Lessons from Michael Jackson and James A. Smith IV, CPA

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Michael Jackson was a star on the international scene and Jim Smith a local star of Florida’s Treasure Coast business and court scene. Although they were as different as ebony and ivory, these men who dies much too young had attitudes much in common that we can learn from.

Both strived for superiority, not mere excellence or acceptability.

I never knew how hard Jackson worked on his albums or videos until I saw a program on “E” network. All the practice, planning, mistakes were unseen to his fans; all they saw and heard was perfection.

Jim Smith was similar in that way. Nobody would beat him or his clients in court, mediation or settlement. He had to win, and to do so be the very best; so he worked for that and was. This attitude led to Jim’s reputation as the go-to guy for litigation support and business valuation. Nobody in their right mind would want to go against him.

What can we learn? Isn’t that the way most of us are? How many CPAs do you know that go all-out to best the competition? Or are they happy with getting the job done and the work out the door?

If seeking superiority were the case, why do I see so many tax returns with obvious errors or simply things that were over looked? Why do so many citizens overpay taxes when they shouldn’t have to? Why have so many businesses failed that could have used advice but it was never offered?

Jackson and Smith were rightfully proud of their gifts and skills.

Jim Smith was the proudest CPA I ever met. When asked why he didn’t pursue other designations (as I and most others in the same consulting domain) did, he said “I’m a CPA. How much better can that get?” This attitude is important as it leads to very high fees, self confidence, client confidence and retention, and perceived value in the general marketplace.

What can we learn? If this attitude were the case, why are so many CPAs undercutting competitors below any reasonable possible profit in order to get work today? People like Jim and Jacko competed on a much different level, not on the price of what they sold, be it albums, tickets or consulting and CPA fees.

As we have all witnessed in recent days, Jackson’s fans were legion and his peers loyal. 1.6 million requests were received for 8,700 seats at his memorial.

Jim Smith also created a sense of loyalty from clients, friends and peers that few of us achieve.

Why is this important to today’s CPA firm?

How many training dollars go out the door when a long-time valued employee leaves or becomes the competition? Why do so many partners work until all hours and the staff go home on time? Why can’t the firm get anyone to step out and go to events and take on added responsibilities? It’s not because they hire the wrong people, it’s their attitude toward them that is the difference.

Jim loved his employees and his peers and friends. He created loyalty like I have never seen before. Malcolm Hayes CPA would drive weekly and spend days at Jim’s practice in Stuart, FL (east coast) from Plant City (west coast) all during busy season while Jim waited for a heart transplant that never came.

Jim created loyalty from selfless service to others and a generosity of spirit I’ve rarely experienced in 33 years in this profession. He graciously taught me (for free) an entire profession of litigation support and business valuation I couldn’t have experienced elsewhere. I will carry on his tradition of superiority the best I can with my limited intelligence in his honor.

By Allan Boress, CPA, CVA – author of The “I-Hate-Selling” Book, available at amazon.com


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