Natasha: You mentioned you didn’t have any mentors, but how did you build that support system as young as you were?
Liz: Well, I left on really good terms from the publishing house I worked at. And that was really key. So I immediately got them as a client. And because I had been working with other publishing houses and had friends in the publishing space, they immediately were not only supportive and guided me — because they were older and more experienced — but also helped me get work with them. So that combination really made a difference for me.
And over the years, I think I met good people along the way that — you know, in some ways they became friends, even though they were clients — they rallied and wanted us to be successful. I think I was lucky with client-friendships, I had a lot of support along the way.
Natasha: That’s great . Richard, did you have a similar experience? What did your path to entrepreneurship look like?
Richard: Well, I did not grow up in an entrepreneurial family; my father worked for UPS. So the first job I got — my first real, significant accounting job — was working at this internship where the partner, Alan Kahn, took a liking to me and became a mentor. He had inherited his practice from his father. And I loved working there. I was doing everything and absorbing everything. And what would happen is that once or twice a month he would come over to my desk and lay out a plan for me. The plan was always the same: graduate college, pass the CPA exam, get some experience, then start my own practice. So I would hear this once or twice a month every month for three years. Over and over and over again.
And then he would take me to social clubs, networking events, and client lunch meetings. And again, for me at 18 or 19 years old, I’m embarrassed to say it took a little while for me to realize these were networking opportunities. I was at a very young age and was being put in front of some very powerful people. And you know, if there was ever a time where we could have lunch with the client, Alan would take me out with the client. So those three years while I was working there, I got exposed to a lot of things, got pulled into a lot of meetings, and was given a lot of responsibility. And I loved it! I mean, it was to the point where I didn’t want to go to class anymore. I spent as little of my energy giving to school as humanly possible.
And that’s kind of been my experience throughout my career. I’ve always had great mentors and I would always seek out people that looked like what I wanted to do next. That’s always been my secret: to find people. And my second secret is: how to then find a way to surpass those same people. Because I’m always very competitive! But that was kind of a quick and dirty way of explaining my journey. Mentorship has been pretty huge for me.
Liz: That’s really cool.
Natasha: Yeah, that’s so cool that you had somebody at such a young age doing that and advocating for you. Can you talk about how you went about finding mentors after that first experience?
Richard: One of my college professors was a mentor, Diane Gold. She was not that much older than the rest of the class; she was about 26 years old, and had her Bachelors, Masters, CPA, and PhD all at the same time. She was the type of person that thought if she has to work hard, everyone has to work hard. And at the same time, we’d be in class cracking jokes because we were all around the same age.
She was kind of tough on me because I was not one who liked to go to class. And she pretty much advised me that I had to go to class. Ultimately I ended up going to all the classes and aced all of her classes. But she was always very tough on me; if I got a 95% she would be focusing on the 5 points I’d missed. She would always push me. She was so tough that when I introduced her to the woman I was dating in college she said, “That’s not going to work out for you”. She was that tough! I mean, she was right, but that’s besides the point [laughs].
And after I graduated I come to find out that she lived in my neighborhood and I would run into her all the time! And she’d always ask what I was up to, and I’d tell her, “I did this and I did that,” and she would respond, “Oh okay, that’s good,” and would walk away. She was the kind of person that would have a party after the semester was over, bringing together former and current students. And going to a party with accountants was not my idea of a fun time. But one time, after I had graduated, I went to the party and I ran into one of her students, and she goes, “You’re Richard Levychin? Diane talks about you all the time, she is so proud of you. She always holds you up as an example of what we’re supposed to be doing”.
And after that, another mentor I have by the name of Stewart Robinson worked at a firm where I was a manager and he was on partnership track. I remember I worked for the firm for a week, and this guy — Stewart Robinson — comes walking in after being out in the field wearing a double-breasted plaid suit with french cuffs on the bottom, pleated pants, white starched shirt, silk tie, two-toned watch, cufflinks, Gucci glasses, and his hair slicked back — I mean, this guy is like Gordon Gecko, CPA. And I looked at the way I was dressed, in a blue or gray suit, brown shoes, Timex watch, polyester tie. And within three months, I was wearing double-breasted suits with suspenders, wingtip shoes, and the whole thing. He showed me how to use clothes to convey an attitude to advance in the firm.
And my most recent mentor is Charlie Weinstein, CEO of Eisner Ramper. Probably, in my opinion, one of the best managing partners in the country. My old firm had a joint venture with Eisner Amper called KBL Eisner. And he was just a great mentor in terms of always kind of keeping your cool and how to carry yourself — a certain level of professionalism, and never letting anything get to you…but at the same time being really smart. So I had some really great mentors throughout my career.
Liz: You know what’s funny, Richard? Just hearing you speak, two things really resonate with me. One is related to that woman that was pretty tough on you. I worked while I was in college — on breaks, or anytime I was off — and I did an internship at HarperCollins. And my boss was really tough on me. I remember needing to take a day off because I had furniture being delivered and she was like, “No, I need you here”. And I was like, gosh, I’m just an intern! But she really taught me this sense of being the right type of employee, caring about time, and also advocating for myself. Even though at the time I thought she was so hard on me, it really set the tone for my work ethic.
The other part I find interesting is when you were talking about clothing. That was really important to me because, at the time, I looked so young. So even though I was 24, I probably looked like I was 19. The only way to compensate for that was that I tried to really dress up. And I always — even if I didn’t have clients coming to my office — wore nice clothes. You can ask anyone who’s ever worked for me, I never wore jeans. Not once! Because I felt like people would take me more seriously if I was dressed more business-like. So it’s funny to hear you say that because those two things really resonated with me.
Natasha: I also love that fashion is part of your mentorship conversation right now. Clothes have a way of expressing what can’t necessarily be said.