What Serving Your Community Really Means

The phone rang, and Mom’s caller ID flashed across the screen. At 89, she doesn’t mince words. “I’ve got some bad news.”

Our long-time family accountant had died suddenly in his sleep. I put down the dog’s leash, and sat down to take in the unbelievable news. Paul was an energetic, funny, sharp-as-nails CPA who owned his own accounting practice. What you’d call “on top of his game.”

Though he’d recently sold his business and had “semi retired” at 70, he’d still put in marathon hours during tax season–reassuring loyal clients like us that he’d personally handle our tax returns. No one looks forward to taxes, but Paul somehow made doing them fun. He’d chat us up, make jokes, show a sincere interest in what we’d done over the past year. We knew we were in excellent hands, and Paul would make everything OK.

I’d emailed Paul a couple months earlier to ask a tax question, and I caught him on the beach vacationing with his family. “Someone’s gotta do it,” he joked from his iPhone. But he still took time out to answer my tax question. Paul was like that. And now he was gone.

The sticky note on my monitor to call Paul for our 2013 appointment is a sad reminder of the unpredictability of life. His sudden departure is an enormous loss for so many people, both professionally and personally. Paul taught me a lot about what it means to be a real pro, someone who is dedicated to their craft and helping their customers. A few lessons learned from a great CPA…

Treat every client like they’re your best client. Paul could have started his business anywhere, yet he chose to work in the small town where he lived, and serve his local community. Paul started doing my taxes when I was right out of college, as I eked out a meager living at a local newspaper. He never made me feel less than anyone else, never blinked at my modest earnings. He always treated every question, no matter how basic, with thoughtfulness. Paul gave us that same level of attention, consideration, and service nearly 30 years later. No question was too silly, no problem too minute.

Bring your sense of humor and humanity to your work. Over the years, my husband and I had gone to other accountants closer to our home in suburban Boston. Paul’s rural office near my hometown was a bit of a haul. However we eventually returned to Paul for his competent service – and the fact that he could make preparing a schedule C kinda fun. He was very interested in my husband’s guitar playing, and he’d share stories about when he was a younger man on the music scene. He sought out things we had in common and used those to get to know us as clients a little better. He was a master at breaking the ice, and putting us at ease.

Deliver your best work, all the time, every time. Paul earned our trust. We suspected his client load was bubbling over (I’d see his lone car in his parking lot on weekends), but he always took time to carefully prepare our very complex tax returns. He delivered excellent, detailed work on time – sometimes even early. His wife would call to let us know our returns were prepared and submitted electronically to Uncle Sam. We were OK for another year. We always were with Paul.

Paul exceeded our expectations. He provided a valuable service to his community at a reasonable price. He did it with good cheer. Isn’t that what we all aspire to do in our businesses? Paul made us feel good about our work and patronizing his business.

Paul is an example of someone who gave it their all each and every day, who embraced life and their work, who didn’t really have time to retire. I’m so sad his life was cut short, as I know he had more work to do, more vacations to enjoy, more accounting jokes to share, more new gadgets and apps to try out and show his clients. He was so free with tips and advice. I wonder how much revenue he gave up by answering client emails and phone calls gratis. He never charged for ours, and there were may over the years.

So the sticky note to call him remains. Some other professional in Paul’s practice will have to prepare my schedule C. We thank him for the many years of excellent work – and for the humanity and humor he brought to his profession. It’s those lessons I’ll remember most not only when I do my taxes, but as I conduct my business with my clients. Our communities could use a few more professionals like Paul.

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