Berman, Goldman & Ribakow (BGR) has a reputation for longevity; the 73-year-old Columbia accounting firm measures employment in decades, not years and months. Indeed, CPAs Marc Rubin and Shelley Romano have been practicing accounting at BGR for 35 and 27 years, respectively. But they’re a couple of rookies compared to Patricia Frederick and Stanley Holzman, who joined the firm in 1956.
As BGR’s receptionist, Frederick is the familiar sing-song voice that for five-and-a-half decades has greeted callers with her famous “Berman, Goldman and Ribakooooowwwww” salutation. When the firm recently consolidated its name to simply “BGR CPAs,” many wondered how Frederick would respond, assuming habit would make for a tough transition. But she didn’t miss a beat.
“I think some clients were more thrown off than I was. One client said he couldn’t get used to the new name, so I told him to hang up and call me back, and I used the old name for him,” said Frederick. Such light-heartedness serves her well.
She was born, coincidentally, the same month and year (May 1939) that Lou Berman founded BGR. Berman, or “Uncle Lou” as she called him, took her under his wing, as did the only two women in the office at that time.
“I remember thinking they were both ancient, but they were only in their 40s,” chuckled the 72-year-old. “Those women taught me how to work — it was a great environment then, and it still is.
Holzman recounted the story of when Frederick was on maternity leave 49 years ago and no one in the office knew how to prepare client statements, so they took the typewriter to Frederick’s house seeking help. Fortunately for them, she gracefully obliged.
A consummate people person who has always enjoyed working the phones, Frederick is clearly in the right profession. “Pat has an uncanny ability to recognize clients’ voices, and she obviously really enjoys interacting with them. She also has a great knack for sniffing out cold-calling salesmen,” praised Holzman.
Stanley Holzman, CPA
Holzman is a partner who oversees all of the firm’s tax audits and is a member of the Tax Research Department. He estimates that he has handled more than 1,100 audits over his career.
“One of the first things I do in an audit is remove the adversarial environment and recognize that cool heads and reasonable people produce the best outcomes. If a representative of the IRS or the comptroller’s office needs to work here for a couple days, we set them up in a private office and make it very clear that we’re straight shooters,” said Holzman. His long tenure and record with the regulators also goes a long way.
Holzman’s clients are as long-lasting as he is. Bob Davidson Ford, for example, has been a client for more than 40 years. Current owner Bruce Schindler emphatically stated, “I would not have my business or my house if not for Stan.”
Schindler went on to say that he consults Holzman on every major decision, even those for which most people would not consult their CPA. For example, when Schindler and his wife were looking to buy a new house recently, they first had dinner with Holzman to discuss all the implications. As usual, he made several strategic and tactical points to make their deal better.
This trusting relationship is decades old and was instrumental in 1999 when Holzman structured the business plan for Schindler to purchase the dealership from his father-in-law, Bob Davidson. Not surprisingly, Schindler recommends BGR to all of his auto-dealer colleagues.
It would be reasonable to assume that someone in his 70s would be slowing down and letting technology pass him by. Neither is true in Holzman’s case. Not only is he an integral part of the firm, he also oversees BGR’s books and prepares the firm’s taxes each year.
And Holzman is as adept with technology as any of the junior CPAs at BGR. For example, when Schindler recently e-mailed Holzman at 8:40 p.m. with a tax question, Holzman responded at 8:59 from his smartphone.
If his workload belies his age, so does his appearance. A trim, energetic man, Holzman works out five days a week for an hour at a time and plays golf each weekend.
How does a firm have multiple associates employed at the same place for decades? What is it about the office environment that keeps people happy for that long?
Although the concept is somewhat cliché, one of the most common descriptors uttered by BGR employees is “family.” But unlike a startup tech firm whose employees feel like family because they work 60 hours per week and never have time to see their own families, BGR’s atmosphere seems much different. During working hours, the hallways are quiet and there’s an air of diligent concentration. Even during tax season, there are no all-nighters, and people get to see their own families.
Instead, the BGR family feeling is manifested in other ways. For one, the team is very generous with its time and money to help a multitude of nonprofits, ranging from helping an elementary school with an abundance of low-income students to volunteering with the chamber of commerce to clean up trash on the side of the road. Quality time together in support of a good cause seems to work well for them.
The employees also look out for each other and collaborate on many client issues, and the firm sponsors many team-building events and employee-appreciation initiatives. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the firm and all of the associates regard their clients as family.
The “R” word really isn’t in the vernacular of either Frederick or Holzman. They both enjoy their work and claim that they have the best clients and colleagues around, so neither sees any reason to slow down.
Much has changed since this dynamic duo joined BGR in 1956. For example, the minimum wage at that time was $1 per hour and a gallon of gas cost just 22 cents. But they have adapted and continued learning, even dealing with a federal tax code that ballooned from 14,000 pages to more than 71,000.
Change will continue, but one constant will remain: These young-at-heart BGR associates will continue to approach their jobs with the same positive attitudes that has served them so well for the last 55 years.