Liz Reitman

5 min | Leadership & Management Musings

Founders in Focus: A Conversation Between Liz Reitman and Richard Levychin, CPA

A Conversation between Liz Reitman (Reit Founder) and Richard Levychin, CPA (Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors)

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Reit’s founder Liz Reitman sits down with Richard Levychin, CPA, a Partner with Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors and fellow EO member to discuss entrepreneurship and our experience in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)  in our latest Founders in Focus series. Join us to learn about their founding stories, their experience creating community as entrepreneurs, and navigating the business world as minority owners.

Liz: Okay, hello everyone! My name is Liz Reitman from Reit and I have the honor and privilege to have Richard Levychin, a friend and fellow entrepreneur, with us here today to continue our Founders in Focus series. We’re going to be talking about entrepreneurship as well as some of our unique experiences belonging to the same organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). So I’m going to let Natasha take over and lead our questions. 

Natasha: Thank you Liz. And thank you Richard for being here. 

Richard: My pleasure.

What do you do and for how long have you owned your businesses?

Natasha: So, let’s get started with the basics. Who are you, what do you do, and how long have you been doing what you’ve been doing?

Richard: Yes. Hi, my name is Richard Levychin. I am a CPA and I am a partner with the accounting firm Galleros Robinson. Galleros Robinson is about 60-odd people with offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Philippines. I run the New York office with my partner Stewart Robinson. And I’ve been doing this for over 30-odd years. My first accounting job was actually as an 18-year-old sophomore in college where I had the opportunity to work for an accounting firm. So it’s been over 40-something years that I have been actually working in the accounting profession. 

Liz: Wow, I’m actually learning already [laughs]. So hopefully most people know, my name is Liz Reitman. I am the founder and principal of Reit. We’ve changed our name — it used to be reitdesign — because we do so much more than design, but our core is branding and marketing. We’ve been around for 26 years (this is our 26th year). And our range of services cover quite a lot because we are certified as a WBE (a Woman Business Enterprise) so we work a lot with the city and the state. But we’re also heavily involved with smaller businesses and the B2B market.

Richard, you started young in accounting; was this what you had always envisioned yourself pursuing professional?

Natasha: Awesome. So it sounds like both of you started when you were relatively young. Richard, I would love to hear if when you started at 18, if accounting was what you wanted to do?

Richard: Well, I went to college with no idea of what I wanted to do. So I ended up enrolling in Baruch College, which was one of the better business colleges in the country. And with my infinite 17-year-old wisdom, I decided to major in journalism [laughs]. So somewhere in the middle of the semester, I came to realize — I grew up in a solid middle-class upbringing, with food in the refrigerator, a car parked in the driveway, a lawnmower and a lovely house — that a writer’s salary was not necessarily going to pay for that. So I decided to make a shift over from liberal arts into business. And I went to look at all the business courses and I couldn’t imagine anyone paying an 18-year-old to do management, or marketing, or finance. But the whole concept of accounting actually appealed to me, so I decided to take an accounting class. And it worked out. Then I took another one. And then the next thing you know I had a couple under my belt and I decided to go find a part-time job. I interviewed with an accounting firm and got the job, which surprised the hell out of me. And I ended up working there for three years. It was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. 

Liz: That’s cool. 

How do you find that creativity within accounting?

Natasha: Richard, writing and journalism are outwardly creative. How do you find that creativity within accounting? 

Richard: Well, we do a lot of advisory work with companies, in particular with what we call emerging companies, to help them get to the next level. So, in essence, the biggest concern these companies have is growing themselves out of business. They need someone to let them know what they don’t know; or what they don’t know that they don’t know. And to anticipate what’s coming down the pipe. So we get involved with a lot of complicated deal structures, complicated tax structures, that require us to have a certain level of creativity in terms of how we go about things. The thing about accounting — depending on what type of accounting that you do — that’s kind of where the creativity comes in; structuring deal transactions properly, identifying tax mitigation strategies, and maybe putting a little extra twist on them. Also, when you’re dealing with individuals, you’re dealing with different personalities. The majority of my clients are CEOs or multi-million dollar companies. And there is a particular mindset here. 

Plus, the process of being an entrepreneur is, in my opinion, a creative process; you express your creativity through the creation of your firm as opposed to being a W-2 employee. So when you’re surrounded by entrepreneurial, creative people, in essence, you are with a bunch of creatives all the time. It’s just that we’re creative in a business sense. 

Liz: I like that.

Natasha: I love that. That’s really great to hear, too, because there are so many other ways to be creative in other avenues and definitely through entrepreneurship.

Liz, you started pretty young too; what did that look like?

Liz: Yes and I’ve talked about this. I started my firm when I was 24, which was, you know in hindsight, so silly [laughs] — I had no mentors, I had no idea what I was doing…I was just this rebellious individual that was frustrated with corporate America. I was a designer at Harper & Row and they were merging with Collins Publishers and becoming HarperCollins. And I saw them outsource the branding of the company for over a million dollars. This was in the very early 90s. And I was stunned because, you know when you’re that young you’re like, “Holy cow, that’s a lot of money!” — actually, I would say that now for a brand  [laughs]! At the time, there were 30 designers on staff..and I wondered why wouldn’t they go to the internal team?

Then I went on to John Wiley & Sons. I was pretty young when I was an Art Director there — I was 24 at the time — and the same thing happened there, where they outsourced their first website. And I actually went to the management team with other Art Directors at the time and said, “Let us do this!” and they said, “No, no. We’re going to outsource this”. They did that build for $500,000. So, I was like, what am I doing in-house?! Not making a lot of money and really not having great opportunities. 

So that’s why I started my own studio. And I really tried to set it up for what I always wanted. I was good with people listening to music and being able to talk, because we were creative. Coming from a corporate environment, they really didn’t like that, so I sort of made that my angle. And there was a lot of learning [throughout my business being open] and having to pivot, because so much has changed in the design world. You know, when I started, as embarrassing as this is, computers were just beginning. So I literally learned paste and mechanical. I have been really lucky to have great people on my team that pushed me and said, “No, no, we need to use this program” and “No, no, we need to learn this”. And that’s why I think we’ve been able to pivot enough over time to stay current with what’s happening in the industry.

Did you have any networks or mentors that supported your entrepreneurship journey? If so, what did these look like for you?

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. 

Are there any other mentors that really stick out to you from a young age? Or presently?

Richard: Liz, I’ll let you go first. 

Liz: I mean, honestly now, it’s so much about my EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) community. Literally, I have some younger people in my forum — this is a group of people I meet with once a month — and I am astounded at their capabilities being in their 30s. I have three people in my forum that have either sold their business or are in the process…I learn from each person, every time. So it kind of depends on how you view mentorship. The way I see it, a mentor is somebody that helps you, that you learn from, and that you can go to. And I feel like I have that. 

Being on the board for EO, I’ve learned so much watching the different presidents operate in their positions — how they lead other leaders, which I can’t imagine…what could be harder? [laughs] So I could list a ton of names, but I really look at it as that community on the whole has been a huge source of mentorship for me. 

Richard: I mean, for me, I’m kind of at that age where I am being asked to be more of a mentor, than actually having a mentor. But at the same time, you always want to have people that you can reach to; which is what is so great about EO. 

The other thing I’ve come to realize is the importance of mentors that you never ever meet. So, for me, Barack Obama is an example of how you handle yourself. And there were times where I would get into difficult situations and I would simply ask myself the following question, ‘What would Obama do?’ Watching him carry himself has made an astounding difference to me in how I chose to carry myself, particularly when in difficult situations. 

Liz: I love that. Hmm. I mean I can also add honestly — and this is a little deeper — that my therapist is a mentor. Because that person is constantly pointing out my blind spots and/or how I respond to things and why. She helps me look at things differently. So it’s not just about being a business person, it’s about being a better human. Which, in the end, makes you a better business person. So I know that has been tremendous in my life.

You are both members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). What made you interested in joining EO?

Natasha: I have the chills, y’all! That’s pretty cool. There is a lot to be said about working on ourselves as both people and as business people…because in the end we’re all human. Since we’re on the EO path, could you talk about how you found Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)? And what made you decide to join?

Richard: I’ll let Liz go first. 

Liz: Okay. So I had been doing an organization called BNI, Business Network International, and I served there for about 7 years. It was great because that made me think about my business differently. I had to go every week — the meetings started at 7am and you had to network for the other individuals [in the organization] as well; they were kind of like your sales team. And I realized that I wasn’t very good at presenting my business because, up until that point, any time I had pitched my business, people were familiar with me or reitdesign. And I always had visuals. So here, for the first time ever, I’m standing up with a group of people that may not understand branding — someone’s who is doing insurance or an attorney, and I have to try to explain it in a way where I don’t have visuals, that will make them interested, and will give them the ability to try to get me business. And it was great. 

But after seven years, I felt like I had outgrown it. There were a lot of solopreneurs and sales people there and I was really looking for larger projects [at that point]. And so New York offered an MBA bootcamp through NYU Stern School of Business and the Mayor’s office — which I signed up for — and there I met some other entrepreneurs and someone told me about EO. One of the cohorts said, “You know, you have to get invited, it’s really tough to get in, you have to have a minimum revenue of a million dollars…” So I was very intrigued. Then I went to what was called S-Drive at the time, which was an opportunity to meet the [EO] members. And immediately I was like, ‘Yeah, this is for me.’ 

Richard: And for me, I just kept getting these — I don’t know why! — these emails about this organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization. So, finally I decided to go and I remember seeing this fabulous spread of food at my first meeting. I had a really good meal, so they had me at food [laughs], but ultimately once I had digested the food and actually had time to take a look at the organization away from the buffet table, I came to realize the value and potential of the organization. This year I celebrated my 20th year as an EO member. And it’s been a life-altering experience on the business level and on the personal level. 

Natasha: Wow, 20 years, Richard. That’s a long time. 

Richard: Yeah, it’s a long time. I mean, there are people that have been here 30 years, but it’s been a great experience overall. You know, it’s had its hiccups and its bumps, just like anything else, but on an overall basis it’s probably one of the main drivers in terms of me having the level of success that I have been able to have as an entrepreneur. 

Liz: Huh!

Richard: Can’t see me doing entrepreneurship without it. And not just because the community as a whole has great learning sessions, but the opportunity to be able to spend time with other entrepreneurs. You just never know where your next idea is coming from. It could be from a learning session or just BS’ing with a couple of guys…somebody floats an idea. And then you’re off to the next phase, you’re back in the office to institute it. The ROI on it has been phenomenal. Putting aside personal relationships, the financial ROI for me has been phenomenal. 

Liz: I can say that what’s been an interesting flip for me — you’re not supposed to solicit business — but because I have become so heavily involved, I think people have become familiar with me, so I’ve indirectly gotten a lot of business through EO. Which is very different for me because I never went in there thinking that would happen, but I think that’s the natural relationships, associations…everyone is always going to need some sort of marketing and design, that I’ve actually added quite a number of members to our roster of clients, which has been very interesting. 

Natasha: Wow. How long have you been a part of EO, Liz? 

Liz: I think it’s about seven years. And for me I think my experience really magnified when I joined the board, which I didn’t expect. I kind of went in begrudgingly [laughs], because I was very busy and I didn’t know when I would have the time; but it was really fun and interesting to meet new people that were not just in my forum. For the past couple of years there has been a coach for the board, and I really enjoy watching the coach manage our board because we were almost treated like our own business. So that gave me a lot of insights that I wasn’t expecting. 

And then really understanding the global reach of the organization; getting the opportunities to go to Global Leadership Training, which was in Macau, China. I’m going to Africa in April through the organization. Meeting people from all over the world that are so like-minded, just opened my eyes so much more than what New York is — though I get so much from my New York crew. 

Natasha: Richard, do you take part in some of the global opportunities? 

Richard: I tend to stay within New York. I’ve dabbled a bit on the international front, but Interesting enough, I have become friendly with a lot of people who have visited EO New York from other countries. So aside from going to the annual EO Dubai holiday party, I have not had that experience.

Entrepreneurship can be considered a solo experience and can, at times, be lonely. How have you created and/or connected with communities throughout your time as entrepreneurs? What do these support systems look like now?

Natasha: It seems like there is still great value in what EO New York has to offer and having a community for entrepreneurs sounds like a really unique experience. Did you find, prior to joining EO, it easy to connect with other entrepreneurs? 

Richard: I think prior to EO, well this was my experience, I would go to a networking event. And there would be a mix of people. And it was like being in a thrift shop trying to find your tribe. Where in EO, it’s like being at Barneys, where everybody is your tribe. 

Liz: [laughs]

Richard: So it was actually a refreshing experience being able to be part of EO. You know, I’ve brought a lot of entrepreneurs to EO events and it takes them about three minutes to get into the flow [laughs]. Once they get a drink and look around. Just last week I invited one of my clients to an event — it was an EO New York happy hour — a very casual event. When you invite a guest, you feel a sense of responsibility for them, but there were plenty of times when he was chatting away with three or four people having a good old time. So that’s kind of the culture of EO; it’s more like being with your tribe than when you go to other typical networking events, which feels literally like being in a thrift store and trying to find the nuggets. 

Liz: I can’t add anymore [laughs]! I agree with everything you’ve said. I mean, it really is so interesting…I hadn’t even really thought about being an entrepreneur, I kind of just put my head down and was trying to keep going, juggling family life and raising kids. Those were the main things that were on my mind at the time. So it wasn’t about finding my people, but once I did I honestly look back and wish I would have had that in my 30s, because I definitely think my business would have been in a different place. 

Could you talk about familial support (or lack thereof) for your entrepreneurial pursuits?

Natasha: There are a lot of moving parts with being a business owner. Could you talk about your family support of your entrepreneurial pursuits? What did that type of support or lack thereof look like? 

Richard: Well, the story that comes to mind is after I had gotten my practice to the point where I could afford to buy my first apartment, my dad comes over, looks at me and says, “So when are you going to stop this foolishness and get a real job?” 

Liz: [laughs]

Richard: Yeah [laughs]. This was my first apartment, a one-bedroom apartment. And I don’t think he really got it until I bought the second 3,000 square foot apartment…and that’s when I think he got it. The truth is, in all fairness to him, entrepreneurs are not the majority. We’re just not. So, it’s very difficult for people that are raised with a W-2, health insurance, benefits-type mentality to understand entrepreneurship. Which is perfectly acceptable — nothing wrong with that. So, it’s okay that the family didn’t understand it. And for me it was all about not taking it personally. Like okay, I did take it personally — my dad didn’t get it — but ultimately that didn’t stop me, I kind of just kept going. Maybe part of it was to prove him wrong, I don’t know. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of support from the family because they don’t really understand that language or that lifestyle. 

Liz: I think for me it was the opposite because my dad was an entrepreneur; he owned his own recruiting company and my mom worked with him, so it was almost a no-brainer. Like having a job was weird! [laughs] And my father was a recruiter in the publishing space, which is basically why I started in that world. He had so many connections that I was able to get an internship. So, it made sense and it was all that I’ve ever known, really.

My husband at the time was an actor, so he in some ways was an entrepreneur too; he never really had that steady job. He was always going out there and trying to get that next gig. And together, we ended up buying into our bar called Prohibition on the Upper West Side that he was heavily involved in, we ended up investing in some burger chains, so we both kind of had that entrepreneurial spirit, which was great. And I think that really helped our relationship. But it was also hard because there were a lot of highs and lows. So there were many times when cash flow was tough. And because nobody had that steady job, we were always wondering if we were doing the right thing. But, you know, neither one of us wanted to change [laughs] so we stayed in that place and thank goodness it’s worked out [laughs]. 

Natasha: Yeah, I think that’s important to share; that there are highs and lows as an entrepreneur. And Richard, you were talking about that in relation to your dad that with a W-2 it’s pretty steady, all things considered, but in an entrepreneurial endeavor it can be high highs and low lows and everywhere in-between. 

Richard: No, I agree with you. I mean, as somebody that’s represented a lot of entrepreneurial clients within my practice you see that. We had this company in our portfolio called Sundial Fragrances and we started working with them when they had $5 million dollars in revenue and when we lost them as a client, they were doing $200 million dollars. And the only reason we lost them as a client was because they got bought out by a private equity firm. So we were with them in the beginning with their growing pains and then watching them blow up, that’s an exciting ride to be on, it really is. 

And in my experience, we’ve had a few clients that went the other way — it didn’t happen for them — and they had to go out and get jobs. And that’s part of it, you’re going to have some casualties. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I do know that less than 50% of entrepreneurial endeavors succeed. And part of the reason that some do not succeed, in my opinion, is that most entrepreneurs are very good at providing the service and making the product, but they don’t know anything about running a business because where would they have learned?

Liz: Right. 

Richard: That is the beauty of EO; a community of individuals where somebody within the group will have an answer to your problem. Somebody does. That’s kind of what we bring to the table. So, that could be the difference between making it as a business and not making it as a business. 

Natasha: That’s huge. Definitely having people around you who know what to do in situations that you haven’t yet experienced is invaluable. Y’all are making the case for EO over here! 

Liz: [laughs]

What has your experience been like as a Black man and as a white woman, respectively, in a white male-dominated space?

Natasha: What about the more tricky parts about EO? I know EO is a global organization and there are many different people, places, and things that make up EO, but EO New York is predominately white and male. Could you talk about your experiences as a Black man and white woman — as well as any invisible identities we have not mentioned? 

Richard: Liz, why don’t you go first. 

Liz: You know, it’s kind of been my mission since I’ve been in EO to bring diversity to the organization. I really go out of my way to do so. I guess I always knew that there were not as many women entrepreneurs, but once you’re in an organization and it’s right there in your face that becomes the reality. And definitely in terms of color, I’ll let Richard speak to that, there’s a lot of work to be done. 

But it’s hard to be a woman in EO. I just spoke at an EO event with a bunch of other female owners and it was interesting to hear other people share similar situations of what it’s like to juggle family versus being a business owner. And what the preconceived notions are — like one of our fellow entrepreneurs, her name is Sel, she would travel on business and people would say, “How could you not be with your kids?” There was so much judgment. And she would respond, “The dad’s home with them, it’s all good.” And I know from my experience as a female owner, many times when my ex-husband was working with me at the time, many people would only talk to him. When I went to open up my first bank account and said that I am the CEO, they would only talk to my husband at the time, Jim. So I’ve kind of dealt with that throughout my time in business. 

You know, the cool thing about EO is that a lot of the men have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). Because you’re really taught to delve deep into the emotions that you’re feeling when you’re bringing up issues that are coming up with your business or your personal life. So there is a different sensitivity that I think is helpful. But it’s still hard when you don’t see people like yourself. 

And there is just a difference between female and male [experiences]. So I know, when I share with them, they are funny because they’ve never had a woman before [in their forum] and they’re like, “Woah, that is such different feedback…you’re making me think differently, I’ve never talked about these types of things,” and I’m like, “Good! That’s great” [laughs]. 

And then I met someone at an EO event going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage. And he was glad there wasn’t a woman in his forum because he felt like he would not be able to share or be authentic. And that really made me scratch my head and I said, “That is such a weird thing to hear you say because if I was in your forum, I would have the best experience share for you because I had that same exact experience!” So you’re still sort of challenged with that thinking that ‘I can’t be as true to what I would be because there are females in the group’. And from what I understand, some women [feel similarly], they don’t want to be with men. In the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Accelerator (EOA) group, which is under $1 million revenue, it’s 50% women. And we’ve talked a lot about getting them into EO and why they don’t want to be there. And it can be intimidating. 

I have become very good friends with this woman, Debbie Kiederer, in EO New York. She and I were on the board and in our first year, we kept pretty quiet. We were taking it all in, we listened, we absorbed what was happening, and then we spoke up. We communicated about that between ourselves, and we agreed that that is how we usually approach a room; you don’t come out guns blazing because you get a reputation — and I know I’m generalizing, but this is our experience — where you like to be quiet, read the room, and then when you speak, people might be surprised because you were quiet, but we’re always going to add value, or at least try to. So, in some ways, being the female in the room we’ve had to learn how to work a little differently. 

Natasha: Thank you, Liz. There is a lot in there. 

Liz: I could have gone on [laughs]! 

Natasha: There is a lot in there and it’s important to share that your experience can be very different from many of the other people in the organization. There is so much value in that and there is a lot of work to do to make it so that is less-so the case — or different, so more people are more mindful of varying perspectives and experiences. 

Richard, would you be open to sharing your experiences?

Richard: Sure, I’ve just got a quick question for Liz. Top of your head, approximately how many women are in EO New York?

Liz: I think it’s less than 20% of the chapter.

Richard: So probably about 20 women? 

Liz: Maybe. Maybe more. 

Richard: Okay. So I’ve been an EO member, as I’ve said, for 20 years. And I would say fifteen out of those twenty years I have been the only Black member in EO New York. 

Liz: Which is insane. 

Richard: And the thing is, the way I would use to describe this from an organizational level is that this is typical. EO is no different from any other organization out there that is homogeneous in terms of what their membership looks like and the lack of diversity in their membership. So, Liz is saying there are approximately 20 women in EO. And I remember, having been a member of EO, how hard the women had to fight to get a seat at the table. It was a struggle, there was a lot of scratching and clawing. And the thing about EO is that, when you have an organization where the majority of the members come from other members, where the base is white and male and not particularly diverse, and these are the people leading the recruiting efforts, guess what you’re going to have? So, at the end of the day it is what it is. 

On a personal level, I have basically spent my entire career being the only Black guy in the room. So this is not the first time this has ever happened to me. By the time I came to EO I was well yoked in this experience, so you learn certain skills to navigate and accomplish what you need to accomplish when you’re in that situation. At the end of the day it is what it is. You know, I think right now we’re up to two members. There was one year we were up to four Black members. But that was one year. [laughs]

Liz: And I brought the second person in — 

Richard: Yeah, and Liz brought that second person in. It’s to the point that the only prospective members I bring to the organization are white members because Black folks are not going to join something where there is only one Black member. So out of respect for them, why would I waste their time bringing them to something like this? 

Liz: Wow. I didn’t know that. That actually makes me sad. 

Richard: Well, here’s the thing. If you want to have Black members join, then there is work that needs to be done top-down. One of the things you learn is that if you want to have any initiative work, it has to be top-down. It has to be driven by the CEO, supported by the board, and you have to be banging people over the head about it with any type of initiative that may happen to bring up discomfort. And it can’t just be one person; it can’t just be the CEO, or the president, it has to be the entire board that is passionate about this. And we haven’t really had that within the organization. We’ve had pieces of that — people that were passing a line about it — but it’s never something that, in my opinion, has been fully raised at the leadership [level]. And I’m not knocking EO New York. All EO New York is representative of all of the EO chapters. And Global is probably worse in terms of how they view diversity. So at the end of the day, for me, the organization provides a tremendous amount of value and it is what it is. You just keep it moving. And as a Black person, this is pretty much my career, being the only Black guy in the room. It’s old news for me, this is not my first rodeo.

Liz: Richard and I are both in EO One World, where the members are really trying to promote diversity and looking for safer spaces in addition to what you get in your chapter. And that’s been an interesting experience. We’re in a forum right now that has two Black men and one gentleman that is gay, and myself, and two cis-white men. 

Richard: There are actually two women in the forum. 

Liz: Oh right, yes! And that experience for me has been so different. There is a lot of — I don’t know, I think the sharing is at another level. And there is a safety. It’s not as driven about business as my other forum is, which is about growth and numbers, and this is more about humanness. And what they’re hearing — it’s a little about pointing out your blind spots, or things that they’ve presented for the week. So for me it’s a very different experience from a group of people that just come from such different backgrounds and identities, but all with a beautiful approach to the feedback that is kind and feels very authentic. 

Richard: And one thing that I like about the group is that when we were adding a seventh member, it was pretty unanimous that the seventh member should be a woman.

Liz: Yeah. 

Richard: You know, ideally we would want to have a woman of color join the group, which we did. Another thing that was crystal clear about the group was that we only had one woman in the group, and we needed another to balance the energy. 

Liz: Yeah and I think I took that for granted. There are forums in New York that don’t want women. And there are a lot of women talking about forming an all-female group. Like why is it okay for all of the men? So it’s interesting the different conversations that are happening. But from my limited experience, at the end of the day when you have a balance of the different sexes, it is such a [greater] range of feedback that’s provided.

Natasha: Yeah. I feel like what you are both saying is that it’s really important to not look at women or Black people as a monolith; everyone has a different experience and everyone has value. And there are different spaces where it might make sense to have an affinity group and then have another group where there is more of a mix. But at the end of the day you both are living in your identities — you’re born like this — and so you move through the world like this and this is how you’ve operated. To Richard’s point, it is what it is, and there is a lot of work to be done to make spaces and places more inclusive. But what does that look like and how does that look and who is supporting that and leading the charge with that? A lot in here for sure. 

Liz: And another thing that’s interesting is, we’re just kind of used to it. Like, he said, that’s the way it’s always been, being the [only] Black man in the room. And I think I’ve taken it for granted too; I’m used to it. So I think what I love is that this is a conversation now — that people are actually acknowledging that something’s not right. I just went my way and got used to guys making men’s jokes in meetings that were inappropriate. But I find it so interesting that the next generation – the whole #MeToo movement blew me away — is speaking up. This is what my generation took for granted, it was what it was. And same with the diversity aspect. People are now saying, take a look at the numbers, and who is in your groups and organizations. I don’t know, I feel very positive about the way things are moving potentially forward. 

Mm. How are you feeling Richard?

Richard: Not as positive. But like I said, it is what it is. [laughs]

Natasha: Yeah, it’s a long road ahead. 

Richard: You know, it’s like every time I point out to someone that I’m the only Black member, it’s like the lights came on in the room for the first time; it’s like they literally did not notice it. And I think the organization — the organization is going to do what it’s going to do, I’m not in a leadership position, I’m just a member in good standing — has to make a decision. Ultimately it’s a financial decision. The reality is there is a huge market of diverse entrepreneurs that can afford our dues. So it just makes good business sense. And then there are members that are white that are starting to want to become part of more diverse environments. So there is also that. So at some point in time, you know, hopefully there will be a board that comes together and wants to move this forward very seriously. 

Liz: Mmhmm.

Natasha: Yeah. Long road, but there is hope on the horizon.

What have you gleaned from your own experiences and how
have you shared that with others looking to start their own
businesses? Any parting words?

Natasha: We only have about one minute left, so I’d love to end with: what have you both gleaned from your entrepreneurial journeys? And what would you share with others looking to start their own businesses or for those that are early on? I know you’ve talked about this throughout our conversation, but any parting words?

Richard: To me, it’s about community. Being with your tribe is priceless. It’s literally priceless. You just have a bad day and you go hang with your tribe, it’s not so much that you feel better, but you come back with a different perspective of what’s not working for you. Either by sharing with others and having them contribute with you their experiences of handling situations like that, or just being able to step away from it for a while and then be in a place where this intellectual capital is going back and forth while in the subconscious your brain is working through the problem while you’re totally not conscious that it’s doing that. And then you wake up in the morning and you have your answer. That’s been a consistent experience for me. 

Liz: And I would say that it’s harder than people realize to build and run a business. Entrepreneurship has become this really big term, it’s now offered as a minor or even a major at some universities…but it’s hard. And you get the Kardashians that have a billion dollar business and you have this next generation that makes it look easy. Everyone thinks they’re going to have a TikTok or some social media explode…and I don’t think people realize how hard it is not only to build it, but to get it to the point where you’re not in it, that it’s growing, that it’s sellable…I think that people are just unaware. And the time that it takes to build a business. So that’s one of my takeaways. 

Natasha: Yeah, I feel like these are great notes to end on: awareness and community. 

LIz: Love it. Thank you Richard, you’re a rock star. 

Richard: Aw, thanks Liz, I appreciate you friend. 

Liz: I appreciate you too and I look forward to us getting together again soon in New York. 

Richard: Absolutely. Take care.


Get to know Richard

Richard Levychin, CPA, CGMA is a Partner with Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors, which has offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Phillippines. Richard has over 35 years of accounting, auditing, business advisory services, and tax experience working with both privately owned and public entities in various industries including media, entertainment, real estate, manufacturing, not-for-profit, technology, retail, technology, and professional services. His experience also includes expertise with SEC filings, initial public offerings, and compliance with regulatory bodies. As a business adviser, he counsels companies and organizations, helping them identify and define their business and financial objectives and then providing them with the ongoing personal attention necessary to help them achieve their established goals.

Richard has written articles on a wide range of topics, which have been featured in several periodicals including Dollars and Sense, New York Enterprise Report, Black Enterprise Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider, and The Network Journal. He has also conducted seminars on a wide range of business topics including SEC matters and taxation for several organizations including the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (New York chapter), and the Learning Annex.

Richard is a member of several organizations including the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, the National Association of Tax Professionals, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Richard was a founding member of the AICPA’s National Diversity and Inclusion Commission. He has also served as a member of the Governing Council of the AICPA, which is the governing body that oversees and sets policies for the AICPA. Richard is a member and a former board member of the New York Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (“EO”), a dynamic, global network of more than 14,000 business owners in over 50 countries.

In 2018 Richard was a recipient of the 5 Chamber Alliance MWBE Award from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. In 2016 Richard was presented with the 2016 Arthur Ashe Leadership Award. In 2015 Richard was presented by his alma mater Baruch College with the Baruch College Alumni Association’s “Alumni Leadership Award for Business”. In 2013 Richard received the title of Best Accountant from The New York Enterprise Report. Richard is a past winner of The Network Journal’s prestigious “40 Under 40” award.

Richard is a graduate of Baruch College, where he received a Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree (Accounting).