oYou may think that after years of staring at numbers on computer screens, reading book after book might be too “taxing.” Well, think again! I recently say down with Bruce T. Andersen, CPA, principal of Andersen CPA Firm in Woodland Hills, Calif., to learn more about his unique hobby of collecting old accounting and business books.
Bryan Cytron: I understand you have a unique hobby collecting old accounting and business books. How did this come about?
Bruce T. Andersen: It’s hard to say how long I have enjoyed collecting books. I do know that when I was growing up, my parents had books from their childhood. Both my father and his father attended a correspondence business school in Chicago – and I found some of these books. The unique thing about the content? The basics in those books still apply.
My father had one single volume business book, a “one-stop” reference from 1898. It covered marketing, accounting, finance … everything. It also had ideas and concepts we don’t even think about today, such as how to be groomed nicely for business appointments, having your shoes polished to a high shine and the handshake, which had to be firm, but not too hard a grip.
During my college days, I would always keep all of my textbooks that had special meaning. During some tax seasons, in years gone by, I would dabble in eBay and found some delightful old business books there as well.
BC: What are some of your favorite books you’d recommend to others?
BTA: I have quite a few, but here are some of my favorites:
- “Corporate Strategy” by H. Igor Ansoff was first published in 1965. It is only about 100 pages long, but I have read it several times over the years when I am asked to get a new business going.
- “The Centerless Corporation” by Albert J. Viscio, Bruce A. Pasternack and Frank Asch was first published in 1998. It was a book I was fascinated with because I was a part of a new business where we were always scattered and only got together a couple of times a year. The philosophy was great, but the execution was not perfect. It provides an interesting background for where we are today with virtual companies.
- “Delivering Quality Service” is co-authored by Valerie A. Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman and Leonard L. Berry. Dr. Berry is at Texas A&M. He has written extensively about service. In the CPA and QuickBooks® consulting world, that is our deliverable.
- “Managing Your Strengths” is co-authored by Allan Katcher, Ph.D., and Kenneth Pasternak. Dr. Katcher recently passed away at age 92 and was my tax client for more than 25 years. This book is handy for a quick read with deep meaning; you probably need a pencil to make notes in the margins.
- “Activity-Based Management: Arthur Andersen’s Lessons from ABM Battlefield” is a primer for financial reporting, where reporting by business activities is the key.
BC: With so many books now being electronic compared to paper, what are your thoughts on this change, and has it affected you in any way?
BTA: I don’t think we really know the full impact of e-books. Will people still collect paper books in the future? Will people be able to recall good books to “e-read” versus good books to “read” in the future?
Whenever I start certain types of projects, I may go back to a series of books from the past and refresh myself on terminology and concepts. I have not relied on e-books to do this so far because I am not collecting e-books for any recall right now. However, if we can develop a way to catalog e-books to read, I think this will be a huge step. It will allow for grouping of books previously e-read to be made available for any kind of research. For me, personally, I will always enjoy collecting and reading a good paper book.
BC: Shifting gears to your work, you’ve had a career that’s spanned 35+ years, including starting Andersen CPA Firm more than 20 years ago. Tell me about how you started and how your firm has evolved.
BA: I had to join a CPA firm to get my experience for my license in California. I was in Bakersfield and joined the largest firm with offices in the city. At this firm, there was a typing pool for financial statement preparation and tax returns were sent to Los Angeles on input sheets, which came back the following day with tax return forms. If there were errors with input or the software, returns could take a week or more to process.
I passed the exam, got my license and moved to Los Angeles soon thereafter. For the next 15 years or so, I went through several positions at various companies, from corporate positions in accounting/finance departments to CPA firms. I had one position as a part-time CFO that lasted more than 12 years. When not doing corporate work, I was at a CPA firm.
I finally opened my firm, full time, at the turn of the century; yes, after the year 2000 and ran accounting and tax work through Andersen CPA Firm. Today, I use Intuit® ProConnect™ Lacerte® for tax preparation, QuickBooks Online Accountant to prepare the books, and provide training through a sister company I formed, BTA Consulting and Training. We have a physical office space for client visits but have been 100 percent cloud-based for several years.
BC: Why do you think you’ve been able to sustain such longevity in accounting; what sets your firm apart?
BTA: We’ve done a few things. We looked for emerging industries where we can set ourselves apart and provide services unique from “traditional” firms. Renewable energy and vertical agriculture are two of the newest areas.
We have also looked to assemble technology for our traditional clients. When can Excel sheets be replaced? What work can be changed to remove double entry? How do we do self-audits of company transactions? Clients don’t have time to evaluate new applications nor challenge existing work processes. That’s where we come in.
BC: What is your one best piece of advice for young and aspiring CPAs and tax accountants today?
BTA: A few things: learn your craft, strive to be the best at your craft, be prepared to be a life-long learner and be prepared for change, as change is always a part of the profession.
Editor’s note: Read “Engagement Letter Best Practices for Tax Pros,” Bruce’s most recent article for the Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center. In addition, check out our profiles of Liz Farr, CPA, and Debra Kilsheimer and Harold Hickey in our ongoing series about tax professionals with interesting hobbies.