Editor’s Note: The following is an extended version of an article originally published in the January 2018 print issue.
I will forever say that accounting is the best profession in the world, world and I am grateful to be a part of it. Some will think I’m exaggerating, but I get up every morning looking forward to the next accounting puzzle I will solve that day.
I was born in what was at the time a lightly populated area of the Dominican Republic called Veron, a small community in the resort town of Punta Cana. We had no roads and few neighbors, so my childhood was full of pretend games with my three sisters; our favorite was “grocery shopping.” One of us owned the grocery store and the others played housewives who had to do the shopping. By the time I was seven years old, other people had moved to the area, roads had been built, and the first resort had opened at the nearest beach. We still had no local electricity, but we had a battery-operated, stick antenna television, which allowed us to watch the soap operas and cartoons from the Puerto Rican network.
Veron didn’t have a school either; I believe I attended school for the first time when I was almost eight, when the first single-room elementary school was opened. We all started at the first grade; luckily, I was able to move up to the second grade the next year. All through elementary school, I attended each grade with kids from every other grade below me, hearing the lesson for the first grade multiple times. Once I completed elementary school, I had to commute every day to the nearest town, La Otra Banda, to attend middle school. At the time, this seemed like going from New York City to Pennsylvania today. It was a big deal for a 14-year-old. When the time came to attend high school, I had to move out of my house to live with my aunt at the nearest city, Higuey. Although my parents would have been fine if I stopped at the fifth grade, I was determined to go all the way. While in high school, I also worked half days drafting property titles at city hall.
After graduating high school, I moved to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, to find a job. I found a woman who was looking to share her studio apartment with a roommate, then found a job within my first week in the city. Only then did I start looking to colleges; that’s a far cry from how it usually goes in the United States! Without even thinking about my future career, I asked my roommate what she did for a living and her answer was “I’m an accountant.” As she told me more about her profession, I felt that accounting was something I’d be good at. After all, my mom always told me I was good with money.
Coming to America and Becoming a CPA
Before could sign up for college in Santo Domingo, my mom, my sisters and I moved to New York City, thanks to my grandparents who had immigrated years before. I attended Bronx Community College, where I first earned my associate’s degree, and then Baruch College, where I received a bachelor’s of science in accounting. After Baruch, I enrolled in a master’s program at Fairleigh Dickinson University; I thought it was time to mix it up a little, so I got my master’s in finance. I was also working full time, first as a billing clerk at Gensler Architects, then as a finance manager at People en Espanol. During the last year of my MBA program, I joined Geller & Company and held different positions in their controllership team for one of their largest clients.
I had decided while attending Baruch that I did not want to work for one of the Big Four due to the very long hours required and the fact that I was expecting my first child. The birth of my son not long after I finished my bachelor’s put getting my CPA license on hold. After many years at Geller and another son, I felt something was missing from my career. I was not a CPA, and whenever I was around CPAs, I felt out of place. It had been almost 10 years since I graduated from Baruch, but I studied day and night with only one objective: to pass the exam. And I did.
Now that I had my CPA license, I wanted more. Geller is a great company, and I could have easily stayed there forever, but I was looking for that next move up the ladder. I decided to join a startup—lots of possibilities there—and became the director of accounting and financial operations at Handy HQ, an online marketplace for home services (cleaning, repair, electrical, plumbing). The position only lasted a little over a year; I really admired the founders, but the work-life balance was off. I left Handy officially, but remained as a consultant for a short period. That gave me the idea for the next step in my career: starting my own business.
Starting My Own Company
With the encouragement and help of friends and family, I began brainstorming how to go into business for myself. “This won’t be hard for me,” I’d say, noting what a good CPA I am and how great I am with people and networking. It may sound cocky, but when I believe something, I believe it wholeheartedly.
During this time, I got a call from David Smooha of Business Solution Partners, who was the NetSuite implementation partner at Handy. He had heard about a CFO position that he thought would be a good fit for me. The company was looking for a NetSuite expert with an accounting background, which described me perfectly. I said I would speak with them, but only as a consultant —and just like that, I had my first client.
My company is FiBrick Financial Services, an accounting firm that provides consulting and outsourced accounting and finance services to startups and midsize firms. For startups, we serve as their home-away-from-home controllership function. We run their full financial reporting processes, implement accounting systems and applications, and provide business coaching. I meet and speak with the founders of my startup clients on a regular basis, just to say hello or to follow up on a personal issue that concerned them the last time we spoke. I like them to feel like they have a friend in me, someone who understands what they are going through. For mid-size firms, we fill the need for expert input on complex transactions if they don’t have an in-house CPA, and we also provide temporary resources for special projects or during high–employee turnover phases.
I enjoy being a partner to my amazing startup clients, building accounting processes, and implementing accounting systems for them. I love technology and automation, and it’s fun to be able to speak about the systems side of accounting to tech startup founders and see how they react. I also enjoy staying connected to mature midsize and large corporations in order to stay current on some of the complex accounting transactions that startups might not experience for a while.
Having It All, Doing It All
I admit that I’m very proud of myself, but there is still a lot of work ahead of me as I take my company through the next phase. In addition to growth, I’m working on realigning and properly staffing my team and building more automation for our processes. As I look back, however, I can’t help but think, “Gosh, I successfully obtained high level of education and certifications, even though at the age of 16 I had no idea who invented electricity and had not so much as seen a high school. On top of it all, I built a business and get to do what I enjoy the most every hour of my life for the amazing customers I choose to do it for and with the amazing employees I choose to work with!” It’s a pretty good feeling.
There was a lot of work involved, a lot of self-improvement, and a lot of roadblocks along the way. For many years, I thought I would never pass the CPA exam because everyone said it was so hard. I sometimes lacked confidence at work due to my limited English vocabulary and my foreign accent. It took several self-talks and a few self-appointed mentors to get me to the point where I am today. At several points, someone said the right thing at the right time. For example, one of my bosses said during my annual evaluation, “Have you considered taking the CPA exam?” I can take a hint. These people are some of the angels in my life, and we should listen to our angels more often.
My parents and sisters drive me. My mom used to say that, being the oldest sister, I was supposed to be the example to the others. She meant, “Don’t mess up, so the others don’t follow in your footsteps,” but I chose to interpret it as, “Be the best you can be and set the path for those who want to be led by example.” I always had my sisters Angela, Flora, and Irma in mind when making big decisions, and I tried to be there for them when they were making big decisions. Flora, the third oldest, is also a CPA, and I remember telling her to go for accounting when she was deciding what study. Angela, the second oldest, is an amazing special education teacher who works with young autistic children. Irma is the founder of Diafano, a school with an amazing Spanish program for corporate executives. My dad was also instrumental in my life; I saw how hardworking and determined he was; he is also really good with finances, which must have rubbed off.
I was also inspired by my middle school teacher. I will always remember how Profesora Maria used to tell me, “You can be whatever you want to be,” adding, “You have the grades for it.”
Being a good role model for my two boys is extremely important to me, as I imagine it is for any mom. Having two boys and being a female business owner, however, gives me the opportunity to raise two young men who know women can accomplish as much as their male counterparts because they have a living example at home.
Here in the United States, I have received such great advice from teachers, colleagues, bosses, and professional organizations that it’s often overwhelming—but in a good way). One lady whose impact was life changing is Joyce Mandell, a professor at Baruch College and private speech coach. I took her pronunciation and public speaking classes, and it only took meeting her and listening to her feedback to give me a permanent confidence boost in that area.
Being a CPA and having the support network of other CPAs and CPA organizations (like the NYSSCPA) gives me a sense of assurance that I don’t think I would have if I had not gone for my CPA license. It really made and still makes a difference in my career. I believe that a big part of being good at what you do is not only knowing how to do it, but also having the confidence that you can do it. That confidence sometimes comes with experience and education; but in the case of accounting, being a CPA is an express route.
I attend at least two big conferences every year; this year, I attended the NetSuite and QuickBooks conferences to learn what’s new with their applications. I also attend multiple workshops location to stay current on accounting and tax updates. I learn every system and application my clients use and then train my team members on them. I also stay current on new technology for the accounting industry (ERP systems, apps, integration and automation solutions).
I’m probably over-organized, as I study and implement the best solution that will help me consolidate all the pieces of my busy life. I use an app that allows me to take quick notes, so if I get an e-mail while on the train, I quickly add a relevant note to that app.
I have my client and employee onboarding processes down now. We have checklists for clients’ projects and tasks, and I aim to standardize and automate processes as much as we can. Building the right team for any firm is no easy task. For me this is still a work in progress, but having a team to delegate projects to allows me the opportunity to take on more and larger projects and help more clients. I do a lot of hiring from my alma mater, Baruch College, and some employees have come to my firm initially from the Ladders for Leaders program, which is run by the City of New York. I train new hires myself for several months and encourage peer-to-peer training. We also maintain process documentation for each client, which helps new team members get up to speed quickly.
I constantly need to be looking forward to something fun that’s not work related. As much as I enjoy what I do, I look forward to family time (and “me time”). I’m a big plan-ahead kind of girl. I usually have my next Easter and summer vacations planned before the end of the year, and that gives me something to look forward to. I also love dancing and going out to dinner with friends. I’m the planner for that too; I don’t think any of my friends would go out dancing if I didn’t plan a dancing outing. I take time off whenever my kids are off from school, or at least work from home if the no-school day falls during the month-end close.
I really enjoy helping other women entrepreneurs and accounting students. I am a mentor of WEnyc, an initiative that provides support and resources to help women start and grow their businesses. I also lead the New York Women Entrepreneurs Meetup, which offers women entrepreneurs a friendly setting where they can share ideas and learn from each other. I serve as a mentor in Baruch’s mentorship programs (Executives on Campus and Shadow Partners) and participate as a speaker in Baruch’s entrepreneurship class and Pace’s Beta Alpha Psi lecture series. I also welcome and encourage students to set up meetings with me to get advice or to visit my office and see what we do.
A Day in My Life
- Get up at 6:30 and check email in case anyone needs me already
- Rush to kiss my 7-year-old good morning then rush to a locked door at my teenager’s room; call him three times to see if he opens his door so I can kiss him good morning
- Get everyone ready and out of the house (try to get a good-bye kiss from teenager); drop younger son off at school
- Get on the train and do some marketing on social media and return emails
- Run to the first client or business development meeting
- Choose one of the following: Go to a consulting project/Go to the office to work with the team on the week’s priorities/Train new staff
- Listen to a webinar
- Run out for a lunch meeting
- Choose one of the following: Review staff’s work/call a client or prospect/review the marketing plan and implement one strategy from the plan/meet a client at the office
- Check on the teenager, who has been off from school for two hours now
- Work on some fun project: migrate financial data from QuickBooks to NetSuite or automate the expense reporting process for a client
- Choose one of the following: Run to pick up my son from school at 6:00/attend or host a networking event
On Saturday, I take the kids to Spanish class, go to lunch with the family, go to dinner or dancing with friends. On Sunday, I go to church, go to lunch with the family, make sure the teenager does his homework, help 7-year-old with his homework, play with him after, and watch TV.
My life is busy, but I’m doing what I love to do and helping clients who love the fact that I love doing something they don’t. What better combination can I ask for?