It was time. The year was 1983, and I was a young, single guy, successfully employed as an accountant with a growing, mid-size Northern Virginia defense contractor. I enjoyed my work and the people around me. My employer’s uncompromising commitment to quality suited me well, but the company wasn’t mine to grow. I had an entrepreneurial passion to build a high-quality professional services practice, and I needed a “project.” It was indeed time to act.
Only one problem: I had been in the D.C. area only 3 years, did not have any roots here, and was employed by a company that served the Department of Defense, which did not need a financial auditor or tax advisor. What was I going to do for clients? Hmmmm. The solution as I saw it was to stock up on peanut butter and jelly (and Hebrew National hot dogs) and worry about that later.
So I resigned my position at BDM International, Inc. and, as they say, hung out my shingle…in the dining room of my apartment.
With a few quick residence-to-office conversions—the Scandinavian style desk, a screen to block the kitchen from view, and replacement of pictures on the wall with a few diplomas and certificates—I could be ready to welcome clients. Shooing my girlfriend (now wife of 32 years) into the bedroom with instructions to keep the TV volume low also seemed appropriate.
When I got tired of switching pictures with diplomas—before and after client meetings—and had more than one or two meetings a week, it was time to find a real office.
That real office turned out to be a small room above a bank branch office on Broad Street in Falls Church. I didn’t mind the lack of air conditioning (although my papers blew all over the place every time I had to open the window for air, and I had to meet more than a few elderly clients in the bank’s lobby when the elevator broke, which usually happened every Monday and most Thursday afternoons for some reason).
I shared a secretary and office equipment with five other businessmen and women, and a wonderful CPA (Will Soza of Soza & Company) offered me access to his tax library and conference room.
Another fine man, Scott Yancey (my boss at BDM who left the company just prior to my departure) needed some help in his new position as CFO of a British telecom company and hired me on a per diem basis until he could build up his staff. Goodbye, peanut butter and hot dogs—hello tuna fish and hamburgers with steak on alternate Fridays!
Next, an introduction to in-house counsel at the IMF and World Bank, coupled with my work for the British telecom company and its expat assignees, and I found myself having launched a specialty practice in international and expatriate tax planning and compliance.
In 1985, I hired our first employee (a lovely woman named Christine Vassos), and in 1986, I managed to convince another young CPA, Bob Len, to join me. It was perfect – he even shared my name! Thirty years on, we’ve been the best of friends and business partners.
In 1999, in response to recurring requests from our clients for wealth management services, we established Wolf Group Capital Advisors. Bob chose to direct that practice while I continued to direct the tax practice.
Over the years, with the help of some fine and dedicated professionals, the practice grew and so did our ranks. Today, we are a team of almost 40 staff serving almost 2,000 clients annually. And yes, some of our clients first met me in my dining room in 1983! One even got to see the pictures on the dining room wall, having returned to the office after I had switched the wall hangings back from the diplomas and certificates!
My objective was never to grow the fastest or be the biggest. Rather, it was to build a solid foundation of quality service, develop a specialized technical niche, and never compromise on our commitment to integrity and transparency in dealing with both our clients and our staff.
Today, our team is as strong as it has ever been, with top-notch senior professionals in place, working closely with me and Bob, and assuming ever-increasing levels of leadership responsibility, to successfully take the Firm forward into the “next” age.
On this, our 35th Anniversary, I express my warmest regards and heartfelt thanks to all of the loyal, kind, and honest clients that have expected much from us over the years and, for the most part, kept us on top of our game. Their willingness to share their worldly experiences with me has been one of the benefits that have made this journey such an interesting and engaging one.
Of course, I can also not thank our talented and culturally diverse staff enough, both past and present, for their immeasurable contribution to our success. The Wolf Group family has always provided me with the most compelling desire to come to the office each day.