Anybody Going to the SEC Institute Smaller Reporting Company Conference in Las Vegas? Questions?

I’m looking forward to attending The SEC Institute‘s 8th Annual SEC Reporting & FASB Forum for Midsized & Smaller Companies on September 20 and 21 at the fabulous Four Seasons in Las Vegas. This will be my 5th year attending, and it is a treasure trove of information on current SEC reporting issues, PCAOB workings, comment letter matters, FASB issues and more. I anticipate learning a lot and generating a lot of posts from it as well.

Anybody going? If so, please let me know, as I’d love to meet face to face.

Not going? Let me know any questions you might have. I’ll see if I can address them and get back to you.

Viva Las Vegas!

The Last Day of Kaddish for my Mother

I wrote the following January 9, 2009 as a note on Facebook, before I think I had a blog (definitely before this one). I got to my office after saying Kaddish (read below for more information) and I just had to write something. Saying Kaddish for my mother was an unexpected experience, one I felt I had to capture in words.

Nearly four years later, I’d write it a little differently, but I think it is still one of the best things I ever wrote. Just wish that the event that ultimately led to it, namely my mother’s death, never happened.

The picture is from about 1957

*  *  *  *  * 

As many of you know, my mother passed away the evening of Tuesday, February 19, 2008 (14 of Adar I on the Hebrew calendar). Today is the 13th of Tevet, 11 months less one day. And that is the amount of time you are supposed to say Kaddish for a parent.

Yesterday, I was driving to the office after a doctor’s appointment. I was listening to sports talk radio and the topic was what is the one thing you did in your life that you are least proud of. Predictably, almost of the callers were talking about incredible stories of alcohol abuse (mostly at Central Michigan University).

I don’t want to address that topic.

Kaddish Yatom (or just Kaddish) is the memorial prayer said for a parent, spouse, sibling or child. Kaddish is said 6 times a day at my synagogue – 4 times during the morning service, once in the afternoon service and once in the evening service. There is an additional Kaddish said Friday during Kabbalat Shabbat. That’s 43 times a week. Over 11 months less one day that comes to close to 2,000 times you say Kaddish.

You can’t say Kaddish by yourself. You need to have a community of 10 adult Jews to say Kaddish and certain other prayers. That generally means you have to go a synagogue twice a day – first thing in the morning, and then late afternoon or evening for the afternoon and evening services (they are generally said one after the other).

My mother was buried on Thursday February 21 (15 of Adar I). We had Shiva for the full week. Friday morning February 22 I went to our synagogue for morning services and I have been in a synagogue every day since then. And not just once a day – for every day but maybe 20 I was there twice a day.

I have said Kaddish at my synagogue, B’nai Moshe. I’ve said Kaddish most Monday – Thursday afternoons at Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. I’ve said Kaddish at a couple of Reform congregations, at a couple of other Conservative congregations, at Young Israel of Southfield, at an Orthodox synagogue in West Bloomfield, and at the Hillel at University of Michigan. I’ve said Kaddish at a small Orthodox congregation in Las Vegas, at a modern Orthodox congregation in downtown Chicago, at a Conservative synagogue in Toronto, at a very small Orthodox congregation in Toronto and at a Chabad Lubavitch congregation in Toronto where I had no idea what was going on. I’ve said Kaddish at my brother in-law’s house after the 1st Passover Seder, at my sister’s house before the 2nd Passover Seder, and at my wife’s cousin’s house in Okemos during a party for their son’s Bar Mitzvah. I said Kaddish at the MSU Chabad with people I had never met before who stayed a couple of hours extra so I could say Kaddish for a Shabbat Mincha (afternoon service).

I did this at first because it was for my mother. I saw my father do this for my grandfather (my mother’s father), for his mother and my mother do this for her mother. I have seen others do it over the years. I did this because it was the right thing to do.

But I got far more from doing this than I expected. I have gotten to know many people I’ve known for a long time at B’nai Moshe much better – many of whom were also saying Kaddish. I have gotten to know many wonderful people at Shaarey Zedek in Southfield that I would never have gotten to know if I hadn’t gone there to say Kaddish. I met people, if only briefly, at the other synagogues where I said Kaddish that I would have otherwise never met.

Saying Kaddish became a very important part of the grieving process for me. There is something very comforting in saying Kaddish with your fellow mourners that has helped me deal with the grief from losing my mother.

There have been times where it has been more difficult. Thanksgiving day I was leading services and thinking about my mother, because her disease first surfaced the day before Thanksgiving 2006. As we were nearing the final two recitations of Kaddish at the morning service, Cantor Berris announced we were saying a special reading for Thanksgiving. I found it and read the first few words, which were something along the lines of “How the mighty have fallen.” And I broke down in tears and struggled to say the final two recitations of Kaddish.

As this day approached, I thought of how to mark the end of the Kaddish period. During Maariv (evening) services last night, I said the entire Hashchevaynu paragraph out loud. This prayer starts with “Lay us down to sleep in peace, raise us erect to life and spread over us the shelter of your peace.” This morning I said all of Psalm 20 out loud; Psalm 20 is said at most non Sabbath morning services and is viewed as a prayer to G-d for help in times of distress. For this afternoon, I plan on saying the Shema Kolaynu prayer in the Amidah with special emphasis – “Hear our voice, pity and be compassionate to us, and accept – with compassion and favor – our prayer.” I broke down last night and this morning when doing this, and I suspect I will again this afternoon.

A couple of months ago, I realized I was “ready” for the Kaddish period to be over. Now that is over, I’m not so sure. Saying Kaddish has been a means of connection to my mother. That connection will now be lost. I will have to find other ways to maintain a sense of connection to her.

I have been asked by many people why I have done this. Not many people these days say Kaddish every day for the 11 months. I can’t answer for other people. I am not an overly assertive person. I try to do what I think is right and hope that my example inspires others to do what is right. I needed to do this for my mother, and for me, to show others how I honor my mother and her memory. Until just now I don’t think I realized it was probably the best way I could ever keep the commandment to “Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long upon the soil which G-d, your G-d, is giving you.”

Some people call sports talk radio stations and talk about a particular episode of alcohol abuse as the thing they are least proud of. I am proud of my wife and my children. And at the risk of losing some humility, I am proud that I have been able to honor my mother and her memory in this way.

Zichrona liv’racha – May her memory be for a blessing.

To Sign Your Name or Not To Sign Your Name, That is the Question

It’s back to school shopping season in metro Detroit. My wife and kids were doing their economic duty yesterday and, among other places, shopped at Sears. To their credit, Sears has started emailing receipts upon request, which my wife dutifully forwards to me.

This is how the beginning of the receipt read:

Thank you for shopping at our Novi store, and for letting me assist you with your purchase.

This eReceipt is a convenience exclusive to Shop Your Way RewardsSM Members! Please keep it on file for your reference. If you’d like to view details on your order, or to return or exchange an item, visit the Order Center.

It was my pleasure serving you. Hope to see you back in our store soon!

Your Sears Associate
Associate #:54601

I mean this is really nicely done. HTML and all. It’s just the signature part that really bothers me. It’s like going through a toll booth where the nameplate says “Officer #2439.” That completely destroys the experience for me.

This of course gets me off track. The PCAOB is considering having auditors of public company audits disclose the name of the engagement partner. Somehow this is supposed to improve audit quality. My inclination, in case you haven’t figured it out by the previous sentence, is that this is unnecessary.

Now I question that thought. I didn’t like getting a receipt from Sears signed by Associate #54601. Maybe the users (think customers) of our audit report doesn’t like getting an anonymous signature either.

To Sign Your Name or Not To Sign Your Name, That is the Question.

The Definition of Just a Few Minutes Seems To Vary

The plane pulls back from the gate about 10 minutes late. It’s a Delta 757, with the narrow aisle and 42 rows that takes forever to load, especially when the overhead bins fill up.

We slowly taxi to the runway, and then taxi right on past it and onto the deicing pad. Seeing that it is late August in Detroit, this tells me something is going on.

After a couple of minutes of sitting, the pilot comes on and says

“We’re going to be delayed just a few minutes. There are some weather delays in Atlanta but we will be getting underway shortly. We are still expecting an on-time arrival in Atlanta.”

My definition of “just a few minutes” is 5 minutes. The pilot’s definition was more like 20 minutes and by the way we are going to be 20 minutes late.

And I think to myself that this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this difference in definition. Pilots always says “just a few minutes” and it always winds up being a lot more than 5 minutes.

Why can’t they just tell it like it is. I’m much more patient when I know it is going to be 20 minutes than when I’m thinking it is going to be 5 minutes and it stretches out further.

This gets me thinking. Delta, the vendor, and I, the customer, and I have a very different definition of the meaning of a key piece of information. Delta is kind of a big company, with lots of systems, marketing professionals, you name it, and they can’t get this piece of communication right. I’m a partner in an eight person firm. Are we getting our communications to our customers right? Delta can’t. Am I sunk? I don’t have the same resources.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can get it right, and I try to get it right. Part of that is by making sure I communicate clearly to our customers and get an understanding of their expectations. That is one reason we bill fixed fees on almost everything we do (and we do a lot of auditing). No surprises to the customer. Because you know what happens when you send out an engagement letter that says “our fee estimate is $6,000 – $10,000.” The customer see $6,000, and the CPA firm sees $10,000 with the possibility of overages.

My lesson for the day: Communicate to your customers (and vendors and everyone else you deal with) clearly. Everyone comes out happier.

p.s. I’m writing from 30,000 feet on Delta 1175 Detroit to Atlanta; I connect from there to Sarasota and then a short drive to Venice. Back to Detroit tomorrow night. I know you wanted to know that.

p.p.s. TripIt says we are going to be 30 minutes late, but the pilots haven’t told us yet. Not surprised.

Did You Know You Can Tag Your LinkedIn Connections? I Didn’t

I attended a two hour session this morning at Gerry Weinberg & Associates, the leading Detroit area Sandler Sales Training affiliate. The topic: Using LinkedIn to Get More Referrals. Naturally I attended.

One thing I learned was how to group your connections using the tag feature. I’m not sure how I missed out on this one, but it is there.

Using this feature, is incredibly easy.  All you need to do is select Contacts from the menu bar. On the drop down, select Connections. On the resulting screen, you will see where it says All Connections down the left. Immediately under that, you will see the various tags. Click on one and you can see who you have grouped into that tag.

LinkedIn seems to do some automatic tagging. When I looked at this earlier today, I had the following tags in place:

  • partners
  • friends
  • group members
  • colleagues
  • classmates
  • untagged

I’m guessing that LinkedIn did some automatic tagging based on my profile and connections profiles. For example, it has tagged 44 connections as colleagues – looking through it is a combination of people I indeed worked with at some point, and people that had a common past employer, usually Deloitte.

Friends is a bit more of a mystery, as it had people that I wouldn’t automatically put into a “friends” category. I’m wondering if that is based on the connection invitation where people indicate they are a friend.

You can modify the tags – delete any you want, and add new ones. You can also tag a connection more than once. That could be good for someone you went to school with, then worked with and is now a client.

One thing I don’t like (because I can be very anal) is that the tags all start with lower case letters. That just drives me nuts, so I’m going to do some cleaning up of this.

Any other tips you think people might not know? Please reply and let me know. Because I might not know it either!

PCAOB Adopts AS16, Communication With Audit Committees

The PCAOB unanimously adopted AS16, Communication With Audit Committees. I could write a great summary for you, but my friend Edith Orenstein, who write the fabulous Financial Reporting Blog for Financial Executives International, already did.

My firm will be watching for the expected SEC approval and will adjust our communication with audit committees as required. I will withhold judgement on whether the PCAOB statement that this requires no additional work is accurate.

Cold Callers Always Give Themselves Away

I can sniff out a cold call to my office in about 1.4 seconds. Because after I answer the phone, the response is always “Hey, how are you doing today.” Not “Hi Joel, how are you?” They never say your name.

This morning’s phone call went something like this (we don’t have an office manager right now so I often answer the main line):

Me:  Good morning, Silberstein Ungar. May I help you?

Caller: Hey, how are you doing today?

Me: Fine. How are you?

Caller: Good. I need to talk to your controller or collections person.

Me: No you don’t.

I could hear him still talking as I hung up the phone.

This is what I don’t understand: who came up with this “great way” to start off a cold call? I don’t catch onto everything, but I figured this one out well over 10 years ago.

Memo to self:

  • When calling a prospect, don’t start off with “Hey, how are you doing today?”
  • Know the name of the person I’m trying to reach.
  • Use their name.


Artificial versus Natural Flavoring

Remember the Seinfeld episode “The Invitations”? It is most famous for George’s fiancee Susan dying from the poison glue on their wedding invitations. But there is a side plot where Kramer gets mad at his bank. The bank promises customers $100 if an employee doesn’t say “Hello.” Kramer gets upset when the teller says “Hey” to him instead of “Hello” and demands his $100. There is a really funny scene where Kramer is meeting the bank manager and a bunch of employees go by saying “How you doing?,”  ”What’s happening?” and “What’s up?” Kramer ultimately settles for $20.

We’ve been in our office building for nearly seven years, and for most of that time have used the bank in our building. It was a small local bank but provided very good service and had excellent deposit availability rules. Earlier this year, the bank failed and was taken over by Huntington Bank. While the name on the door changed overnight, the branch experience didn’t change at first. Over a couple of months they repainted and redecorated. They also got rid of the free cookies for customers, which I still think is short sighted.

Another Huntington change: the employees have to say “Welcome” when you come in the door. And they do. And I keep thinking it just seems totally artificial. I’m wondering if they’ve done surveys and ask people “What do you think of when you go to Huntington” and the response is “I’m always welcomed.” Success! The real question is “Do you like it?”

I can tell you it is creeping me out and I don’t like going there. I’d much prefer “Hey” or “”How you doing?” or “What’s happening?” or “What’s up?” to hearing “Welcome” every time I walk through the door. Feels like “The Stepford Wives.”

Go natural. Everyone sees through artificial.

The Worst Part of Busy Season

Ask me “what is the worst part of busy season” and I’ll tell you exactly what it is. My firm and my clients get the best part of me for 3 1/2 months solid. By the time I get home after 12 – 13 hours at the office, there is nothing left for my family.

I can take the fatigue. I can take not taking good care of myself. It really irritates me that  when I get home to the most important people in my life I’m totally useless. I can’t pay attention to conversations. I plop on the couch and watch TV for an hour or so, go to bed, and repeat it the next day.

Idea for the AICPA: Drop initiatives like “Feed the Pig” and get serious on improving the quality of life for CPAs in public practice.

Most Overused Professional Buzzwords for 2011 Per LinkedIn

My LinkedIn Today feed right now shows a Time magazine article called Ten Buzzwords To Take Off Your LinkedIn Profile Now. You can either read through that article or read the actual list here.

I’m happy to say I, based on my definition, don’t have them on my profile.

Ok two of them appear, but it is ok:

  • Creative – this word appears twice. Once is in the name of a former employer, College for Creative Studies. The other instance is in a recommendation.
  • Problem solving – appears in a recommendation.

Like I said, based on my definition, I don’t have them on my profile, because I didn’t put them there.

Run the list and see how you do. Interested to hear your results!