Mahnhee Lee: A Matador in Finance

Portrait of alumnus Mahnhee Lee, wearing a suit and tie.

Mahnhee Lee ’12 (Accounting / Finance), M.S. ’17 (Taxation) is an assurance manager at BDO USA, a public accounting firm. Photo by Lee Choo.

In business, Mahnhee Lee ’12 (Accounting / Finance), M.S. ’17 (Taxation) runs the numbers to help companies predict the outcomes of their decisions and minimize risk. But when it comes to his life and career path, Lee believes the greatest fulfillment can come from taking a chance.

First in an occasional series.

First in an occasional series.

Lee’s professional path may seem, at first glance, more of a calculated road to success than one left to chance. Even before graduating and jumping into the “real world,” he had a job waiting for him at BDO USA, a public accounting firm. BDO USA is also the U.S. member firm of BDO Global, an international accounting network that operates in 160 countries.

Since 2012, Lee has risen through the ranks at BDO USA, where he currently serves as an assurance manager. He performs financial statement audits for companies from a number of industries, primarily in technology, hospitality and manufacturing sectors.

“Auditing has become a new passion for me,” Lee said. “I never expected myself to become that typical auditor per se. Auditing is something that I’ve come across before, but have now grown to enjoy.”

His goals and passions weren’t always so clear-cut, however. Inspired by the TV medical series “House,” Lee said, he initially wanted to be a doctor. He dreamed of earning an MBA and running a hospital, which led him to explore the business aspects of medicine. He enrolled in an accounting night class in his sophomore year of high school.

“I really enjoyed the course,” Lee said. “That’s when I said, ‘Okay, when I graduate from high school, I’m going to study accounting and make this my career.”

Lee followed through and dove straight into a double major in accounting and finance at CSUN. Like some of his classmates, Lee thought he was going into government accounting, which demanded fewer hours than public and private accounting work, he said.

“Since you work 40 hours a week, you get to sustain a lifestyle,” he said. As an undergraduate, Lee took advantage of two internship opportunities from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities: a two-month stint with the Census Bureau in Suitland, Md. (near Washington, D.C.), and a summer internship at the California Board of Equalization, which handles all taxes except income taxes. He found the work manageable, but dry.

“I realized that maybe this wasn’t meant to be, that it was a bit too slow paced and that I wanted something more,” Lee said. “So, I jumped off the bandwagon — to the public accounting route.”

He’s glad he took what felt like a risk at the time, welcoming the 10- to 12-hour work days that kept him on his toes, Lee said. He still has the “freedom” to live a full live outside of work, which he feared he’d lose with more demanding hours, he added.

This isn’t the only road Lee hopes to follow. As he continues his work in public accounting with increasing emphasis on hospitality and tech-based companies, he said, he’s weighing teaching courses in accounting. As a young alumnus, Lee advised current CSUN students who hope to pursue accounting, finance and other business fields to be open to professional risks, too.

“Give everything a shot, even if it’s something you’ve just considered, because it’d be a shame to regret not trying it later in your life,” Lee said.

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