Art of Accounting: Stanley Goldstein’s Top 10 game changers

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This column is based on an interview with Stanley Goldstein, CPA, the founder of Goldstein Golub Kessler & Company, which became the largest single office accounting firm in the United States, with over 425 people. In 1998, his practice was acquired by American Express when GGK was the 10th largest accounting firm. American Express subsequently left the accounting business. Here Stanley tells of some of his experiences that made a difference in his career. I believe there is much to learn from how he developed and grew his practice. He was asked to list the top 10 game changers in his life and career:

1. Attending Brooklyn College and doing very well.

2. Volunteering for the draft and spending two years in the army.

3. Working for Seidman and Seidman for five years, acquiring the experience that I would later need when I started my practice.

4. Marrying Alice on May 31, 1964. Not only did I bond with my life partner, but she encouraged and pushed me to quit my job and start my own practice. I created a 10-year business plan that seemed to make sense. I talked to my boss and told him I thought I was meant to go out there and do things my way. Besides wishing me luck, he said they would funnel some business to me that might be too small for them. On Sept. 1, 1964, I started Stanley Goldstein & Co.

(Stanley Goldstein is shown third from left, alongside Ed Mendlowitz at the far right.)

5. Deciding to hire staff right away. I enjoyed politics and I liked selling. I decided to start by hiring part-time students from Pace College which was right next door to my office. They would work with me for a few hours a day. I was out there having breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks after work with every person whose hand I could shake. And the first year there was a bonanza of new business. Clients who worked with me would recommend their friends, and I quickly decided to look to hire my first full-time employee, then a second and then a third. For three or four years, business was really booming.

6. Deciding that I wanted to build a bigger firm, I appointed an executive committee and distributed points to some who were working for me. I got lucky with the people I hired and two really shined — Stu Kessler and Gerry Golub. I also empowered my executive committee and let them decide on who got what and how much. We moved office locations in 1973. At that time I polled the partners, and we decided that we wanted more people to have more of a say with the company. We then changed the name in an effort to make the firm appear larger and added two other partners’ names. The firm’s name then became Goldstein Golub & Kessler.

7. Getting involved with hedge funds. I had frequent lunches with lawyers who were big sources of business and that led to doing hedge fund work that, at that time, wasn’t done by small accounting firms. The hedge fund business brought in high net worth people and that led to sophisticated tax planning which then broadened into financial planning. The plan was that every tax client would be contacted for the opportunity to meet with us in November, providing them with planning time, which at that time typically was not done. Stu Kessler also encouraged having the clients bring their wives to the meetings as well, and that worked out great. Tax planning became the main priority, hedge funds became the second main priority, and next was to try and grow the firm. Financial planning and assisting people with managing their investments was an idea; however, at that time this was frowned upon by the profession, but today it is a big money maker for many firms.

8. Wanting to stay in touch with young people and also having an interest in philanthropy. I started the hedge fund roundtable, more than 25 years ago. However, before that I started the Donor’s Forum and it brought together people who gave money and charities that needed money; a roundtable of grant-making foundations’ family offices. The purpose was to improve how philanthropy works. The roundtable idea has been fundamental to whatever I’ve started and the format works well. Attendees would exchange their experiences at monthly meetings where an expert comes and makes a presentation and then responds to questions or leads a further discussion. The donors are happy to attend and participate, and everyone sits in the room with the main priority of making sure the philanthropic mission is fulfilled. I also founded the American Friends of James Joyce and the Sustainability Investment Leadership Council. I tend to build something around my interests.

9. Wanting to try different things. I had tried different things while I was at GGK. Tried merging, but those efforts didn’t work out for multiple reasons. I also loved personal financial planning and helping people. When I tried that, the partners went along with it, but you couldn’t ethically get paid to manage a client’s money, which I thought would be a big growth area. The last avenues I wanted to try for growth were foreign firms and financial products. I felt I did the best I could do in creating a great firm, and it seemed moving forward there would be a slightly declining slope of satisfaction, but declining nevertheless. I was financially stable enough to leave, so I made that decision. I also started making some private equity investments, some of which turned into very large organizations, so I’ve been very fortunate in that regard and spend some time now overseeing my portfolio.

10. Staying active with the New York State Society of CPAs. I love the profession and have always wanted to be a CPA and still want to be one. I also like the Society committees and I stay involved where I believe I can contribute. I am also active with the Accountants Club of America. It is important for me to be a part of the profession. There’s a difference between being a “retired” CPA and still being a part of the profession.

Ashley Krompier, senior marketing coordinator at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, assisted in the interview and preparation of this column.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

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) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Practice management Ed Mendlowitz Career advancement Career planning NYSSCPA