From Touro to the Big 4
Samuel Lowenthal, CPA, MBA, Tax Partner at Deloitte on the Many Benefits of an Accounting Career
A Touro alum discusses his career journey—from Touro to becoming a partner at a Big 4 accounting firm, and offers important advice on what it takes to succeed in the business world
Why did you choose accounting?
Accounting is a great profession in its own right and it’s also a potential gateway to a lot of other business areas and careers. You can stay focused on accounting/reporting, become a tax advisor, or leverage your skillset and accounting career to secure finance and other positions in any company.
I did not choose accounting because I excel in math, one of the common misconceptions about the field. Accounting is not about calculating numbers. It’s about how you report them and how they inform business and financial decisions.
What do you like about the field?
I have worked at a CPA firm my entire career. Public accounting is a profession that involves tremendous relationship-building and I love that. We work on projects as part of a team and as people move up the ladder, we have the opportunity to lead teams. We serve clients, and our ability to develop relationships and foster trust with both colleagues and clients, building our network, is crucial to achieving success.
Another aspect of the field that I really enjoy is the ability to help others. As a tax professional, I deliver advice to clients, supporting strategic decisions that bolster their personal success and their business’s bottom line.
Can you talk about your career path and what it takes to become a partner at a Big 4 accounting firm?
After earning my accounting degree at Touro, I was determined to obtain an advanced business degree. Since I had my sights on a career in tax, I decided to pursue an MBA with a concentration in tax at Baruch College. The MBA curriculum provided a well-rounded business focus on top of the advanced tax courses of the master’s program.
While in graduate school, I began tutoring Touro accounting students and ultimately became an adjunct accounting professor at Touro, teaching accounting, auditing and tax for 10 years. I also began my career at Deloitte (as I was pursuing my advanced degree), and have been at the firm almost 30 years. For my entire career, I have been in a group that serves the financial services industry. Early on, I focused on what I was asked to do and made sure to learn a lot as I was doing it. I started building my internal network at Deloitte right away.
Over my career the nature of what I do has evolved, correlating with changes in the profession, as well as the nature of my responsibilities in different roles at Deloitte.
The career opportunities at a firm like Deloitte are vast. Among the qualities looked for in a prospective partner are the ability to generate business, being agile and flexible to take on new challenges, and sustained strong performance over time. These and other qualities, a strong business case, and of course, lots of help from the One Above, can make it happen!
How do you manage religious observance and professional responsibilities?
I always found effective communication to be a critical component of managing this, especially as it relates to required days away, having to shut down/leave early and similar situations. Being honest and upfront when communicating regarding religious needs as well as being respectful of others’ time and personal lives. Planning ahead so that colleagues know what to expect is important to the success of a religious person in the workplace. This can apply in numerous contexts.
Over the years it has become increasingly easier to navigate these issues as the workplace continues to be more inclusive and respectful of all religious beliefs and customs. Further, as people work remotely to a greater extent (which preceded COVID-19, but now will likely become even more commonplace), certain issues become less of a problem.
How did Touro help you achieve your career goals?
Touro gave me a strong education in accounting. I had great professors at Touro’s Flatbush campus, with a blend of deep academic and professional accounting background. In addition, Touro prepared me well for my advanced degree and for the CPA exam. At Baruch, I had the foundation to be successful in the MBA program. Overall, Touro was a launching point for my career.
How can future accountants ensure they are prepared for a career in this ever-changing field? Any advice for new grads just starting out in the corporate world?
The fact that the business and communal environments around us are “ever-changing” presents opportunity! It allows us to distinguish ourselves collectively and individually in the profession. Be attuned to what’s going on in your own company and in the world around you. Learn how changes and other factors impact businesses. Understand what’s important to your clients and colleagues. Recognize the importance of technology and its impact on everything around you.
Make sure people have a good first experience when working with you the first time so that they want you joined with them on future projects. First impressions are important. At the same time, remember while it can take years to build a reputation, that reputation can be lost in a flash if you make a poor decision. Act with integrity always. As you continue to advance and earn promotions, get a good feel for what you like and what you are good at. Understand your strengths and build on them.
As noted earlier, relationships are an integral part of your career. You must build relationships and grow people’s trust in you. This can take time but over the course of years, the trust you build will lead to more success. Also, find mentors that you can lean on for advice and counsel when needed.
Most importantly, you must own your career. While others will always play a role in your development and success, I always say the person who will have the greatest impact on your career is you. Early in your career, ask questions and make sure deliver the product/service that is required of you in a timely and accurate manor. Be proactive; if you want to be assigned to a particular project, ask for it! Don’t blame others when challenges arise. Rather, seek to solve them. Ask superiors for honest feedback so you can always try to understand what you do well and what you can do better. Early on in my career, I reached out to partners I was working with and asked them—where are the gaps? What I am doing well and what do I need to do better? I absorbed the feedback I received, continued to up my game, interacted regularly and often with colleagues and clients and with G-d’s help, I advanced in my career. You will, too!