Topel Forman – Firm Update – December 2021
Topel Forman, Celebrating Sixty Years
At Topel Forman LLC, we value our people and our history, and luckily for us, they are intertwined. In celebrating sixty years of operation, we interviewed past and current employees to learn how Topel Forman has changed and grown over the last six decades. While the accounting profession and workplace standards have changed immensely over time, the core values established by the founders have helped sustain not only the clients we serve but also the people who work here.
Established in 1961 by William Topel and William Forman after meeting while working together at the IRS, they decided to take a risk from their steady paychecks (probably amounting to around $4,000 per year) and formed Topel Forman & Company. An ‘odd couple’, Mr. Topel has been described as prim, tidy, and reserved while Mr. Forman has been described as larger than life and boisterous. Together they brought a sense of professionalism and livelihood that have both continued to resonate as part of the workplace culture today and the environment and ethos have remained steady since inception.
Early on, the pair hired a few people, including their first partners, Marshall Frishman and Mel Rosenberg. The firm quickly moved out of a basement into an office and established a reputation for delivering a level of personal attention that attracted a variety of clients. The firm continued to gain a positive reputation and attracted new business through referrals from satisfied clients. Mike Dicker, partner emeritus, noted the growth pattern of Topel Forman stating, “Growth was linear to sometimes booming. The employees always did work with care and dignity.” When tax programs came to the market, the accounting industry began to worry about viability in a market where people would do their own taxes. But this firm has been able to propel through those changes because according to Mike, “we aren’t just tax preparers, we’re tax consultants,” and as a result, the client relationships we have built have been sustained.
According to Ernesto (Ernie) Alvarez, a current partner, by 1985, there were about 20 employees, with four partners, and another partner joining a year later. He remembers that everyone did a lot of tax work, write-up work, financial statements, and a lot of payroll – “it seems like nothing was out of the realm for projects.” Today, we have a dedicated audit department and dedicated areas of tax experts preparing various tax returns and consulting projects for our clients. Employees are able to utilize their individual expertise and experience to provide specialized service to our clients. With collaboration still at the forefront, they are encouraged to engage with personalized opportunities for professional development.
As the firm grew, it remained a focus of the firm for our employees to maintain personal balance. Even though the benefit packages have improved over time, the firm always encouraged personal time while also maintaining a sense of professional development. Bill Forman was a fierce worker and was not happy if he wasn’t feverishly working, though he did still make time for his family. Bill Topel was more measured but also spent time with his family going to ball games, and was still active in his 70s. Today, employees are encouraged to take flex time, PTO, and maintain personal passions outside of the workplace.
A sense of community was also important to the founders. Bill Forman had a reputation for making sure that his employees either got home safe or were able to make it into the office. A couple of anecdotes include him driving someone home when it was late or helping someone who had been injured get into work every day until they recovered. According to Mike Dicker, there was always laughter and he looked at the firm as being a second family. Mike, who recently retired, has a reputation of being compassionate and caring about all of the employees at Topel Forman. A few staff describe him as the type of person who would show up; when supporting his staff by attending funerals and birthdays he would say, “The deaths are just as important as the celebrations.”
One of our stated core values at Topel Forman is respect. According to Ernie, “They didn’t care whether you were a man, a woman, what color you were, what religion you were, or anything like that. No matter who you were, you were treated like a person; [they were] looking at your qualifications, what you contributed and went from there.” Over the last sixty years, Topel Forman has adapted to the times. For example, at one point in society, administrative professionals might have been called secretaries, duties were limited to smiling, cleaning, and answering a phone. As of today, those professionals have titles such as Executive Assistant, Director of Operations, Project Manager, and more. The duties for these roles have increased along with the update in the title. Joan was our first administrative hire. Her actual title was “Statistical Typist”, indicating how much the workplace has changed. She told one of our founding member’s sons that she believed there would always be a need for that, and it was one of the most secure jobs. Once she left, the duties she was performing were split among a few people.
As of today, our average length of service at Topel Forman (excluding those hired in the last twelve months) is 9 years. In speaking with Ron Forman, Bill’s son, he says that he thinks his father would be amazed at how much the firm has grown. When Bill Forman passed away the family received so many letters from his clients expressing the value of the relationship, showing how much he cared about his clients. His advice was valued by his clients, and the letters made the family feel good about what he had built. While our employees keep their knowledge up to date and pride themselves on providing quality service, it is also important to have fostered a supportive community, which does exist at our firm. There are people who work for the firm today who have been here for over twenty years and one can still see that they have strong working relationships and are able to get the work done but enjoy working at Topel Forman.
Every member of our firm is talented, passionate, and enthusiastic about rolling up their sleeves and working hard to provide quality service to our clients. Through these efforts, we seek to understand our clients and identify their needs and goals to provide the type of service that adds real value. We are thankful for our clients and remain committed to building long-standing relationships with them. We have had the pleasure of advising many of our clients for twenty to thirty years. Most importantly, we thank our team at Topel Forman for their dedication and look forward to the next sixty years as we continue to grow and adapt to changes in our industry while supporting those who are a part of achieving our goals.