Tax and financial advice from the Silicon Valley expert.

Tips for a rewarding career and life

On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, I received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Silicon Valley, San Jose chapter of CalCPA (the California Society of Certified Public Accountants.) The award is given by the chapter’s Board of Directors in recognition of service to the chapter and the profession to one member each year. The chapter has about 4,000 members.

Here is the text of my acceptance speech. I hope you’ll find some of the tips useful.

Thank you to the Silicon Valley San Jose CalCPA chapter for this award.  I’m very honored to receive this award in appreciation for the service I’ve given to the chapter over the years.

The first person that I acknowledge relating to my career in public accounting is my wife, Janet.  Last year, we celebrated 50 years of marriage.  We were married at age 19.  Since I was married and started a family, I HAD to decide on a career direction.  Janet made it clear that she didn’t want to be married to a starving actor.  My experiences in selling led me to studying business and, when I transferred to San Jose State after graduating from West Valley College, most of my classmates who said they were going to be CPAs switched to be marketing majors, so I thought this might be an area with less competition.  I didn’t really know what a CPA was, and had read it was a great place to be exposed to different businesses.  Over the years, I was able to fashion a practice that supported a good family life.  Janet has been a terrific life partner, mother and grandmother.  I was very fortunate that she married me and that we built a great life together.

The second person that I acknowledge is my daughter, Dawn Siemer.  Dawn is my office manager, editor and web master.  She has worked with me since she was age 12.  Dawn loves working with computers, so she readily accepted the job of getting us on the internet.  We were profiled in the October, 1997 issue of the Journal of Accountancy and KNTV News as an early CPA firm on the web.  We also have published several newsletters and several books, and have posted episodes of our public access television show, Financial Insider Weekly, to a YouTube channel, financialinsiderweek.

The third person that I acknowledge is my former partner, Rich Hubler.  Rich taught me the discipline of regular investing, including regularly contributing to my retirement account.  He also helped me improve my workpaper techniques and together we learned to operate our CPA firm in a businesslike manner.  We also shared firm white water rafting adventures with our clients and our families. 

Next, thank you to Thi Nguyen, the successor to my tax practice, and many other employees and interns that I had the pleasure of training and working with over the years.

During my career, I was fortunate to have many mentors and associates that helped me develop as a professional, starting with Alex Berger at Berger, Lewis and Company and then the partners and managers and my fellow employees at KMG Main Hurdman, which included many of the individuals on the past presidents list for this chapter.  Honorable mention to Professor Jerry Kasner of Santa Clara University, who I followed for many years, studying with him about estate planning and post-mortem tax planning, before his untimely death.

Here are a few thoughts, especially directed to the students that we’re honoring here today.

  1. Your race to learn is just begun.  Successful people have big libraries.  Not so successful people have big televisions.  When I was getting started in public accounting, I chose a book to study about a special area of taxation to study, like estates, trusts, partnerships or corporations, each year.  I don’t have a Masters in Taxation degree.  I have read many of the textbooks that are used for Masters in Taxation classes.  Practitioner’s Publishing Company has books on special subjects that are less expensive than other alternatives, with good explanations.  As legislation was passed and regulations were issued, I would study them, and read the committee reports and preambles for the regulations.  Eventually I spoke about them whenever they were passed.  When I encountered a difficult technical area, like LIFO or employee stock options, I would study everything I could find about it.  Eventually I built a technical base of knowledge for my areas of interest few others could match.
  • How you progress will depend more on your ability to get along with others, your social skills, than anything else.  Some of your reading should be devoted to understanding people.  Two old books that I found helpful are How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger.
  • Another important skill is communicating effectively.  A great support group for public speaking is Toastmasters.

Two more old books that I found helpful are The Classic Guide to Better Writing by Rudolf Flesch and Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business by Dale Carnegie. 

  • You might have heard from your parents about how fast time passes as you get older.  Now that you’re graduating from college, it will pass very quickly.  Time is actually our most valuable resource or asset.  Use your time wisely.  Once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced.  Almost everything else is replaceable.  A great book about time management is No BS Time Management by Dan Kennedy.
  • I recently watched a TED talk by Robert Waldinger, What Makes a Good Life?  He shared the results of a 75-year study following Harvard graduates and children from a poor Boston neighborhood.  Initially, the subjects were men, and the wives of several of them later joined the study.  The conclusion was having satisfying relationships was the most important factor for having a long, happy, healthy life.  Loneliness kills.  You might want to look it up online.

Ours is a service profession.   The emotional rewards of building lasting relationships with our clients are as great, possibly greater, than any financial rewards that we enjoy.

It’s common to get so engrossed in your work that you neglect your family.  That’s a big mistake.  Your children will be grown before you know it.  Take time to enjoy their childhood.

  • These are especially challenging times financially.  It seems almost impossible to buy a home in this area.  Even so, I urge you to study personal financial planning and to start as soon as possible saving regularly in a tax-favored retirement account.  Even though they don’t have the short-term tax advantages of a regular 401(k), I think Roth accounts have the best long-term benefits for young people.

I also urge you to manage your debt.  I was surprised to hear my fellow employees say, “Just use plastic!” if they didn’t have the cash to pay for expenses.  My wife and I have always had the policy of paying off our credit card bill each month.  The interest charged for credit card balances is the highest that banks charge.  A big credit card balance can be a crushing burden.  Our home is clear of mortgage debt, which makes our monthly “nut” manageable for retirement.  When you own a home, I encourage you to make a goal of having it be debt-free as soon as possible.  Refinancing with a 30-year mortgage usually isn’t a good strategy.

  • Take care of your health.  If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation.  Better yet, don’t drink at all, so you can think clearly.   Exercise regularly.  Eat healthy food.  Get your sleep.
  • I encourage you to join and be active in CalCPA.  I also encourage employers who are CalCPA members to take your team members to CalCPA activities.  CalCPA offers great continuing education and social activities.  It also offers to opportunity to be involved in the legislative process through participating in lobbying.  You can also build rewarding relationships with fellow professionals and sometime connect with employment and partnership opportunities with fellow CalCPA members.

Thank you again for this recognition and congratulations and best wishes to our student honorees.

Tax and financial advice from the Silicon Valley expert.