What we can all learn from the accountant who became my second father
My accountant Sheldon Gordon died Monday night. It might not be the kind of news one would normally think about for too long, much less write about. Your accountant dies, you find another one. It’s just business. Right?
See, Shelly cared about me and my family in a way that transcends what we would call a client relationship. He didn’t just do the sorts of things that one might learn in a sales or customer relations course about sending calendars or Christmas gifts, making small talk, or remembering the names of their kids. No, Shelly merged his business and personal life — what Marx might call his economic and his social lives — in a way that made them indistinguishable. Ethically, creatively and, sure, professionally.
There’s a lesson here for people trying to do business in a more holistic way, but maybe even more of a lesson for people like me, who are often at pains to distinguish between work and life — as if business and money somehow sully or compromise genuine friendship. We work for strangers, but do favors for our friends. “Don’t mix business and pleasure,” I heard countless times growing up. But that ethos is itself an artifact of a world where our work was intentionally disconnected from our social reality. When we started working for “the man” instead of one another.
Shelly worked in the opposite way. Every one of his clients became a member of his family. I mean, for real. I knew his sons — particularly the one who became the lawyer, and the one who became the accountant like his dad. I knew his wife, who would wait with me on the phone instead of putting me on hold, so she could inquire about my wife’s health, or reassure me that the latest letter from the IRS would not become a problem.
My own dad was an accountant, and did my taxes until he died. Shelly took me on as if I were another son. He’d take my calls at any time, day or night, office or home, or even in Boca. He’d want to talk about my work — particularly when my books turned to business or the economy — telling me what subjects would be most useful to him as a reader. I also like to think I was at least part of the reason he switched allegiances to the Mets after…