“It’s a fun ride.” That sums up Richard Levychin’s decades-long career in accounting. It all started as a sophomore at Baruch College in New York, when he got his first accounting job — an internship for a CPA firm. After graduating, he joined a Big Four CPA firm and became a CPA himself in 1982. He currently is a partner at KBL, a CPA and advisory firm, where has enjoyed many milestones in his career, from watching a small business grow into a national presence to getting his first Fortune 500 client to adding Major League Baseball to his roster. One of Levychin’s next big accomplishments will surely be as a member of the National Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, a brand new initiative of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that aims to increase the amount of minorities in women in the profession.
Question: What drew you to accounting?
Levychin: “I came from a solid middle class family, the bills were always paid and there was always food on the table. I wasn’t interested in doing the starving artist thing. So I decided to study business, where marketing, management, accounting, finance, law, and computer technology were your choices. Accounting was the only thing that made any sense to me. Marketing was ambiguous. Finance seemed kind of theoretical. Computer technology was not something that spoke to me. Management – I could not imagine getting a degree in management and then somebody hiring a 21 year old to manage them. That was ludicrous to me. But it made sense to me that someone would hire an accountant.”
Question: How do you describe what you do to people not in the field?
Levychin: “A lot of what I do is business development, which means bringing in business. I also manage and run the firm ? anywhere from interacting with human resources to dealing with client issues, identifying potential strategic relationships that could generate business for the firm, and overseeing the billing. That’s what a partner does ? it’s a combination of bringing in business, running the firm, and taking care of client needs.”
Question: What type of clients do you have?
Levychin: “We have a multiple practice group. We have a not-for-profit practice group where all of our not-for-profits sit. Our clients include National Action Network, a non-profit run by Reverend Al Sharpton; 100 Black Men; and Seedco Financial, an organization that provides lending to minority-owned companies. Then we have a financial services group, where all of our broker dealers and equity funds sit. There’s our sports, entertainment, and media practice. Companies include Major League Baseball, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Black Enterprise magazine. Then we have our Fortune 500 practice. Clients that we work with include AIG, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, and GBS. We also have a small business group and an emerging business group.”
Question: Accounting has a reputation for being “boring.” What do you make of that?
Levychin: “The reality is, when you first go into accounting, you have to learn your trade. In any profession, when you first start off, you’re the low man on the totem pole. So a lot of stuff you’re doing is not going to be fun. You’re learning the basics of whatever your trade is. It’s the same if you’re a rocket scientist or a doctor. The learning process in the first couple of years can be tedious. It’s a lot of work. But there’s a lot of interaction between yourself and the clients. It’s not this isolated thing where you’re sitting in a cubical all day with a visor on, crunching numbers. In the public accounting field, you do travel a lot, too. With a big firm, you have to go out to the clients.”
Question: What has helped you become successful?
Levychin: “I’ve always had great mentors, starting from the time I was a sophomore in college. My entire career up until now ? I’ve had good mentors. The other part is being exposed to a lot of different experiences. I’ve been able to leverage and use that to help me advance throughout the profession. To move ahead, you need to be working in solid organizations, have a certain amount of talent, and lots of professional development. When I was very young, after I got out of college, I got heavily involved in soft-skills training. The thing about being an accountant is you really do have to have good interpersonal skills and good communication skills.”
Question: What keeps you in it after all these years?
Levychin: “Part of the job I enjoy is being part of a company’s growth. Advancing a company through the growth process ? that’s the best part. Also, going out and bringing in the business is a lot of fun. The day you don’t get excited about a new client that comes in, you have to check to see if you have a pulse.”