Art of Accounting: Swearing-in Address to New CPAs

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IMGCAP(1)]This was not written by me, but by James A. Koerber, CPA from Hattiesburg, Miss. This was his address at the swearing in ceremony for new CPAs in Mississippi.

Jim shared his remarks with me and I think it reflects all of our feelings, certainly mine, about our grand profession. He gave me permission to present it here. Enjoy and share it as you wish:

Congratulations to all of you for your hard work and diligence on becoming CPAs! But just as important, congratulations to your families and spouses who supported you and gave you encouragement. You spent many hours preparing for the exam and gave up personal time, but did not give up.

I graduated from a small Catholic school in Natchez, Mississippi. The nuns and priests at the high school were a great influence on my life. Our senior class motto read: “A burden well borne becomes light.”
While studying for the CPA exam, I always remembered that motto. As tough as it was to work and study, I knew what you know, that there is a reason for working so hard to pass this very difficult exam. Having the CPA license will provide many opportunities to you in the future. Today, my message is a simple message: Be the best that you can be, but don’t do it at the sacrifice of your family, your health or your ethics.

I absolutely love music. Everyone should have a hobby, and my hobby is going to concerts. I enjoy all types of music. I have seen hundreds of concerts of everyone from the Rolling Stones to James Brown. Last month, my wife and I saw Billy Joel in concert in Memphis. “Vienna” is my favorite Billy Joel song, which was written in 1977. “Vienna” is a metaphor for the rest of your life. A few of the lines in the song go: “Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about? You’d better cool it off before you burn it out. You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day. Slow down, you crazy child, and take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two. When will you realize Vienna waits for you?”

When you have a few minutes, go to YouTube and listen to Billy Joel sing “Vienna” and remember it.

Don’t put unrealistic goals and pressures on yourself. You have more time than you realize. Find time to enjoy your family and your life. Don’t look back when you are in your 50s or 60s and realize the opportunities to enjoy life and your family that you let pass by because of your career.

That is not to say to be lazy or not work. I started my career during a time where we “lived to work in order to provide for our families” which is what we were taught by our grandparents and parents who experienced the Depression and World War II. Often, a badge of honor at a CPA firm is how many billable hours you are able to produce each month and year. Find that balance in your life. Work hard, but enjoy life.

Remember “Vienna waits for you.”

As for being the best that you can be, find ways to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean that you own your own CPA firm or business. Instead, it means finding an area of work where you can be your best and where you have a passion. Yes, you can be a business owner, but you can be an entrepreneur while still working for a company or CPA firm.

I was very blessed to find a specific niche with valuation and litigation services, and opened my practice in 1997. While other CPA firms have valuation and litigation service departments or divisions, my firm is the only one of its kind in Mississippi. I found that I had a passion for this type of work. You need to find a passion for the work that you enjoy.

For example, if you are in auditing, find a specific industry that you enjoy auditing. If it is construction, be a leader in the construction industry. Study developments in that industry. Over time, your construction clients will look to you as the go-to person when they have questions or problems. The same can be said for tax work. Become knowledgeable in a specific area of tax, such as estate and gift taxation, and be that same go-to person in that area of tax. If you work as a controller or accountant for a company, find out what you need to do to help make that company prosper. Developing better internal controls and better financial reporting are just a few ways that you can be the best that you can be.

Find your passion. Be an entrepreneur no matter where you work or what you do.

Someone once described ethics as doing the right thing when no one is looking. My grandmother who raised me used to tell me the story about a man who was painting his boat. A friend of his stopped by and said, “Why are you painting the bottom of the boat? No one will know that you didn’t paint it.” The man replied, “I will know.” That is ethics.

As a CPA, you are required to take ethics seminars, which provide the foundations to build on during your career. When asked to do something by a customer, client or superior, stop and ask yourself if it is the right thing to do. You will know in your heart if it is right. If it isn’t the right thing to do, question the customer, client or superior about the request. When such a request is challenged, the person will usually back off the request if it is not the right thing to do. If the person does not back off, be prepared to walk way. Don’t sacrifice your career, your character and your reputation by agreeing to do something that you know in your heart is wrong.

Over the years, I have seen good CPAs pay a heavy price for doing something that they knew was wrong just to please someone. This is not to say that I haven’t made any mistakes over the course of my career. I have made mistakes, and you will too. Learn from those mistakes and treat them as lessons to be a better person.

Be the same person at your job as you are in your private life. Ethics does not stop when you leave the office. Ethics should always be with you.

Remember, you know when the bottom of the boat is not painted.

Find a mentor. It can be a rabbi, minister or priest. It can be a co-worker. It can be a family member. It can be a fellow CPA. I have been blessed to have many mentors in my life. One of the best CPA mentors that I have had is Jim Burkes, who taught me not only the values of our profession but values in life. I continue to seek guidance from Jim.

For over 22 years, I had Saturday lunches with Maury Gurwitch, who owned the Smart Shoe Store in Hattiesburg for 42 years. Each Saturday, I sought Maury’s wisdom on how to operate my practice and what is important in life. Last year, Maury and his wife, Shirley, moved to Houston, Texas to be closer to their children. I miss them so much. Last October, I attended a litigation services conference in Houston primarily to see Maury and Shirley. We had our usual Saturday lunch, but this time at Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli. It was like old times. I will always look to Maury for guidance.

Find your Jim Burkes and Maury Gurwitch.

Invest in your health. Eating right, exercising and maintaining a healthy life style are not always easy, but are worth the investment. I have had friends pass away from heart attacks and have strokes. I have had friends enter rehab for substance abuses. These affect you, your family and your career.

As for family, love your family. Love your spouse. Love your children. They need you, and you need them. I have been blessed to be married to a wonderful wife, Melinda, for almost 42 years. I love this lady so much. She has been my rock through the tough times.

When I first opened my practice, things were going terribly. I made a profit of $4,900 during the first year of operations. Melinda was making about $15,000. When I was ready to give up, Melinda gave me the encouragement to keep going.

Find the Melinda in your life.

As time goes on, you will have opportunities to be a mentor to others. Make the most of it. I have made a practice of doing pro bono work. I have also helped others, including my competition, to get special credentials to do the same type of work that I do.

Someone told me that I was foolish for doing that. But, I would rather “pay it forward.” Others helped me, and I want to help others. The nuns used to tell us to display those random acts of kindness to others when given the opportunities.

Don’t be territorial. Help others because someone helped you. Show those random acts of kindness.
As a CPA, I have been known to talk about things in less than exciting terms. In fact, I was presented with the “Dare to Be Dull” award at my 20-year high school class reunion. I hope that my talk today has not been dull. You are in a wonderful profession. Enjoy that profession and all the opportunities that it will provide you.

Congratulations again to you and your families. Thank you!”

Jim can be reached at

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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