Over six decades, I have known CPAs from big firms, midsized firms and individual practitioners. Like Will Rogers, "I never met a CPA I did not like."J.S. SEIDMAN
Jacob Stewart Seidman was one of 11 children (from several wives) by a Russian immigrant who came to America in the early 20th century, when the new world was welcoming refugees from Eastern Europe looking to America for freedom and opportunity denied to them in their homeland.
The oldest of the Seidman sons, Max Leonard, ambitious and bright, attended New York University School of Commerce at night, studied accountancy, became a CPA, opened a small office in lower Manhattan and charged 75 cents per hour for his services. With the introduction of the federal income tax in 1917, the accounting profession was flourishing amongst all segments, including the Big Eight firms, as well as with local firms.
A younger brother, Frank E., also studied accountancy, became a CPA, migrated to Grand Rapids, Mich., and the new firm of Seidman & Seidman developed a specialty in the furniture industry. Other Seidman brothers opened branches in Chicago, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Jamestown, N.Y. The youngest of the Seidman brothers was Jacob Stewart, who also studied accountancy at New York University School of Commerce and received the highest grades, which remained on record for many years. J.S. also received several law degrees. Ultimately, he became manager of the New York office.
I first met Jack Seidman (as he was generally known) when he was president of the New York State Society of CPAs and I was a member of its board of directors. One quickly became aware that J.S. was a "take-charge" individual. He treated the items on the board agenda like an audit program - carefully, completely and always with the approval of the board.
I developed a close friendship with J.S. Seidman and, at the time, the president of the state society appointed two members of the board to the nominating committee. Seidman appointed me and I was pleased and honored. With other members of the board, I was invited to a cocktail party at Jack Seidman's Manhattan apartment. One had to be impressed with this penthouse on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park. The hors d'oeuvres were great - the large paneled library lined with an array of classics was grandiose.
It was inevitable that J.S. Seidman would be elected president of the American Institute of CPAs. I was a member of Institute Council, and the Sunday evening reception was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Seidman and his pretty wife (a former Austrian actress) stood at the top of the museum's broad circular staircase to greet members as they ascended.
The following day, Monday, was one of the most dramatic meetings I had ever attended. J.S. Seidman was presiding. He covered normal business items and came to the pressing issue to be heard, discussed and voted upon. The Securities and Exchange Commission had a rule that no member of a firm of independent accountants could own shares in a public company client. However, the AICPA rule permitted members of a firm to own up to 1 percent of shares of a public company. The conflict was basic and had to be resolved. The discussion from the floor was dramatic. Seidman permitted all speakers to talk and no one was cut off. One local practitioner after another appealed to retain the 1 percent rule, claiming that it provided an important connection to their clients. The chief accountant of the SEC asserted that the commission could not tolerate two divergent standards. It was close to 12 noon, and there was a scheduled luncheon speaker, arranged in another room. Monday afternoon was usually reserved for member's leisure. It was 11:59 a.m. - what would Seidman do? He announced, "Members of Council, we will reconvene in this room at 1:00 p.m."
How Seidman did what he did was amazing. He arranged for several thousand ballots to be printed asking, "Should the AICPA permit ownership by independent auditors of shares in a public company client?"
The members returned to the meeting and voted, and the ballots were collected. It took over an hour for the votes to be counted - no one left the room. When Seidman announced the vote, it was overwhelming to repeal the institute rule. There was a standing vote of applause, not so much for the vote, but for Seidman's outstanding performance.
When the United States entered World War II, many American businessmen were given commissions in the U.S. Army and Navy. Jack Seidman was designated a four-stripe naval captain. Friends at the time told me that Captain Seidman in his handsome naval uniform came into the Seidman & Seidman "bullpen," a room full of young accountants, where he exclaimed, "Anyone who would like to be appointed an ensign in the U.S. Navy, please stand." Many did.
Jack Seidman and I continued our friendship, met frequently at accounting meetings, and I was surprised one day to receive a phone call from his secretary, "Mr. Seidman wishes to invite you to lunch at his office. Would Thursday at 12 noon be convenient?"
"Yes," I replied.
At the time, Seidman & Seidman was located at 80 Broad Street in lower Manhattan. I knew the neighborhood well, since during my senior year at Baruch College I delivered radiograms for RCA Communications situated at the corner of Broad and Beaver Streets. Broad Street, as the name connotes, is a broad avenue that runs from Wall Street to the south end of Manhattan.
Seidman & Seidman occupied a large floor in the building - J.S. Seidman's secretary ushered me into his office. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Seidman was seated at a large carved black teakwood table with not a single paper on the table, not even a pencil. We were served lunch - roast beef, rye, Coke for me, and a container of yogurt for J.S. In those days, I thought that yogurt had a sour taste and I wondered why anyone would like it. It was not until years later that I discovered chocolate yogurt, which reminded me of my mother's chocolate pudding.
After finishing lunch, Seidman said, "Let me tell you why I invited you today. I'm a registered Republican. Abe Beame is running for mayor and I like him. He is a CPA, former New York City comptroller, and he knows the 'buck.' Would you be willing to place an ad in The New York Times, 'CPAs for Beame?' I will pay for the ad."
"Jack," I said, "I'll do it." The ad, "CPAs for Beame," appeared in The New York Times. I never told anyone about the ad but now it's out. Beame was elected.
The last time I saw J.S. Seidman was at a reception sponsored by a Seidman partner who had just purchased an apartment in Manhattan.
I knew that he had suffered a mild stroke and was surprised to see him standing at the entrance to the apartment. "Hello Jack, how are you?" I said.
He smiled, I extended my hand as he did - his was not a strong grip.
Eli Mason, CPA, is a past president of the New York State Society of CPAs, a past chairman of the New York State Board for Public Accountancy, and a past vice president of the American Institute of CPAs. He recently wrote Conscience of the Profession - A Personal Journey.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access