Mike Liberti, CPA




Balloon pilot, Gilbert, Ariz.

I love to fly. The best part of ballooning is landing in a park and seeing the kids when this big balloon lands in their neighborhood. Sometimes we tie the balloon to my truck and go up and down so the kids can experience what ballooning feels like. We only go about 40 feet off the ground, but it is still a thrill for the kids. I can fly adults all day long, but landing where we can share this experience with kids is the best part for me.

I flew some of my clients, and they saw me in a totally different perspective. I have flown some of my co-workers and offered balloon rides for charitable events. I worked to educate my community regarding balloon flight and even flew the mayor of Chandler, Ariz. He was amazed to hear I am a CPA. He said he didn’t think CPAs did things like this. I told him this CPA does.

I’ve been around ballooning since 1977 when I began operating a gift concession with my brother-in-law at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. In 1986, my brother-in-law learned to fly; 10 years later, he taught my son, who was then 16. Two years later, my son taught me. All of a sudden, I had to do what he told me to do; he was now in charge. Believe me, this was a very strange role reversal. I received my private pilot license in January 1999 and in May 2005 received my commercial license. Now I am teaching my youngest son how to fly. My balloon is all blue with America in white lettering on two sides and white stars around the bottom.

Any type of air travel can be considered dangerous, but all pilots emphasize safety. I have had a few close calls. When I was new to the sport, I did not manage my fuel well on one occasion, which put me in what could have been a dangerous scenario. Luckily, I managed to land without incident. I learned to recognize my areas of weakness and improve my decision making. Pilots also learn very quickly to avoid power lines.

My accounting career started later in life. At age 28, I was working in manufacturing and decided it was time to change occupations. I knew the CPA for the company I worked for and had an idea what he did, so I decided I wanted to do it, too. I consider him my role model. I attended evening courses, attained my bachelor’s degree in accounting and a few years later took the CPA exam. I have worked in various CPA firms from Big Five to sole practitioners. I taught accounting at the college level and now have moved into private industry. I am a tax accountant for a large community developer.

My wife says I am a 50-year-old kid. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., we didn’t have anything like ballooning. It’s like a release, but it is a very serious thing. It’s total focus. I really don’t think about anything else but flying when I’m up there. I try to fly at least twice a month, mostly in Chandler, Ariz., but also at events throughout the Southwest and California.

When you’re in the air, all you hear is the burner and dogs barking below. You can see basically forever. You’re floating around and you’re at the mercy of the wind. It’s almost like an inner peace you get. It’s just you and the openness.

—As told to Paul Bonner


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