Now that my conference and CPE teaching schedule for 2012 has officially come to a close, I’m in the process of filtering through the notes I’ve compiled at each itinerant stop in an effort to gauge just what were the most frequently debated topics and questions I’ve fielded since my journeys began in earnest back in April.
Tossing aside some lighthearted Zen koans such as “why is college football’s annual Bowl Week actually 16 days long,” or “how come Hawaii has interstate highways,” obviously the majority of inquiries centered in the timing of succession and transition such as when, where, why, and how.
I, for one, was not saddened when I read over the weekend that some Wall Street bonuses in year-end 2012 would lag behind those of previous campaigns. I don’t know about you, but when someone receives a year-end largesse of $10 million as opposed to $15 million, somehow I find it hard to elicit even a morsel of sympathy.
Especially when my I opened my holiday credit card statements.
It’s often said that the nine most frightening words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
World-renowned economist Milton Friedman once joked that you could take any three letters from the alphabet, scramble them in any order, and you'll end up with an acronym for a federal agency we could absolutely do without.
Since — if you’ll pardon the obvious and intentioned pun — I’ve “transitioned” from my former post to the consulting arena, one of the questions that has been repeatedly asked (aside from how’s the new gig going?) is “How do I know my firm is ready for a merger?”
That’s a tough one because, much like putting a house on the market, it has so many moving parts. I often joke that when we sold our condo, it never looked better — in fact, I almost had seller’s remorse.
Years ago, I had a short run with a company called “Dial America.” It was essentially a magazine renewal clearinghouse where you were given a list of names, the publications to which they currently subscribed, and their respective expiration dates.
Like most call centers, you read from a prepared script and, after a short pitch, it was basically yea or nay. I struck gold on my first night there, nailing the first six calls I made. After that, I foolishly assumed that my lucky streak would continue. In the ensuing weeks, my success to call ratio was roughly 1 to 1,000.
Ever since that experience, I’ve always felt for someone forced to make cold calls to drum up business, but like they say, success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration or some similar lopsided percentage.
Despite spending the better part of five years with first the Cub Scouts and then its more advanced sibling, the Boy Scouts, I was perhaps the worst member in either legion in the New York tri-state area.
When assembling a tent for an overnight, it more resembled an undertaking of Abbott and Costello than a true outdoorsman and 99% of the time it collapsed during the night. My handmade campfires lasted all of 30 seconds before the sure flameout and the inevitable cold dinner. The results of my trying to adhere to the organization’s requirements to tie knots such as a bowline or sheepshank could not have effectively restrained a 90-year-old grandmother.
Back in my days as an under-performing student at the University of Denver (which lately has been getting a lot of national attention and not all of it good), there was a basketball player who lived in the apartment next to me, who, when not practicing cross-over dribbles or jumpers from the top of the key, used to spend hours reading the Wall Street Journal and related business publications.
He relentlessly tracked things like M&A in various sectors and the burgeoning influence of what became known as venture capital or VC. We all knew he would probably go on to become wildly successful and, ultimately, a millionaire several times over — which, to no one’s surprise, he did.
It’s been nine days since we’ve gotten our power back and though I wouldn’t exactly draw a comparison between having heat, running water (we’re on a well), and working — ahem — facilities, with winning the Powerball jackpot, there’s something to be said for your house firing on all cylinders — literally.
As described in this space last week, Mademoiselles Sandy and Athena played havoc with my utilities and flight schedules, but somehow I managed to wedge in a pair of accounting-centric conferences between the two angry storm systems.
Whether news of my return prompts applause or eye rolling for many of you, my sabbatical from commenting on all things accounting and political in this space was prompted by the quinella of a heavy travel schedule and the unwanted influence of two women named Sandy and Athena.
After an unfortunate encounter with a hardened tortilla chip that managed to crack parts of two adjoining teeth, I spent an hour in my dentist’s chair this morning getting it repaired.
White waiting for a double shot of Novocain to kick in before the dental fracking began, I realized that I had been going to Dr. Jeff since 1993, and thought about the reasons behind my 19-year loyalty.
Ed is one of those people, who, despite not working in a professional capacity (i.e. a doctor, lawyer, engineer), managed to invest wisely and work a number of jobs to retire securely. And by securely I mean his post-work package includes a spacious winter home in Florida.
When it comes to purchasing cars, he’s boring and predictable. With the precision of a Swiss watch, Ed strolled into his Lincoln dealership every two years and ordered a new Continental. By my count, he’s owned roughly 12 Lincoln sedans.
As a lifelong fan (and mediocre practitioner) of what writer A.J. Liebling termed “The Sweet Science,” I’ve witnessed some classic boxing matches as well as some that, quite frankly, prompted me to grab the remote and flip to reruns of “Seinfeld.”
I’ll take the Soup Nazi or the “big salad” over a dull sporting event anytime.
As far as fights go, I would however have to rank Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate right up there, with incumbent Joe Biden, D-Del.,and challenger Paul Ryan, R-Wis., alternately trading jabs and body blows over everything from foreign policy to the substance of their respective tax plans.
Growing up, there was a neighbor down the block who owned a small market that sold food and other sundries. He was the sole owner and, since the store was open six days a week, I rarely saw him except occasionally in church.
He and his wife had no children, so as he was getting ready to retire, he planned to sell the space to a larger chain and retire to a community near Sarasota, FL. As cruel as fate can sometimes be, he was felled by a massive heart attack, leaving his widow to handle the transition. Unfortunately, I have only a fuzzy childhood recollection of what happened next, but something fell through the cracks and ultimately, the store was forced to close. His wife moved away and we never saw her again.
Tomorrow night kicks off the first of a troika of Presidential debates, and the inaugural question-fest takes place, I’m proud to say, at my alma mater — Denver University — the first-ever school in the Rocky Mountain region to host such an event.
The strategies for Obama and Romney are fairly clear cut.
Obama, who obviously can’t run on his economic record, has to take a proceed-with-caution approach, avoiding the gaffes and missteps that his opponent apparently cannot, while Romney has to be far more aggressive and throw the occasional haymaker trying to convince voters they can’t afford four more years of his leadership.
This week, CPAs in social media circles were enthusiastically tweeting as well as posting on Facebook about how the cast of CBS’ hit show The Big Bang Theory did a parody promo for the accountants who tallied the votes for this year’s Emmy Awards telecast. The star of the show, Jim Parsons, who plays socially awkward genius Sheldon, gives his cast members a play-by-play description of each accountant as they’re introduced to the crowd. The skit ended with the cast members chanting “C-P-A... C-P-A!
It was great exposure for a profession that traditionally has toiled below the celebrity radar.
Some years ago, I read where Roger Smith, the then-chairman of General Motors, received nearly $4 million in annual salary and benefits, and while on his watch, the auto giant managed to lose nearly $4 billion. Later, he tendered billions more for the acquisitions of decidedly non-automotive-related entities — such as EDS and Hughes Aircraft — in lieu of investing in the company’s core business. As a result, CNBC labeled him as the worst CEO in the country that year.
In full disclosure, the only thing a lifelong New Yorker like me knew about the town of Dixon, IL, is that it was the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. Other than that, it was simply one of the many burgs in the country’s heartland that I, in all honesty, would probably never have a reason to visit.
But over the past several months, this town with a population of roughly 16,000 has come under the intense glare of an unwelcome national spotlight, not because of its most famous citizen, but rather its shocking lack of accounting oversight.
Seldom do I get self-promotional in this space, as there are far too many issues impacting the accounting profession to write about as opposed to publicizing the accomplishments of our company and people.
While I rarely buy anything from TV infomercials, one night I saw an ad for a battery-operated palm-sized razor for the very agreeable price of $9.99. Since my corded shaver often has to be sardined into my travel kit, I viewed this as an opportunity to reduce my on-the-road concerns by one.
But that strategy changed once I called the toll-free number.
It’s happened to everyone sometime. And some more than others.
You’re cleaning out a desk drawer or a file cabinet and you uncover a snapshot of yourself in younger days - an unflattering portrait of a misspent youth, perhaps adorned with such antiquated sartorial accoutrements as leg warmers, designer jeans, or a huckapoo shirt accompanied by a puka shell necklace.
Not to mention the requisite big hair.
Along those lines, I found an old photo taken of me just prior to going on my first job interview straight out of college and promptly joined the cringe parade. I had forgotten they actually made polyester suits. And what’s worse, that I owned one. Fortunately, I’m a lot more clothes-conscious now thanks to a fashionable spouse, and the once big hair has been supplanted by no hair. Also, I’m the fortunate beneficiary of a metabolism that has kept my weight steady, as not to have to go to stout section or buy pants that resemble an oversized pillow case.
I harken back to this nostalgic albeit comical period, because I’ve noticed a number of young people - many of them recent college graduates - embarking on their new careers or perhaps still scheduling interviews and have taken note of how they present themselves.
I can safely say they’ve come a long way since my baby blue polyester threads.
Now it’s Brooks Brothers, Jos. A. Bank, or even Men’s Warehouse. And ditto for the women. Not to mention they’re all noticeably healthier looking and fitter due to the sheer influx of health clubs since I was a newbie to the corporate workforce.
Now, there are exceptions, like the young man down the street whose clothes have only a passing familiarity with an iron or a young woman I spotted waiting for a train at 7:30 a.m. who was more appropriately dressed for an evening in New York’s meatpacking district than the financial district.
CPA firms in particular have never been known for pushing the envelope when it comes to fashion, so for new recruits the mantra would be to err on the side of caution, whether newly employed there or interviewing for an available slot.
While managing partners and firm administrators have come a long way since the choices in office attire were conservative or conservative, I would not try to replicate the outfits of LMFAO or the Black Eyed Peas and hope to be taken seriously - or sent home to change.
And for those keeping score at home, despite the polyester suit I did get the job, although during my first week my manager did mention on three occasions that Macy’s was having a huge sale on men’s wear.
On Wednesday, I opted to watch my New York Giants stumble in their opener against the hated (at least by me) Dallas Cowboys in lieu of watching Bill Clinton make a case for giving Barack Obama a second term at the Democratic National Convention. Apparently, many in New York at least felt the same way as the Super Bowl champions commanded a larger viewing audience than the former commander-in-chief in the Big Apple.
The next night, which forced the convention to move to a smaller venue due to the threat of heavy rains (the weather at least was bi-partisan as it gave the recent GOP gathering an equal opportunity soaking), I was torn between a movie on Showtime I had missed on two previous occasions or watching the President’s acceptance speech and asking the voters for a second term.
As a lifelong Republican, I surprisingly opted for the latter.
Last week, I regaled you about the curious attitudes toward succession and transition of attendees at the Midwest Finance and Accounting Showcase, particularly those whose situation cried for an upstream merger or, at the very least, a severe slowdown in their work loads.
But that’s only 50% of the typical trade show equation.
The other half is the vendor side, each hawking their accounting-centric wares to everyone and anyone who will listen. As expected, there were the usual suspects in terms of financial software applications, tax and legal experts, web site builders, data security concerns, and various related trade publications — something for everyone, at least in theory.
For the past decade, late August for me meant an 11th hour family vacation sandwiched between attending the annual Midwest Accounting and Finance Showcase in Chicago – well, technically Rosemont, the burgh just off the runways of O’Hare.
True to form, this year was no different — a whirlwind college tour/vacation in Virginia and, just days later, off to the Windy City for a two-day tour of booth duty and conversations with attendees about their succession planning and transition needs that will hopefully come to fruition in the form of an M&A deal or consulting agreements.
The undisputed king of the one-liners, Henny Youngman, used to say that his accountant assured him that he had enough in his retirement savings to last him the rest of his natural life. That was provided he died by 5 o’clock that afternoon.
With one daughter in college and the other about 365 days away from her freshman year, you can imagine thoughts of retiring to an abandoned refrigerator box and toasting squirrel for dinner isn’t all that far from my daily train of thought.
Recently, I was speaking with the managing partner of a CPA firm who indicated that he wanted to begin slowing down in about five years and then continue on a part-time basis until his spouse dragged him out of the office or carried him out – whichever came first.
That’s fine, I assured him, but did he have someone in-house that could assume the reins or was he looking for an affiliation opportunity? He stared at me like a contestant on Final Jeopardy who was just asked to name an 11-letter world capital.
Legendary Hollywood producer, agent, and ultimate insider, Jerry Weintraub, who handled the careers of such superstars as Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Led Zeppelin, also counted folksy balladeer John Denver among his client roster.
Once during a concert tour in Europe, the moody Denver complained to Weintraub that every facet of the tour was unacceptable — from the hotels to the food to the concert venues — and demanded that Weintraub fly over and rectify the situation.
In the nearly quarter century I spent as a journalist, I only wished I could write or say what I wanted against people I didn’t care for (and trust me there were plenty) while never having to substantiate said statements and skating off with relative impunity.
If only a job like that existed in America.
Oh wait!It does.
But unfortunately, the title of Senate Majority Leader is currently occupied by one Harry Reid, who last week leveled charges against Mitt Romney accusing the GOP Presidential hopeful of not paying his taxes in 10 years.
Imagine spending five to six hours a day in a pool for the better part of a decade, honing your aquatic skills to the point where you earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team and then achieving what a scant few have throughout the history of the games – a gold medal.
First come the throngs of interviews, the inevitable appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman, and perhaps your image on a box of Wheaties. Then, when the excitement eventually wanes, your mailbox contains a bill from the IRS asking for a payment of $8,936 as a result of your dedication and untold miles in a self-contained rectangle.
For those who pay attention to such things, you know that yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Sarbanes-Oxley, the sweeping reform legislation enacted in the wake of the billion-dollar accounting implosions at Enron and WorldCom and the ensuing collapse of former Big-Five firm Arthur Andersen.
In a shameless bit of self-promotion, I’m presenting a webinar on Wednesday, July 25 on how to grow your practice through new client niches.
Admittedly, it’s not exactly an “Aha!” new-found avenue to CPA firm growth, but nonetheless one whose rise has more or less paralleled the roller-coaster economy which has made traditional organic growth painstakingly slow, if not impossible.
My grandfather’s story was probably typical of many who grew up in his generation. Reared on the lower East Side of Manhattan, he was forced to quit school in the 7th grade and, in order to help his family financially, sold driftwood he found under the Coney Island boardwalk by the pound and helped deliver ice.
The first (well, second) question that came to mind after the Supreme Court upheld the 2,700-page colossus known as ObamaCare was how and when the accounting profession would react to the ruling.
No doubt there are hundreds of firms out there whose clients will inevitably be impacted by the High Court’s decision and will quickly turn to their financial and legal professionals for guidance not to mention a lot of hand-holding.
For nearly a quarter-century, I had this daily workday routine. The alarm went off promptly at 5:30 am; I showered, shaved, grabbed a newspaper, and made a dash for the 6:48 a.m. train to New York.
After reaching Grand Central Terminal, it was a 20-minute subway ridebefore I was in my office, sipping coffee and exchanging pleasantries with my staff(usually in the form of movie quotes from Goodfellas or Scarface) before we went about the business of grinding out a new issue.
Want to experience the absolute peak of pretentiousness?
Somehow wangle an invitation to an art gallery showing and just sit back and watch. Folks who couldn’t discern a Picasso from a Pickleman will gladly proffer their abstractionist views on what the respective artists were trying to convey. I had a friend who, following one black-tie gallery showing, told me no less than 10 guests spent a half-hour scrutinizing a block draped with canvas before someone realized it was a building column under construction.
When I was in college, a number of us once went to see Steve Martin perform at a long-since shutterednightclub in Denver. As part of his stand-up routine, he included a skit about filing your taxes, or more accurately, not doing so.
His advice was that should the IRS ever call you in and demand to know why you didn’t file, you simply tell them, “I forgot!”
I often wonder what some of the legendary accounting educators and practitioners of yesteryear would think if they visited an industry trade show in 2012. Would, for example, Emanuel Saxe or Sam Leidesdorf be comfortable or even malleable to the heavy technology-centric focus of the profession where audits can now be performed on a 9-inch tablet in lieu of a large room full of strewn workpapers?
What about the evolution of career management, where the tracks to partnership don’t require 2,800 hours a year in order to be considered for an ownership stake? Or the meteoric rise of social media, where roughly 70 percent of CPA firms in the U.S. have a presence on Facebook?
Some years ago, I applied for a position with a swimming pool construction firm in Arizona. During the interview, I was asked what I considered a series of random and unrelated questions, such as in what city was the United Nations located (unlike the vapid Snooki of “Jersey Shore” fame, I was able to answer that one correctly) and did I consider myself particularly naïve in matters pertaining to human nature.
Somewhat perplexed, curiosity overtook decorum and I asked point blank what this bizarre line of questioning had to do with securing “dig” sites for pools. The interviewer then thanked me for coming in and left it with a “we’ll let you know.”
In one of the classic episodes of the 1950s comedy “The Honeymooners,” Ed Norton bemoans to Ralph Kramden about getting how he got fired from his job in the sewer following a failed demand for a raise from his boss. When Ralph asks why he doesn’t get a job with another sewer company, Ed responds indignantly that “Sewer workers are like brain surgeons — we’re both specialists!”
Despite the light-hearted take on specialization, the T-shirt-wearing Norton unknowingly touched upon one of the current and sure-to-be future trends in the accounting profession — that of firms veering into specialty niches in lieu of vying to be a client’s “most trusted Costco” in terms of a number of offerings.
A while back, I waxed poetically – some would argue otherwise – on the explosive growth of mobile devices within the accounting profession and how their meteoric rate of adoption was basically changing the traditional structure of the CPA firm in terms of remote accessibility and client interaction.
Depending on which survey you read, anywhere from 60-80% of CPAs own a mobile device (and arguably those figures could easily be higher) while more than 50% spend at least five hours per week out of the office on client visits.
As a fairly diligent practitioner of physical fitness, I learned a long time ago there’s a wide chasm between being “cardiovascular” fit and “trade show” fit. They are about as mutually exclusive as two quasi-related concepts can be.
Working the floor of a conference/trade show, or “booth duty” as it’s known in conventioneer’s parlance, requires long hours on your feet, knowing who it’s important to talk to (as well as knowing who isn’t) and the ability to engage in reams of repetitive pitches and explanations that must carry a veneer of first-time freshness whether it’s delivered while sipping your first cup of coffee at 8 am or following a third round of after-dinner drinks at 11 pm.
I’m fairly confident I’m not alone when I regale folks with tales of past inept co-workers and supervisors who, despite exhibiting galactic levels of mediocrity or more often incompetence, manage to wrangle ill-deserved promotions.
A number of weeks ago, I filled this space with commentary on how the General Services Administration had lavishly overspent on a conference in Las Vegas. For those of us familiar with the often unsupervised and less-than-competent fiscal oversight traditions of the federal government, this probably came as a surprise to exactly no one.
We’ve all often heard of government’s procurement of $600 toilets and $75 screwdrivers (by the way, at Home Depot or Lowe’s, those items can be had for $99 and $6, respectively) let alone spending nearly $1 million for a conference in Las Vegas as the GSA did in October 2010.
As the post-tax season morphs into what I fondly refer to as “graduation season,” a time when many of us are forced to write hundreds of dollars in “good luck” checks to 21-year-olds we see about on about the same average as Halley’s Comet, I wondered what the accounting and finance profession holds in terms of job prospects for those armed with a diploma, ill-fitting mortar board, and an un-jaded work ethic.
Lo and behold, financial staffing concern Accounting Principals has unveiled a list ofthe six most in-demand finance and accounting posts for those with skills in those fields and attached the median salaries to each position.