During six decades as an observer, I have met and known a myriad of accountants - in public practice, as corporate executives, in government positions, as teachers, and in our national and state accounting organizations. To me, some are unforgettable and admirable.In a previous issue (May 21-June 3, 2007, page 6), I recalled the stories of two of them, Emanuel Saxe and Thomas G. Higgins. Here are two more.
We met when we were accounting students at Baruch College, class of 1940. Harry was tall, and I thought that he bore an amazing resemblance to the British actor Arthur Treacher.
We both married coeds; Harry married Leona and I married Claire.
After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, Harry was anxious to earn some money and joined the New York City police force. However, he wanted to use his accounting degree and obtained a position with S.D. Leidesdorf, one of the profession's great firms, with a reputation for excellence and integrity. Harry moved up the firm's ladder rapidly, was elected treasurer of the American Institute of CPAs, and became a leader in many philanthropic organizations, including serving as president of the prestigious Foundation for Jewish Charities.
When S.D. Leidesdorf merged with Ernst & Young, Harry became partner-in-charge of E&Y's Northeast region. Like Samuel Leidesdorf, Harry had an uncanny ability for promoting bright and upcoming individuals - one of his protégés was Philip Laskawy, who later became chief executive. Harry was the prototype of a successful CPA - active in the profession, active in charitable organizations and active in his community.
We retained our friendship over the years, and one day Harry phoned me suggesting that the four of us have dinner together. We met at a midtown restaurant and it was obvious that his speech was slurred. Harry died a month later from a brain tumor. At his funeral in an overflowing Westchester auditorium, the organ played the theme from A Chorus Line at Harry's request.
What a man!
In August 1941, I answered three classified ads for accountants in The New York Times. The economy had recovered from the Great Depression of the 1930s due to America's urgent effort to save England from daily German bombers.
I received an invitation for an interview from Klein Hinds & Finke, a leading firm because of the reputation of its senior partner, Dr. Joseph J. Klein. Dr. Klein wrote the first authoritative text on the 1913 Internal Revenue Act. The firm was retained by Fortune 500 firms as a consultant on tax matters.
Klein Hinds & Finke was situated on the 35th floor of the landmark Lincoln Building in New York, overlooking Grand Central Terminal. I was ushered into the office of Frank Fields.
Fields was English, short, chunky, baldish, with a thick "limey" accent. He sat at a table cluttered with papers, and behind him was a desk with piles of audit workpapers to be reviewed. "So you want to be a CPA?" he asked. Suddenly, he leaped forward with his face close to mine and roared, "How would you audit a coal tipple?"
I had no idea what a coal tipple was, so I said, "I would retain a firm of engineers for an appraisal." He smiled, "Very good, very good." Again he leaped forward, "How would you audit an apple orchard?" I replied, "It depends on whether they are Macintosh or Granny apples." Once again he smiled, "Very good, very good."
Soon I was brought into Mr. Finke's walnut-paneled corner office. Finke was managing partner, handsome, with a pipe tightly clenched in his mouth. "I will start you at $20 per week beginning next Monday. Do you have any other interviews scheduled?" he asked.
I responded, "Yes, sir."
He snapped, "Forget my offer."
Tearfully, I said, "Sir, I'll be happy to work for you."
I received incredible training in the next two years from experienced senior accountants. I participated in audits, wrote audit reports, prepared every manner of tax return - state, municipal and, later, the complicated federal corporate excess profits tax return. I felt I was a member of a distinguished group, and I always carried a leather envelope with a seven-column pad enclosed.
In February 1942, the office manager told me, "You will go with Mr. Callahan to Spencer Wallpaper & Paint Co. in New Haven, Conn."
I had never traveled outside the five boroughs of New York City. New Haven was to me a faraway place, and on Sunday, I took the train from Grand Central Station to New Haven.
I checked into the Taft Hotel, and on Monday morning I received a phone call: "Eli, this is Jim Callahan - please meet me in my room."
He was shaving and singing "I Don't Want to Walk Without You Baby." Jim was about five-foot-10, with a handsome, smiling Irish face, and those two weeks in New Haven were the happiest in my early accounting career. We had breakfast, then walked on Church Street to Spencer Wallpaper & Paint Co. It was a large, attractive store, with samples of wallpaper and accessories on the wall, and the offices were located on a balcony at the far end of the store.
"Eli, I'm giving you the workpapers for three subsidiaries. You will audit, prepare the adjusting and closing journal entries, and give me completed worksheets for consolidation with the parent company," Jim said. We worked until 6 p.m., walked back on Church Street and stopped at Ashenbrodels, a large saloon-type restaurant with the enchanting odor of steaks being grilled over a long blazing charcoal fire. This was 1942 and a steak sandwich cost 25 cents. I was also introduced to Narragansett beer at 10¢ a glass. Jim and I always had two steak sandwiches - what a great meal! We returned to the Taft Hotel. I went to my room, Jim went to his room, and I did not see him until the following morning when he was shaving and singing "I Don't Want to Walk Without You Baby."
We worked on Saturday and thought that we would return to New York on Saturday night and return to New Haven on Monday morning. However, the KH&F office manager phoned Jim and told him, "If you stay at the Taft Hotel six days, the seventh day is free, so don't come back to New York."
Claire and I were keeping company, spoke to each other each evening and she said, "I'll come to New Haven on Sunday." We spent a pleasant day touring Yale, and later I took Claire to the train station.
Monday morning, Jim and I resumed our work, and by Friday we were under pressure to finish. We worked that Saturday, and I was handing him completed worksheets of the subsidiaries when the controller, office manager and two male bookkeepers came up the flight of stairs to the office, set up a movie projector with a screen and began showing "educational" films.
Jim let out, "Oh my God." Despite the interference, he and I completed our work and returned to New York that evening. The following week Mr. Fields called me into his office and said, "Mr. Mason, I reviewed your workpapers and they contain 16 compensating transpositions."
Shortly after, Jim left for Europe with the U.S. Air Force and we corresponded regularly. Jim had a distinctive handwriting and his stories were climactic. After the war, Jim moved to Ventura, Calif.
We continued to correspond, and when his letters stopped, I phoned his wife Dolly and she told me Jim had passed away. I will never forget Jim Callahan - he taught me that accounting could be a very happy and satisfying experience. How lucky I was to have known this wonderful guy - whenever I hear "I Don't Want to Walk Without You Baby," I think of Jim.
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, a past vice president of the American Institute of CPAs, and the recipient of the American Accounting Association's Exemplar Award. He recently wrote Conscience of the Profession - A Personal Journey.
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