When I started my accounting career, I had a serious desire to help others. I went to work for one of the then Big 6 accounting firms in New Orleans. I footed general ledgers, prepared tax returns, and performed other seemingly menial tasks for somewhere between 14 and 16 hours a day.
I would see companies whose books showed serious financial issues, and I’d ask managers if we couldn’t figure out a way to help these companies. One example was the audit of a tugboat company, which occurred in the middle of an oil field crisis. I asked the supervisor on the job if we couldn’t we help them refinance their boats, get them a little working capital? I was told, “Just go back to your cubicle, finish the accounts receivable portion of the audit.” I was not happy.
After two years, I was asked whether I’d considered taking a job with one of the firm’s clients. “No,” I replied, “I want to be a partner here. Did you see the client I brought in? And the retainer check? They want us to do an inventory study for them.”
“Well, who asked you to do that?” “No-one, I just wanted to help them.” “Go back to your cubicle and foot some general ledgers.”
They weren’t much happier with me than I was with them, and eventually I left, with the intention of setting up shop on my own.
Serendipitously, a friend from college called me; he was with another of the Big 6, and was beyond swamped. I said I’d help him out, maybe three days a week, and found myself with a job I could live on (complete with health insurance and 401(k)) and time to build my own business.
I hustled – I had to. My evenings were spent at Charity Hospital, now sadly gone, recruiting clients among residents who moonlighted. You see, residents could earn extra dollars – $100 was about the usual hourly wage, and back then, that was money – spending their weekends manning emergency rooms in Port Sulphur and other areas outside New Orleans. Taxes weren’t withheld, as these doctors were treated as independent contractors, and often we were talking about extra income amounting to $50,000 to $60,000 a year, for residents making something like $30,000 per year at LSU or Tulane.
I started putting up signs all over the downtown New Orleans medical corridor hospitals, and snagged one doctor. One became two, two became four, four became 16. Some of those doctors are clients to this day, and I cherish them all, thankful they trusted a hustling sole practitioner who was entirely unknown to them.
Finally, it got through to me. I was not only helping entrepreneurs, I was an entrepreneur myself. By nature, by inclination, by temperament. And being an entrepreneur gave – and still gives – me insight and empathy in helping my clients solve their unique problems.
Embracing entrepreneurship meant embracing who I am. While it’s sometimes been scary, I would never trade what I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, the clients I’ve been able to help, the people I’ve worked with, for a past, present and future of nothing but grinding out tax returns and general ledgers at a big firm.
What – or who – has helped you find who you are? Was it a lightbulb moment, or a gradual dawning?
Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your stories.
Until next Wednesday –