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Unexpected adventures in management accounting

It’s impossible to curb Eva Labro’s enthusiasm for her classes on management accounting. Or for her students. Or for the research paper she’s working on at any given time.

Or the course she’s developing as part of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s new Charlotte Executive MBA Program.

And she’s about to become a grandmother again.

She has an infectious zeal for, well, just about everything. And Labro, the Michael W. Haley Distinguished Professor of Accounting, does a little bit of everything. That’s exactly the way she likes it.

“I just enjoy doing what I’m doing, you know?” says Labro. “This is a job I enjoy. It’s hard not be enthusiastic about it.”

Since joining UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2009, Labro has brought her infectious energy and insatiable intellectual curiosity to the core classes she teaches on management accounting and strategic cost analysis for MBA and PhD students.

She’s a tireless researcher who often gets ideas for research papers directly from questions students ask her in class. She somehow also manages to edit business journals, including her term as the senior editor of the Journal of Management Accounting Research.

She is the kind of professor who always finds time to chat with a former student when they stop by her office while back on campus recruiting for their firm.

“One of the challenges of teaching a core class that all students have to take is that some are highly versed in quantitative measurement skills. Other people haven’t done math since high school and high school was a long time ago,” says Labro. “Making it interesting to a very big heterogenous group is challenging. But I like challenges.”

Since the start of 2022, Labro has taken on another challenge: leading the accounting faculty as area chair.

Through her career, Labro’s research has also been published in the top accounting journals of the world and she serves on multiple journal editorial boards.

Ever current, she is using data from the U.S. Census to look at different levers firms pull to retain employees during moments like the Great Resignation.

Labro’s co-author on that paper is Jim Omartian (MBA ’13, PhD ’18), an accounting professor at the University of Michigan. He is one of many students Labro taught and mentored who have gone on to become colleagues and research collaborators.

Labro has worked extensively over the years with students in the PhD Program, which prioritizes mentoring and close student-faculty collaboration and prepares students to become faculty members producing top research at universities around the world.

Another former student-turned-research collaborator is John Gallemore (BSBA ’05, MBA ’09, PhD ’14), who joined the UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty in 2021 after serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago for seven years. Gallemore, who studies how corporate tax policy and enforcement shapes firms’ financial and economic reporting, co-authored a paper with Labro on how a firms’ internal information environment impacts tax reporting.

Labro’s research on cost systems won the Greatest Potential Impact on Management Accounting Practice Award three times from the American Accounting Association’s Management Accounting Section, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Much of her heart and sweat belongs to the classroom. Labro finds ways to make the content fresh each semester. Through her research and editing, she’s always at the forefront of new insights into her field.  Her classes and research often focus on how management accounting relates to other business disciplines, including operations management, financial accounting, tax and economics.

Healthcare financial management is another major research interest of Labro’s, and she designed and taught an MBA elective on the subject.

She constantly uncovers current real-world examples of cost analysis to integrate into courses, heightening student engagement. Her Executive MBA students take that knowledge directly to their jobs and immediately change practices around how costs are reported and tough business decisions are made, Labro says.

Labro frequently uses what she calls vignettes, illustrations of how a particular measurement skill or tool is used by a company in a practical setting. She keeps those examples current by reading new research and regularly talking to practitioners and alumni.

“I built my courses with lots of different types of pedagogy, such as using case studies that challenge everyone at their own level even though they are sitting in the same classroom together,” says Labro. “To me, what’s most important is that everybody has learned at the end of the day.”

That approach resonates. Labro has received numerous teaching accolades. At UNC Kenan-Flagler, she received the 2019 Weatherspoon Award for Excellence in MBA Teaching and the 2017 Weatherspoon Award for Excellence in PhD Teaching, to name a few.

Her path to UNC Kenan-Flagler was unique. Never one to be pigeonholed, Labro pursued business as a student because it allowed her to explore a range of interesting courses and fields, an outlook that stays with her to this day. She earned an undergraduate degree in business engineering, a master’s in commercial and business economics engineering and a PhD, all from the Catholic University of Leuven in her home country of Belgium.

She and her husband, an investment banker, headed to London with one child in tow and she began her teaching career as an assistant professor at the London School of Economics. Then, UNC Kenan-Flagler gave her a phone call to see if she would be interested in coming to Chapel Hill.

“Academically and professionally for me, it was an obvious decision. It was an honor to be asked to join. That part was a no-brainer,” says Labro. “It was moving the family, by then three children and moving my husband’s career — that was not a no-brainer. I wanted to take the plunge and it turned out to be the right decision.”

Now the consistently busy Labro is an empty nester. Her daughter is expecting Labro’s third grandchild, and her son, Bram Raets (BSBA ’21) is a healthcare analyst. Her youngest son is at UNC studying economics and data science.

But what’s most exciting to Labro is that she never knows what will excite her next.

She just knows that something always will.