I was born in Havana, Cuba, and it was a great childhood. I still have vivid memories of those times. Those were probably some of the happiest days of my life because our family was together prior to the revolution.
My father, who was in the wholesale meat business, was also a minority owner in a bank. My brother also worked at the bank and had run-ins with some of the Castro officials. In order to protect my brother, my father got him off of the island in October 1960, to the United States. Right after they closed down the Catholic schools in ’61, my parents saw a turn for the worse with the revolution—not that they ever supported it; they were against it from day one. At that time they finally decided they would get me off the island. I left in ’62, when I was 9 years of age.
I still remember, vividly, my mom’s words: “You’ll only be out for 30 days. Castro has no staying power. It’ll just be a short visit to your brother in Tampa, Florida, and you’ll soon be back.” And I honestly believed that until I finally arrived in the States. I started thinking about the situation, and it was really rough because I said to myself, “I’m 9 years old and I might not even see my parents again, let alone go back to the island.” I was in the U.S. by myself for about five years, without speaking the language, and I lived in a Catholic boarding school until about the age of 14, when my parents were able to leave the island.
I had played baseball at the boarding school, and I later went to a high school in Tampa where we won two state championships, which was a real thrill. Once I graduated from high school, I attended junior college on a baseball scholarship. I then played two years of college baseball at Florida International University. I was a pitcher, and by my senior year I knew that my baseball career was over. The fastball just didn’t seem to get to home plate as quickly as it used to. It was much tougher to pitch at that level and blow it by a hitter. While I was at Florida International University, I was lucky enough to have some great accounting instructors.
I answered an ad to my current firm back when it was known as Caplan, Morrison, Brown and Co. The position was for a midlevel accountant, but the starting salary was $12,500. I said, “I’m not going there unless you pay me $13,500.” After negotiating for almost a month, I officially joined the firm in September of 1977. Through the years, I became very close to Albert Morrison Jr., the founder of the firm, who oversaw the larger accounts. Looking back on our relationship and how he mentored me, it’s almost like he was grooming me to take over the firm.
My accounting career has been a great ride. It’s something I still look forward to on a day-to-day basis. I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m passionate about it. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been a CPA. I guess maybe if I’d been as good at baseball as accounting, maybe I could have pitched in the major leagues for a while. But I wasn’t, and I was born with the gift of math, which has always helped out.
It’s such a great profession. Anyone who studies accounting in college—they’re just opening themselves up to such opportunities. Whether it’s private, working for a corporation, or public accounting, there are so many avenues. Growing MBAF has just been a wild ride and a wild experience. It’s something that I wish I could write a book on because it’s just been so challenging and it still is on a daily basis.
I think that the best advice to young accountants who want to run a firm one day is to obtain the training. Get a mentor. Really develop your skills. Try to learn as much as you can so when the opportunity presents itself, you’re ready to take it on. You’ve got to be able to put in the hard work and develop yourself technically to gain the confidence of your clients. But you also have to build your listening skills, so that you not only know how to present your ideas and strategies to clients and colleagues, but how you listen to their concerns and understand their needs. Succeeding in this business is not just about solid expertise—it’s about gaining great judgment, strong insight, and the real confidence of clients through your listening abilities.
—As told to Chris Baysden, firstname.lastname@example.org,
a JofA senior editor.
Photo courtesy of The Miami Marlins