Years ago, a lumbering but colorful heavyweight fighter from the tough streets of New Jersey named Tony Galento was asked his opinion of Shakespeare.
Galento, whose caricatured inflections of "dees," "dem" and "toidy toid and toid," amplified a vast underexposure to higher education, retorted in typical back-alley bravura, "Are yuz kiddin'? I'll moider da bum."
Despite an ample middle that could have doubled as a life preserver, "Two-Ton Tony," as he was nicknamed, was a fairly capable pugilist winning roughly 70 percent of his fights, although he and the Bard never crossed paths inside the ring, or, obviously, out of it.
Unfortunately for Galento, his handlers unwisely matched him against the great Joe Louis, and in short order, the "Brown Bomber" proceeded to pulverize him into a cruel shade of rouge before the bout was stopped on humanitarian grounds.
And while the two competed in the same profession, they didn't really belong in the same league.
The same could be said for American Express and its protracted exercise in operating a professional services firm, which mercifully ended when it divested its Tax and Business Services Division to H&R Block for the modest sum of $220 million. Block plans to fold AmEx TBS into its RSM brand thereby creating critical mass with revenues exceeding $1 billion.
While there are many areas in which the financial services giant excels, operating accounting firms was not one of them -- particularly over the past several years.
To its credit, AmEx pioneered a radical concept, that of buying up high-profile accounting firms in major markets such as New York and Chicago and consolidating them under its Tax and Business Services banner. The theory being that the collective synergy would translate into a growth engine that would be fueled indefinitely.
Unfortunately, as AmEx would soon learn -- as would other consolidators who followed such as CBiz and UHY Advisors (neé Centerprise) -- providing professional services was a little more complex than simply buying willing parties and hanging out a shingle.
There were issues of disparate culture integration of the acquirees that, to be honest, would not be high on the "to-do" list of a credit-card concern. In some cases, the firm acquisitions were a more matter of partner exit strategy than cultivating future growth, and as a result, there was a lot of client exodus.
The deal now gives RSM the muscle to position itself as a big, but folksy alternative to the Big Four, and allows AmEx to pursue what it does best.
Shortly following his loss to Louis, Galento opened a saloon where he continued to entertain legions of fans and customers. When asked if he enjoyed his new career as a mixologist, he said, "It sure beats da' altoinative."
I'm sure AmEx TBS would agree.
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