I decided to become an accountant because my friend’s Dad, who got a new car every year, was an accountant. Sounds shallow, but I came from a one parent family and I was looking for a father figure who was successful. As it turns out, thanks to the City of New York, I was able to get an excellent accounting education at Baruch College (then the Bernard M. Baruch School of Business and Public Administration) tuition free. I earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Public Accountancy only to learn, while working for my friends Dad while in college and for 2 years after graduation, that I disliked public accounting. My wife got pregnant and I had to make more money (mothers didn’t work outside the home in those days) so I found a job as an internal auditor with a huge international company that ranked in Fortune’s 200. While still in my 20’s I worked my way up to Domestic Accounting Manager covering the 100 plus divisions/subsidiaries located in the United States. I had a staff of 40 and began my career as a “private” accountant.
In the world we live in “accountant” means CPA to everyone. Those of us who toil behind the scenes keeping the wheels on the wagon are invisible. Few people have a clue about what it takes to run the back room operation for a company, but that’s what I decided I liked. By the time I was in my mid 30’s I moved from New York to St. Louis and was CFO for a mid-market publicly held company. I began to see the writing on the wall every time I had a conflict with the rest of the management committee over financial stuff. A CFO fights for his/her existence constantly. After a particularly frustrating episode I had a chat with my wife and decided to try and sell my services to people who appreciated what I did. All I had to do was define a market.
I decided to start a business that taught microbusiness owners (less than 10 employees) how not to fail. The bottom line is that they have no business running their own businesses (except for selling the product and acquiring the product) because they have absolutely no frame of reference in the things we do all day long. In fact, most “entrepreneurs” are under the impression that they can do on their kitchen table what I’ve spent my life learning how to do. Either they are very smart and I am very dumb or they are shooting in the dark.
As I got deeper into this market, and observed their 75% failure rate, I realized that my business model would require me to establish a relationship with them that allowed me to have a say in how their businesses run. A coaching role as well as a day-to-day performing role. I found that they don’t lack the ability to understand, they lack the ability to execute. I charge a flat monthly retainer and an additional month’s fee in January to cover tax work.
Our mission statement says: “Always facilitate, never enable”.
I started my business 28 years ago and have never changed the model.
Why did you initially decide to earn an ACAT credential? What are the benefits of earning a credential?
We were looking into getting involved in individual credit score remediation. Our approach is not to negotiate debt away but, instead, to coach individuals into better spending habits and manage their debt in a way that would improve their credit scores. In the State of Missouri CPA’s, lawyers and Accredited Business Accountants are legally permitted to charge for services involving credit reports. I never heard of the ABA designation and, upon doing research, decided I would earn it.
I have been a “second class” accountant (because I never obtained a CPA) my entire life. The ABA credential is a wonderful way of recognizing those of us who toil in the boiler room. It’s about time there was some quality control in the private end of accounting. I hope it grows over time. As I think about it, I got the ABA for myself!
What's one piece of advice you'd give someone just starting out:
Identify a niche market and become an absolute expert on it. Just make sure there are enough people in the market you identify to support you making a living. LOVE what you do or don’t do it. The chances of surviving are enhanced if you have a passion for what you do and will not be discouraged by bumps in the road (of which there are many).
You are at Point A…you must define Point B. Where do you want to end up? What kind of life do you want to form? Part of the problem with most people is that they don’t have a clearly defined Point B and spend their lives heading in different directions to see where they will end up.
Describe your most interesting accounting or tax moment in 10 words or less:
When I was a junior accountant I was given a manual Cash Disbursements Journal to re-create after all the records had been destroyed in a fire. Computers didn't exist at the time.