Art of Accounting: Making Sonny Look Good

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IMGCAP(1)]I have a client who owns considerable real estate that her son manages. The son actually does a very good job maintaining the property, growing rents, and keeping vacancies to a minimum.

My client’s husband was the builder and driving force behind this mini empire, but he passed on a few years ago. He was a dynamic self-made person who amassed quite a fortune and turned over daily operations to his son about 10 years before he died to spend considerable time golfing and traveling. As his accountant I became his confidant. Not officially, but I did see him a lot when he was in town and he talked and vented over sandwiches we had in his office.

His big issue was his disappointment in his son, who he said never attempted to increase the holdings by building his own properties. The son was never asked to join us for a sandwich and lived in his father’s shadow. After my client died, I started dealing more closely with his wife, who shared her husband’s views of her son.

The son was a very hard worker and watched everything very carefully. I felt he handled the many challenges he faced with skill, equanimity and professionalism. He was successful because the rent rolls grew, as did the property values. I liked him and recognized that he was not his father, but a grown man successfully safeguarding the family wealth, and perhaps filling a role he never intended to.

It upset me when the mother dissed her son. One day I was preparing for a meeting with her and decided to prepare a graph showing the gross rent collections of all the buildings for the last 10 years, along with the cash flow. The graph had two impressive upward slopes. When the financials for each property were examined individually, they weren’t too impressive, but when the rents and cash flow were aggregated, they showed a large organization with stable growth under the stewardship of her son. From that point on, her attitude and relationship with her son changed substantially. He was no longer the “failure” because of what he did not do, but the champion for what he was doing successfully.

I was a subtle catalyst for the new admiration the mother had for her son. I was never thanked, and was never credited for my role, but I knew what I did and saw the great result. My reward was the pride I felt in doing an extraordinary good deed for the mother and son. The effort was next to nothing—a simple graph with two items. A takeaway is to look for ways to add value based on the client’s circumstances. Many times it takes only a little extra effort.

P.S.: We still have this client 15 years after the father’s death.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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