Akrem Azaiez begins each day at 6:30 a.m. Running on anywhere from three to five hours of sleep, he wakes himself up with a cup of coffee and a few minutes of his favorite activity: checking the international news.
Born in Tunisia and raised between Africa, France and Germany, Azaiez has a passion for global politics, cultures and languages, speaking four fluently. Since moving to the U.S., he spends what little free time he has trying to stay on top of what’s happening around the world and writing about his views on his blog, “The Nomad Times.” Once he feels caught up on morning news, Azaiez heads to campus for another day packed with a demanding schedule.
Azaiez finds himself on the West Coast, finishing his bachelor’s degree in accounting at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. Since 2014, he has carried a grueling schedule of 20 units each quarter, using his photographic memory and unique studying style to negate the need to take notes during lectures. If isn’t in class, talking to major recruiters, or running Cal Poly’s International Club, you would most likely find him studying at the library or his favorite coffee shop for two of business’ biggest exams.
Azaiez is preparing to take the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (CPA) and the Chartered Financial Analyst Exam (CFA) in parallel in 2016 — a daunting task for any professional, let alone an undergraduate. The CPA is a four-part, fourteen-hour test administered to professionals who wish to become U.S. Certified Public Accountants. The CFA is considered the “gold standard” for finance professionals worldwide and requires an estimated 300 hours of preparation to pass the three-part exam.
Passing either of these exams on their own is a significant feat, but it is especially rare attempt for a student, according to finance and accounting faculty at Cal Poly. Holding a bachelor’s degree is a minimum prerequisite to sit for these exams, and it is often attempted by professionals with years of industry experience. But tackling both, at the same time? That’s nearly unheard of in the undergraduate world, especially without the help of a professional or university preparation course.
So why take both exams now, especially knowing the exams aim for two inherently different career paths? In part, Azaiez’s motives are personal. He is passionate about self-education and enjoys having something to work towards.
“Intellectual stagnation means death for me,” said Azaiez. “If I stop studying or if live just to make money and bring in a paycheck, I would be depressed. I need to always have some sort of academic objective to pursue.”
There’s the also benefit of just simply having more options with both certifications.
“There’s no point in restricting myself when getting both gives me the opportunity to pursue more opportunities,” he noted.
But when you delve deeper into Azaiez’s motivations, you can see that taking these exams is much bigger to him than a side project or a line item on a resume. To him, passing the exams means opening up opportunities not just to advance himself, but to later advance the lives of others.
“Right now, this is all a very individualistic perspective of life,” says Azaiez. “Yes, I can go take the CPA, CFA, maybe go get my MBA. That’s all fine. But what am I doing that for?”
Azaiez says one of the biggest lessons he’s learned at Cal Poly has been the increased impact he can make when he looks beyond himself and focuses on someone else’s viewpoint.
“Emotional awareness and knowing how other people can be affected by your actions is very important, even in the professional world. That is something I learned here at Cal Poly.,” Azaiez reflects. “Next time you’re sitting down with a person, ask yourself, ‘How does she feel?’ or ‘How does he feel?’ I tried it in a class with Professor Jean Francois Coget. It literally changes the way you think.”
Azaiez says that he views this stage in his life as a “building phase”, where he will grow as fast as he can in order to achieve dreams larger than himself, like preserving peace in the Middle East or starting his own company to maintain economic stability in the international community.
“I think at some point, I want to be successful and shift that interest from myself to a community or a larger audience. Because then I can impact more lives, I can achieve a higher outcome for a more noble purpose.”
Azaiez graduated cum laude from the Orfalea College of Business at the end of the 2015 fall quarter. He plans to move to the Bay Area, where he’ll work for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a Capital Markets and Accounting Advisory Services (CMAAS) associate. The job requires a lot of traveling, which will grant Azaiez the chance to network with professionals from different industries while providing consulting services. He also looks forward to leveraging the languages he speaks, and learning new ones, along the way.
And after that? Azaiez says that with the right attitude and a strong education, there’s no limit — no boarders — to what he or his fellow classmates can do.
“It’s about taking everything you’ve learned so far and using the resources you have. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you can achieve and the faster you can learn.”