Accounting profession leader Stuart Kessler has died

Stuart Kessler, CPA, PFS, a former president of the New York State Society of CPAs and the Accountants Club of America, chairman of the American Institute of CPAs, founding partner of Goldstein Golub Kessler and senior tax director at CohnReznick, has died.

Stuart Kessler

Kessler was frequently named among Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the profession. He was known as one of the top personal financial planning professionals in the U.S. and was the first living member of the New York State Society of CPAs' Hall of Fame. In addition to being a past NYSSCPA president, he also presided over the NYSSCPA’s Foundation for Accounting Education Committee, and chaired its Future of the Profession Oversight Committee. He also served on the Advisory Council of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the passing of the Accountants Club of America past president, NYSSCPA past president and past AICPA chair Stuart Kessler,” wrote ACA president J. Michael Kirkland, in an email Tuesday to members of the club. “The family is in the process of making funeral arrangements.”

Kessler is survived by his wife of 60 years, Isabel, and their three children, Jeffrey, Glenn and Bradley, and three grandchildren.

“He was a really good guy,” recalled WithumSmith+Brown partner Ed Mendlowitz, a fellow member of the Accountants Club of America. “We, and the profession, will dearly miss him.”

Kessler’s former partner, Stanley Goldstein, remembered him fondly.

“We go back to Brooklyn College, which was in the 1950s. We were friends and we helped start what was called the Brooklyn College Accountants Alumni Association," he said. "We helped undergraduates learn about the accounting profession and what kind of job to seek. That led to this close friendship, which lasted till the day he died. He was a giant of a person. He was the most respected and the most loved in the profession. One of his aims was to break the mold of accountants being thought of as people wearing green eyeshades. He did that by running a marathon some 40 years ago. That was the first step toward breaking the old image. Then he became president of the New York State Society of CPAs, then chairman of the AICPA, and he brought enormous prestige to our accounting firm. A medium-size firm suddenly has this big shot, and he also was a great rainmaker. He brought in a ton of business."

"People respected him," Goldstein continued. "The fact is I loved this man, and I’m not alone. He was iconic. Everyone knew who he was, and what he stood for. If you go to a dictionary to look up the word ‘mensch,’ he should be in that definition. He was not just respected, he was held in awe for his morality, his professionalism, his kindness and his generosity.”

Before co-founding Goldstein Golub Kessler in 1970, Kessler worked at a firm called Klein, Hinds & Finke from 1952 to 1960 and was a partner at Rothstein, Kessler & Co. from 1960 to 1970.

GGK was acquired by American Express Tax and Business Services in 1998. Kessler became a managing director of RSM McGladrey in 2008 after McGladrey & Pullen acquired Goldstein Golub Kessler. He became a senior tax director specializing in estate and financial planning in 2010 at JH Cohn (later known as CohnReznick) in New York.

A past chair of the AICPA, he received the AICPA Gold Medal for lifetime achievement in the accounting profession. In June of this year, Kessler also received the AICPA’s Stanley H. Breitbard Lifetime Achievement in Personal Financial Planning Award at the AICPA’s Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference in Las Vegas. It was only the third lifetime achievement award in personal financial planning ever given by the AICPA.

Kessler was honored for the key role he played in launching the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Division over 30 years ago as well as his continued contributions advancing the profession today. He led the way in having personal financial planning become one of the five core services for future CPA practitioners in the CPA Vision initiative in the late 1990s.

“Stu has been an avid promoter in raising awareness of the work CPAs do in personal financial planning from the very beginning,” said AICPA director of personal financial planning Andrea Millar in a statement at the time. “He was integral to the establishment of the Personal Financial Planning Division as we know it today.”

In addition to his volunteer work with the AICPA, Kessler has been a member of the board of directors of the New York Estate Planning Council. He also chaired the International Standards Organization’s Technical Committee, which was responsible for establishing international standards for personal financial planning. Kessler was named by Worth Magazine as one of America’s leading financial planners and Money Magazine called him one of the outstanding tax practitioners in the country.

Kessler was born in Brooklyn in 1929 and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1947. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1950, he served in the U.S. Air Force. He then earned an MBA from the City College of New York in 1953, a JD in 1957 from Brooklyn Law School and an LLM in taxation from New York University in 1962.

Despite a long battle with myeloma, Kessler managed to attend a meeting about a month ago of his Brooklyn College Accountants Alumni Association. This year he celebrated his 90th birthday in the same month as his 60th wedding anniversary, Goldstein recalled.

“He is a credit to our profession in such a big way,” he added. “It’s hard to describe just what a giant he was.”

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