Accounting Opens Doors to New Passions and a Rewarding Life

Advisory | David R. Neste | Glenn L. Friedman | Apr 20, 2023

As a Partner Emeritus and Chairman of the Board at Prager Metis, David Neste is no longer responsible for the firm’s day-to-day operations. While he serves as a consultant for both clients and the firm, David’s primary responsibility is to apply his knowledge of the firm’s capabilities and leverage his international network to identify opportunities for growth.

Much of David’s free time, however, is spent traveling with wife Lorie and other family members when possible and playing golf.

“If a problem pops up on the weekend, I’m not the one taking that call,” David laughs. “Most of my work focuses on high-level business development and troubleshooting as issues arise. That work is done in about 40 percent of a full-time schedule. My time is my own. If I want to work from 5 to 8 in the morning and have the rest of the day to myself, I can do that.”

There’s a good reason why David enjoys that kind of flexibility and lifestyle.

He earned it.

Start Learning and Never Stop

David started his career in 1975 with a firm that eventually became Ernst & Young. He went through the traditional growing pains of any young professional with plenty of book knowledge but little real-world experience. The challenge was to constantly learn and apply what he learned each day.

“That’s how you gain experience and build the confidence to deal with different circumstances and challenges,” David said. “You’ll know what the result will be if you take a certain action. I’ve always liked the quote, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts’ – because learning never ends.”

David would go on to purchase a retail client and operate that business for five years before starting his own accounting firm. His firm slowly grew from the kitchen table, to an office, to having a staff. Those early years in the firm weren’t easy.

“There were times when I was questioning my sanity,” recalls David with a smile. “A new company doesn’t become profitable overnight and I was probably the lowest paid person at the firm during those first two years. But I never lost faith. Patience and perseverance are the two most important factors in achieving a goal, and they paid off for me.”

After running a retail business and growing his own accounting firm, David learned that he never wanted to work for somebody else again. He had grown up watching his father start an engineering firm, find clients, build the organization, and hire people, and he wanted to capitalize on his opportunity to do the same.

“I’d had that taste of being my own boss and making my own decisions, but also accepting responsibility and the consequences of my own actions,” David said. “Having that autonomy was the biggest motivating factor for me. That’s why I was willing to put in the effort and hard work.”

Relationship-Driven Growth

During the early years of his first accounting firm, David found it relatively easy to find clients because they came through referrals. He soon learned that these close relationships would have to extend to his team.

“The reason why it was easy to find clients was because they were working with me,” David said. “I was the firm. When I started to grow and hire staff, certain clients didn’t work directly with me anymore. They liked the old way better. However, that’s not a growth model. You have to make sure each member of your team has the same passion, trust, and work ethic in a way that mirrors how you started the business.”

Clients gradually accepted that they would be working with someone other than David and enjoyed working with his team. When his firm merged with Prager and Fenton, which would eventually merge with Metis Group to form Prager Metis, his entire team went with him.

“That was probably most rewarding for me,” David said. “We grew as a team and remained together. Some of the people from that original team 30 years ago are still with the firm today, even through significant changes. That says a lot about the quality of each of those individuals and the strength of those relationships.”

David’s team had a shared purpose and shared values. Regardless of how much the firm grew on its own or through mergers, every client felt as if they were the firm’s most important client.

“One of the dangers of growth is that clients can feel like they’re just a number, and they’re being serviced by someone who doesn’t care,” David said. “You have to deliver the same or better quality of work and continue to communicate with them to keep their trust.”

Discovering New Passions and a Living a Fulfilling Life

Today, David is grateful for the lifestyle afforded him by the accounting profession. He also enjoys his role as a consultant and mentor and believes providing young professionals with meaningful access to leadership is essential to their career growth.

“People want to feel like they’re not just part of a machine,” David said. “They want to be able to talk to management and express their opinions without fear of reprisal. Everybody needs to find their niche. For me, it wasn’t necessarily the accounting, but the passion for management that drove me. Having access to people who have rich experiences to share is an important part of this process.”

Of course, accounting can open the door to so many avenues and opportunities for people who are just getting started in their career.

“Accountants still deal with stereotypes as bean counters and number crunchers, but that goes away pretty quickly as you advance in your career,” David said. “If you understand accounting, you can have a conversation with almost any industry and pursue different passions. I even bought my first house within six months of graduating from college because accounting opened my eyes to the tax benefits. It was the best investment I ever made.”

David also likes to remind young people that the accounting profession, in addition to being more lucrative than ever, is as reliable, secure, and stable as any other industry.

“Accounting has been around forever and will be around forever,” David said. “People will always need advice on how to navigate the minefield of running a business, whether there’s a boom or recession. Accounting is an industry that will never become obsolete.”

At the same time, you can never become complacent. Constantly look for ways to improve and increase your value to the client.

“You can’t just provide good service and rest,” David said. “That’s when you get a call from a client who says another firm is offering this and that. Every question from a client, every obstacle you face, and every new regulation is an opportunity to become more valuable to your client. If you’re willing to work hard and build strong relationships, it’s a good life. It’s a really good life.”


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