits former Illinois State faculty Dorothy Sands M.S. ’73 with pointing him in the right direction in his career. One analogy from Sands stresses the importance of staying current with tax law that still particularly resonates.
“Think of it in terms of your doctor,” said Fortsch. “If your doctor doesn’t keep up on the newest science, they might misdiagnose you and end up killing you. On the tax side, you need to make sure you don’t misdiagnose your client’s tax situation, so they don’t come back and want to kill you.”
Fortsch became a partner at RSM in 2000 and has made an intentional effort to recruit Illinois State students. Fortsch returns to campus seven or eight times a year. He attends events, actively mentors students, and provides input to issues that the Accounting Advisory Board is considering during the academic year.
His involvement has created a steady pipeline of professionals from Illinois State to RSM. Currently, 153 alumni from Illinois State work for RSM. Fifteen of those alumni are partners. Over the past five fiscal years, 55 interns accepted full-time associate offers, beginning their professional career at RSM. Six students recently participated in RSM’s summer internship program, and seventeen students will start with the firm in the fall.
“We go to 14 different schools in the region, and Illinois State is crown jewel status for us,” Fortsch said. “What that means is that Illinois State is a primary focus for our recruiting efforts and that we will support those students as undergrads.”
RSM has a commitment to the University through the RSM Impact Fund. It is a $100,000 gift supporting professional development for faculty and students. Illinois State alumni employed by the company have committed to raise $10,000 annually for five years, which is then matched by the RSM Foundation.
The RSM Impact Fund was started in the midst of the 2015-2017 state budget crisis. Fortsch knew of the many challenges facing the department and he stepped up to protect the excellence of the accounting program.
The RSM Impact Fund provides a safety net of funding for faculty recruitment and retention as well as student scholarships and development.
“Nationally, there is a severe shortage of Ph.D.-qualified accounting faculty and departmental compensation is not as high as that of competitor public universities,” said Department of Accounting Chair Deborah Seifert. “The fund helps level the playing field for faculty talent.”
“We are fortunate to have Zack as an alum and RSM as a corporate partner,” Seifert added. “Zack is a mentor for our students who goes the extra mile to help them succeed. We’re also proud to be able to offer our students a connection to a global leader in accounting.”
Nationally, there is also competition for enrollment and this fund helps recruit, retain, and develop excellent students. This past spring, RSM awarded five $1,000 scholarships to accounting majors who have high academic achievement. The students will also be part of RSM’s spring 2020 internship program.
In addition to cultivating partnerships between RSM and the University, Fortsch engages in personal philanthropy. His father, William, introduced Zack to the field of accounting. After William’s passing, Zack and his mother wanted to honor his father. They have done so through the creation of the William A. Fortsch Scholarship Fund, which is designed to attract a student to Illinois State who has an interest in accounting.
“Our commitment to the student is that as long as you maintain a 3.0 and you remain an accounting major, we will fund $2,500 per year for five years,” Fortsch said. “Right now, we have two students that we sponsor. This is our way of attracting the best and brightest to come to Illinois State.”
The first two recipients of the five-year William A. Fortsch Accounting Scholarship are on track to succeed in their careers—one graduated this summer and the other will graduate in May 2020. The accounting department is currently looking for its next two award recipients.
Fortsch says the most rewarding part of his philanthropy is giving students a head start on their careers.
“I am winding down in my career. I probably have about four years before I retire,” he said. “But for the students, their best days are ahead of them. If I can help them get a start on their professional career, it is all worth it.”
To learn how you can support students as they prepare to launch their professional careers, visit RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu.