During my long stretch of being immersed in the accounting profession, I’ve met so many great, smart, fun, interesting people. I now give you the privilege of “meeting” Joel Ungar, CPA, CFE. Joel’s a partner in the Detroit-area firm of Silberstein Ungar, PLLC. Joel is also an iShade Faculty Member. Enjoy.
Q: Your small firm seems a bit unique having a franchisor audit practice, doing SEC audits and also having a host of development-stage clients with no revenues. Was this by design?
A: The franchisor audit practice and the SEC audits–definitely by design. We are a niche-focused firm, and know what we do well. We have far more real-world franchising experience than most other CPA firms, so audits of franchisors is a natural for us, as we can and do add value to franchisors by having understanding franchising–not just by understanding how to audit a franchise. And, yes, that is an important distinction. While we do work with some pre-revenue development-stage, the bulk of our SEC audit practice is made up of entrepreneurial companies with opportunities for growth and revenues from $1 million-$200 million.
Q: With the public accounting firm sector being very active these days with mergers and acquisitions, does that tempt a firm like yours that is purposely trying to stay at a small and manageable size?
A: We have looked at merger opportunities but so far have passed. There’s a reason why we are who we are and why we are not a big firm, and we’re cognizant of those reasons. We enjoy the freedom and we don’t want to be bogged down with a lot of administrative functions or managing hundreds of people. That said, if an opportunity arose that would make sense for us, for our clients, and for our staff–well, we never say never.
Q: How does your firm recruit talent? What are the common characteristics in people who have been successful employees?
A: We use a mix of advertising (Monster, LinkedIn) networking and talking with recruiters. Our successful employees: good personality, able to think on their feet, play well with others, willing to work hard, understand client deadlines, ability to travel, and they are able to accept responsibility in a fast-paced environment. The ability to “play well with others” is especially important–we spend a lot of time with each other, be it at our office, clients, and airports, and we work better when we get along well.
Q: What advice might you bestow upon today’s university accounting student or those accountants who are new to public accounting?
A: I remember sitting with a roommate just before I graduated from the University of Michigan and said to him “I can’t believe they let us do this for four years.” They should enjoy the experience! The obvious is to get the accounting knowledge. I like candidates to have good technology skills (still haven’t found one who knows more than me) and can write a coherent sentence. If their plan is to be in public accounting long-term, they should also develop skills essential to being a partner–networking and business development. I don’t think that is on the curriculum but it can make the difference. And even though I work in a small firm, I always tell students that if they get the opportunity to work with a Big 4 firm that they have to give it serious consideration. I was in Deloitte’s Detroit office for over six and a half years–21 years later it still pays dividends. I also wouldn’t suggest taking up winter sports. My partner Ron Silberstein’s advice: Marry rich.
Q: You’re obviously very happy doing what you’re doing, but if you had to be a completely different type of accountant, what might interest you?
A: I’ve been in both public accounting and in industry. I like the varied experience in public much more than what you get in industry. While I enjoy auditing, I also enjoy technology; I’d enjoy something that is based on emerging technology that requires use of my accounting knowledge and skills. Bonus would be if I didn’t have to lug a laptop through an airport–that day is coming.
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