Craig Michaelson originally pursued a career in accounting because he always had an affinity for numbers. In fact, his dad had a second job in billing and would let Craig check his math.
It didn’t take long, however, for Craig to discover that his true passion for the accounting industry is rooted in the relationships he has built during a career that now spans more than 30 years.
“Accounting is still stereotyped with number crunching and grunt work, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Craig said. “The fun part is meeting and advising clients and being part of a team. Young people coming into the industry today are free to be independent thinkers and share ideas. Sure, you have to pay your dues and work hard, but this profession is stronger and more lucrative than it has ever been.”
“Nobody Would Outwork Me. Ever.”
Now COO of Prager Metis CPAs and a Partner in the Tax and Advisory Departments, Craig had a clear vision of success early in his career and understood what it would take to get there.
“I was always there – first in the door, last out the door,” Craig said. “I wanted to outwork everyone. People always saw me, whether I was just starting out or leading the firm. I was also willing to learn from people who were more experienced than me. I listened and absorbed everything like a sponge. There’s always more to learn, no matter how far you get in this business.”
One of the most important lessons Craig learned as a young professional was the importance of being prepared. When the client knows you’ve done your homework, it solidifies the relationship.
“Never go into a meeting or conversation unprepared,” Craig said. “When a seasoned client asks you a question, they already know the answer. They’re testing you. You need to prove that you can not only do the work, but you’re also willing to do your homework and push yourself to meet the demands of the job for every single client.”
Prager Metis CEO Glenn Friedman has always been impressed by Craig’s sense of partnership and willingness to go that extra mile.
“There’s nothing you can ask of Craig that he wouldn’t do, and he never asks for anything in return,” Glenn said. “It may sound cliché, but he’s the ultimate team player. Craig’s loyalty and commitment to his colleagues and clients are unquestioned, which is why he has their full trust. The strength of his relationships and a tireless work ethic have made Craig very successful, and we’re grateful to have him on our team.”
“Success Is a Byproduct of Your People.”
If you ask Craig why he’s been able to be successful, he always credits the people around him and takes pride in the team that took shape over the years.
“I always tried to surround myself with the best people and I cared about their personal lives and families,” Craig said. “Do you have a doctor’s appointment? Does your child have a soccer game? That’s fine. Take care of yourself and your family. If you bring in the right people, mentor them, and treat them respectfully, they’ll get the work done, too.”
Clients could see the quality of the firm’s people and how they were treated, which made them more likely to refer Craig’s firm to other clients.
“A lot of people can prepare tax returns and financial reports,” Craig said. “I wanted to work with decent, talented people who valued client relationships the same way I do. They would always go beyond the task at hand to advise the client and identify opportunities that would benefit them. Care about the client as if their money was your money. When you find people like that, you don’t let them go.”
When Glenn Friedman first met Craig after 9/11, he immediately noticed the quality of Craig’s team and how much Craig valued each individual as a professional and a person.
“Craig’s firm was in a building next to the Twin Towers,” Glenn said. “After 9/11, they couldn’t get back into the building. I didn’t know Craig at the time, but I called him and offered space in our offices while they rebuilt their files and cash flow. Craig had a terrific team and genuinely cared about them. That told me a lot about Craig from the very beginning. We developed a great relationship and his firm eventually merged into Prager Metis.”
What Success Truly Means
Thanks to hard work and a commitment to the well-being of his colleagues and clients, the accounting industry has afforded Craig the kind of lifestyle that he originally envisioned for himself as a young professional.
“I’m not a materialistic kind of guy,” Craig said. “Knowing I’ve helped a client or mentored someone to help them reach their goals is far more gratifying, and I love being a resource for young people. Having a great family is my greatest success, although my wife gets the credit for that. My kids work hard and have good heads on their shoulders. The real reward is when I see my grandchildren walk through the door.”
At the same time, Craig believes the accounting industry shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the financial and lifestyle benefits that a career in accounting can provide.
“The success people achieve in this profession is almost hidden,” Craig said. “Why should that be a secret? I’m grateful that my kids graduated from college without any student loans. I can travel to see my grandkids as often as I like. What most people don’t realize is that the dues-paying period in accounting has been shortened and young people can make a boatload of money faster than I ever could.”
Craig advises young people who pursue a career in accounting to find the best mentors possible. Listen, listen, listen, and absorb everything they tell you. Do your homework and always be prepared. Be patient because the reward is worth it.
“People will always need accountants,” Craig said. “If you have a foundation of strong relationships and passion for what you do, you can build a beautiful house on that foundation that you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life. I always tell my friends that when they talk to their grandchildren about what they want to be when they grow up, tell them to go into accounting.”