Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Five Most Hated Words

I once had a boss who, shall we say, lent new meaning to the word “impatient.”

His management style was from the old school – like Charles Dickens old school - and chances are when he asked you a question, he, like a good attorney, already knew the answer.

But if there was one phrase that ignited his temper like no other, it was someone offering the following as a defense for a miscue – “I didn’t think of it.”

When he once assigned a reporter to investigate why so many accidents seemed to be occurring at one intersection, and the completed story did not include quotes from either a local highway official or someone who had been involved in an accident, he heard those five most despised words.

The next assignment for that reporter was a local PTA meeting. And if any of you have ever had the misfortune of sitting through one of those, you would quickly understand what a field demotion that was.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Relationship Building at 35 MPG

Last week I was speaking to the owner of a large automobile dealership in the tri-state area who lords over a vehicular empire that moves roughly 25,000 cars a year and generates some $800 million in sales. Let me repeat that - $800 million.

At 66 years old and with a 45-year pedigree in the business that his grandfather started nearly a century ago, I asked him point blank how he stays motivated and maintains his edge over the competition – including the influx of start-ups and existing entities that allow customers to purchase cars online.

He broke it down in the most basic terms.

“In the end it’s all about relationships. People don’t have to come into a dealership anymore although we want them to keep coming. Take Amazon. They’re talking about getting into online car sales, but they haven’t said how they plan to service those vehicles. We build a trust with our customers and that’s why we have many of them for life. Online companies like Amazon and others can’t do that.”

Prior to the advent of cloud software and other remote-enabling technologies, the relationships between clients and their CPAs were not that different from that of a faithful customer and their local car dealer – or insurance salesman for that matter. When a client had a problem, he/she would pick up the phone and call their accountant and more often be granted a personal audience with them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

“Engaged” to a Best Firm

Some years ago, I got the chance to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger prior to his breakthrough in movies and later, politics. He was at the time a 7-time winner of the Mr. Olympia contest – the most prestigious bodybuilding competition in the world. After the rounds of traditional questions that accompany any profile, he revealed something that to this day I still remember.

He confided to me that when he is in a strange city he can walk into any gym and tell within 30 seconds whether he’d enjoy working out there. It was just a visceral feeling he got but could not fully explain, nevertheless he knew that it was likely a combination of things – atmosphere, equipment, clientele etc.

I can sort of relate.

Throughout my working life, I could usually tell very early in a job whether it would be a long or short-term tenure as I’m sure many of you have. Fortunately, over the last three decades, it has been more the former than the latter.

I mention only because I noticed my former publication has just released the 2018 winners of Best Firms to Work For. The competition spans three categories – small, mid-sized and large firms but all are judged on the same criteria – submitted anonymously by their own employees.

So, what makes a CPA firm or any workplace for that matter a clear favorite over another to work for?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Casualties of Technology

One of my first editors was a wizened veteran of business to business publishing, who never got technology. And I don’t mean writing algorithms, but even using Microsoft Word on a PC. Instead, he would employ a rustic Corona manual typewriter to draft his stories and columns - using only his two index fingers at warp speed- and then instruct his exasperated assistant to re-key the stories on her computer.

Nevertheless, he would occasionally attempt to make the switch to his computer, but after a few minutes, he would frustratingly bellow for help, a cry that was heard clearly around the newsroom.

Not surprisingly when a new publisher came on board bringing with him a plan to modernize the news and sales departments, it was clear that the editor was going to be one of the first casualties of the new regime.

He hung on for nearly a year before the inevitable axe fell and was summarily replaced by someone nearly 30 years younger and far more familiar with technology and its future in publishing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Dangers of Listening to the Wrong People

I once knew a plumbing contractor who had overseen a thriving business since the early 1960s. His company serviced both residential and commercial properties including many of the HVAC projects among New York’s three major area airports.

But along the way, he placed far too much trust in his office manager who for years and unbeknownst to him, had miscalculated the payroll tax deductions and a resulting audit revealed the company was in arrears for six figures.

So, despite his family’s urging to go see a well-known local tax attorney who specialized in such matters, he foolishly entrusted a lawyer friend to oversee the matter whose solution was to have the company declare bankruptcy.

It was all downhill from there. His family went from a comfortable suburban sprawl to a box-sized condo with a lot of collections notices piling up in the mailbox.

After decades of hard work, he and his wife were relegated to subsisting on their Social Security payments as retirement income.

Had he not listened to an unqualified hack, things might have been very different.

Fast forward several years and much closer to home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nothing is Forever – Nothing

The fact that I’m now solidly ensconced into my golden years is reinforced each Sunday during football season when I hear a player with a familiar name and realize that I recognize it only because I watched his father or uncle play. Or in the case of Los Angeles Rams’ dynamic 32-year old head coach Sean McVay – I remember when his grandfather – yes with a “G” - John McVay – coached the New York Giants.

I prefer to think of myself as experienced, as opposed to old. But with age comes the inevitable current of change – or in some cases a tidal wave.

I read with some sadness this week about the umpteenth bankruptcy filing of Sears and its decision to shutter 142 stores. Growing up, it was unthinkable that the company with the annual catalog the thickness of the New York City White Pages would ever disappear from the country’s retail landscape.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sorry, No One is That Busy

Every three months or so, my health club sends out an online survey asking that its members rate the facility on several fronts – cleanliness, condition and availability of equipment, quality of staff assistance and the like. It also leaves a comment box at the end for whatever is top of mind in terms of complaints.

In the five years that I’ve belonged there, my comments/objections have never wavered from the initial poll – curtail the use of cell phones on the exercise floor and certainly in the individual conditioning classes.

They once tried placing a sign at the welcoming desk that asked that cellphones not be used on the main floor, but that had about as much effect as a no smoking sign in a longshoreman’s lounge. 

Unless you’re a trauma surgeon on call, work for the Department of Defense, or are a 911 first responder, there’s no reason you need to be talking on a phone while on the treadmill or exercise bike.


I’m sorry, no one is that busy. No one.

I was once training with someone when a chatty member began yammering away on her phone and I told her that she obviously mistook the room for the teacher’s lounge. I received a look like I had just handed her a $150 speeding ticket.

I guess the same logic can be applied to the 9-15 and 10-15 deadlines.