Paul Gurman on Executive Leaders Radio

Paul Gurman joins Peter Schwartz on Executive Leaders Radio. The managing member of Gurman & Company discusses how he came to lead his own accounting firm.


gurman homepageAnnouncer:      Welcome to Executive Leaders Radio. In this hour, you’ll hear from directly our region’s finest business leaders. Through each of the interviews, these high achieving leaders become relatable role models who share how they were able to build their enterprise, their personal secrets of success about leadership styles and opportunities that lie ahead. Prepare to be inspired and entertained and to hear wisdom unheard elsewhere. Executive Leaders Radio.

Peter:              You’re listening to Executive Leaders Radio broadcast from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. This is your host, Peter Schwartz. I’m joined by my co-host, Lynda Mann, with the YouthQuest Foundation. Today’s show is brought to you by Verasolve, a company specializing in marketing and branding. We have a great lineup of guests for you on our show today, including Paul Gurman who’s the managing member of Gurman & Company, Charlie White, the Vice President at BLA Financial, Allen Cage, the Founder and CEO of AOC Solutions and also a cofounder of YouthQuest, and Michael Garcia, a partner with Fleming Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

First up is a young man by the name of Paul Gurman who’s the managing member of Gurman & Company. What is Gurman & Company, Paul?

Paul:                Gurman & Company is a CPA firm serving small to medium sized businesses and nonprofits in our area.

Peter:              When was the company founded?

Paul:                1981.

Peter:              And how big or small are you today?

Paul:                We’re 15 people.

Peter:              So a CPA firm, those are accountants, right?

Paul:                We are accountants.

Peter:              And what do you specialize in primarily?

Paul:                Well, we specialize, again, in small/medium size companies and individuals. We assist our clients, reach their financial objectives through accounting and tax planning services.

Peter:              Say a little bit more about financial objectives. You just don’t do tax planning for these guys?

Paul:                No, not just tax planning. We do a lot of audit work. Nonprofits are required to have audited financial statements as a result of their board obligations so people know that they’re above board. We provide that service. We opine to the propriety of their financial statements.

Peter:              What makes this industry such a fascination to you?

Paul:                It’s the people. It’s the people I get to work with, the people I employ, and my clients and their staffs.

Peter:              Isn’t that a little unusual for an accountant to say that? I thought you guys were all about the numbers?

Paul:                It is and we are, but some of us are better at that than others. For me, the fascination is the people and the personalities. The numbers is something I do very well, but that’s not my major role.

Peter:              Well then how did you come to accounting in the first place?

Paul:                It was kind of by accident. I got out of the military and went back to college and for lack of a better subject, I was advised by an older brother to take accounting because it seemed to be easy, plus with accounting you could always go into anything else you wanted to in business. That was ultimately my goal, was to be in some kind of a business.

Peter:              So you spent some time in the military?

Paul:                I did. Two years.

Peter:              Uh-huh. What was that experience like for you?

Paul:                It was good. It was good. Taught me discipline. At the time I needed that. It taught me how to listen and take orders and we all need that at some point at time. Plus, when I got out I was able to avail myself with the GI Bill and that paid my way through college. Without that I probably would not have gone to college.

Peter:              And you’ve got a degree in accounting?

Paul:                I do.

Peter:              Right after that you got a job with an accounting firm?

Paul:                Yeah. I graduated from college and came to Washington, D.C. for vacation and thought I’d look for a job while I was here. I did and somebody took a chance on me with a large international firm. I stayed with that firm for 3-4 years, moved to another large international firm, and then ultimately after 6 or 7 years decided it was time for me to start out on my own.

Peter:              Well you tell a great story about how you got the idea. Tell us about the interaction with your associate.

Paul:                I was friendly with one of the partners in the firms that I was working for at the time and at the time they didn’t have voicemail, but we had message spindles. The receptionist would take a message and put the message on a spindle. Upon entering his office one day I saw his spindle full of pink message slips. I asked him what they were and he said, “They’re people wanting me to call them back so we can do business with them.” I said, “Well, call them!” He said, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy.” I said, “Well, why don’t you give me that list?” And he said, “No, I can’t do that.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So at that point and time I realize that there’s an opportunity here. All you need to do is talk to people, call them back, and you’ll get business. And so with that in mind and maybe some youth on my side, I decided I had an opportunity to go out and start my own business, so I did.

Peter:              So you did. .

Paul:                I did.

Peter:              What were the early days like?

Paul:                They were tough. I didn’t have any clients when I left there. I started out, my job at that point and time was to wake up every morning, 6 o’clock in the morning, get my newspaper, Washington Post and go through the want ads looking for anybody looking for a bookkeeper or a controller, a treasure. Any role of consultant, any role that I thought I could fill with my experience – call them up and convince them why – get in front of them, first of all, and then convince them why it would make more sense to hire me than a full time person.

Peter:              And that process wasn’t intimidating to you, to just call people blind?

Paul:                No. Not intimidating.

Peter:              What is it about you that gives you permission to just be that kind of person? Where does that come from?

Paul:                I don’t know. I guess it’s confidence instilled by my parents, possibly, and some mild success that I’d had previously. In the military, I was successful. I’ve always been an athlete and I’ve always been successful with that. I think that self confidence comes from there.

Peter:              Well, you started off the interview by saying it’s about the people. Could that be the thread?

Paul:                It could be. I’m not afraid to talk to people. I can walk up and introduce myself to anyone and have a conversation with that person. May not like them, may like them, but I can at least start that ball rolling.

Peter:              Yeah. What’s your association with YouthQuest?

Paul:                We’re the – my firm provides audit serices for YouthQuest as well as tax services. The relationship goes beyond that. The founders of YouthQuest are clients of mine on an individual basis as well and when they started YouthQuest, they asked us to provide services. When I saw what they were doing, it seemed like a worthy organization. I always have felt that being philanthropic is a good thing, so we tried to provide our services, initially, at reduced cost for them. We always have done that for that nonprofit. Then when I saw actually what they were doing and through a few of their events that I’ve attended, we saw that they needed money so we give money when we can.

Peter:              Right. And what specifically were they doing that captured your imagination?

Paul:                Helping at risk children. And any time you can help a child, particularly through education because education is the key to any success in life, as far as I’m concerned.

Peter:              Why is that important to you?

Paul:                The education?

Peter:              No, helping –

Paul:                Helping children?

Peter:              Yeah. How does that touch you personally>

Paul:                We were all children once and everybody can use a help up. Some of the things that I’ve seen, growing up, and then through my past trials and experiences, I’ve seen kids without help and if they don’t have solid homes – and I came out of a very solid home, very close knit family – people without that, that’s a shame. That’s a shame and if I can help in any way to strengthen their opportunities, I want to.

Peter:              Lynda?

Lynda:              So Paul, the question I have for you is why is giving back good business?

Paul:                It’s good business because you get recognized. You get asked to be on radio shows. They give you publicity, but it’s more so good business from the standpoint of I feel good about what I’ve done. I’ve been successful and I’ve been able to share some of that So when you say it’s good business, it’s good business for me personally, it’s good business because my firm, my young staff, they see that I do these things and hopefully that spreads that part of it. My other clients know that I participate in things like this and I get requests to do this, not necessarily this part of it, but certainly to contribute and I make contributions all the time because they know I will. Then they know at the same point and time that they’re helping me staff a lot of people. They’re helping my business to succeed and grow.

Peter:              What’s it like to get to a place in your professional life where you know you can actually help people now?

Paul:                It’s a good feeling. It certainly is. It’s the goal. That’s what we all want to do is to be able to help. At least, I think that’s what the right thing is to do is to be able to help others. And when you get to that point in your life, while it may not be all the monetary success in the world, I certainly have – when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I can sleep and I know that I’ve done a good job.

Peter:              Where are you from?

Paul:                I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Peter:              What was life like growing up in Terre Haute?

Paul:                Life was pretty good. I came from a tight knit family, as I said. I had two brothers, an older brother, a younger brother. Mom – stay-at-home Mom. Dad was self a employed laborer, truck driver, if you will. Business man, uneducated.

Peter:              What do you remember most about those years?

Paul:                They were good years. We had fun. We didn’t have everything in the world and parents couldn’t provide a whole lot, but they did instill the need for education. They saw that we had what we needed to go to school. It took a while for it to get through to me, longer than I like to talk about, but it was good. It was good.

Lynda:              So Paul, I really appreciate all you’ve done for YouthQuest and looking to the kids that you met today and looking at where they’re going, what about the STEM Project appealed to you?

Paul:                Again Lynda, it doesn’t make any difference what they’re doing. I think the technology is fine. That’s the wave of the future, but I think that it’s just those kids, knowing kind of what they’ve come from and when I see them today, their manner, the way you look you in the eye. They shake your hand firmly. Yes sir, no sir. And it’s not the yes sir, no sir that’s impressive because you can get that from anybody, but I think they really are committed to improving themselves and they’re working in that fashion, doing the best they can. We just need to be able to make that path a little bit easier and that’s what YouthQuest is doing, I think.

Peter:              Where do you see the future of accounting and how would a young person who we met in the green room today want to be a part of this?

Paul:                Well, I think there’s always going to be tax issues that you’re going to need to deal with and the accounting industry is getting much more complicated because the world is getting very small and there’s a lot of rules and regulations that brings the world closer together. It’s like anything else; you can make of it what you want and there are opportunities. There will always be opportunities. We’ll always need people to do tax work and to do planning primarily. And the auditing side, there’s a lot of young people going to the forensic audits side.

Peter:              Right. Up until now, what’s your proudest moment been, Paul?

Paul:                In my career?

Peter:              Yeah, how about that.

Paul:                Starting out with nothing and being able to employ fifteen people.

Peter:              That’s great. What’s the website address for the company?


Peter:              Thank you. We’ve been speaking with Paul Gurman who’s the managing member of Gurman & Company. I’d like to thank my co-host, Lynda Mann, with the YouthQuest Foundation. Don’t forget to visit our website: for more about our executive leaders. This is Peter Schwartz, your host. We’ll be back in a moment, right after this business spot.