Robert F. Fay, CPA

Canton, Ohio

I am a sole practitioner. I always wanted to be my own boss, and about 11 years ago, taking a “leap of faith” that I would have clients, I left the small firm where I had worked for 14 years to open my own home-based office. Looking back, I ask myself, “Why didn’t I do that five years earlier?” Some consultants say sole practitioners are a dying breed. I don’t agree; there will be always a place for the sole practitioner because of the trusting relationship that develops between the practitioner and small business owners, the foundation of the sole practice.

The personal relationship I have with my clients has allowed me to help them weather the recession. I’ve been helping them adjust their budgets and plan strategies to be more efficient and also to be ready when the economy turns the corner. Many sole practitioners work from an outside office. I work out of my house. Because I have a home office and no staff, I already have low overhead, but I follow the advice I give to clients: I am reviewing all of my expenses and putting more into savings as a way to deal with the recession.

My success as a practitioner has come from community involvement. I am not listed in the Yellow Pages; I don’t have a brochure; and I don’t do any marketing. What I do, however, is get actively involved in my community. I don’t just attend meetings; I work on committees and assume leadership roles. I’ve built my practice through this type of engagement. Business owners who are also active are drawn to others who show the same type of commitment.

One of my favorite community organizations is Habitat for Humanity. In 1987, shortly after reading an article about President Jimmy Carter’s involvement with Habitat, I learned that a group of people was forming a Habitat chapter in Canton (Ohio). I was among the initial group of 15 people who got it going. Since then, I served 12 years on Habitat’s board, was treasurer for more than a decade, and have been president. That first year our Habitat chapter raised $8,619, and took 18 months to build our first house. Within six years, we were raising more than $1 million a year from the greater Canton area. Today our chapter has thousands of volunteers who build about 25 houses a year.

Financial literacy is a passion of mine, which got me involved with a local high school, whose accounting program was dying. With the support of the AICPA and the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA), I helped organize an effort to save the program. It took six years of working with the teacher and getting other CPAs involved, but the program, which only had three students left, now has 18. I’d like to see CPAs all over the country help high schools rebuild their programs.

My wife, Peg, and I love music, especially the Beatles. As serious collectors, we even travel to music auctions at Christie’s in New York several times a year. Our collecting started about 10 years ago when we found a box of 45s buried in garage debris. The box contained some singles the Beatles had recorded before they were big. That “find” sparked our interest, and we began collecting Beatles memorabilia—baseball cards, posters, prints, albums and other stuff. I have a few of the items on display in my office. I also have a framed drumstick Dennis Wilson of the original Beach Boys had tossed to an audience. My wife, who was then in grade school, was at the concert and caught it. The drumstick is one of her treasures. When clients meet with me in my office, the displayed music memorabilia serves as a conversation piece and reminds us of a time before the world got so busy and stressful.

—As told to Linda Segall



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