Marketing Lessons from the $50 Billion Man: Part 1 – His Persona

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By Allan Boress, CPA, CVABernard Madoff is not a good guy. However, he was a masterful marketer in order to build his epic scam. Are there marketing lessons we can apply to our practices?

We can look at Madoff’s persona and his methodology for building his business.

The persona of Bernard Madoff:

Denise Lavoie of Associated Press described the perfect con man in a recent article. This person has certain positive attributes that will help attract customers to his con. In The “I-Hate-Selling” Book lists certain “attractions” of the Top Business Producers across the professions. Let’s see what applies to Bernie Madoff and others of his ilk that help attract new customers. You’ll be amazed to see that some of these traits are already possessed by CPAs – and some that aren’t:

- Con men are smart: We can do this one. Gotta have something upstairs to pass the exam. More importantly, due to the branding of the CPA qualification, the public believes we are smart.
- Cons exude respectability: Conservative by nature and training, CPAs are known for not being risk takers and tend to be pillars of the community. Another one for us.
- They instill confidence and credibility: being intelligent, having an important designation and knowing things the public doesn’t, leads to a feeling of confidence in the buyer. This is true. Because of our designation, the public thinks we know our business and what we are talking about.

Don’t worry. It’s highly unlikely the CPAs in your practice will start pulling cons, because they are missing these:

- Con men are charming: Oops, that eliminates 90% or so of us, including moi. Anyone can be charming for a short period of time, or many of us never would have met our spouse, life partner, significant other or roommate. It’s just that CPAs don’t know how important it is in marketing or public situations to consciously be this way. In a future blog, I will describe the what’s and how’s of being like Hugh Grant.
- There is an “aura of success” about them: Uh – very few of us actually translate our affluence into our clothes, cars or offices. Those that do, tend to succeed wildly in their marketing (people like doing business with people they see as successful).
- You would want to sit next to on an airplane, says Jacob Frenkel, former SEC lawyer: YES! I would love to sit next to more CPAs on airplanes as I know they will be working or reading, but not talking to me. Very few people find CPAs fascinating enough to want to sit next to them while traveling. In fact, if you play the word-association game as I have many times leading seminars, the word most associated with CPA is “boring.”

It is in the last list that we see why more CPAs are not successful at attracting quality new clients.

In Part 2 of this blog, we will discuss the strategies and tactics Madoff used to build his business – that we can emulate as well.

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


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