Friday, December 18, 2015

Ending 2015 Not With a Bang but a Survey

I recently completed my last trip of the year and had the rare privilege of flying two separate airlines to and back from Las Vegas and experiencing neither schedule nor mechanical problems with either carrier.

Naturally, upon my return, my email inbox contained customer survey requests from both as well as one from my hotel. As a rule, my average is 50-50 with regard to completing them – whether they’re for airlines or other service related businesses such as lodging and restaurants. But in this instance I decided to burn the 15 minutes or so required to complete all three and do my civic duty. I gave all three mostly high marks and even singled out an outstanding front desk employee who went out of his way to ensure I didn’t have to wait for a room.

But back to the airlines.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Where’s a Typewriter When You Need One?

With regard to all things technology, I’m sort of like the Washington Generals; you know the hapless basketball team and perennial losers to the Harlem Globetrotters? With regard to tech malfunctions, I’m a summa cum laude graduate of the Woody Allen school of repair – I speak nicely and try to reason with it for at least a minute.

After that I start to hit.

So, it was about a mile past ironic that last week when attending the AICPA’s Digital CPA – one of the year’s most prestigious tech gatherings and where inexplicably, the organizers asked me to present, that I should suffer a humiliating software glitch that apparently even our IT consultant performed a terrific impression of the Washington Generals in their inability to solve it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Is Your Firm Ready for a Sale?

With one daughter out of college and another a year away from graduating, my wife and I have made the decision to put our house on the market within the next two years.

Where we are going to live after that is the subject of a rather wide disagreement between us – she’s looking to eventually settle in the Mid-Atlantic region, while I have my sights squarely on the Sunshine State. But that’s fodder for a future discussion.

But first things first.

Topping that relocation agenda is a number of home improvement projects that I have inexcusably procrastinated on. I won’t bore you with the details, But once completed, I’ll expect that our home will be in fighting shape so to speak and ready for the (hopefully) highest bidder.

I imagine the same logic applies to a CPA firm that is near a transition. As long as the ship was sailing in the right direction both cosmetic and infrastructure improvements were no doubt pushed at or near the bottom of a “to-do” list. But now that potential suitors are lining up, owners and equity partners are no doubt paying a lot closer attention to what needs to be done to present their firms in the most complimentary light.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Please Don’t Say It!

 “Let’s try and think out of the box.”

How many of you have been subject to this torturous phrase since you began your respective careers? I can only speak for myself that if I had a dollar each time some higher up uttered this shopworn axiom, I’d be living either in Palm Beach or Beverly Hills and not working.  

Trust me, that’s not an exaggeration.

“That being said…”

Another line that ushers in regular dyspepsia during boardroom meetings.

Although more often heard throughout the C-suites in corporate America I’m sure the leaders at CPA firms are hardly immune to dispensing the all-too-frequent workplace catchphrases – you know the ones that prompt the rank and file to roll their eyes or engage in that creative game known as “boardroom bull…t bingo!”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Myth of Living Together

Welcome back.

Here’s hoping you and your families had an enjoyable holiday.

As it turns out, my birthday falls on the week of Thanksgiving and this year, I received a Fitbit as a gift. You know that gadget that monitors, and chronicles your exercise activity? Considering the tractor trailer of food consumed at Chez Carlino over the long weekend, I’m wondering if someone was trying to tell me something.

I’ll let you know the next time I try on my suit pants.

But I digress.

Today’s missive focuses on tearing down a myth, that to my dismay I’m encountering more often. The best way I can explain it, is it’s the CPA version of a couple living together prior to marriage. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Matter Over Mind

This week I was privileged to co-present a two-credit CPE session on succession planning and how to value an accounting firm at a local conference comprised of primarily small firm attendees.

Ours was just one of several programs kicking off simultaneously after the morning break and as conference-goers began searching for their intended sessions, one elderly gentleman pointed to his schedule card and asked if he was in the right room.

No, I told him, mine was a session on transition and succession planning.  Alas, he had signed up for an audit update class, but as he departed down the hallway he felt compelled to unleash one zinger,  “Oh sure, you’re going to tell me how to work for someone else.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

You Want Internet With That?

The other day I was folding a mountain of overdue laundry and of course, the phone rang.

Caller ID identified it as one of the big cable TV and Internet providers in the tri-state area – but not the one I currently use.

Normally I let all sales or charitable donations calls go to voice mail and when the inbox gets too crammed, I host a deleting party. But for some reason my curiosity was piqued so I thought I would have some fun – at their expense of course, not mine.

But I’m always interested to hear their individual sales pitches – most of which I expect are scripted.

The sales rep for said cable concern was a pleasant young man – or at least he sounded young - and the purpose of the call was of course to get me to switch from my current subscription to their service – which he tried to let me know, was superior in both quality and price to what I was receiving now...

So the conversation went something like this between Jerry, the sales rep, and yours truly.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tell Me Something Else I Don’t Already Know

I read this week that a survey conducted by one of the state societies revealed that, while CPAs regularly advise clients on business matters, many of them score poorly with regard to possessing key business skills.

Much like the likeable police captain in the classic firm “Casablanca” who feigns shock when he “discovers” gambling at the local watering hole, I could have saved them the trouble of polling some 600 firms and told them that by and large, CPAs are some of the worst business people I’ve ever encountered.

And I’m not talking about general business skills such as leadership or communications; I’m talking about common sense. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Forget the 21st Century Cliché’s, Just Get Busy!

In the late 1960s, Alvin Toffler a former labor columnist for Forbes Magazine wrote a book that chronicled the earliest stages of a quantum shift in America as the country began to evolve from an industrial workforce to an information society.

“Future Shock” became required reading in a number of secondary schools (including mine) and it was, if I’m not mistaken, the first written work to coin the term “knowledge worker.”

Years later I had the privilege of sitting down with him in an interview where he explained that seismic shift in a way even I could understand.

As an example he compared shareholder ownership of both McDonald’s and Microsoft.

At the time I was a shareholder of McDonald’s and in one of my incredibly stupid financial decisions (and believe me that’s a long list) passed on buying Microsoft stock in the 1980s.

So as a result he had my full attention.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Paralysis by Analysis

In the late 1970s I briefly was employed by the now-defunct Jack LaLanne chain of health spas as a membership salesman.

In lieu of today’s designer gym wear, the required outfit for my position was black pants and a short-sleeved white top sans buttons – an ensemble that gave the appearance of being either a hospital orderly or a barber.

When pitching a prospective member, each office was equipped with a two-way speaker where Joan, the manager, would listen in to every sales presentation and if she felt it was going south, would quickly make a surprise appearance.

One day a decidedly overweight prospect came in and following the scripted speech I was required to give him, he turned to me and said, “Well let me think about it.”

Right on schedule, Joan came barreling into the office and bluntly told the man that “thinking about it” never whipped anyone into shape.

She lectured him and for the first time I heard someone employ the now common axiom of “paralysis by analysis,” a sleek sounding term for thinking about something so long that eventually no decision is ever made.

That philosophy of inaction by overthinking was about the only thing I took away from that job. I didn’t particularly like Joan or her Orwellian tactics with the in-office speaker and as it turned out, the chain was later hit with a number of lawsuits by consumers alleging “bait and switch” tactics with regard to membership levels and fees. As I recall it was eventually swallowed up by the Bally’s brand.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Did They Really Claim That?

Even though it’s the first week in November, I’m skipping my annual tradition of procrastination when it comes to gathering receipts and related documentation for my 1040 filings. This year I’ve accumulated a host of receipts from charitable donations, which hopefully, will alleviate my tax burden come April.

Perhaps to lighten the mood of wearily preparing for another filing season, I saw an article from an expense management company that listed 10 craziest expenses of 2015 in hopes of getting them though their company auditors. It seems each year expense submissions become more exponentially bizarre and this year’s will certainly remain in step – if not go beyond what had been reported in the past.

How about a water treatment plant salesman that purchased a $400 shotgun for a good customer? I would hate to imagine what a poor customer would have received.  That deduction was actually approved. One however that was not was $17,000 for new automobile replacing one that was damaged by an employee for a tech consulting firm. The IT firm classified the deduction under the category of “employee stupidity.”

I’ll bet.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Executive Gender Theory

The other day I happened upon an article from the Harvard Business Review which delved into the perplexing question of why so many incompetent men become leaders, a not-so-veiled expose at the underrepresentation of women in the C-suite.

Now I’m sure if you post the question of gender bias in the workplace to 10 people, you would most likely receive as many responses ranging from plausible to preposterous. In the interest of time, the author posits three popular explanations regarding the gender disparity the management ranks:

(1) Women are not capable;
(2) Women are not interested;
(3) Women are both interested and capable but unable to break that prejudicial glass-ceiling.

Personally I don’t agree with the first two and more than slightly with the third. I’ve seen a number of capable women passed over for promotions in favor of their male colleagues with little or no explanation. Well okay in one instance the internal auditor discovered one potential female candidate for an executive post had falsified an expense receipt for a high-end restaurant that in fact turned out to be a fur coat. You’ve probably guessed she not only didn’t get the job, but spent the next morning scouring the classified ads. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Let’s Try This Again: My Social Media Guidelines

I thought I was fairly straightforward earlier this year when I outlined my personal social media guidelines with regards to connecting with me on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Apparently I wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped, so let me go over it again.

I realize that there are now roughly 1.4 billion Facebook users and 380 million members on LinkedIn, but that doesn’t mean that every one of you has to attempt to “friend” me or connect with me.

My rules are simple – if I don’t know you, don’t contact me in an attempt to join your social media network. It’s not that I’m virulently anti-social or just plain mean – although you might receive a slightly different spin on that claim from those who know me – it’s just that I don’t want to be among someone’s 1,356 friends on Facebook or another’s goal of reaching 1,000 connections on LinkedIn. There’s absolutely no way anybody can be on a first name basis with that many people. Unless of course you’re a career politician and it’s getting to be donor time.

But I digress.

Friday, October 23, 2015

All Politics is Local

In a rare Sunday afternoon of solitude last week, I comfortably positioned myself on my couch in the family room and settled in to watch my New York Jets take on the Washington Redskins. It’s not often I get Sundays to myself, I’m usually fulfilling my spouse’s “honey do list” so you can imagine the level of my annoyance meter when someone knocked on the front door – repeatedly.

Peering through the glass pane, at first glance I thought it was a Jehovah Witness embarking on the long ago lost cause of inserting religion in my life, or at least selling me a subscription to Watchtower – the house organ for that group.

As it turns out, it was actually a candidate seeking election to the local town board and hoping to get my vote on November 3. At first I wanted to be upfront and enlighten him that interrupting a pivotal Jets game was not the way to go about it.

But I resisted. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Non-Technical Toolkit

In what seems like a lifetime ago, there was an opening in my former company for a publisher to oversee one of its flagship B-to-B magazines. The odd-on favorite to get the job was the incumbent sales manager who was incredibly well-versed about the trends in the industry it covered and knew all the pertinent advertising vendors.

To our amazement, the job eventually went to an outsider with little publishing experience. We all predicted he would not last 6 months in the job. As it turned out, he enjoyed an astonishingly brief learning curve and by the end of the first year, the magazine had reported a double digit increase in ad sales.

One day I cornered the CEO and asked why Bob (not his real name) was tapped to head the publication and not the long-term employee Glen (again not his real name). The CEO pulled me aside and said “Listen, anyone can be brought up to speed on trends and learn which companies spend in terms of advertising but Bob had a number of intangible skills that we felt were better suited.”

Friday, October 16, 2015

Naked in Public

Just the thought of today’s blog title probably makes most of us cringe – unless you can double for Sofia Vergara or her soon-to-be husband Joe Manganiello, that image is probably best left behind closed doors.

But if you’ve ever had to speak publicly before a crowd with little or no knowledge of the requested subject matter, it’s probably a fair comparison.

I’m beginning to feel that way lately.

For unknown reasons, I’ve been asked to give a presentation in December about the impact of a 21st century IT culture on accounting firms. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A PCA is Far More Than an Acronym

In its most recent succession survey report , the AICPA put forth a statistic showing that out of hundreds of sole practitioners and smaller firms, just 6 percent of those polled had a Practice Continuation Agreement in place.

As perhaps one of the least understood and by the same token, misunderstood, aspects of running an accounting  firm, many times I’m asked by clients "Who needs a PCA?"

Here’s who:

Every firm that does not have an internal solution to protect the practice in the event the owner or owners die or become incapacitated. However, too often a PCA is perceived as a substitute for a succession plan and nothing could be further from the truth. A formal succession plan is a separate issue entirely.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Working Smart

The publisher I worked for several years ago used to stage roughly 30 conferences a year for their various trade magazine portfolios. Anyone who has even had a brief passing with the field of conference organizing understands what a logistical nightmare it can be.

With room blocks, selecting speakers, travel arrangements, sponsor agreements, meals and coffee breaks and even booking entertainment, it’s a job suited for only the best organized.

This brings me to the topic de jour.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Public Accounting Enemy No. 1

Mick Jagger was wrong.

More than 50 years ago, the Rolling Stones covered an old jazz song called “Time Is on My Side” and sadly more than a few CPAs in their impressionable youth probably took it far too literally. As for me, I’m stunned that the Stones have been around for more than half a century. Take about an age reality check!

But I digress.

Time is not on your side. Not even close.

One person in the U.S. turns 65 every eight seconds. Roughly 60 percent of the equity partners in CPA firms are over the age of 50. Nearly 70 percent of firms with 15 people or less have no succession plan.

But timing doesn’t always focus on the demographics of an aging profession. It applies to unnecessarily protracting the merger process as well.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Proactive vs. Reactive

Years ago during a high school football game, one of the defensive backs on our team inexplicably let an opposing receiver get behind him late in the game and snare a long touchdown pass that ultimately turned out to be the game winner.

On the bus ride home which more resembled a wake than anything else, the head coach sided up to the devastated player and calmly explained the difference to a sobbing 16-year old between being proactive as opposed to reactive.

He pointed out that several times during the game, the running backs on the other team always went in motion prior to their quarterback dropping back to pass and that should have served as a warning that a pass was coming. Instead, the player reacted instead of anticipated.

His lecture apparently paid dividends because the next week, the same defender who was victimized the week before intercepted three passes and returned one 70 yards for a touchdown.

I bring up this pigskin vignette of proactive vs. reactive because too often I see CPA firms react rather than anticipate. Take the area of recruiting for one – how many times have CPA firms waited until their respective staffing situation was dire before hanging out the “help wanted” sign?

Friday, September 25, 2015


For many, air travel is a necessary evil.

Some of my consulting colleagues and competitors have accumulated more frequent flier miles over the years than Air Force One. When the baggage handlers and airport taxi drivers call you by name you know that you perhaps spend more time in the air than on the ground.

And part and parcel of being a cloud warrior so to speak are nightmarish travel experiences that all you can do is laugh about it afterwards.

You’ve no doubt heard about planes sitting on the runway for up to 8 hours, or weather cancellations that have hundreds of weary travelers using the floor as their lodging for the evening.

I personally have intimate sleeping knowledge of the uncomfortable carpeting in both the Chicago and Detroit airports, while a weather delay in New York once transformed a routine flight to Tucson, Arizona, into a 14-hour, 4-airport odyssey.

And I consider myself one of the lucky ones. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why 2+2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4

In full disclosure, math was never my strongest subject.

I was lucky to spell “quadratic equation,” let along solve one. Perhaps though divine intervention, I somehow passed both geometry and trigonometry and after that, left any math elective course safely in my rear view mirror.

Like attempting to find a parking space in Manhattan, I just didn’t need the aggravation. Yet despite my struggles with one of the world’s exact sciences, I’m nimble enough with whole numbers to know when the math doesn’t add up – my checking account was a great teacher in that respect.

And often there’s a similar numeric discrepancy when it comes to a “merger of equals” among CPA firms. Once you take the trouble to go below the surface, it’s often anything but equal.

Case in point: Recently, a multi-partner firm in one of our Northeastern markets was mulling a merger with another firm roughly the same size. They also had entertained an overture from a far larger Top 100 firm that wanted to establish a footprint in our client’s backyard so to speak.

While the final decision still remains to be made, they are leaning toward the smaller firm as a merger partner – and in my opinion for all the wrong reasons.

Here’s why.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Graveyard of Change Resisters

This week I came across an article written by someone I’ve long respected and in fact, used to write for me on a semi-regular basis during my tenure as editor in chief at Accounting Today.

The piece focused on why some accounting firms, particularly smaller ones who, understandably, are comfortable with their current processes and workflow even though it may be outdated, and are resistant to adopting new technologies. And in addition, she writes, they’re often too busy and are happy with the way things are.

Now before I climb on any type of soapbox let me preface this by revealing that I do not own a Kindle, preferring paper books to any type of E-book and have two newspapers delivered daily. From 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. speaking or interacting with me is strictly prohibited while I’m enjoying my oversized cup of coffee and poring over the editorial and sports pages.

Yet I will always remember what one prescient IT staffer told me in the early-1990s, before nouns like Google, Netscape and Explorer became embedded in the mainstream lexicon.

“Those that do not run to technology will no doubt be the ones left behind.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

There’s No Way Around The 4Cs

I’m not adverse to someone labeling what we do as “matchmaking.” Although admittedly, the initial meeting between potential merger candidates most likely pales in comparison to the anticipation and excitement of a first date.

And whether you’re in merger mode or date mode, you hope for something to click. Because if it doesn’t, there’s no more uncomfortable feeling that I’m aware of than frequently checking your watch in hopes that it will mercifully end soon.

For something to work out, either romantically or in business, I would say unequivocally that of the 4 Cs (chemistry, culture, continuity and capacity) necessary for a successful union that chemistry is at the front of the line in terms of importance. In our CPE sessions we continually harp on the fact (some would say ad nauseum) that: “If you don’t want to have lunch with someone, don’t do a deal with them.”

The second is culture.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Conference Scam 101

As an owner of both a Target and Home Depot credit card you can imagine my degree of concern when the giant customer databases of both were hacked earlier this year.

My credit score is shaky enough without some cybercriminal charging a top of the line Weber Grill or a set of patio furniture to my accounts. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, dreading to open up the monthly statements of each.

Fortunately my accounts remained status quo. If they had suffered a breach I prayed it would be some understanding hacker who in a rare turn of kindness deleted all my balances.

But no such luck.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A.I.? N.O.!

In full disclosure, during the two-year stretch I had an iPhone, I availed myself of the artificial intelligence feature Siri, perhaps on a dozen occasions.

Truth be told, she kind of creeped me out – sort of like a female version of Hal from 2001, A Space Odyssey, although I’m sure, far less malevolent. And I would guess she was helpful maybe 50 percent of the time.

And now that I have an Android, I’ve yet to use the Google Now app.

But my feelings toward A.I. notwithstanding, it’s a concept that’s not going away anytime soon. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Employers of Choice or Choice of Employers?

I once knew someone who told me that he was proud never having grown up and acted his age because he never saw the benefit of acting like an adult.

A novel approach to aging to be sure, but it also goes a long way toward explaining why he had no less than a dozen career changes over the course of his working life. Apparently he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up either.

Depending on which survey you read, most of us undergo at least three career changes (yours truly had four) and hopefully we end up with a company and a position where we can flourish and progress.

And like many of you I have more than a few horror stories of past companies, like the one who occupied the 5th and 6th floors of an office building in New York City but mandated all employees with IT issues to call Tampa, Fla. for help despite its IT department being situated on floor number 5 in New York.

Or my past employer who eschewed raises and 401(k) matches, implemented semi-annual layoffs of entry and mid-level employees reportedly to strengthen its bottom line yet continued to hire a wave of 6-figure executives to populate an already overcrowded and largely ineffective C-suite.

But onward and upward.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Forget Plastics – it’s now “Accounting!”

“Ben, I want to say just one word to you… ‘Plastics.’”

For those of you like me old enough to remember the avuncular advice a young Dustin Hoffman received during the classic party scene in “The Graduate,” should they ever update that to reflect the 21st century zeitgeist, the one word would now be “accounting.”


According to recent studies, both enrollments in accounting programs and accounting hires at public firms reached all- time highs this year.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Forging a Point of Difference

Although our CPE offerings and articles traditionally center on succession and ownership transition issues, we recently veered a bit off our core topics and offered a 1-hour session on starting new client niches.

Actually it was the third webinar on launching new practice areas we’ve offered in as many years, so without going too far out on a limb, I’m guessing there has been a demand for it. And so nearly 400 attendees tuned in and hopefully listened attentively to what I had to say for an hour.

Because the reality of today’s marketplace, whether in accounting or any other segment, is forging a competitive point of difference between your business and the competition. Case in point, if Firm A offers tax and audit services and Firm B also offers both but also wealth management and consulting services as well, which firm do you think would be more enticing to potential clients looking to sign on with a CPA firm?

Ditto with regard to client retention. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Four More Years?

One of the great satirical magazines of all time – MAD- once spoofed then-President Nixon’s historic visit to China with a bubble quote over the former chief executive’s head thinking “I’ve got to do something to take the country’s mind off high unemployment, inflation, Vietnam...etc.”

Fast forward roughly 40 years or so and now Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, perhaps the only 2016 candidate that may yet be the subject of an FBI probe, similarly has to do something to revive her sagging poll numbers, and thus she has unveiled a $350 billion plan to make college more affordable and reducing the escalating amount of student debt.

Okay, with one daughter out of college and the other two years away from graduation, I won’t let her remarkable record of non-accomplishment first as a New York Senator and then later as Secretary of State cloud my judgment.

Each month I receive the invoices for student loan repayments, so of course, I’ll listen.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The 21st Century Hiring Process

This column is dedicated to those of us old enough to remember when a company’s Human Resources department was simply called “Personnel.”

The job-seeking process was relatively simple back then. You nervously walked into personnel, filled out the requisite job application form that was handed to you by some dour receptionist and then anxiously awaited by the phone in hopes someone would call you.

That by and large encompassed my initial job experience right out of college as I’m sure it did fort countless others, where I was grateful to come aboard somewhere for the eye-opening salary of $11,000 a year.

But that was then and this is now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Green Mountain Serenity

Question: How many of you out there could survive an entire weekend in an area that had no cell phone service?

I mean no emails, no calls, no Facebook or LinkedIn. I know for a fact that within an hour, 75 percent of the members at my health club would be an inch or two away from taking hostages. These are people who check email or make calls while on the treadmill.

Welcome to the way of life in South Royalton, Vermont, a picturesque hamlet in the Green Mountain State that in order to get to, required a choice of driving either four or eight miles on unpaved roads fraught with rain-induced potholes and an occasional livestock meandering across your path.

It was there I spent last weekend.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Work in Progress

In college I took a course in business law taught by a former corporate attorney, who later confided to us that she was the only woman in many of her law school classes in 1961.

To demonstrate the quantum differences in gender participation and attitudes between now and then, she revealed that on at least two occasions one of her male classmates actually remarked that she was occupying a seat that should have been reserved for a man.

Seriously. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Fast forward 50 years or so.

I read in one of the accounting publications of a significant boost in the proportion of women partners and principals at some 47 CPA firms participating in a survey from the Accounting Move Project – an organization that polls accounting and financial institutions to determine the status of women in the profession.

According to the poll results, woman partners and principals comprise 22 percent of the firms surveyed versus 17 percent five years ago.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tired of Being Left in the Dark

Much like my expertise in technology, my knowledge of all things electrical extends just slightly behind the successful change of a light bulb.

I once tried to install a ceiling fan, and despite a careful read of the directions nearly caused a two-block power outage in addition to blowing the entire right side of my circuit panel. Under strict family orders I was served with an order of protection from ever touching anything remotely electrical at Chez Carlino.

But sadly power outages are something I’m all too familiar with.

In the 19 years we’ve resided in our leafy hamlet north of New York City, I estimate we’ve lost power close to 50 times. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. One of the drawbacks to living in a town nicknamed “the tree capital” is that said trees tend to fall on power lines during inclement weather.

And in recent years we’ve been treated such climatic events as Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 (out 3 days), a freak Halloween snowstorm just two months later (out 4 days) and the worst of all, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (out 7 days).

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Internet of Things

In the summer of 1984 I was at a friend’s house whose wife worked at a large cosmetics company in the department that we now refer to as IT but was then known as data processing.

In any event she was typing furiously on her new IBM PC and paused occasionally to laugh out loud. Curious I asked her what was so funny and she replied, “My friend is sending me dirty jokes.”

On that sweltering July day I was first introduced to the process called electronic mail, albeit in an X-rated version.

Fast forward 30 years or so. 

Today Internet connectivity has become an inarguable staple both socially and career wise, I often wondered what the next phase would bring.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some People We Just Can’t Help – Part 2

One trait I have always admired in people is an entrepreneurial spirit.

As an example, the temperature in the New York area approached triple digits this past weekend and on my way to cool off in our town pool, I noticed a girl about eight years old, patiently sitting next to a makeshift lemonade stand waiting for a customer. I was so impressed by that I had to stop and pay $1 for a glass of lukewarm lemonade.

I hope to be reading about this up-and-coming titan of industry in the not too distant future.

But in a vignette with folks closer to our age, I received a call from an employee in a mid-sized CPA firm in the Northeast, who, along with two of his colleagues, wanted to leave their present employer and acquire a firm that they could nurture and grow.

As you can imagine a request like that is not all that uncommon in our line of work – we field scores of emails and phone calls from entrepreneur-minded CPAs who hope to someday build a firm that will establish a strong footprint in their respective markets.

However, more often than not there’s the inevitable “but.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Readin’ and Writin’

As someone whose technology skills are, to be kind, “challenged” I will be the last person to dismiss how advances in that field have basically transformed virtually every process in our lives from the moment we rise until bedtime.

But with anything new and evolutionary there is always a law of unintended consequences. In this case I‘ve always maintained that our dependence on technology has caused us to take a step (or several steps) backward in terms of our basic literacy and writing skills.

Remember when you actually had to put pen (or pencil) to paper?

Maybe that’s just the long-time editor in me. But think about it, how many emails have you gotten over the past, say, six months, fraught with grammatical and spelling errors, incorrect homophones or basic clumsy sentence construction?

Probably more than you think. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

It’s all a matter of packaging!

When I was 18 years old, my father secured me a summer job at an Italian seafood restaurant in Brooklyn. In truth it was not because of any special culinary skill I possessed, but rather he happened to be friends with the owner.

For $2.05 an hour which was minimum wage at the time, I got the privilege of standing on my feet for 10 hours a day, six days a week, opening clams, shucking oysters and slicing scungilli.

Halfway through the summer, the owners decided to upgrade the menu by adding lobster. If they were going to do it, it would be a sizeable investment with a tank and a large display case packed with ice since the lobsters had to be kept alive and fresh until serving time.

So they invited a seafood purveyor to come in and basically sell them on adding lobster. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Some People Can’t be Helped

I set a personal record over the July 4th holiday – three barbecues in three days.

To be honest, I don’t want to see another hamburger, hot dog or slab of ribs until Labor Day. And forget about stepping on the scale over the next two weeks.

I’m also wondering how someone ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes during the annual July 4th contest held at Nathan’s Famous in Brooklyn.

Upon hearing that news I felt slightly ill. I wonder if the terrifying Indominus Rex of Jurassic World could even approach that number.

But I digress.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Return to Sender

For a street with just eight houses on it, my block gets more than its share of FedEx and UPS deliveries.

Truth be told, my neighbor directly across the street receives the lion’s share of those – a minimum of four per week, not to mention their weekly bottled water and online grocery shopping as well.

But the other day a FedEx truck pulled into my driveway and extracted a 6-foot tall box from the back, marched it up my front stairs and deposited on my stoop. When I asked what it was I got the standard company line from an obviously annoyed driver to the effect of “hey, I just deliver the packages I don’t ask what’s in ‘em.”

Turns out it was a plastic bumper guard to an unknown vehicle, an item I certainly did not order. I took off the shipping label and tried to contact the company only to get a message that the number was no longer in service.

I even Googled the address and discovered that a business that once occupied that space had long since moved.

It was about this time, that the F-word began creeping in – fraud. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Commuter Factor

Over the more than three years I’ve been privileged to have this space, I’ve often expounded on the very real M&A roadblock of client fears.

Once a CPA firm client hears wind of a merger, it ultimately travels faster than a middle-school rumor and the traditional questions arise:

  1. Is the person I trust still there?
  2. Are my fees going to go up?
  3. Will I now have to travel farther to see my accountant?

While the first two are certainly reasonable concerns, even I was surprised at how heavily the travel time weighed on client retention or, for that matter, become a deal breaker altogether.

Case in point: Last year, our company was in the final stages of a deal closing in the Midwest, when suddenly the mergee determined that the majority of his clientele would not make the trek to the successor firm’s office, despite it being just five miles away.

The reason?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Whether Tax or Teeth, It’s a Matter of Trust

Although I traded an office in Manhattan for an office at home more than three years ago, I nevertheless continue to make the trek into New York City to see Dr. Jeff – my dentist since the mid-1990s.

With 450 dental offices within reasonable driving distance, it does beg the question of why I continue to shoulder the expense, not to mention the time it takes to travel from my suburban home to 48th Street and Madison Ave.

One word: Trust.

For lack of a more complicated explanation, I trust Dr. Jeff implicitly. He has always been straightforward if there was a problem or even a potential one brewing and he has never done unnecessary work simply to run up the bill. And should an emergency arise, he would either squeeze me in his daily schedule which is almost always packed tighter than a can of imported sardines, or offer to come in on Saturday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Trump: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

There are certain ironies that cause you to simply shrug your shoulders and admit you just can’t make this stuff up.

Take for example, Fred Wilpon, the co-owner of the New York Mets of Major League Baseball, being recently appointed to the league’s finance committee, despite twice being duped by Ponzi schemes including Bernie Madoff.

The latter incident so serious that the club needed a loan from MLB to stay afloat.

Then, there’s just declared GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, he of the $8.7 billion net worth (or so he claims, but more on that in a minute) and host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, who stated that our county was in “serious trouble” and asked when was the last time the U.S. beat China in a trade deal.

The jowly megalomaniac, who has managed to slap his annoying surname on everything from buildings, to golf courses and even a state park, boasted that “he beats China all the time.”


Perhaps his memory is going the way of his wispy hair.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Junior Achievement

At the recent AICPA Practitioners and Technology Symposium in Orlando one of the 1,000-plus attendees was an 18-year old CPA.

Let me repeat that for emphasis – she was EIGHTEEN years old AND a CPA. That mean she most likely began college at 13 or thereabouts. Roughly the age I was struggling with the basic tenets of algebra and beginning Spanish.

By contrast when I was 18, I don’t believe I could spell “CPA” let alone know what one actually did. I always marvel when people get a career calling very early on, although prior to last week’s conference I had never met anyone who began their life’s work at 18 – except perhaps those opting for a career in the military or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a life in crime.

Again by comparison, I have switched careers four times since my college graduation – which from what I understand is not atypical. 

In any event, usually when I read about someone who enters college about the time they should actually be starting 8th grade, they usually intend to pursue one of the sciences as a career. I found it quite refreshing she decided on accounting, as the current pipeline of the profession needs all the youngest and brightest minds they can attract.

Which brings me back to the conference agenda.