Practice Profile: Lining up the right leaders

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When it comes to LM Cohen & Co.’s consistent success since its founding in 2010, founder Lee Cohen ascribes much of it to knowing all the right people.

Cohen started the firm with six of those people nine years ago, recruiting them as he left his previous firm to strike out on his own. He had a built-in clientele, having formed “extensive relationships” with many banks and financial institutions. For him, the timing was right.

“I felt I was young enough still, I had a nice client base, and a staff working closely with me,” Cohen said. “I had a good relationship with clients.”

Based on his experience at the last firm, he had a clear mission of what he wanted his practice to be — and what he didn’t.

“I had a vision of what I wanted to create. And I saw what I didn’t want in a firm. Client service, to me, was the utmost priority. Delivering product and responsiveness, timeliness, and giving general business advice. Some of the larger firms lose that close relationship, and I didn’t want to lose that with my clients. It set me apart from the others.”

Cohen has continued to differentiate as he grows his firm, especially over the last year as he has added more innovative niches. Last May, the firm established LM CFO Partners, based on a client need for outsourced CFO services.

“I’m very close with my clients — I’m always speaking with them, listening to their needs, being responsive with them and helping them grow,” Cohen explained. “Small and midsized clients, they couldn’t afford, or it didn’t make sense for them, to have a CFO full-time. I recognized if I can provide an outsourced option, [they can go to them] once a month, twice a month, and give them the tools that they need, and provide an invaluable service to them.”

This new service line required a particular kind of professional to take the helm.

“It took time to find the right person that could be representative of me and the firm, that could meld with clients,” Cohen shared. “When I found the person I jumped on the opportunity.”

That person is current CFO and practice leader Moussa Hasbani. “He had worked with one of my clients at the time,” Cohen recalled. “We developed the outsourced CFO position and the response with clients was amazing. Each client has different needs — one client could be an individual, and one client a company. We tailor the needs for each client.”

Hasbani works with one support person to service the practice’s 10 clients, though the firm is continually referring more as it looks to expand. The cross-selling approach aligns with Cohen’s core business development efforts through the years.

“I never really market myself,” Cohen explained. “Growth comes from within, from clients as well as referral sources — banks, financial institutions. I’ve always been able to provide a high level of services and products similar to some of the larger firms, at a lower price. It has been my success, that people like the hand-holding approach I give, and that I have instilled in the staff they need to give to the client.”

This client familiarity and an excellent referral network led Cohen and his team to discover another in-demand service: mortgage lending.

“Mortgage just came as a natural thing from clients,” Cohen said. “Clients were asking for advice all the time: Who do you recommend for a mortgage, [for] buying a warehouse, [for] house building? There were quite a few people I was referring them to, and one stood out and shined above the others. We thought it would be great to have that kind of service in-house. It would streamline what [clients] need for mortgages to have someone in-house.”

That shining star was 20-year industry veteran Lee Hamway. The firm brought him onboard last September, launching LM Cohen’s mortgage lending service line. The practice, which encompasses both residential and commercial transactions, currently has four people serving 25 clients and has so far been “overwhelmingly successful,” according to Cohen.

With both this and the outsourced CFO niche, Cohen hopes the strong referral network they sprouted from will continue to propel their growth. “We are putting more people on because of it,” he shared. “Clients are loving it, and the ease of it has been great.”

Right people, right place

LM Cohen expects to hire more professionals for these service lines, though the firm recently experienced a burst of new talent when it merged in Donald Hecht and his practice last November.

“He ran a very boutique accounting firm for many years,” Cohen said. “He is someone who I’ve known for a long time, has been kind of a mentor to me … I knew we were interested in doing something. When we met, it was crazy [to see] how our client bases were similar, our philosophy was similar.”

Hecht and his 17 staff members joined LM Cohen, and just six weeks in, Cohen reported that it “feels like they’ve been here forever. His clients, my clients, are all very happy about the merger. It brings a different level of service, as a different size firm now. The feedback is only positive.”

The acquisition bumped LM Cohen up to 53 people. The firm’s larger size, along with the success of CFO outsourcing and mortgage services, are fueling Cohen’s strategy to continue integrating new entrepreneurial ventures.

“There are other areas I hope to do in the future,” Cohen shared. “People know me, and my advice. When I give out a name of someone to work with them, they take it seriously.”

Two niches Cohen is considering are financial services and “something on the legal end.” Either would also require strong leadership, he said. “My advice is to get the right people to run these divisions, people who share the same vision as you, the same work ethic,” Cohen advised. “For me, it’s the most important. That’s what has proven to me they’ve been successful.”

LM Cohen’s overall success can also be measured by its real estate footprint. In June 2018, the firm moved its New York City headquarters to a 13,000-square-foot office on Fifth Avenue, marking the third office move for the growing practice. Since moving into that full-floor space, the firm has already expanded onto another floor in the building.

The move might be one of the most visual indications of the firm’s current success, but even a visionary like Cohen can find it hard to process.

“The growth has been spectacular,” he reflected. “I never envisioned being here, five years ago. I never envisioned that.”

At a glance

Firm LM Cohen & Co.

Headquarters New York City

Managing partner Lee Cohen

No. of partners/staff 4/54

Year founded 2010

Services Tax; accounting; business management; advisory

Industry specialties Advertising; apparel; art galleries; restaurants; fragrances; jewelry; professional services; manufacturing/distribution; music and entertainment; medical; real estate; retail; software and internet services; sports and entertainment; wholesale; construction; investment research; nonprofits; franchises

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