Connections July-August 2016

Meet Mark

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Mobile and attended St. Ignatius School until eighth grade. I then transferred to UMS Wright Preparatory School where I graduated. As a child growing up on the Gulf Coast, I enjoyed outdoor activities. I played baseball, football, and basketball and added tennis in high school. My family spent summers on Fowl River, so I had a boat that I used to fish, shrimp, and water ski. My father passed down his love and enjoyment of the outdoors, which I, in turn, passed down to my kids.

When did you decide on accounting as a career?

I remember packing to go to college and my father’s partner at the time, Gilbert F. Dukes, Jr., brought me a Journal of Accountancy magazine with a ten-key adding machine imposed over a person’s face. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to look like that person, but after talking with Mr. Dukes and my father, they encouraged me to pursue accounting. My father told me that whether or not I went into public practice, accounting was one area I should know and understand. I am so thankful for his encouragement.

Tell us about your undergraduate experience. Where did you attend college?

I attended the University of South Alabama right here in Mobile. After my junior year I went to work part time at Smith Dukes & Buckalew and gained a lot of practical experience. After graduation, I became a staff accountant at the firm and worked in many different service areas.

What did you do following graduation?

After obtaining my CPA certificate and having finished an audit engagement, I enrolled in the University of Alabama’s masters in tax program. I packed up a wife, son, dog, and cat and moved to Tuscaloosa for a wonderful year in school. I had a brilliant instructor, Dr. Edward Schnee, who challenged us every day. We were entertained by weekly visits from the large international firms (what used to be called the Big Eight) and I always enjoyed learning about tax cases or tax issues they were involved in. It was great exposure and I was amazed at all of the opportunities that attending the university afforded me

After graduation I packed up a pregnant wife, son, dog, and cat and headed back to Mobile. Even though there were plenty of options to go to other cities, I knew Mobile was the place I wanted to raise my family. By this time, my father had decided to start his own practice and I was eager to join him.

Our practice grew to cover all areas of a traditional accounting firm. What I learned in graduate school couldn’t compare to what I learned with my father; from income tax to estate and gift tax. He was a wealth of information. I learned how to talk with a client and find out what their goals were and what they needed from a CPA. I also learned how to think and solve a tax issue instead of saying it can’t be done. As we grew, we added new people and expanded the services we had to offer. When my father retired from a day-to-day workload, I had five wonderful partners to carry on the traditions my father had built. This business has been such a blessing to my entire family.

In 2014 I decided to invite a third generation into public accounting by starting my own practice with my sons. Today I have two of them, Brooks and Forrest, who work with me. They also received their masters in tax at UA and had Dr. Schnee as their professor! We are fortunate to have my father still participate in our practice, and his wisdom has been a valuable resource for my sons.

What have been the biggest changes in the profession during your career?

If it ever snowed in Mobile, this is where I’d talk about walking uphill to school while battling a blizzard. When I started in the early eighties we were still preparing some returns by hand. And then Dynatax came out. We would record the client’s information on input sheets, and then send the information off to Atlanta to be processed. When the returns were flown back, we would check in the information and deliver this nice product produced by something called a computer. When we would go out on a job we would carry a 75 pound Remington adding machine with us! Then came personal computers and we could actually prepare returns in our office. But the processing took so much time that we used to laugh about it. We would hit CALC on a large return and run out into the parking lot to throw the baseball for fifteen minutes. We would return just as the computer completed calculating the return. Today everything is in the cloud. I am still trying to understand that concept! We used to spend time in the BNA portfolios or the CCH Standard Tax Reporter researching tax law and cases. Now I ask one of my sons about a tax issue and they pull out their phone and within minutes give me an answer.

I mentioned earlier about Mr. Dukes giving me the Journal of Accountancy’s cover of this guy with a ten key face, leading me to think that accountants had to be nerds and stay in a room running numbers all day. Boy was I wrong! I have had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous interesting people. I enjoy working through a problem with a client or helping someone with a tax issue. This profession really does allow you to become someone’s trusted advisor.

What prompted you to become a member of the ASCPA?

I respected the ASCPA’s leadership and its vision for our profession. The Society provides us with educational opportunities that keep us updated on state and federal tax issues. They are an advocate for small firms as well as large firms. I wanted to be part of an organization that has our best professional interests in mind.

How did membership benefit you as a CPA in public accounting?

One of the biggest benefits is meeting other CPAs from around the state and sharing ideas with them. You are able to meet professionals who specialize in many different areas of tax. I have learned that Alabama CPAs are willing to consult with you when you call them.

You’re part of three generations of CPAs. What has been most important about living with that legacy?

As I mentioned earlier, my father taught us to listen to clients and be proactive. He taught us to think through an issue and how to research to help solve the issue for the client. Never assume that an issue cannot be resolved. I had a client tell me the other day that one of the greatest things she inherited from her father was my father! He has had an impact beyond just the accounting services he provided. He showed us how important it is to give back to the community. He served on several boards and was instrumental in starting many new organizations. He passed that down to me and that is what I want to pass down to my sons. Helping people, and being involved in the community, is of utmost importance.

Tell us about your family. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I have a very supportive wife, Catherine, who has lived through 34 tax seasons with me. We have three grown sons who have all graduated from college. Two of my children, Brooks and Forrest, are part of our firm, Hieronymus CPAs. My oldest son, Ward, graduated with a finance degree and works for Century Bank in Mobile. Brooks is married to Camille Maddox from Memphis. Ward recently married Worth Morrisette from Mobile. Brooks and Camille gave us a beautiful little girl 10 months ago. After raising three boys, I am learning how quickly little girls capture your heart. Catherine and I love to take care of her every chance we get. I also continue to enjoy running, riding my bike on Dauphin Island, and fishing with my boys.

Involvement in the Community.

This profession has given me the opportunity to meet many people and learn many new things. I have always believed that everyone needs to be involved in their community. A CPA can present new ideas that others may not have ever heard or thought about. Additionally, you may never know how your participation can impact someone else. I also wanted to be an example to my children and demonstrate the importance of giving back to the community.

When my children were younger, I was involved in Young Life and taught a Bible study on Friday mornings at their school. When you bring a box of doughnuts or chicken biscuits, it is amazing how many students want to come. However, the most gratifying part of these Bible studies was to see these young people grow up and tell me how the Bible studies impacted their lives.

I enjoyed doing new things in our community. A client called during February one year and asked if I would help him set up The Exceptional Foundation of the Gulf Coast. We needed to file for tax exempt status with the IRS. He told me it needed to be received by April, because Sarah Palin would be speaking at the Inaugural Celebration. I chuckled and said I would do my best, but I doubted we would have received anything back from the IRS until mid-summer. Well, evidently we weren’t on the Louis Lerner’s watch list and received the acceptance letter by April. Sarah Palin was able to come and speak at our celebratory event. This great organization continues today in Daphne offering daily activities to wonderful special needs adults in our community.

Mobile is a very exciting place to live. We are seeing new businesses locate to our area. We have an exceptional Mayor, Sandy Stimpson, who has been instrumental in bringing new business, protecting our environment, and establishing programs to help our youth and young entrepreneurs succeed. The Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce has been the catalyst for a majority of these changes. I became involved in the Chamber because I wanted to be a part of a movement that is making a difference in our area; one building a better Mobile for our children and grandchildren.

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