It’s summer and this means more to those who work in the accounting industry. This is the time between the two busiest seasons for us at B+Co. It is time for us to not only meet with our clients to provide consultation and planning, but to also do the things we love outside of work. Work/life balance is not just an ideal, but a reality for the B+Co team. Jeff Belingheri, Managing Partner in Novato, reminds us of the importance of self-care while striving to be your best professionally. He has been a Partner with Bregante since 1996 and his leadership is without comparison.
Tell us your story and how you decided on a career in accounting.
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with the intent to study architecture, but I could not get into the architecture program, so I applied to and was accepted into the business program. But I never transferred into the Architecture program. The summer between my Junior and Senior year I took a job at Bregante + Company LLP as kind of the “office gopher”, filing documents, organizing client files, making copies, etc., and assisting the firm accountant with data entry into the accounting software that B+Co was using at the time. Towards the end of summer, I was having a discussion with Ray Bregante, the founder, and told him that I really didn’t know what I was going to do when I graduated from college, and he suggested that I apply for a position as an auditor at one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms and work there long enough to get my CPA license. He felt that the exposure to auditing, accounting, and lots of different types of companies would eventually lead me to the next step in my career. So, I did that, and got a job at Price Waterhouse, got my CPA license, and then realized that while I really liked being a public accountant, I did not want to spend my career at a large international CPA firm, with essentially no control over the clients that I worked with, or the colleagues that I worked with. After 3 years at Price Waterhouse, Ray contacted me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing with B+Co. I did and was hired as a staff accountant doing tax work, and a little audit work. While with B+Co I went through the Masters in Taxation program at GGU, and next thing you know, I was a tax accountant!
How did education play a role in your career success?
The best thing I did, and the best thing anyone can do, to advance their careers as a CPA, is to get a Masters in Taxation.
Did you have a strategy for becoming a partner? If yes, what was it?
I knew that developing great relationships with the clients that I was serving was critical, and I knew that developing new clients was critical as well, so I focused on those two things. I was also in a very unique and incredibly fortunate situation at B+Co when three years into my employment with B+Co (1996), we had 5 partners and 3 of them left B+Co all at the same time. Only Paul Hammond and Ken Preston remained, so Paul and Ken realized I was the most experienced employee they had, with the most client contact, and a Master’s in Taxation, so they invited me into the partnership. On top of that, I became a partner and the managing partner all at the same time.
Are there leaders in the industry or leadership traits that you admire? Who or what are they?
I have always admired Paul Hammond, Partner Emeritus with Bregante + Company LLP, for his kind soul, incredible tax knowledge, and unwavering commitment to delivering excellent client service to every client, from the largest to the smallest. Roy Latka, the former president of KMD Architects (one of our clients), for many things, including his communication skills. He would always start meetings with some small talk and kind words for everyone in the meeting, before getting down to business. He is the most thoughtful and kind person I know, and he has lived his life with such commitment to his ideals (kindness, community, family, etc.), it is inspiring to know him. We still have lunch a few times a year to keep in touch, on top of the regular client contact stuff.
What is your leadership style, and how have those influences helped shape your style?
I like to clearly communicate my expectations, give some advice about how to meet those expectations, and then step aside and let the employee see if they can be successful. If they are, I try to always communicate that, and if they are not, I try to always communicate that as well, with more advice on how to do better next time.
What kind of advice do you give others who are entering the field?
Be curious, never assume anything, always ask questions, and get answers. Don’t get pigeonholed as a specialist in a narrow field of taxation. If you want to be a good consultant in a local CPA firm, you need broad exposure to a lot of different things. Plan on getting a Master’s in Taxation as it will take many years to get exposed to all that you will be exposed to in the master’s program.
When you first became a partner, what was your main focus? And now, years later, how did your focus shift as a partner?
I don’t think my focus has shifted much at all. I left Price Waterhouse to come to B+Co so I could have control over the types of clients that I work with, and the colleagues that I work with, and I have spent my career here being very intentional about both of those things. I respect and enjoy all of my clients, and everybody at B+Co.
What are some of your bigger challenges at work and how do you tackle them?
Work/life balance has always been a challenge and a priority. I have always made a point to use all my vacation time and to truly “disconnect” when I am on vacation, so that has helped a lot. I was also very committed to being involved with our two sons, and those commitments (coaching soccer, attending sporting events, etc.) helped to keep me in balance.
What are some things you enjoy outside of work that bring you that balance?
In no particular order, my main interests are hiking/backpacking, traveling, gardening, volunteering, going to see our kids at college, searching for and collecting vintage stereo equipment, playing old (and new) records on said vintage stereo equipment, and recently fixing up a boat we bought in 2021 which we hope to start using this summer.
What tools or attitudes have you used at work to adapt to the changes surrounding the pandemic?
I do my best to attend all virtual events and make use of MS Teams and Zoom to consistently communicate with my team at B+Co as well as our clients with cameras on. I try to express gratitude regularly for how much I appreciate how committed and connected everyone has stayed during the last 2.5 years.
There are some truly busy work months in accounting. What is it that drives or motivates you at work?
Getting through busy season so I can go on vacation! I enjoy the connection that I have with clients. You don’t get much of that during busy season, but you do get it during the rest of the year when we are consulting and planning with them. So, looking forward to getting the compliance work over with and getting back to consulting and planning is motivating for me. I am also motivated by money, so I can afford to do all the things that I like to do outside of work!
What do you think is the next evolution in Public Accounting?
Two things: (1) Artificial intelligence, which will result in the automation of much of the individual income tax return preparation process, and (2) as a result, CPAs will be forced to become more consultative (i.e., not just tax return preparers), which we at B+Co have been doing since Ray Bregante started B+Co in 1976. So, we are well positioned for this evolution.
What is life like at Bregante + Company LLP? What are some positives about your time with the firm?
We care a lot about our employees and their experience here. B+Co has always been a very supportive and fun place to work. We have a very diverse professional team and client base. We are always striving to be the best at what we do.
How do you find purpose in your work?
I really enjoy getting to know my clients and helping them be successful, however they define that. Tax return preparation is not particularly “purposeful” but working with our clients to help them is. For instance, advising a client about the transition ownership of their company is purposeful to me. They founded their business and spent the majority of their adult life working to then be able to empower the next generation of leaders in the company. That is very rewarding. At B+Co, we try hard to support the communities in which we live and work, and I have always tried to work with clients who have the same philosophy regarding “giving back”. I find purpose in helping that type of client be successful, and continue on into the future, so they can continue to give back.
What has been the proudest moment on your path to Partner?
Growing into the partner I am today, my proudest moments have been every time we get the firm together for an event and looking at all of our employees smiling and laughing and having fun and feeling so proud of what we have built here, and so grateful for everyone who continues to choose to work with us.