Beyond the Numbers: Be a Friend

Green "opportunity" highway sign with sunrise backgroundThe client could have it all, but the accountant had to show him how.

By Ed Mendlowitz
Call Me Before You Do Anything: The Art of Accounting

Many years ago my boss, Bernard D. Kleinman, had a client who was a creative genius in the advertising industry, and was being courted by many other firms.

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He liked his job, position, and respect, and he had no desire or thoughts of leaving. But, as a gentleman, he listened to whoever approached him.

Well, one of the offers from a newly formed agency seemed to present an opportunity that was too good to be true. It was not like anything else and he seriously considered switching – mainly for the even greater creative freedom and expression he would have.

He met with Bernie and asked him about the financial package and in particular wanted to discuss what he would be giving up in the way of stock ownership growth potential. In those days advertising agencies were mostly privately held businesses with employees owning shares. This is sort of like any professional services firm – the older partners own the largest share and younger employees “earn” the right to purchase ownership shares as they progress up the ladder. The valuations could be anything, but at that time were based on book value.

Well, this client owned some shares that he would have to give up when he left for the new job, and he wanted to know his loss, although the new employer said they would make up his loss if he came to them.

Bernie understood the bigger picture of the market and figured that the new company would have to go public in order to raise funds for its growth. He didn’t know when or how, but he knew it would happen. He asked if he could speak to the prospective employer and requested our client receive an equal percent of ownership in the new company that he was forfeiting in the company he was leaving. This reasonable request was granted, and when they went public in about a year, the shares our client was able to sell through the IPO made him a very wealthy man.

I had a firsthand view because my role throughout this process was to crunch the numbers, meet with the client and actually calm him down, explain what my boss was suggesting and also help the client visualize the creative opportunities he would have.

I learned from this

  • to look outside the box of the immediate transaction and what it means from a life-altering vantage point,
  • the anxieties seemingly successful, confident people have and
  • the almost total lack of security many people have when presented with “numbers and money” alternatives.

Being a CPA in these situations is mostly about being a friend to the client, and showing them the alternatives in a clear way that they can engage, grasp and relate to.

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