Accounting alumna finds acceptance and opportunity at Baker Tilly


Shabinaaz Mahdi, BS Accounting ’12, discovered a passion for accounting at the Donald G. Costello College of Business at George Mason University. While in school, she was introduced to Baker Tilly, a leading advisory tax and assurance firm, where she has risen through the ranks to become partner. 

Fifteen years had passed since high school graduation when Shabinaaz Mahdi decided to return to her education at Mason. Her focus had been on raising her children and adjusting to life after immigrating to the United States from Sri Lanka. Taking night classes at Mason allowed her to keep her priorities in focus while exploring her burgeoning passion for accounting and the career paths where it could lead. After transferring from Northern Virginia Community College, she worked diligently at Mason in joining extracurricular groups, including the GMU Accounting Honors Program, Beta Gamma Sigma, Golden Key International Society, and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Additionally, she was named to the Dean’s List in 2010 and 2011. 

Shabinaaz Mahdi
Shabinaaz Mahdi

The subject of accounting was attractive to Mahdi due to her love of mathematics. “I’m a numbers person, especially being an immigrant and English not being my first language, numbers are a universal language,” she says. It was never a struggle for her to study because she so thoroughly enjoyed the tax work and research. During those night classes, she bonded with her classmates and learned about what kinds of careers could be available for her. She learned even more about the field through an audit and tax internship. Soon after that, she attended a leadership conference and was introduced to Baker Tilly. “Seeing the potential for growth in a mid-sized firm, I applied for a full-time position and received an offer during my senior year, feeling incredibly fortunate to secure employment before graduation,” she says. 

Mahdi credits the culture and people of Baker Tilly for her tremendous professional growth. After beginning as staff accountant in 2012, she began her rise through the ranks, finding her strengths and developing proficiency, leading to her recent promotion as partner at the firm. In her current role, she focuses on partnerships and corporations within the professional services industry, particularly law firms. She loves working with her clients, but she also loves working with her colleagues, collaborating with them, and soaking up all the knowledge that she can. Mahdi’s impressive success at Baker Tilly is not at all surprising to JK Aier, senior associate dean and associate professor of accounting at the Costello College of Business, who had her in his intermediate accounting class. “Right from day one, she was motivated to not only do well in the course but also work to understand the subject matter thoroughly by asking clarifying questions.” 

As an immigrant, Mahdi had initially felt anxious about being accepted, but she quickly found that her colleagues embraced her. “The firm's inclusive culture has enabled me to find fulfillment in my work by allowing me to be my authentic self, free from pretense or peer pressure,” she says. “This culture of acceptance has fostered a sense of belonging which, in turn, has empowered me to perform at my best.” Baker Tilly promotes a healthy work/life balance for its employees by encouraging effective communication. “Communication is key to make sure you are prioritizing the things that are important to you,” she says. “I always have my Outlook calendar updated which truly helps manage both home and work.”  Throughout the year, employees at Baker Tilly make a conscious effort to completely disconnect from work in order to recharge, reset, and relax. And in order to destress and wrap up the work week productively, they avoid scheduling meetings on Fridays. 

When Mahdi first arrived in the United States, she only knew her husband and children. Going back to school began as a way to keep herself occupied, but it has since led to an accomplished and rewarding career and a vast network of positive relationships. “I strongly believe that if you give your best effort in everything you do and leave your quality mark on every work product that crosses your desk, work diligently and intelligently, remain open to continuous learning, and stay humble, recognizing that your knowledge is just a drop in the ocean, and, most importantly, enjoy the process, success will inevitably follow when the time is right,” she says. Mahdi has experienced great success following that mindset at Baker Tilly, where she is embraced and encouraged.