When I became a partner emeritus, it meant that it was time to slow down and work less.

I started working only two days a week. I thought I would have more time to pursue many of the things I had always wanted to do but never had the time. Since that point, I seem to be busier than I ever was and still have many projects I want to do, but can’t seem to get to.

Around that time I was talking to a high school kid at a family gathering and thought he would be interested in finding out more about accounting, and I realized there is nothing out there that explains what an accountant does. Sure, professional societies have plenty of promotional recruiting brochures, but nothing that actually says what a CPA does.

When I was in college I remember reading Rosser Reeves’ "Reality in Advertising" and David Ogilvy’s "Confession of an Advertising Man" and got some good insights into the world of advertising agencies. Those books did not dissuade me from wanting to be an accountant, but if I didn’t become an accountant, I probably would have entered advertising. There are a million books by lawyers of their “glamorous” profession, as well as books by entrepreneurs, politicians, restaurateurs and salespeople, including those who sell life insurance and envelopes (two really inspiring products), along with stock brokers, realtors, investment bankers, and artists, cartoonists and clergymen.  And I realized there is nothing about accountants. 

So I am making it my duty to show the inside workings of a CPA: what they do; how they get and keep business; service clients and fill needs; hire, train, develop, mentor and retain staff; and the living they make selling confidence and trust, and an occasional tax return and financial statement. Many people start out in public accounting and leave it for various reasons. Some regret that decision and some celebrate it daily. But, have you ever seen a career CPA who is retiring who says they did not love what they did? They don’t exist.

Those who work in public accounting really enjoy the work, the client and colleague interactions, and the everyday challenges they confront. I think that says more about the profession than almost anything else. When I was I kid, while my friends played house, I played accountant. I think I always wanted to be a CPA. My father was a CPA and he seemed to really love what he did. I also noticed while growing up that he received many calls at home from clients seeking his help and advice before they did anything important.

My father was a sole practitioner. He shared an office with my uncle, his brother-in-law, and spent his days at clients’ premises doing his work. Thus the evening calls. There were no cell phones or email in those days. Occasionally he got calls at the clients’ offices, but then that interfered with getting his work done early enough to get home in time for dinner—hence, the evening calls.

My mother typed his tax returns and financial statements so she knew who most of the clients were. My father would share with my mother what the clients wanted to know or do. Living in a cramped Bronx apartment, I usually overheard these conversations, as well as my father’s side of phone conversations.

It seemed to me that my father was a very important person. He had to be if all these people needed him to tell them what they should do. This presented my father, the CPA, as a man of power—perhaps a quiet power since he didn’t seem to get the overt recognition, but he was in the middle of everything. I started picturing myself as being able to wield power someday—like my Dad! 

Why are accountants consulted so often by their clients? Well, for one, most business and a lot of personal decisions involve money, and that is the CPA’s bailiwick.  No one wants to make a decision that will cost them more than it should, or without garnering some tax benefit and without finding out if there might be a better way. 

Another reason is that CPAs have a wide range of clients in many different businesses and they accumulate extremely broad experience in industry and the professions, and in dealing with unusual financial situations.  And for some reason, successful CPAs have an uncanny ability to transfer their experiences to a myriad of circumstances and then articulate it clearly to present an apparent path for the client to follow.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He has authored 20 books and written hundreds of articles for business and professional journals and newsletters plus a Tax Loophole article for every issue of TaxHotline for 27 years. Ed also does a blog twice a week that addresses issues his clients have at www.partners-network.com. He is the winner of the Lawler Award for the best article published during 2001 in the Journal of Accountancy. He has also taught in the MBA graduate program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at WithumSmith+Brown, One Spring Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, (732) 964-9329, emendlowitz@withum.com.

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