Art of Accounting: I am not Mr. Perfect

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I write a lot about a lot of things. On technical topics I never get negative feedback—unless I wrote something wrong, which fortunately has been very rare, and then it is a gentle nudge that perhaps I overlooked or misread something.

However, when I write about practice management techniques, I sometimes get some nasty comments. Few are posted as such, but most are emails sent directly to me with a tone suggesting I committed some heinous crime by advocating a position or way to do something that seems totally off the wall to the person commenting. I usually never respond directly to the nasty person. I would not call them a colleague since I do not feel we are in this together as I feel with the very large numbers of accountants I interact with and speak to every month.

I like to share my successes with colleagues in many forms, such as in this weekly column that has been running for over three and a half years without a miss. Not everything I have done worked, and I think (or hope) I was smart enough to cut and run from them. I am willing to proffer that I have likely made many more mistakes than almost everyone reading my columns. I also feel that I have tried many more things than most—and mistakes come with the turf. No, I am not perfect!

What I write about are the successes—the things that worked. Some are strange and unorthodox to most people who are set in their ways and/or hesitant to try new things. Some methods do seem stupid at first glance but have been and are very effective, such as my teaching technique or use of tax comparison worksheets, or my absolute insistence on using checklists. Some seem very time consuming and might be but are designed to save my time even while adding much more time to my staff. Some time-consuming procedures are considered marketing or have the purpose of strengthening my firm’s culture, or are a teaching mechanism to have my staff people grow. Whatever the reason, what I write about has worked well for me, and has contributed to my financial success and the fun I had and have in my profession.

I have done many things years before they have been accepted by the profession. I started a two-partner firm in 1974 and my partner was a fulltime salesman. We hired a nonaccountant to be our firm administrator in 1986 to run our practice on a day to day basis. We hired a nonaccountant to be a fulltime salesman in 1993. I left a job where I was offered a partnership in 1969 to start my own practice. I have purchased a practice where the payment was a percentage of collections forever! And am still making payments after 20+ years. I also bought a practice with no down payment and no guarantee. The total of the five years of payments ended up being about 140 percent of the seller’s entire billings when we acquired his practice!

I have been using value pricing since the late 1960s and used a computer service bureau for my moonlighted tax returns before my boss got around to it, also in the 1960s. My firm became the largest QuickBooks consultants in New Jersey, spending over $40,000 a year advertising these services while at the same time performing audits for publicly traded companies. My firm treated staff as our most important asset long before most other firms started to even think about it. The Wall Street Journal wrote about us doing this in 1981. An article about my firm’s many innovations was selected as the best article in the 2001 Journal of Accountancy.

Personally I have every professional designation awarded by the AICPA—PFS, ABV, CFF, CITP and CGMA. I have been a team captain performing quality and peer reviews for over 60 firms. I am not an attorney but am admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court and have tried cases there. I have testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on tax reform, reduction and fairness twice, with all of my proposals in 1980 eventually enacted into the tax code, including my proposal that became Section 179 depreciation. I have written 25 books, including the first J.K. Lasser Institute book listing a specific author (in 1987). I presented more than 250 continuing education programs—most for multiple times and one for over 50 times—and was the first ever studio guest on CNBC. I am also very proud to be one Accounting Today’s 100 Most Influential People.

I am not perfect. I have made a lot of mistakes, but also accomplished a lot. I willingly share my experiences hoping I can help my colleagues work more effectively, service clients better, make more money and have more fun. I get back a lot besides satisfaction because colleagues calling me to help them with their problems provide me a range of experiences I can draw on—and that is where many of my ideas germinate and develop. I haven’t done it alone, and while I have the byline substantial credit belongs to every partner I have had, every client, every staff person and the thousands of colleagues I have spoken with.

I am not Mr. Perfect, but I am here to help you, and you honor me when you reach out to me. Thank you.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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