Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Does Uncle Sam need a CFO?

Over this past weekend, my better half and I spent two days in the Berkshires, the majestic mountain range located in Western Massachusetts and home to a number of artsy and history-laden towns such as Stockbridge, Lenox and Great Barrington.

We did the requisite tour of the famed Norman Rockwell museum as well as a number of other galleries and relaxed on the rows of rocking chairs on the gargantuan porch of the landmark Red Lion Inn.

But as has been my custom of late, I tend to run into people I know in such far away venues and this was no exception.

While filling my coffee cup back at the hotel I found myself standing next to one Joseph DioGuardi, a two-term U.S. Representative from New York and former partner at Arthur Andersen.

Friday, April 21, 2017

It’s all a matter of timing

Congratulations to those of you who lived to tell about another tax season. After taking some well-deserve time off, now is probably an opportune time to assess what needs to be done to burnish your firm for the remainder of 2017. I’m sure many of you already have at least thought about a comprehensive “to-do” list.

But one caveat: Don’t make the mistake of falling into the all-too-common pitfall of assuming that if something isn’t broken don’t fix it.

Case in point.

Earlier this week I got into a lively (read: heated) debate with a member of my health club who just happens to be a retired CPA. He worked the majority of his career in industry with a Fortune 50 company and operated a profitable tax preparation business on the side.

He also happened to be a long time member on the planning board of my town. So he basically was part of a panel who gave a thumbs up or down to any proposed development in my little hamlet.

The, ahem “discussion” centered around the town’s former supervisor who held that position for an incredible 44 years – winning 22 elections, each for a two year term.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DIY Public Relations is often DOA

After spending nearly a quarter century in journalism, you might imagine I’ve dealt with a few public relations flaks along the way. Some were admittedly excellent, while others were about as helpful as a blowout in the Holland Tunnel.

But they were all often a necessary gateway to capturing a sit down with C-suite executives. So whether good or bad, you navigated through them as best you could.

When an unforeseen event happened - especially when it was a PR nightmare - they were the first line of defense, cobbling together a company statement for the throngs of inquisitors from the Fourth Estate.

But I was always of the belief that there were limits on what issues an internal public relations team should address on their own.

As an example, when Former Big Five firm Arthur Andersen was imploding under the Enron scandal, I felt that the first thing the company should have done immediately was hire a renowned crisis management consultant, experienced in handling such matters and diffusing the situation. Instead, they attempted to handle the matter in-house with disastrous results.

Now probably the only thing recent accounting graduates know about Andersen is what is written in their textbooks.

But that was then and this is now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Old Order Changeth

Friday is traditionally pizza night at Chez Carlino. For the past 16 years, we’ve primarily ordered from one of the local pizzerias – Fernando’s – run interestingly, enough by a Paraguayan expatriate who made as good a product as anyone from Italy. As an Italian, I do not make that comparison lightly.

In 2001, Fernando assumed the lease on what is commonly known as a “ghost space,” a seemingly jinxed location that saw the previous three tenants all fail within a year. Both my children literally grew up on his food at the end of the work week. So this Friday when I called in my order, I was sadly informed that it was his last night. He was closing up for good citing a wave of new competitors and soaring rent increases.

I was stunned and admittedly, somewhat teary eyed.

As if almost by coincidence, the next day one of the New York papers featured a story chronicling the troubles impacting the retail sector, and how nearly 3,000 stores have closed nationwide and the grim specter of potentially thousands more locations locking their doors. Brands such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch, reportedly may have to trim their store counts by some 20 percent. Even the once reliable Sears, where I remember purchasing my first lawnmower and set of Craftsman tools, revealed that it may have trouble continuing as a “going concern.”

So what happened?

Answer: a lot.

Friday, April 7, 2017

It’s here before you know it

Recently, I became a great-uncle to an adorable little peanut named Daya Rose. While delighted I’m also slightly depressed as I clearly remembered the day I received a call when her mother was born.

Next month, my baby graduates from college. More than 20 years cannot possibly have passed since she took her first steps by the fireplace of the home we had just purchased and still live in today.

I guess my point is that no one really has anywhere near the time they think they do to accomplish both what they want and what they need to do. That and I also suddenly realized I’m a lot older than I thought. Unfortunately, that accelerated time lapse goes double for succession planning.

Not nearly as many firm owners and partners have a clear strategy for succession once they determine they want to slow down from full-time work as should they have – and statistic after statistic bears out that troubling procrastination. Sadly, many feel that if you ignore the problem it might go away. I challenge anyone to show me an example where that “bury your head in the sand” mindset has worked out successfully. 

I think there’s a better chance of hitting Powerball.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Leaving Something for a Rainy Day(s)

With a show of hands how many of you are confident you are saving enough in your 401(k) to fund your retirement?

Probably not nearly as many who should be.

Since its inception in 1978 the 401(k) plan has been the retirement staple for millions of Americans and currently about 94 percent of the employers in the U.S. offer such a plan with the total amount held 401(k)s across America being about $7 trillion.

However, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal chronicled a disturbing trend whereupon employees have been taking money out of the retirement plans – or via “leakage” as it is known in the financial services lexicon.

This “leakage” according to experts threatens to pare down the wealth currently held in retirement accounts by 25 percent – when those lost annual savings are compounded over a 30 year period according to economists at Boston College.

In 2014 alone, employees pulled some $68 billion out of their respective retirement plans.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Critical meetings or just critical of meetings?

The late Milton Berle used to joke that a meeting is a thing that keeps minutes but loses hours.

In full disclosure, I’m not a fan of meetings – never have been, never will.

I’ve worked for several companies that were mired in a meeting culture. One former employer once held meetings to determine exactly when we would schedule meetings.

But that was not the worst of it.

Late one Friday afternoon, we received a group email for an emergency meeting scheduled for 6 pm. Amidst the moans and groans of fellow staffers and frantic calls home to postpone any weekend plans, the CEO entered room and declared that we actually weren’t having a meeting, he just wanted to see how quickly we could assemble in case we did need to have one.

Trust me I can’t make this stuff up.