It might seem strange, pairing the phrase “love fest” with the AICPA Fall Council meeting, but I tell you, the lovely and heartfelt moments were flowing as freely as the wine and margaritas at the opening reception.

And for me, it all started with Bob Bunting.

On the first night of the three-day event, held at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker and Mr. Bunting, a former AICPA chairman, were presented with the Oscar of the accounting profession – the Gold Medal for Distinguished Service award.

“That’s real gold,” Olivia Kirtley, chair of the institute’s awards committee, quipped as she handed the award to Bunting. “Hold onto it tight and don’t loan it to the U.S. Treasury.”

Mr. Bunting graciously thanked one of his old friends – the navy blue blazer – for its reliability on all occasions; as well as Josephine DeLosReyes, Barry Melancon’s executive assistant at the AICPA, for taking him under her wing when he was just 18 and starting out in the association; and his wife, Maria, for teaching him the proper “international kissing protocol,” by holding out a number of fingers by her side to help counter confusion on how many kisses to give as a greeting when someone approached.

For instance, when out at an event and Mrs. Bunting would put one finger out by her side, that was an indication that the person about to be greeted was either from the United States or clumsy – so one kiss was acceptable. Two fingers indicated the person was European or Latin American, so two kisses were needed – one for each cheek. Three fingers reminded Mr. Bunting that the person to be greeted was either a good friend or Italian. In this case, three kisses - one on each cheek and then an extra kiss – are called for.

“I only address this because our incoming chair is Italian,” Bunting said of Ernie Almonte. “I want you ladies to know when you greet the incoming chair, [it’s] three kisses and a hug.”

And it was easy to see why with Mr. Almonte.

I admit, it was my first time at a Council meeting, so I didn’t have any other experience to compare it to; however, Mr. Almonte was nothing but – dare I say it – lovable. I found him very accessible, very approachable and very excited to take his seat as the head of the association for the upcoming year.

The first thing he told me when I had the opportunity to sit down with him for a few minutes was a story illustrating his four core values – integrity, reliability, independence and accountability. The values are listed on his Web site as auditor general of the state of Rhode Island (he is the first government official to serve at the AICPA in this capacity) and on his business card.

Mr. Almonte said those values are even more important than his name, title, e-mail address and telephone number. He gave me one of his cards, back facing up, with his thumb over the bottom three, leaving “integrity” visible.

“So when I give someone my business card, I don’t give it to them with my name showing,” he explained, to me and at his inaugural breakfast sponsored by the Rhode Island State Society. “I give it to them with my core values showing. And I tell them, ‘This is a contract between you and me: a promise that I will give you integrity, reliability, independence and accountability. And you can call me on it at any time. My telephone number is on the back.’”

The examples don’t end there. When I first met him at the opening reception, Mr. Almonte was with his four teenage sons. He actually has five sons – the oldest was at college. The story goes that Mr. Almonte promoted the accounting profession a little too much to his oldest, so much so that his son decided to go into broadcast journalism. Mr. Almonte, however, said he learned his lesson and left the other kids alone. Now he’s got four sons who plan to go into accounting.

I don’t think Mr. Almonte would mind me saying: he’s a big guy, reminiscent of a football player. His colleagues describe him as genuine. I asked him if he coaches, and he shook his head no. But, I learned, he’s the kind of man who helps those who are less likely to have bountiful opportunity and keeps an eye out for those younger who don’t have strong leadership in their lives.

It makes sense then that Mr. Almonte plans to launch a new Leadership Academy geared toward the 25-35-year old CPA set, “who have good skills, but who, like all young people today – indeed, like all of us when we were young – can benefit from learning about leadership.”

The plan is for the Leadership Academy to be diverse and offer one-on-one coaching. A list of these young folks will be given to the AICPA’s various nominating committees, so they can become potential committee members and get involved.

“The Leadership Academy will be deemed a true success if one day I’m able to look at this audience and see one, two, three or more graduates,” Mr. Almonte said during his acceptance speech. “And then perhaps at some point, one of them will stand at this same podium, as AICPA chairman. I can’t wait to get started.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amount of love circulating in the room when Mr. Almonte celebrated his term at the inaugural breakfast. There were tears being wiped away, first by Mr. Almonte himself, as he took the podium, after he heard a presentation in his honor from members of Congress, as well as a heartfelt and humorous message via video from his oldest son, Chris, who was sitting behind a news desk. Then the tears were being wiped away from audience members, as Mr. Almonte asked war veterans to stand up to honor those CPAs in the room who had served in the military.

The theme of his breakfast had strong ties to his Italian heritage and his experience with the U.S. Department of Defense. He also honored Barry Melancon, president and chief executive of the AICPA, with a special military medal symbolizing the highest honor in one’s chosen field. As an added surprise, he invited Sam Derieux, a past chair of the Council, up to the podium to read a poem – yes a poem – about the evolution of the accounting profession.

And by the way, it rhymed.

The whole experience was memorable, and I must say, well, lovely.

PS: I have to mention some members of the New Jersey Society of CPAs – Jim Bourke, Robert Traphagen, John LaPilusa and Henry Rinder, who I was able to spend time with and get to know a little better. I especially appreciated them not clamming up when they saw me coming, like a few southern state societies that will remain anonymous did. I just have to ask that table – and you know how you are - where was the love? 

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