Back row, from left: Sindy Pfaab, Tina James and Sissie Kipp.
Front row, from left: Jena Bippert, Mark Hamlin and Peggy Piletere.A successful business doesn’t happen through wishful thinking. It takes a lot of hard work to make your dream come true. I always knew I wanted to own my own business. As a kid delivering newspapers, I got a taste of what it meant to be my own boss. The paper route gave me money and a sense of independence. Although I enjoyed working in public accounting right out of college, and later for a few companies in their corporate tax and internal audit departments, I wanted the independence my own firm would provide.
In the mid-1980s that opportunity presented itself to me. Someone I knew from my public accounting days was leaving her position as a CFO for a company. She asked if I wanted to take her place. As I considered the opportunity, I realized I would be able to do that job in about two days a week. With the encouragement and help of friends and fellow CPAs Dr. Hubert Glover and Eric Hodgson, I opened my firm, with that company as my first client.
Success did not come overnight. In fact, the timing of opening my own firm was not the best. In the mid-1980s Texas was in the middle of an oil bust. During those first years I was living on credit cards, and I supplemented my CPA-firm revenues by building fences. Hard work, but it paid the mortgage. Gradually, the firm took on more clients, and I needed to hire staff. Back then, I’m not sure the words “flexible workweek,” “family-friendly” workplace, and “telecommuting” were even invented, but I knew that was how I wanted to run my practice. I decided early on that family life came first; business came second.
My practice, which specializes in taxes and tax representation, is located in Houston’s suburbs. I realized the suburbs had a large, untapped pool of experts—highly qualified and motivated mothers who wanted to work but also wanted the flexibility to be home when their kids are home. I decided to hire my staff from this pool. Unwittingly, I became a pioneer in implementing a family-friendly, flexible workplace policy, well before it was popular. My staff—CPAs Peggy Piletere and Jena Bippert; tax accountants Sissie Kipp and Sindy Pfaab; and administrative assistant Tina James—currently work under this arrangement. Providing them flexibility has made them dedicated and loyal to the firm. Turnover is very light. I would not have been able to grow my practice without these dedicated employees.
Our family-friendly workplace with its flexible hours was made possible by technology. We began using Compaq’s first computer equipped with a modem to send information over a telephone line long before the Internet was born. Technology continues to play an important role in keeping my firm flexible and on the cutting edge. We have a sophisticated technology network that allows us to collaborate as well as to tap into our clients’ databases. This is important, since we have clients from coast to coast, and even some international.
Teamwork more than technology, however, held my practice together when I underwent treatment for tonsil cancer in September 2008. The 36 radiation treatments and two rounds of chemotherapy kept me out of the office and unable to work throughout most of the last tax season. My staff has always backed each other up, and that’s what they did for me during my treatment. It was gratifying how they pulled together. I will always be proud and grateful of that effort.
Starting this practice and running it have been a journey that has allowed me to meet different types of people who have enriched my life. The friends I have made are more important than any money I’ve earned. I’ve learned that giving back to clients is more valuable and rewarding personally and professionally than trying to “get” from them. Success comes from hard work, learning every day, and giving back to the profession, the community and your clients. When you love what you do, going to work every day is not hard. I love what I do, and I feel blessed by God to be in that position.
—As told to Linda Segall (email@example.com),
a freelance writer based in Jacksonville, Fla.