Last weekend’s 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks overshadowed another important milestone for me personally.
On Friday, September 11, 1981, a then 24-year-old CPA joined a small, little-known Syosset, Long Island-based accounting firm called Marcum & Kliegman. Founded by Edwin Marcum and Edwin J. Kliegman in Flushing, New York in 1951, 30 years later Marcum & Kliegman was a firm of six people billing $300,000 annually.
I was the 7th person when I joined that September Friday, after spending my first two years in the accounting profession at one of the then “Big Eight.” And the last 40 years have been a hell of a ride.
By 1985 we had doubled in size, Ed Marcum was turning 65 and was ready to retire, and not only was I fortunate enough to inherit his client base, which included the world-renowned, best-selling novelist Robert Ludlum, but I assumed his role as the Firm’s administrative partner, which at that time basically entailed signing checks.
So, Ed Kliegman and I continued to build the Firm, and by 1990 we had about 25 people including five partners. It was time for us to add some more structure to our growing practice, so I was elected our firm’s first Managing Partner, a role I had until 2017, when my title changed to Chairman & CEO.
Ed Kliegman retired at the end of 1991, and we continued to build the Firm. Our next milestone occurred in 1996 when we became a 2-office firm by expanding into New York City with the addition of David Bukzin (our current Vice Chair) and his practice. And we continued to grow.
The early 2000s were very good to us. We continued to expand our core clientele of privately held, entrepreneurial, family businesses, while at the same time developing a client base of hedge funds, private equity funds and small publicly traded companies. We were in the right place at the right time when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted in 2002. Many in the accounting profession dubbed it “the accountants’ full employment act.” And Marcum & Kliegman continued to grow.
By the summer of 2008, we were 450 people working out of two offices in Woodbury, Long Island, and New York City. And then, as they say, “the music stopped.”
Bear Stearns had gone out of business in March 2008, Lehman Brothers was failing and ultimately went out of business in September, and the liquidity in the capital markets that had fueled the economic growth of the 2000s suddenly dried up. The economy froze and actually started to contract for the first time in my working career. And Marcum & Kliegman felt it. So we needed a new game plan.
Our executive committee at the time embraced the idea that if we weren’t going to grow organically, as we had done since the beginning, but wanted to continue to grow, the only way would be through M&A (mergers & acquisitions.) We quickly created a strategic plan that had us looking for suitable M&A targets in the top 15 business markets in the country: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit, just to name a few.
And two short years later, by the end of 2010, we were able to expand into South Florida, Philadelphia, LA and San Francisco. We doubled in size to 900 people in nine offices and became a national firm. In 2009, we changed the name of the Firm from Marcum & Kliegman to Marcum LLP. My phone call to Ed Kliegman to let him know we were dropping his name was one of the most difficult of my professional career, but Ed, with his trademark character and grace, understood the reasons behind the change and gave us his blessing to do it.
The rest, as they say, is history. But we’re not done yet.
Today, we are 2,500 strong including 350 partners. We just promoted 29 of our associates to partner, our largest partner class ever. And we’re continuing to grow.
Stay tuned next week for some insight into our strategic growth plan.