Bennie L. Hadnott, CPA

BY PAUL BONNER

  

 
 

Chairman and Managing Partner
Watson Rice LLP, New York

I’ve always tried to be a positive thinker, have a good attitude and to make a difference. I say our firm is like a train that’s moving down the track, mobilizing our team to be the best we can be in serving our clients, making opportunities for others and creating value. As we move down the track, we pick up great people and we obtain the talents. We acquire the resources and the tools to propel us to our destination.

I’ve worked with the audit committee of the Ronald McDonald House of New York for at least 20 years. It’s a place where hope has a home, for families of children undergoing treatment for cancer. I also began working to provide hope through cancer research, education and prevention. In 2000, I set up The Hadnott Foundation Inc., which supports programs at several New York cancer centers. Our programs and services weren’t in time to save my wife, Earlene, who battled breast cancer for two years and died from treatment complications. But I figure they will be in time to save other folks.

I grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s in Prattville, Ala., a small town outside Montgomery. There was not a lot of opportunity for black people then. I could pick cotton or I could dig ditches. My hands were too soft for the one and my back not strong enough for the other. So I joined the Air Force for four years. I knew I wanted to go to college on the GI Bill, and I wanted to take care of my mother, who had put us through school by cleaning houses. When I got out of the Air Force, I went to Bronx Community College in New York, where I did quite well in accounting courses. The professor always talked about what you could do in accounting, the difference you could make and how you could serve your clients and do very well economically. And so I said, hey, this is my field.

I got my accounting degree from Baruch College and worked for Wolf & Co. with one of their biggest clients in the New York area, Grumman Aircraft, on Long Island. Otherwise, the jobs were very bleak at that time, and I was lucky to start out at a medium-size firm. I finished my master’s degree at Iona College in New Rochelle and worked four years in the AICPA’s CPE Division as a technical manager. There, I met Tom Watson, who was one of the first black persons to sit on boards of accountancy, in Ohio and D.C. At that time, too, I was teaching at the Pace Graduate School of Business, and I taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I worked for Tom part time and then started my own practice in New York City, which I merged into Watson Rice, starting their New York office.

Our clients include the NBA Players Association, 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, the National Association of Black Accountants and major nonprofit churches and institutions like the Abyssinian and Canaan Baptist churches and Union Theological Seminary. Our public-sector clients include the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Board of Education and the city of New York. Because these clients gave us an opportunity, we make them feel special. I use my Southern hospitality, I call it.

I’m on the education committee of the New Jersey State Board of Accountancy, and I served on the educational committee of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. I’ve also served as the head of the Division of Firms of the National Association of Black Accountants and am on the advisory board of the Center for Accounting Education, Future Leaders, at Howard University. That program, which was started by Frank K. Ross, could be one of the solutions to finding the best and the brightest and helping them to get specialized training (see “ Expanding the Ranks of African-American CPAs,” page 48). Then, the hope is that they’ll stay in the profession and become African-American leaders. Role models like that are one thing we don’t have enough of in our profession.

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