After attending CCNY (now CUNY) Baruch, I attended Brooklyn Law School at night, and then NYU Law School (again at night) to receive my master of laws in taxation. Education is critical. Clients and prospective clients appreciate working with professionals who have put the time in to attain advanced degrees. Don’t put off graduate education, as it only gets more difficult as one gets older and has more responsibilities at home and the office. Learn as much as you can and keep learning.
A Firm That Cares
When we were growing our firm in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the partners always cared about our employees. We were a firm of 50 when the 1990 recession hit, but we had to let 10 people go, something we had never done before. We sought advice. A close friend in human resources said, “Your people never have been on unemployment before. Find out how that works and advise them.” We tried, and were successful in some cases, to find jobs for them. I was in charge of the firm’s fringe benefits. I wanted to provide continued health insurance coverage for the 10 people, and my partners agreed. This was unheard of at the time (this was before COBRA). I had to ask an officer of the insurance company to sign off on providing medical insurance coverage for three months. There is no such thing as job security, whether you have had a job for one month or 10 years. We used to hear that quality of life is what employees wanted, but now they just want permanence.
In 1982, I hired a part-time female CPA who had left our firm to start a family and who wanted to return to work after her young children had grown up a bit. Part-time professional employees were not favorably valued back then. I allowed her and all of my permanent part-timers to have flexible work schedules. I cared. This is even more relevant today because of the innovations that allow part-timers to work from anywhere.
Become a teacher. Become a lecturer. Become a writer. By becoming a teacher and lecturer, you will accrue knowledge because you want to be sure to provide your audience with accurate information. You will learn more from writing and speaking than the audience will learn from listening to you or reading what you wrote. You will earn the respect of the audience and, if the lecture is within your firm, you will be noticed by your superiors. But only speak, teach, and write on a subject with which you are familiar; otherwise, you will fail.
It will work if you are comfortable speaking to groups. I found public speaking to be easy, but developing the outline took a lot of time. My outlines lasted roughly two years before I chose another subject, within my area of expertise, on which to speak or write. When I was asked to speak, I only spoke on a subject for which I previously had prepared an outline. For example, in 1992 I was made a member of the NYSSCPA committee to encourage New York State to enact the Limited Liability Company (LLC) Law. By the time the law was enacted in 1994, I was an expert. There were very few other professionals that could lead a discussion on this new entity. I figured that, like so many other topics, speaking and writing about LLCs would last about two years—but my initial 1994 10-page outline on limited liability companies grew to approximately 400 pages, and I wrote and spoke on LLCs for about 20 years.
Drawing on my own experience, I have written and published major articles because I was immersed in the subject on behalf of a client engagement. When working on an interesting and important project, keep notes and consider whether others will be interested. Some of my writings have led to interviews by journalists as well as TV appearances. Being quoted in major newspapers and magazines lends credibility in the business sector. Just like this article, every one of my published articles resulted from personal experiences.
Take Leadership Positions
Join professional organizations and search for a committee in an area of expertise. Firms should encourage such participation in the profession, but not all do. You can do more than just attend committee meetings—volunteer to speak at conferences or committee meetings. Climb the ladder to a committee chairmanship.
Networking is connecting. Zoom has become the forum of choice in 2020, but of course there are several similar platforms. Look professional; prepare your thoughts in advance; don’t interrupt; and follow up after the meeting. Never get angry or yell; that may be recorded for posterity. When in-person get-togethers come back, ask new contacts for their business card. Look at it, study it—do not just put it in your pocket or pocketbook. Don’t phumpher for a business card; have one readily accessible. Follow up after the meeting, especially if you have promised to do so. Keep track of who you met, when, where, and the topic of discussion. This can easily be recorded in the notes section of your contact list.
International tax and accounting work is among the most difficult, but it can be the most rewarding. International work is unique and increased compensation can be the result. A few partners in our growing firm took active roles in DFK International, a worldwide organization of accounting firms. We benefited from many referrals and more importantly, were able to provide our local clients with an international reach. I served on DFK’s international tax committee and I became its chairman. I attended international conferences and became a member of the DFK international executive committee and the vice-president for the Americas. I made myself known, and the leadership of DFK International appreciated my capabilities.
New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants
I had a mentor (a partner of the firm) who encouraged participation in the NYSSCPA. I started at the chapter level; I gave speeches and chaired committees. After a number of years, I moved from chapter participation to statewide committees. Ultimately, I was elected as president of the Society for 1999/2000. All of this, and heading the firm’s tax practice, took a lot of time, but I always made time for the family. Anyone can do this if you have the desire to do so.
Lessons from My Own Experience
- Professional life is like a chess game in which some moves are smart and some moves are lucky. It was smart of me, early in my career, to work for a large, 50-person firm. Its merging into Touche Ross (now Deloitte) was lucky. Deciding to become active in DFK International was lucky and smart—I traveled around the world and made lifelong friends across the globe.
- Seek a mentor.
- Pay as much attention to family as work.
- Never discuss client matters with significant others, friends, or co-workers.
- You do not always need to know the answer: you only need to know where to find the answer—or whom to ask.
- When writing an article, just write. Do not try to write a perfect article the first time. Get your thoughts down. Organize the thoughts in later drafts until you are comfortable with submitting it. Most publishers will edit the submission and send it back. If you believe that aspects of your version are better, it is a subject for discussion with the editor.
- Be responsive to everyone, from clients to employees to peers. Always return calls, or respond to e-mails or texts, within 24 hours; clients remember when you fail to do that. Return the call even if you do not yet have an answer. Clients want to know that you have read their communication.
- Never tell a client that you are busy. All clients must feel like they are your most important client.
- Keep clients informed about the status of their work.
- Be honest and recognize a conflict of interest.
- Do not be afraid to turn away business if you have a concern about the integrity of the potential client or do not feel professionally comfortable with the work.
- Take up public speaking. Start at your firm, then move locally and regionally.
- Build trustworthy relationships with journalists. Be forthright, but don’t always expect to be quoted. If you do not have an answer, be honest; it builds credibility.
- Treat all of the people with whom you work with respect and dignity.
- Enjoy what you do. I do. I wish everyone the same good fortune.