Art of Accounting: My 30th anniversary with Peter Weitsen

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Peter Weitsen and I started our practice, MendlowitzWeitsen LLP, on July 1, 1988. My life has been enriched every moment of our partnership, which continues even now as part of WithumSmith+Brown, PC.

I had and have two partners that have been responsible for my success, enjoyment and who I have been able to share my pleasures with. My wife Ronnie and Peter. I have never taken my relationships with Ronnie or Peter for granted, but too often I got caught up with what goes on continuously and I haven’t always been able to express enough and in enough ways my love and appreciation for what they have given me — which is everything you want in life. This anniversary date of our practice seems to be an appropriate time to reflect and offer acknowledgment and appreciation to Peter.

Peter and I have a dream relationship, but we also ran a successful and innovative business. Some of the innovations and things we tried and introduced are listed here.

• For starters, we were ahead of the trend when we first named our firm without any ampersand or space: MendlowitzWeitsen, LLP.

• We established an informal association of accountants when we invited colleagues to our first pre-tax season CPE program in 1989.

• We initiated the conference format for CPE programs when we ran an eight-hour program in June 1989 with eight unrelated one-hour sessions. We knew what we liked and what we did not enjoy sitting through and constructed the conference format. This was so successful that we held the program a few more times that year, including in Manhattan. This and the pre-tax season programs continue today and form the nucleus of the Withum Partners Network.

• We invited colleagues to call us with their practice management problems and tough technical questions, which also continues today.

• We published twenty Topps accountants’ cards spread over an eight-year period as part of the Partners Network. These cards were distributed to Partners’ Network members and over 2,000 cards have been distributed to high school and college students through their teachers and professors who have requested them to provide to their students.

• Peter became active in the New Jersey CPA Society and was chairman of the Cooperation with IRS Committee and president of the Middlesex Somerset Chapter, as well as holding many other positions. Frank Boutillette, who later joined us and became our partner, recently was president of the NJCPA Society. I served and still serve on various committees of the New Jersey and New York State Societies, including as chairman of the History Committee, which helped plan the 100th anniversary of the New York State Society.

• All three of us have given countless speeches for our and other state societies and the AICPA. I presented a "Managing Tax Season" program over 80 times throughout the U.S., which was initiated in the NJCPA as a program of the Managing an Accounting Practice Committee. It also became a book published by the AICPA that is now in its third edition.

• We had a peer review as soon as we were able to, and after it was completed we got a very large client because of it. The controller called the AICPA asking for a list of CPAs near their factory. The AICPA sent the PCPS section membership list. We were in the right geographic area and got a call and the client.

• We attended every practice management program presented by the NJCPA. When we started our practice more than 350 people attended. A couple of years afterwards, when CPE became mandatory and MAP programs did not count, the attendance dropped to about 35. A 90 percent decrease! Stupid people!

• One year, while I was on vacation, Peter went to hear Dave Cottle speak at an NJCPA MAP program. When I returned, he told me two ideas he got that he wanted to try. Within a few years those ideas resulted in over $100,000 a year in additional revenues while giving us better control of our services and our staff.

• We met Frank Boutillette through Peter’s activity with the NJ Society — that was a big win!

• We were the only CPA firm to present all-day CPE courses for the NJ Society. One was a practice management program and two were tax conferences where we had IRS and FBI special agents and an IRS revenue officer speak; also firsts. Further, the two FBI agents brought a convicted felon serving time to speak to us on how he committed embezzlement. They stayed for the entire day because the FBI agents were also CPAs and they needed the CPE, and the crook did not mind since he was out of jail for the day.

• One year we took our entire firm to a post-tax season two-day trip to Atlantic City at the beginning of May. We also had some CPE and invited colleagues to join us.

• For many years, we took our entire staff on a pre-tax season private tour of a New York City museum, dinner at a hip restaurant and a Broadway show…while all of their friends were already working nights and weekends for tax season.

• We never started tax season in January and had no mandatory nights or hours, but we assigned responsibility and paid for overtime on the next paycheck. No one ever complained about tax season and our staff’s total hours person by person were greater than firms that started tax season, including mandatory nights early in January and who paid ”bonuses” sometime in May or June.

• We became the largest QuickBooks consultants in New Jersey and were spending over $40,000 a year advertising such services. Note that we got five $50,000+ clients from this — a very pleasant unintended consequence.

• In 1993, we hired a full-time salesperson. He was not a CPA and he brought in 35 clients the first year. We still have some of those clients.

• An article in the 2001 Journal of Accountancy about how we managed and grew our practice was designated the best article for that year.

• In 2002, our small firm of 11 people hired a full-time marketing person. She remained with Withum until two years ago when she decided she would rather be a full time mom.

• In 1993 and 1994, we acquired practices from two sole practitioners and in 2004 we acquired a three-partner practice. None of the owners or partners remained with us after the acquisition. We still have many of the clients from the 1993 and 1994 acquisitions. The fees from one of them was greater last year than all of what we paid for those two practices, and the fees from another client was almost double that.

• Peter and I attended every AICPA PCPS conference since we became partners and when Frank was promoted to partner he joined us. We also attended other AICPA national conferences that were directed toward accreditations we had. The interactions with colleagues throughout the country were invaluable and created some lasting friendships — including one in Australia.

• When we merged with Withum, we had 11 employees plus the three partners. All 11 employees’ first jobs were doing what they were doing with us. We trained them all. We walked the talk! More than half of Withum’s partners also started with Withum. Hiring and training does work! Also, two of our accountants are still here as managers.

• I, and later on, Frank, became team captains performing peer and quality reviews of many CPA firms, some of which Withum still does.

• We belonged to many of the specialized AICPA groups to obtain, and also establish, expertise.

• Our small firm audited public companies, one of which is still a Withum client.

• We published a newsletter and ran an annual financial markets contest with over 150 contestants. The prizes were an ounce of gold and pound of silver, a genuine $500 bill and other interesting awards. I won three times but always gave the prize to the second place contestant.

• Our annual April Fool letters were written about in newspapers throughout the U.S.

• I am sure there are many more examples that I just cannot remember as I write this column, but I think you get the idea. I also limited this column to what we did at MendlowitzWeitsen, LLP. We also did many more things after we joined Withum…and are still innovating.

For my colleagues reading this, these are all things you can do. Just try it. We did many more things that were not successful so I did not include them here. If you want to see how you can get started with some of these, just contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com.

I also need to add my children, Andy and Rick, my daughter-in-law Amy (also a CPA as is her father), my grandchildren Sammy and Ryan, Peter’s wife Ilene, and their children, who are also part of my family enriching my life.

Happy 30th anniversary to Peter, and I am looking forward to many, many more anniversaries…and days with 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 along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. 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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