As I share my thoughts month after month about the importance of the human element in business, I feel compelled to remember my former partner and, more importantly, my friend, Jay Spitz, who was taken from us far too soon.
Make no mistake, Jay was a founding partner of Prager Metis CPAs, even though he was never actually a partner after the formation of Prager Metis. He was one of the building blocks as the co-founder of Spitz and Friedman, which became Metis Group, which became Prager Metis after a merger with Prager and Fenton in 2013.
As a business partner and friend, I saw the positive impact this man had on people’s lives. For the first 10 years of Spitz and Friedman, we did more than share an office. We did everything together. We ate and drank together. We had our ears pierced together. We bought pet birds together. We traveled together. We went to each other’s family gatherings. We would take breaks from the office to shoot pool.
Jay was there when I met my wife and stood by me as best man at my wedding.
Jay even helped me get my first apartment in New York. He was in a stronger financial position than me at the time, so he offered to defer his compensation so I could cobble together a down payment. That’s just the kind of person Jay was. He tutored young people when he was still working for our accounting firm. He encouraged charitable giving, which is one of the reasons Prager Metis has a foundation today.
I went through good and bad times with Jay. I remember being there when his father died of cancer and his brother-in-law died at a young age. Jay himself sometimes took his love for life to the extreme and fought his own personal demons for years.
Of course, Jay was able to overcome those demons and emerge stronger than ever. With newfound strength, Jay decided to take his life in a different direction after 9/11. He changed his profession, walked away from our firm, and became a math teacher in New York City and Long Island. He remarried and had three children. He changed his life and followed his passions.
I’ll never forget the impact Jay had on people’s lives. As an accountant, even if the impact was strictly monetary, he afforded people the ability to take care of their family, send their kids to college, and enjoy retirement.
For many people who knew Jay, the impact was so much more, from mentorships, to career opportunities, to lifelong friendships. There were people who called Jay every day for support – family, friends, clients, and coworkers. Once he started teaching, the impact Jay had on his students was immeasurable.
Here are three people who knew Jay well and offered to share their memories.
From Edward Benedetto, Partner, Prager Metis CPAs
“35 years ago, I went to work for a small, growing accounting firm in New York. Jay joined the firm shortly thereafter, Glenn soon followed, and we all became good friends. Jay was a lot of fun, with his guitar and a big fish tank in his office. Glenn was a little more subdued, and I was kind of a balance between the two. When Jay and Glenn decided to start their own firm, I wasn’t in a position to join them with a young child and another on the way, but we got back together years later.
I remember sitting with Jay in our office, repeatedly calling one of our coworkers while he was in a conference room with a client. We sat there laughing as he ran to and from his office, not knowing we were the ones calling him. That was the kind of silly stuff that made Jay such a fun guy.
Jay always seemed to be searching for something, as if there were a void he was trying to fill. After 9/11, he decided he wanted something different from life and decided to follow a new path. When he announced he was leaving the firm, I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do without this guy?’
Jay had come full circle. He grew up in Long Island, went to work for a big accounting firm in New York City, and went back to Long Island to be a teacher. He remarried and had three kids, who I believe made his life complete. He helped a lot of people in his life, but especially the kids he taught and his own children. He loved life and lived it on his terms.”
From Jonathan Rosen, Friend and Client
“We had a friendship that morphed into a business relationship, but we were always friends first. Jay was free-spirited and free-wheeling, motorcycle-riding and fun-loving. He did everything with a big smile and love for life. It was almost a shock to me that he was an accountant because he was the farthest thing from a buttoned-up numbers guy.
Jay’s spirit permeated into a firm that was very small when I first met him. He knew the trade as well as anyone, but he had a fun side. He was human with compassion and feeling. I think that’s why he and Glenn were able to take the firm to the moon. It was just a few years after we became friends that I started my own business and I knew I would seek out Jay for accounting. They’re still my accountants 27 years later, even though Jay left years ago.
Jay had an epiphany in 2001. I remember being stunned when I got the call. He made the decision to leave a very privileged life – good money, beautiful homes, the freedom to do whatever he wanted – so he could have kids and become a teacher in tough neighborhoods. Instead of wondering “what if,” he changed his life.
I cried when I heard the news of Jay’s passing. It almost sounds trite to say, but the world lost one of the good guys. I miss him dearly.”
Dawn Bergen, Partner, Prager Metis CPAs
“I worked with Jay and for Jay and saw firsthand what kind of character he was. He was a breath of fresh air when he walked into the office, always well-liked and friendly. Back then, the firm was small with maybe 10 people, but Jay always gave the firm energy, whether he was strumming his guitar or playing with his dogs.
I remember Jay would bring his two big dogs into meetings with our biggest client. This wasn’t an act or a gimmick. That’s just who he was. He was always approachable and made you feel welcome.
What I admired most about Jay was the big change he made in 2001. He thought about what he truly wanted in life and realized that he wanted kids more than anything else. Not only did he have three kids, but he became a teacher, which allowed him to be around kids all the time.
Jay left a growing accounting firm, where he was a partner and probably making good money. He decided to change not because he didn’t like the firm or the people in his life, but because he knew he was meant to follow a different path. He went after his dreams and I admire him for that.”
A Final Word about Friendship
When you work at the same company, you spend at least 40 hours per week with the same people, possibly for years. There’s nothing wrong with getting to know people on a personal level. There’s nothing wrong with being friends with coworkers. I guess people are afraid of getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing to someone, but it enriches your life when you become friends and share different parts of your life together.
As I said previously, Jay and I did everything together. When he chose to pursue a different path, I continued with accounting. We went through long stretches when we didn’t talk to each other. When we did talk, it was as if we never stopped.
In recent years, we started speaking to each other more frequently again. After all, we never stopped being friends. We were just going in different directions. I do wish we had always spoken more often.
I learned that even if a good friend moves on and they’re not physically there for you, they’re still there for you. True friendships never die. They just sometimes go up on a shelf for a while.
My advice is to not put your closest friendships up on a shelf. They’re your best friends for a reason.
Rest easy, Jay. You made more of an impact than you could possibly know, and you are most certainly missed.