Being a good CPA means being there in times of crisis


I grew up on the east coast.

When I moved to Tucson for graduate school and then to Albuquerque, I was shocked by the lack of clouds in the sky.

Growing up, I knew the clouds. I was young in a time without cell phones, cable TV, the Internet, or video games.

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics spoke of the clouds as “rows and flakes of angel hair, ice cream castles in the air and feathery canyons everywhere”.

I remember imagining what a cloud formation looked like. Like Joni’s song, now these clouds are blocking the sun, they’re raining and snowing on everyone.

I woke up today expecting a fairly calm day. At noon, I had three 911 calls regarding the proposed transaction structure. My day had changed.

With age, my appreciation of clouds has diminished, but my appreciation of people and their concerns has increased. I try to remember both sides when confronting their issues.

I chose to be a CPA. Admittedly, the choice became easier when “professional baseball player” outgrew my carefully honed cloud structure imagination.

CPAs practice a service profession. I try to remember this as my days of puffy white clouds turn into storms. I try to remember that customers, like the lyrics of another Joni Mitchell song, are “scared when the sky (is) full of thunder.”

Being good at a service business requires replacing thoughts of annoyance with acts of kindness.

The act of service doesn’t have to be hard.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Anyone can serve. You don’t need to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a gracious heart.

Being a good CPA takes a college degree, but it also takes that gracious heart. The ability to understand that the problem of the day, for the person facing it, deserves a call to 911.

This may be especially true for older clients. At the beginning and end of life, our days are less filled with activity. So, for those at opposite ends of life, the needs seem more immediate.

Each of us must make the decision to serve in our work. Some people are natural there. I’m the one who needs to work not to be a storm cloud.

It helps to recall the acts of those who are natural. My mother loved taking the train to New York. Towards the end of her life, my family took her there for a weekend, including a Broadway show.

The post-show was a rush for humanity. Quite a challenge for a woman who was unstable due to several strokes and had to go to the bathroom.

As any woman knows, the women’s bathroom is always set back in the hallway. I asked a staff member for help. She led my mother down a hallway to a private staff bathroom.

It was years ago. I remember. When I was teaching at the University of Oklahoma, I was interrupted by a call from my wife. Our frozen pipes had burst. I told the class that I had to go.

A student said he was a plumber. He came with me and solved the problem. He refused to take any money.

When I moved from Phoenix to Oklahoma, I drove a car with a dog and my wife and a friend drove our other car. Passing through Albuquerque on a hot summer day, my car broke down.

I arrived at a place of service. A young man met me. He heard I was from Phoenix and told me he had just graduated from automotive school there. He saw that I was worried about the dog overheating.

He fixed my car. He didn’t charge me anything. I remember him, the Broadway worker, the plumber, because what for them was a simple solution was, for me, a crisis of the moment.

Most customer calls are, to me, just fixes. It takes work to remember that for the customer, this is a 911 emergency.

I try hard to remember that the clouds are different on both sides because it’s not easy for me. It may not be for you. Yet remembering also helps me enjoy the days that go from calm to thunder.

James R. Hamill is the director of tax practice at Reynolds, Hix & Co. in Albuquerque. He can be reached at [email protected]


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