Q&A with George Bernstein: Controllership is About Advice, Guidance and Being a Sounding Board
According to Bernstein, “Controllership is going in there and focusing on a client’s records and helping them get and keep their books in order.” But his controllership clients also rely on Bernstein for advice, guidance, and being a sounding board on a variety of accounting and business topics.
Bernstein’s clients are mostly local. He has extensive experience in the construction industry and the real estate industries, specifically rental properties and investments. He served as a controller for one of the largest construction companies in suburban Illinois for nearly a decade.
“Working as an in-house controller gave me experience in insurance audits, managing a team, and viewing the business over the long term. I was also a controller at a company when they went public. It’s very hands-on work. It’s a much broader experience, very real world,” said Bernstein. He firmly believes this makes him a much better CPA and client partner.
Why did Bernstein get into accounting?
He has always liked numbers. Audit and Tax made sense to him. He liked getting involved with the processes and transactions that make up a business. He likes providing the checks and balances needed to run a business profitably and successfully.
He grew up in Niles, a few miles from the Weiss office. Except for the years he spent as a student at the University of Iowa, Bernstein has always lived in suburban Chicago.
An Affinity for Sports
Bernstein thrived in a Big 10 school and is a diehard Iowa Hawkeye fan. He loves all sports and follows the Cubs and the Bulls locally. In football, he’s a Washington Commanders fan stemming from his admiration of and connection to one especially hard working and successful 1970s running back, Larry Brown.
In Brown’s rookie season, Coach Vince Lombardi noticed Brown’s response time to the snap was slightly delayed. Hearing tests confirmed he was totally deaf in one ear. Lombardi received permission from the NFL Commissioner’s office to have Brown’s helmet fitted with an ear-piece.
Bernstein recalls that Brown also had a speech impediment, no doubt connected to his partial deafness. In elementary and middle school Bernstein, too, had a speech impediment. Today his impediment is hardly noticeable, the result of hundreds of hours of speech therapy.
What advice does he have for young people starting out in accounting?
He emphasized the importance of connecting the output to the analytics. “You always start with last year’s IRS return,” said Bernstein. “Without studying the return, tying out the work and understanding the story, you’re just an inputter. You have to know the fundamentals.
None of us is perfect, and getting into the details often surfaces mistakes. Don’t take shortcuts. Today people coming out of school rely on software too much without studying the details. It’s a lost art that I wish accounting programs emphasized more.”
He also advocates for the importance of diverse professional experiences as a way to broaden one’s knowledge. Knowledge and experience are cumulative.
How are bowling and accounting related?
Bernstein used to bowl several times a week and was in a league for years. “When you bowl in tournaments, you have to understand how the lanes are acting. There are different levels of oil that affect the floor condition of the lanes. A good bowler is able to assess the floor condition at that specific time and choose a bowling ball that will work well with those conditions.
Without a lot of experience and practice, those nuances might not be noticed. Lane conditions can alter the outcome of a game, but a sharp and experienced player will recognize the conditions immediately and know how to respond accordingly. And that is the value of experience and knowledge in accounting, because without both, an accountant isn’t positioned to perform at their best.”
What, in his view, is the Weiss advantage?
Without a second thought, Bernstein answered, “Client relationships, expertise, and providing service on a timely basis.”
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