Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can You Return a Car Online?

Each year the residents of Chez Carlino pledge to perform roughly 90 percent of holiday shopping online.

And in each season, although rising, our e-commerce percentage vs. traditional shopping still hasn’t quite approached 40 percent. While my neighbor, who averages 10 packages a week – holiday season or not – invites the local UPS and FedEx drivers in for coffee and Danish, I get a brief knock at the door and a gruff acknowledgement during a delivery.

But while one can sing the praises of avoiding throngs of bargain hunters and road rage duels over an available parking space, there are just some things that I cannot and will not buy online.

Take cars for example. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Partner Branding

On the occasions that I’m fortunate enough to be asked to speak before an association or a CPA firm, one of the concepts I continually stress and review with attendees is defining the difference between “brand loyal” clients and “partner loyal” clients.

Clients who are brand loyal, usually are, more often than not, clients of the larger firms – those with a widespread regional presence or even a member of the Big Four. Those clients rarely have a personal relationship with the people performing their audits or 1040s, as opposed to the partners at smaller firms who form an almost intimate bond with clients over the years and whose retention rates hinge on the strength of those relationships.

That’s why it’s often more difficult to facilitate a merger between two smaller firms with partner loyal clients, because one of the first questions that a client will invariably raise when learning of a pending merger, is asking whether the partner they have come to know and trust will still be there? 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Toothaches and 1040s

In addition to gaining several unwanted pounds, getting trampled by bargain hunters during Black Friday and coming across the expensive discovery that one of the pipes under the kitchen sink has suddenly sprung a slow leak, my Thanksgiving holiday was capped off (pun intended) by a nagging toothache that turned out to be a slight crack in one of my rear molars.

It was time to see Dr. Jeff, my New York City-based dentist since 1997.

Dr. Jeff is one of those rare finds in any walk of life, a caring professional who quickly diagnoses a problem but doesn’t perform any unnecessary work and, for lack of a better description, is spectacular at what he does.

 I should mention at this point that it’s been nearly three years since I’ve made the daily commute into Manhattan from my northern suburban residence, but despite the massive travel inconvenience, I continue to see Dr. Jeff often taking a train to the city as early as 6:30 am to do so.

I’m sure many of you out there who are comfortable with your dental or medical professional feel much as I do. Why go through the hassle and red tape to change when you have someone you trust with your teeth or overall health?

I found him much the same way that many find their accountants – via referral. My supervisor at the time needed a root canal and immediately began singing the praises of her dentist and how painless he made what is often a painful experience. Having gone through a series of dentists whom I’m sure received their training in prison, I immediately jotted down his number and with hands clasped in prayer hoped he’d be taking on new patients.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Taxing Weekend

I was reminded of the above-cited vignette about taxes during the circus know as Black Friday shopping.

In addition to suffering a severe tryptophan hangover from ingesting ungodly amounts of turkey this weekend, I was also dragged kicking and screaming to several malls and outlets by an unrelenting spouse who somehow convinced me that due to the rise in online retailing the crowds would be less than in years past.

I questioned that hypothesis when I did my best impression of Jackie Chan, fighting off three overzealous housewives who wanted the same leather coat as I did. The truth be known, a 35-year background in boxing is no match for an angry veteran shopper brandishing a rolled-up sale circular.
Having managed to escape without life-threatening injuries, I just happened to glance at the register receipt after several purchases and noticed that despite the advertised “door-buster” prices, we still had the, ahem, privilege of paying New York State taxes on the merchandise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Success Look Like?

Now I realize that the above question is highly subjective in nature and not something that many can detail on the fly.

Obviously success can mean different things to different people. Someone may define success via accumulated wealth and possessions, while others may take a more philosophical or holistic view defining success as forging strong relationships and family bonds.

But how does a CPA firm define success when mulling a merger with another practice? You would be amazed, or perhaps you wouldn’t, as to how many practitioners eager to enter into a merger have any vision beyond, say, the vision of suddenly becoming a larger firm as to define success. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

It was a Very Good Year(s)

This week my wife and I celebrated our 26th anniversary, a feat notable not only for its longevity among current marriages in the U.S. but for the fact that my spouse has, for some unknown reason, not been nominated for sainthood in at least five churches.

All self-congratulations aside, it’s time to move on to the topic de jour – change management or perhaps more correctly, managing change, something that historically has not been among the strengths of the CPA profession.

I got to thinking about all that has happened to the profession since we each said “I do,” back in 1988, but trying to recount it all would take far more space and time than I have allotted here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Buffet of Synergy

As most of you know we teach a fair amount of CPE each year with roughly 90 percent of it centering on the intricacies and strategies surrounding M&A. We never seem to tire of explaining the reasons to merge and conversely reasons NOT to merge – which to the surprise of many, we advise clients on the latter more times than you would think.

Some firms obviously merge for revenue growth, while others may wade into the arena for geographic reasons – perhaps to establish a footprint in a market they currently don’t have a presence. Certainly succession or lack thereof remains a prime motivator for many smaller firms to merge up. But often, a firm decides to add new client niches that it may not possess the expertise to offer and therefore has to look outside.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Just the Paper Please!

I’m not an overly indulgent person, but there are certain events during the course of a day that if they don’t happen, I become awfully cranky.

For example, I’m a ridiculously early riser – even on the weekends if I get up past 6:30 a.m., I’ve overslept in my mind. So whenever everybody else in Chez Carlino hits the snooze alarm until at least 9, I use that time to enjoy my freshly ground cup of dark roast black coffee with my newspapers.


My sunrise habits have me convinced that in a previous life I was either a farmer or an infantryman.

Ditto at 6:30 pm, when, after completing the obligatory prep work for dinner, I sit down to an oversized glass of Sauvignon Blanc, with a virtual “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging over my head. My offspring know not to bother me for a minimum of 30 minutes. If I've had a less-than-stellar day at work, that span can easily stretch to an hour.

But with the holidays encroaching, both sessions have left me frustrated. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Folks, it’s Not Brain Surgery

Years ago one of my former bosses bestowed upon me this little pearl of wisdom that I have never forgotten: “Sinners can always repent but stupidity is forever.”

You would be amazed, or perhaps maybe you wouldn’t, how often I have found that to be true.

After spending three days at one of the year’s top accounting conferences I continue to be amazed at how some folks, each of whom has passed one of the hardest professional exams currently given, still don’t get it when it comes to optimizing their own business.

Picture Inspector Clouseau with a pocket protector.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Campaign Mayhem

Having voted in every election since Ford-Carter in 1976, I pride myself in taking more than a passing interest in who ultimately runs the country, or even my local county for that matter. And I consider it a privilege to be able to exercise my civic duty – if that sounds a bit corny then so be it.

But there are limits to even my patriotism.

A while back in this space I complained loudly about the volume of solicitation calls I receive on a daily basis – with a good 75-80 percent of those looking for contributions. Come mid-October, that volume nearly triples, as my annoyance builds to an ulcerating crescendo.


Because every candidate, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, Legalize Marijuana Party or any other far leaning affiliation feels somehow compelled to leave a personal voice mail for my spouse and I in hopes of capturing our vote.

But that’s the half of it – literally. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tell Me the Way to Go Home

Last year or thereabouts, I’m sure I amused many of you when I chronicled yet another of my many misadventures in technology when I went to upgrade my smartphone. One of my big complaints about my now antiquated iPhone was that I could never get the voice commands to work on my navigation app.

And for once it wasn’t just me.

My far more knowledgeable offspring could not figure out why the stern maternal commando was doing her best impression of Marcel Marceau, and neither could the geniuses at the “Genius Bar.”

So in surrender, I exchanged it for Carmine red colored stylish ‘Droid, which gave me the choice of several free navigation applications.

About this time, my phone wasn’t the only thing in severe need of an upgrade. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

No Thanks!

The inimitable Groucho Marx used to swear that he'd never join a club that would have him for a member.

Neither would I.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you that I'm not a joiner - in anything.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Conscious “Un-Linking”

I’m loathe to take a page from one of the more nauseating people residing on the planet – Gwyneth Paltrow – but there are times when I just want to “consciously un-link,” as in separation from all my current LinkedIn connections as well as all those unanswered invitations to connect.

In full disclosure, I’m not one of those people who receive 50-100 LinkedIn invites a week, but I do receive my fair share of hopefuls, 90 percent of them of which I summarily dismiss.

Wanna know why?

Read on.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Take that to the bank – but which bank?

I find it more than an little ironic that despite working for a company whose revenues are fueled by succession issues and more specifically M&A, that I would rail against the spate of mergers that have impacted me personally and nearly on a daily basis.

No, my accountant didn’t decide to go upstream into a larger firm, but for the past two-plus decades, my banks have. Just when I have begun to feel comfortable with one institution, I would invariably receive a notice that they have merged with a larger lender, but promising the same quality service that I have come to expect.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In other news, water was found to be wet…

I’m sure there aren’t too many accountants across the country in need of crying towels now that the wrenching September 15th and October 15th deadlines are nearly in the rear view mirror.

The span in between those dual exercises in stress and overtime and January 1, is usually a period when firms review their final wish lists and address their respective needs – whether in personnel or software for the pending filing season.

It’s also the time when both pundits and consultants opine on what to expect for the coming year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pinocchio’s Resume

I’ve probably seen more resumes in my time than should be allowed under the Geneva Convention. Some were over the top impressive, while many others were, how shall I put it, “creatively” drafted.

That is to say, some of the magnitude and responsibilities of past positions may have been ever so slightly exaggerated.

Not to sound too judgmental, because we’ve all done it a time or two or three – but usually within reason, not fantasy land.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Talented Management or Managing Talent?

The other day I received an email from a major software publisher to the accounting and financial space which requested my (hopefully) learned opinions on how the profession is both managing talent and succession.

Unfortunately, the correspondence didn’t include a link that would register me for a prize drawing sometime later as a reward for giving them for free what we charge a not-so-insignificant amount to firms, but nevertheless, since the topics are pretty much in the strategic wheelhouse of our consultancy I forged ahead and put my best foot – or more accurately, best pen, forward.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Locate the Nearest Exit Signs

How many of us have either heard or seen the title to today’s missive during the course of their lives? Without stretching too many ligaments, I would guess probably at or near 100 percent. But being aware of exit signs often transcends office fire drills or airline safety instructions.

How about those exit signs when one of your valued employees is getting ready to jump ship?

I say “valued” because if they were mediocre or sub-par, I doubt you would care if they sought greener pastures elsewhere.

But there are some obvious and not so obvious signals that someone is preparing to file their two-week notice and it still amazes me how often management is oblivious to changes that, short of carrying a sign, indicate that you’ll need to shortly take out a classified ad.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Open $esame?

Unless your accounting firm recently assigned you to an on-premise audit in a remote parcel in Kazakhstan, you’re more than likely aware of the bonhomie surrounding the initial public offering of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant.

As advertised, the IPO now ranks as the largest in history at a mind-numbing $25 billion, an investor run that helped its stock surge some 38 percent in its debut. And from an investor standpoint, what was and is not appealing about a company that has a virtual and literal padlock on China’s web-based retail sector? Its founder, a 5-foot tall perpetually energized Eveready battery and Tai Chi disciple named Jack Ma began the company with $60K in capital out of a cramped space after tiring of his $15 a month salary teaching English to Chinese students.

Friday, September 19, 2014

You Have a Receipt for That?

Remember those Saturday morning SAT tests you took in high school and pending the outcome, hopefully you scored high enough to land a freshman slot in a well-respected institution of higher learning?

For those who recall those frenetic and regimented sessions, you’ll most likely remember the portion of the test that dealt with analogies: such as A is to B as C is to what?

Okay try this: Filling out an expense report is like a) root canal b) a hangnail C) a bee sting or d) all of the above.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hope You Enjoyed Your Stay and Don’t Forget To Tip!

In the classic gangster film noir, Reservoir Dogs, a crew of professional thieves having breakfast become embroiled in a heated discussion about how much to tip the server. One of the henchmen, aptly named Mr. Pink, declares that as a rule he doesn’t tip just because society dictates that he has to.

“Why do we tip this waitress and not people who work at McDonald’s, they both serve you food don’t they?

Last week, I waxed cathartically about the woes of airline travel and a social media survey that ranked five carriers in a number of categories. This week, let’s take that one step further and assume that when you finally do land and not too long thereafter, you check into your assigned lodging.

Quick question: When you check out do you tip the people who clean the room?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Cloud Warriors

As a lifetime fitness enthusiast, I’m the first to admit there is no more tiring undertaking than travel – particularly air travel. I used to joke that if you took your hardest workout routine and doubled that, it would at least begin to resemble the fatigue from flying the friendly skies.

Not to mention all the ancillary pre and post-flight laugh-fests such as security lines, baggage claim and the inevitable delays.

Even on relatively short hops, for example a New York to Florida jaunt, it seems like to takes at least a day for me to feel somewhat normal again.

And in large part the fatigue and aggravation quotient also depends on the airline itself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Please Don’t Say That!

I’m not exactly going out on a limb here when I say that managing people is often a thankless job that while many improve at it over time, precious few really master.

I promise not to regale you with a list of my superior managerial accomplishments over two decades, because, well that would be stretching the truth like an oversized rubber band.

Like most imbued with that responsibility, I had my successes and failures, but in the end felt I gave as good as I got.

The dizzying mix of personalities and in some cases, deep personal issues, meant each direct report had to be dealt with differently – sometimes with stern discipline, other times with compassion.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dream on!

Rumor has it the nine scariest words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

That phrase no doubt unleashes a tsunami of potential bureaucratic nightmares. If you’ve ever tried to contact the Social Security Office, you sort of get the idea.

But closer to home, I’ll offer up something similar within the accounting profession.

At our humble company, an equally scary entrée can go something like this: “I’m a CPA who just left his firm and I want to buy a practice.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Game of Drones

As someone who is old enough to remember what 33 LP or stereophonic sound meant with regard to music, you can imagine in that time, I’ve seen more than a few advances in media and technology.

My daughters can’t believe there was a time you actually had to get up off the couch to change the channel on the TV, or for that matter, when regular programming ended with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

As the owners of iPads they look with only a vague understanding as I explain to them that I used to write and edit content on something called an IBM Selectric, which when it debuted was greeted with far more muted fanfare than say, the iPhone.

The phrase “you sound like a broken record,” means absolutely nothing to them.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Powerball for When You’re Expecting

Each week, my spouse and I faithfully play New York’s Powerball lottery game.

We play three games for a total of $6 and more often than not, opt for the quick pick with regard to the (hopefully) winning six-number combination.

Then, we fantasize for roughly five minutes or so about what we would do with the proceeds should we one day guess right. I’m not sure exactly what I would do with our new found largesse, but I can guarantee you there would be two things I would NEVER buy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Just listed: A three bedroom refrigerator box

We spend a great deal of our time here talking about (and hopefully helping with) succession and transition for CPA firm owners and principals.

I won’t regale you or, for that matter, bore you time and again with the grim statistics of how many – or more accurately, how few – CPA firms have formal succession plans in place, but for those unfamiliar with the numbers, let’s just say they’re about two levels above eye-opening.

Recently however, I came across an interesting and another rather depressing study along sort of the same lines – retirement savings, or again lack thereof.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oval Office Blame Game

In a refreshing turn of events, the 44th President has found another demographic to blame some of the country’s woes other than the 43rd President.


Let me repeat that for emphasis – accountants.

Friday, August 8, 2014

You Were Doing What?

Having served in management posts for a decent portion of my working life, you might imagine I’ve heard more than a few excuses and heard more than a few anecdotes with regard to employees not working (at least at what pursuits they were receiving paychecks for) when they were allegedly on the clock.

For example, when once caught in a shortage for copy at one of my former publishing posts, and ordering all hands on deck, I was grateful to see one of my junior editors furiously banging away on his keyboard only to discover that he was crafting a freelance piece for a theater magazine. When confronted, he argued with a straight face that “it had to be in by 5 p.m. that day.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The real competitive threat

The other day I read an article in one of the accounting trades that posited an interesting premise; that in the not so very distant future, cloud accounting software applications will perhaps become so turnkey that they would be eventually be able to replace accountants.

Certainly there are a number of user-friendly cloud accounting apps currently, whose use is growing exponentially – i.e. Xero, and FreshBooks to name two, but can one or more automated technologies really usurp the expertise and personal touch of the most trusted advisor?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maternal Time Warp

This week, my mother hit one of life’s chronological milestones – she turned 80.

Even as an octogenarian, she still cycles, plays tennis or takes Appalachian Trail-length walks on a daily basis.

She has trekked across Canada, rode a tortoise on the Galapagos Islands, lived with a tribe in Africa for two weeks and shot (with a camera) a charging Rhino that came thisclose to her jeep on the Serengeti.

It’s safe to say she was, and is, not typical of her generation. She was one of the first-ever female carriers for the old Brooklyn Eagle newspaper back in the early 1950s and was a working mother since I was in second grade.

For all her groundbreaking progressiveness and Hemingway-esque adventures, however, she still doesn’t understand the concept of working remotely in a home-based office. To her, that was something that doctors or dentists did, or those who worked in telemarketing sales jobs such as Fuller Brush or Avon.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wicked Good

Prior to tax season I was informed by the folks who sign my paychecks that part of my territorial responsibilities would now include New England- which essentially means Providence and of course, the greater Boston area.

No slight to the fine folks and hard-working CPAs in states such as Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, but truth be told, we don’t get much call for added penetration those markets on a regular basis.

Since my 8th grade field trip to Boston, I’ve always returned with a takeaway, whether it meant reading up about one of this country’s most historical venues, or in the case of this week, lessons in the local culture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I can’t live, if living is without you

No, this Tuesday’s blog will not be a paean to the late performer Harry Nilsson, but rather a not so surprising survey from the Bank of America regarding mobile phone usage.

Or more to the point, how long could you last without your mobile phone before you began taking hostages?

A week? A day? An hour? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Don’t Answer It!

After nearly a quarter century of commuting from the leafy northern suburbs to New York City, it was, as you can imagine, quite an adjustment getting used to a home office. Like anything there are pros and cons of working remotely.

I did and still do miss the camaraderie of an office and the social aspect. Conversely, I do not pine away for anything related to the commute to Manhattan, i.e. long waits on a 100-plus degree subway platform, or excuses why the air conditioning is not working as you and 300-other commuters are sardined in a space the size of a walk-in closet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Robbing “Peter” to Pay Paul

For those of you like me who regularly get invitations to join AARP, you may be old enough to remember the hoopla surrounding the release of the 1970 blockbuster, “The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.”

Long before we began regurgitating such nauseating corporate buzzwords such as “win, win” or “thinking outside the box,” there was the Peter Principle. Named after the author, Laurence J. Peter, the Peter Principle is a management theory that suggests people will keep getting promoted until they reach their own level or position of incompetence.

Now anyone who has logged more than two weeks with a large or even midsized company has surely witnessed evidence of that, even if they were born long after the book’s unveiling. How many times have you asked yourself, “How has (add any name here) managed to get to be (add specific title)?" when you realize that he or she is not within three area codes of competence. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Those were the days?

My daughters are, to be blunt, tired of my more than occasional lectures that begin with the line – “When I was your age.” And they’ve never missed an opportunity to tell me.

But truth be told, I believe there’s always merit in my sermons, no matter how repetitive.

Both in high school and college, their research for term papers and similar assignments could and would be done in a matter of minutes with a laptop or tablet.

I’m old enough to remember when you actually were required to learn how to navigate the card catalogue system in a library in order to compile enough sources and content.

To my point, the job search thing, particularly for my oldest and most recent college graduate, is well, to be kind, going somewhat slower than her mother and I had hoped.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and IRAs

Is it just me or is the enjoyment factor of summer inversely proportional to the number of graduation parties you get invited to?

As I get older, and unfortunately, receive invitations to more of them, I’m convinced of it.

Last weekend, we set a personal record – three graduation parties in two days – one for college and two for high school. Three overstocked buffet lines offering basically the same menu adjacent to the perfunctory coolers of beer, wine and bottled water. The repetitive conversations droned on, only the faces changed.

All I know is that at the end of the day – or more accurately, two days, my checking account was debited for roughly $300. That’s a lot of money for the privilege of eating off paper plates loaded with penne alla vodka and chicken Marsala.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework, and also my Backup Homework…

Although I certainly missed my share of homework assignments throughout my unspectacular journey through higher education, I never had the nerve to use the above-mentioned as an excuse for not turning an assignment in.

First off we never had a dog, only a small cat and the thought of her choking down a spiral notebook could only be envisioned with the aid of some choice pharmaceuticals.

Although admittedly after blowing off an English paper in 11th grade, I once used an old ace bandage I found in my father’s closet, wrapped it around my writing hand rather professionally and claimed that it was rendered useless after an unsuccessful slide into home plate.

For those keeping score at home, my teacher didn’t quite believe me and requested a note from a certified orthopedist, which to no one’s surprise, I failed to produce.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where was this when I was taking statistics?

During one broiling Arizona summer (is there any other kind?) I spent three days a week and two hours each of those days taking a course in graduate statistics during a brief matriculation at the University of Arizona. 

In between immersion in such concepts as binomial distributions and interquartile ranges, I wondered how I was going to slog through six hours of this on a weekly basis when all I really wanted to do was lounge by the school’s Olympic-sized pool and watch the women’s synchronized swimming team practice.

For those keeping score at home, I miraculously managed to secure a B+, by far the best I’ve ever achieved in any course (high school or college) that had to do with numbers. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

All This Technology and You Can’t Find My Order?

Years ago, I was at the historic Algonquin Hotel in New York and happened encounter famed novelist John Updike. His reputation obviously preceded him, penning such edgy tomes as “Couples” and the “Rabbit” series, but it was his 1960 magazine piece on the last at bat by Red Sox legend Ted Williams that remains one of my perennial favorites. And bypassing my usual credo of never bothering celebrities proceeded to tell him so.

He politely thanked me and moved along. When his biography became available on Amazon I quickly ordered it and sadly, after weeks and weeks of waiting, it never came. Back and forth correspondence ensued and the bottom line was that to this day, I am sans the Updike bio. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

No Bad Questions?

Years ago, one of the icons of satirical publishing, Mad Magazine, used to put forth an annual guide titled “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” It was an often laugh out loud tome on snarky responses to questions whose answers were painfully obvious.

Years later, comedian Bill Engvall delighted audiences with a sort of similar routine “Here’s Your Sign,” whereupon his contention was that people who ask asinine question should be forced to wear a sign around their neck that simply reads, “I’m stupid.”

Case in point: A man pulls up to a smoking car stopped on the side of the road.

“Is your car on fire?”

Owner: “No every half hour we just have to pull over so it can take a cigarette break.”

At our company we have been applying an oft-used axiom for a number of years now and it simply states, “there are no bad questions.”

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Worst CPA?

The late comedian David Brenner used to perform this routine he called “the worst doctor.”

He would contend that of all the people allowed to practice medicine in the U.S., it would stand to reason there had to be one person who was the worst doctor in the country.

And he would then continue the gag by imagining himself and others as patients who were being treated by the worst doctor. I would certainly hope that nobody has had the misfortune of having the worst doctor as his or her primary care physician, especially with the rollout of Obamacare. That alone would jump-start a whole other comedic routine about the worst IT people, and their Dilbert-like supervisors leading up to the Oval Office.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

You Get Paid To Do What?

There used to be this shopworn cliché that circulated throughout the business world about consultants and it goes something like this: A consultant is someone who glances at your watch and then charges you to tell the time.

I may have ad-libbed a bit but you get my drift. Detractors insist we charge for things you can do yourself.

Actually that line is about as old as “do you come here often?” (Which, incredibly, was once asked of me at a smoky lounge in Las Vegas when in full disclosure, it was much closer to sunrise than sunset).

But that’s fodder for a future column.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Dangers of Competitive Relaxation

The other day I came across, or more accurately stumbled across, an article that listed five once-iconic companies that for decades dominated their respective markets, but are now relegated to that ever-widening graveyard of American business fatalities.

Millennials most likely have heard only anecdotes from older friends or relatives or perhaps read case studies in college about companies such discount dry goods brand F.W. Woolworth or Bethlehem Steel, while others like Amoco, Circuit City or Compaq Computer may be more peripherally familiar.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Don’t Come Crying Later

Post tax season is what we refer to here as “smiling and dialing,” a lengthy cold-calling process for stagnant leads in an attempt to either requalify them as potentials or delete them entirely from our database.

I’m not going to sugar coat it and regale you with amusing stories as a result of these calls, because they are few and far between. More often than not, you’re relegated to voice mail and the chances of a callback are akin to the Washington Generals beating the Harlem Globetrotters.

But every so often I’ll connect with a firm that on the surface would appear to be right in the cross-hairs in needing our services. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

All I Really Need To Know I Learned at Home Depot

Like many of you, I have sat through more sessions on honing workplace efficiency and operations than should be allowed by the rules of the Geneva Convention. I now consider myself a quasi-expert on how to promote a “we are the world” atmosphere within the office, whether it be a CPA firm or an ad agency.

But like Robert Fulghum’s timeless guide to global leadership: “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” if you really want to learn to foster harmony in a working relationship, try to successfully execute a home improvement project with your spouse.

Case in point.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

For those too young to remember, the above quote was uttered in absolute exasperation in 1962 by the legendary baseball manager Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel during his tenure as the inaugural manager of the then-expansion New York Metropolitans, or the Mets as they are more commonly known.

The fledgling major league team set records for on-field futility as they managed to lose some 120 games that first year.

Casey by the way, also forbid his players to drink at the hotel bar when on the road, because as he explained, that’s where he drank.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How to Lose Longtime Customer or Client in Five Minutes

When we last got together, I warned of signs you might be headed for a client divorce, citing the dangers of offering “reactive service” in lieu of “proactive” service and its probable effect on soon-to-be former clients looking for a new CPA firm.

I’ll boil that down even further – how about just offering bad customer service?

Now I’m sure I’m not exactly going out on a shaky limb predicting what poor customer service can do to a company or organization. We’ve all seen examples of that either up close and personal or chronicled in horrific detail in the media.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Are You Headed for a Client Divorce?

In the opening scene of the 2011 film “Crazy Stupid Love,” the stars, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, who play husband and wife, are at a restaurant mulling what to order for dessert.

Carell’s Cal Weaver character suggests a rather adolescent, but novel idea: they should both announce their selections simultaneously. A Mount Everest sized “oops” moment ensues when his order of a delectable pastry is shouted over by her request for a divorce.

Talk about getting hit from the blind side.

You don’t have to review films for a living to realize that Cal didn’t see this life-changing event coming.

And I don’t doubt that this scenario plays out more than a few times between CPA firms and clients – although sans alimony payments and ugly child custody battles.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Today marks the official end (sans extensions of course) of the 2013 filing season, which will undoubtedly prompt many in our preparer audience to let out a collective sigh of relief, or treat themselves  to that long-ago promised  bottle of 2009 Merlot.

Fine, you’ve earned it. Go ahead and celebrate.

But let’s be clear about one thing. I do not want to read about this filing season on Facebook. Not one word about the problems, delayed rulings, client anecdotes or hundreds of missed prime time TV shows.

Not one.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hard Lessons of Financial Literacy

The so-named “King of the One Liners”, Henny Youngman used to joke that his accountant told him that between his earnings and investments, he had enough money to live on comfortably for the rest of his life.

That was provided he died by 5 o’clock that afternoon.


After covering the accounting profession for nearly 13 years, I’ve read (and written) more than my share of stories about celebrities who, despite making dizzying fortunes, wind up either filing Chapter 11 or getting into deep you-know-what with the IRS - ultimately receiving a tax bill that often ran into seven figures. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Star Search

In June I will have the proud honor (or the headache) of a college graduation and a soon-to-be repatriated daughter who will return home after four years and change and begin her search for a job.

Hopefully, her career pursuits will have begun well before that, but if she’s adhered faithfully to one mantra during her stay at the university, it’s “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” This is where the above-mentioned headache component comes in.

But looking past the encroaching tuition loans which would surely rival the GDP of some third-world countries, and the often intimidating process of interviewing, I’m hoping that her fairly impressive social media skills will fast-track her toward call-backs. Here’s where I’m confident that the untold thousands of texts and Facebook posts (in lieu of actual dinnertime conversation) will begin to pay dividends.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Are You a Well-Liked Boss?

In the early 1980s while living in Phoenix, my roommate, without a minute of experience with a major or even minor airline, somehow talked his way into a higher-level operations position with Southwest when the Texas carrier initially opened up gates at Sky Harbor Airport.

After a few weeks on the job where he was required to work in all positions as a management trainee, I visited him on the baggage ramp where in the blazing Arizona sun, he was hoisting everything from footlockers, to the latest model from American Tourister. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Does a Merlot Go Well with a 1040?

Being Italian there isn’t much about wine that I don’t enjoy.

I was basically raised on it, and even in my advanced age, remember quite clearly my first indoctrination to the pleasures of the grape at the impressionable age of 10. I was seated at my great-grandfather Nicola’s house in upstate New York dressed in my Sunday finest.

Great Grandpa “Nick” as we called him immigrated to America from just outside of Rome in 1919, and like most of that era, made his own wine which he stored in oaken casks in the garage. I also recall getting a corporal lecture from my father afterwards, as my formerly gleaming white shirt displayed ample evidence of too much wine and streaks of errant tomato sauce from Great Grandma DiBiasi’s chicken Parmesan. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

1040 Madness

In full disclosure, there isn’t much about college basketball that interests me.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that my alma mater set NCAA records for mediocrity on the hardwood, finishing at or near .500 the whole four years I went there.

We were an excellent “breather” opponent for then-basketball powerhouses such as UCLA, Iowa and UNLV who were more than happy to fund annual all-expenses-paid trips to their home arenas. By the beginning of the second half, most of the starters at the above-mentioned schools were already showering and getting dressed. 

I regale you with that quadrennial span of underachievement because as most of you know the vernal event of collegiate basketball known as March Madness is rounding third and workplace productivity is, not surprisingly, suffering.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Client Mixology

Throughout my working career, I’m guessing I’ve read roughly 20 books on making effective presentations and probably 10 more on how to hone one’s marketing and sales strategies.

And to be fair, I’ve retained bits and pieces of most of them, and to some degree have been able to accurately gauge their effectiveness – i.e. comparing the quality my current speaking engagements to those of say even 10 years ago.

But for those practitioners seeking a Cliff Notes’ version on how to win new clients, I’ll offer up an unusual suggestion – take the time to observe a good bartender.

And no, the above is not a misprint.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cruise Control

I’m happy to say that Rocco, my long-time accountant, had some good news for the bride and me this year regarding our taxes.

As luck would have it, we’re actually in refund mode.

He asked whether we would use some of this new-found largesse to help fund a long overdue vacation. I told him we hadn’t decided, lying only slightly as I knew my spouse had long-ago determined the fate of the proceeds.

Rocco enthusiastically recounted how he and his wife took a cruise to the Caribbean last year and extolled the virtues of lying on a chaise lounge sipping impossibly tall exotic drinks.

As strange as it seems, that’s where he lost me.