Philip Whitman, CPA, CEPA – TRUSTED ADVISOR to the TRUSTED ADVISORS

Episode Transcription

Glenn Harper [00:00:00]:

Hello, everybody. Welcome to another edition, the Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. I’m Glenn Harper.

Julie Smith [00:00:04]:

Julie Smith.

Glenn Harper [00:00:05]:

What’s going on, Julie?

Julie Smith [00:00:06]:

You know, it’s still warm here, and it’s supposed to be cold, so I’m gonna take it.

Glenn Harper [00:00:09]:

It’s a beautiful day in Ohio, fall day. We don’t get many of these, but this is why you live in Ohio.

Julie Smith [00:00:15]:

Maybe.

Glenn Harper [00:00:15]:

Well, I mean, Maybe maybe summertime, but fall is just gorgeous. Got the crisp mornings, beautiful fall foliage, and the football. What more could one ask for?

Julie Smith [00:00:25]:

Probably our guest today.

Glenn Harper [00:00:27]:

Well, there you go. What’s that great segue, Julie? So we’ve got, I’d like to introduce, Phil Wittman, a fellow CPA, Means certified public accountant, Anas CPA, c e p a, which is a certified exit planning adviser who not only eats, sleeps, and drinks tax code and FASB standards, But love’s to empower other CPAP firms to achieve their potential. He’s the founder and owner of Whitman Trusted Advisors. C Suite Impact is on the board of many of a company that fill a chair with an account looking type guy. In all seriousness, Phil is at the is in the top 100 most influential people in accounting and is the man when it comes to bringing Being an authority on helping CPay firms rise above their competition with not only better leadership within the company, but deliver a better client experience. Growing a CPF firm is hard, and Phil has made that look easy. Thanks, Phil, for being on our show.

Phil Whitman [00:01:11]:

Oh, you’re welcome, Glenn. And, wow, I am just so impressed. You guys, you could do this full time. I

Julie Smith [00:01:20]:

No. That wouldn’t be fun then.

Glenn Harper [00:01:22]:

No. It’s it’s so hard to, you know, when we get We every once in a while, we get lucky and get a really, a guest that just stands on in a different way. Everybody’s got their own thing, but, Phil, I think you’re a little bit different. And, you know, we always like to get to know our our our guests a little bit. And, you know, you’re impossible to find it. You’ve Got yourself locked down. I tapped in the NSA, and I couldn’t find anything on you out there, personally or, you know, sins from your past that are fun to talk about. But, I do know that your birthday’s in April.

Glenn Harper [00:01:51]:

And how the heck do you manage that in tax season?

Phil Whitman [00:01:54]:

Oh my goodness. You know, the one good thing is none of my kids were born in April. But, and my birthday was April 6th, and I was a tax guy. I guess I got out at a good point in time. You know? I was a senior tax accountant and had a client that was lien and levied by the IRS in New York State and my firm sent me in to go in and straighten them out, and that’s how my practice management career was born. It was Originally with a, a law firm whose, controller, went to Israel, sent a fax. She couldn’t take the pressure. She wasn’t coming back.

Phil Whitman [00:02:33]:

And

Glenn Harper [00:02:34]:

Here you are.

Phil Whitman [00:02:35]:

It’s amazing the way things start. And I can remember my old firm saying, Phil, you’re making a really big mistake. We make partners here at a really young age, and that law firm you’re going to, you know, they don’t have any money. They’re all Screwed up. And I was newly married, and it was different. It was fun. And I was running a law suite, and, you know, it, it really, ultimately, was transformational. And a very interesting thing, That managing partner, to this day, is a client at, Whitman Transition Advisors, and He was one of the ones that took a private equity investment.

Phil Whitman [00:03:15]:

I meet with him every month, and, it’s it’s just, The way things come full circle, it’s it’s just pretty amazing.

Glenn Harper [00:03:24]:

Funny how things work out, isn’t it? You know, it’s one of these the the the fun part about is to try to figure out how you got where you got. And, you know, where were you where were you raised? Where’d you grow up at?

Phil Whitman [00:03:37]:

So I I was born in Brooklyn, but, you know, my parents moved out to suburbs in New Jersey, by the time I was 2 years old so I grew up in a small town, Matawan, New Jersey, Central Jersey. My high school produced some, tremendous football players, Madam One Regional High School, And a couple of guys that joined the, the Dallas cowboys. One of my classmates was, you know, Kansas City Chiefs, but you know how it goes with football players. What is it? An average of, 2 seasons and 4 games Before an injury

Glenn Harper [00:04:15]:

and 2.3. Yep. Mhmm.

Phil Whitman [00:04:17]:

Yeah. 2.3. So, but in any event, You know, I I I grew up, and I literally today live about 4 miles from the home that I was raised in. And, it’s it’s just a nice bedroom community in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Glenn Harper [00:04:37]:

And it seems like, you know, The ability I think you went to Rutgers, which is a great school. I mean, I don’t know how you feel about getting in the Big Ten when they did, but it’s pretty cool that, you know, the Big Ten goes sea to shining sea. But, you know, you were economics degree. So how did you transition from economics to accounting?

Phil Whitman [00:04:56]:

Well, believe it or not, when I went to Rutgers, and I went to Rutgers College, which was in New Brunswick, New Jersey, They did not have an accounting degree. I graduated in 1984. And if you wanted to go into accounting, you had to, major in economics, and then you did a specialization. So I did a specialization in finance And accounting, and I decided to go the accounting route. My father was a partner at Pricewaterhouse, and My, my grandfather owned a candy store, and my dad was the first one that went to college in our family. And my my grandfather told my dad, You should be like mister Charles. You know? He comes to my luncheonette, and he’s wearing a suit and a tie. And so my dad became a CPA, was a partner.

Phil Whitman [00:05:52]:

Dad was always my idol. He would come home from work and tell these amazing stories of Who he went to lunch with and where he went to lunch and the you know, one of the things that that I’d say, And I’m a I’m passionate about this profession, and, it it’s just that we’ve done a terrible job Of educating the young folks, what an amazing, amazing career and profession this is. And I think it’s because Those, dinner table stories, aren’t being told, and there’s a lot of secrets that are being kept. We just did a very bad job of educating the young folks what a what an amazing profession it is. I mean, I literally went into it because Those compelling stories that I heard from my dad, I was like, okay. That’s what I wanna do.

Glenn Harper [00:06:45]:

Well, you know, just talking with you, you’re not the, quote, stereotypical CPA, which She’s very reserved and deep thinking and and stoic, and you don’t talk, and you’re buttoned up. And, like, that’s how that’s how they usually roll, and and nobody wants to be like Yeah. But I think the industry is definitely changing. I think you’re trying to change it. We’re trying to change it. And the you can actually be an accountant and be a real person and talk and have a good time time and and help people, but people just don’t see it that way for some reason. It’s a horrible marketing campaign.

Julie Smith [00:07:15]:

Well and I think for the young younger generation, they’re so scared of it because of that tax season. They the younger generation really wants that work life balance, and no one’s out there setting the record straight that you can have both.

Phil Whitman [00:07:29]:

Yeah. And I think there are some middle market and smaller firms that have done an amazing job of rolling out the red carpet. I think the biggest challenge we face is we all know that the big four hire about 75 to 80% of all accounting graduates, And their professors are typically saying, you know, go to the big four because that’s what they know, and most of them never worked in public accounting. And, yes, at the big four, you’ll get a great training in years 1, 2, and 3, but then you’ll be highly Specialized, you know, an inch wide and a mile deep. And when you look to transition to a middle market firm, if you’re at the manager level, You know, sometimes it’s a little bit of a challenge. But I think that the smaller and middle market firms, That’s the that’s the way to go. Because what happens, the big four hires all these people. They work them to death 80, a 100 hours, a week.

Phil Whitman [00:08:33]:

And they think this is what public accounting is about, and they leave and they never come back. I’m I’m working with a partner, someone who spent 40 years at a big four firm, and he just joined one of our Strategics. And as you know, nowadays in the m and a arena, it’s not just CPA firm to CPA firm. We just closed a transaction with a wealth management fund. You know? And I’m sure we all saw, you know, the, the the Bergen firm that did a deal with, creative solutions, creative management, whoever it was. But we have all these new buyers in the marketplace, And this big four partner that I’m working with, as he’s now been meeting small and middle market firms For potential investment by this giant wealth management group, he’s like, we were so insular. All we know is the big four. And now I’m finding out that there’s a whole another world.

Phil Whitman [00:09:37]:

And, you know so he had to retire at 60.

Glenn Harper [00:09:40]:

Mhmm.

Phil Whitman [00:09:40]:

And I used to think 60 was old un until I turned 60. And When I look at it, you know, as I mentioned, dad was a partner at Price Waterhouse. He was fortunate they extended him 2 years. He worked on a very large Mutual fund, and they were gonna go out to bid unless they had Whitman. So, he stayed on, had 1 client for 2 years. But even still, I’m gonna be 62 next April. And at 62, my dad Face mandatory retirement. I just feel like I am so vibrant.

Phil Whitman [00:10:20]:

I have so much more to give. And, you know, if I have Health you know, to just continue helping CPAs and firms, I I I just can’t imagine. And I know one of the challenges. I go into firms. I have a firm I’m working with in in in in Naples, Florida, a 90 year old practitioner. And he’s got great clients, and it’s small. It’s a $1,000,000 book of business, but he’s looking he thinks it’s time for him to begin to change. Hold on a little bit.

Phil Whitman [00:10:53]:

Yeah. Yeah. He still wants the work, though. And he does all the work. He does all the returns. And, you know, I know that for Affirm, we don’t want those young kids coming in and seeing 80 90 year olds walking around Because they’re gonna think, oh my goodness. If I’m in this profession, is that what I’m gonna have to be doing when I’m 80 or 90? But the reality is We’re not digging ditches. We’re not breaking our backs.

Phil Whitman [00:11:19]:

Our hands are in callous. And as long as you have your brain, You know, this is a profession that I think it will enable you to stay lively. And I think, unfortunately, I’ve seen too many of my colleagues, partners that they stop, and it’s when they stop, that they’re It’s over.

Glenn Harper [00:11:40]:

It’s over. Good.

Phil Whitman [00:11:41]:

To wash. You know?

Julie Smith [00:11:42]:

Well, Phil, I’m gonna go back 50 years. I’m gonna switch this dial. So go back 50 years, and you have these great idols that you look up to that do are doing great things, creating amazing stories. What did you do in your childhood? Were you just a natural entrepreneur as well? And you, you know, what did you do in your childhood that maybe could have impacted where you are today?

Phil Whitman [00:12:06]:

You know, very, very perceptive of you, Julie. And and I you know what? You bring me back. So when I was probably 7 years old, I used to get this, You know, in the magazine, it used to have all these offers in the back and send the self addressed stand, you know, pay for shipping and handling. So I walked my neighborhood, and there was the American Seed Company. I sold seeds, Flower seeds and vegetable seeds. When it snowed outside, me and my brothers, what we would do, we would walk around our neighborhood, And we would knock on doors, and we’d say, oh, we’ll shovel your driveway for $5 or $10 depending how big it was. And we would hit every house, And we would get their commitment that we would be doing the shoveling. And, obviously, you could only shovel 1 driveway at a time.

Phil Whitman [00:13:06]:

But when the next kid went there, they said, oh, you know, we already hired Phil and David to do it. So, like, we you know, so I shoveled Snow. I mowed lawns. Even when I was in the public accounting profession, I always had a side business. You know? And it wasn’t a tax practice. I did have a tax practice. I mean, I had a travel agency. I used to book people.

Phil Whitman [00:13:29]:

I mean, I’ve always had this entrepreneurial itch, and There was a point in time after spending, I want to say, 4 or 5 years in public accounting, together with my brother, with my father’s help, we put together a private placement memorandum. We raised $687,000. And we went out, and we bought the franchise rights for Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits in Suffolk County, Long Island, and we had a 5 store contract. And I went from doing tax returns to rolling out biscuits and frying chicken, and We actually ended up by the time I was 29 years old, I had run a multimillion dollar, franchise and filed bankruptcy. We the the recession of 1991, which Long Island, New York led the country in and, lagged the country out. We always thought fast food would be recession proof. But what started happening when Grumman had layoffs and Blue Point Labs closed, people started brownbagging it and bringing it from home. And our average check was about $6.7.

Phil Whitman [00:14:49]:

And for that amount of money in the nineties, you could go to a diner and sit down and get waitress service. So we started seeing an erosion of our sales. At one point, I stopped Taking salary so that we could buy product. Let’s put it this way. You ever hear the story of a 3 day notice, like, when the sheriff Shows up at your door and says something like, mister Whitman, you haven’t paid your rent in 3 months. If you don’t move your stuff out in 3 days, we’re gonna put your stuff on the street. 29 years old. And except for the graces of god and the fact that I had parents and my wife had parents, my newly we I I got married in 1991.

Phil Whitman [00:15:37]:

This happened in 1991. My my bride, my newlywed bride, and I, we would have been living in a washer dryer box refrigerator box on the side of the street. We packed up everything we had. We moved home. And back in 1991, 92, There weren’t a lot of accounting jobs out there, and I was just very fortunate. I landed a per diem job at Citroen Cooperman 2 months, February 15th to April 15th, they loved me. I love them. They’ve made me an offer.

Phil Whitman [00:16:11]:

And, actually, that was the firm when they sent me to a law firm to help them out. That’s how my practice management career was born. So, you know, I I’m gonna stop for a second, but I’m gonna remember to to add something else because I think So much of who you are and what you become is is is a matter of mindset. And you either have an open mindset. You have a mindset of doom and gloom. And in the past, I’ve done a series, with With Don Hood, I call it the fearful mindset. And I think in the public accounting industry, unfortunately, Too many of our brethren have that fearful mindset.

Glenn Harper [00:16:57]:

Ultra conservative. You you bring a couple amazing points that, As our listeners who are we believe are mostly entrepreneurs is the fact that if you’re gonna do something, you gotta go all in. And you went all in. And you you got the commitment. You did it. And, you know, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. You didn’t actually fail. You just pivoted and did something else.

Glenn Harper [00:17:18]:

And you had a great support staff around you, meeting your family and friends to help you do that. People believed in you. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t have that, and it makes it really, really challenging. But as as you mentioned fried chicken, I could go for some honey you know, spicy honey, chicken right now. That sounds really good. Oh my god. And you said something, a little bit earlier as well. You know, when you were young and you Wait.

Julie Smith [00:17:41]:

Wait. Wait. Go ahead. Before you go back again. I wanna stay in the moment we’re in. And I think, Phil, a lot of entrepreneurs see the peaks And the valleys and the peaks and the valleys. And I think usually people get stuck in those valleys. But I think to your point and your story is you learned how to crawl out of the peak or crawl out of the valley to get to the next peak.

Julie Smith [00:18:07]:

You never wanted to stay down there. You knew you couldn’t. And I think your mindset what you said about mindset is what’s propelled you forward in your career and in your life. And I think that’s a huge thing for entrepreneurs listening is don’t stay where you are too long. Right? Don’t don’t wallow in that. Figure out How to pivot, how to get out of it, and, hey, maybe you go from fried chicken to, QuickBooks. I don’t know how that works, but sound sounds great.

Glenn Harper [00:18:33]:

Yeah. The next day is another day, and go up and slay it.

Phil Whitman [00:18:37]:

Yes. And you used a great word, Julie. You said don’t wallow in it. And I always say, you could lay on the couch and cry and think what if, what if, or you pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you say, okay. Where am I going next? What am I gonna do next? Now imagine this, in 1991, 92, there was no Internet. There was something called the New York Times, and I remember the New York Times, the help wanted section. It used to be There there there were 20, 30 pages of job ads, and now all of a sudden and I My Sundays were spent going through every single ad, and there weren’t a lot of them. And it was real challenging.

Phil Whitman [00:19:22]:

Instead of it kind of enjoying being with my newlywed bride and saying, okay. When next in my life am I gonna have A break. Now we did go to Bar Harbor, and we had some adventures while I was looking. But but the thing that I would tell you, I was, like, So laser beam focused on putting myself out there and and doing you know you know, not laying on the couch and crying. So so, yes, those peaks and valleys. And and I did you know, I I I kind of experienced Another valley, you know, my my foraying into practice management, I started with law firms. I spent 6 years Helping law firms as their COO. And then I said, I’m a CPA.

Phil Whitman [00:20:09]:

What am I doing in a law firm? I’ll always be the hired help. And back in, like, 1997, CPA firms first started embracing the professional management of firms, and I landed a role with, like, $6,000,000 firm with 6 partners, about $1,000,000 book each. And when they opened up their books to me, And I saw how much these guys were earning. I picked up the phone, and I called my dad.

Glenn Harper [00:20:37]:

What the heck?

Phil Whitman [00:20:38]:

Dad Working at this $6,000,000 firm, you’re a partner at Price Waterhouse. These guys, they, you know, they’re making 5, $600,000 each. He said, yeah. Just because it’s a big floor firm Doesn’t mean you make more money than all the you know, there’s plenty of smaller firms. What I’ve learned is public accounting has probably created more millionaires next store than our world knows about. And I think part of the thing and and, look, it’s not all about the money, But you you know you know that thing they say money can’t buy you happiness? Well, someone once said, yeah, but it makes the miserable times a little bit more easy to handle.

Glenn Harper [00:21:13]:

Absolutely.

Phil Whitman [00:21:14]:

But but what what I can tell you is some of the young folks out there, if they only realize the inheritance that has been created for them in the public accounting arena. You know? And and and there are entrepreneurial CPAs and CPA firms out there. And, you know, it it’s just it it’s such there’s such an amazing opportunity. And I was I was glad to see the other day, accounting today, and you had mentioned that accounting enrollment was up at Purdue University. I, myself, because I graduated from Rutgers, I’ve agreed to mentor couple of students, that are in the business school there. I’ve gone to, local high schools to talk about what an amazing, career this could be because I did audit. I did tax. I went into private.

Phil Whitman [00:22:08]:

I ran restaurants. I ran law firms. I ran CPA firms, and now 15 years Consulting with CPA firms I mean, e even if you just go and get an accounting degree and a CPA license, You’re golden for the rest of your life no matter what you do. So

Glenn Harper [00:22:27]:

Yeah. It’s it’s funny. As a role as a CPA, if you’re at a a like, a big four, you like you said, you’re gonna know 1 piece for probably 1 or 2 clients, and it’s very You’ll know the knowledge of that piece, but when you work in a smaller firm and you’re dealing with clients, you get to see everything. And so you’re when you do the tax sweatshop Saying for those 1st few years, you learn so much about everything that your knowledge base is so long, and you just You look and see what other people are doing, what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, gives you a little bit more of an opportunity to to understand if you’re gonna be an entrepreneur. This is what you look for. You get to you got to see all these clients, what they did right, what they did wrong. It’s like your own little mutual fund. You get to pull the best out of it.

Glenn Harper [00:23:10]:

And I think that’s probably what you were doing. Right? And And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right? If we had a you know, for every success, there’s another one that just didn’t make it. But it for you, when you were doing this, like, There had to be a calling. And was it the fact that when you went and were changed that firm and you were like, wait a minute. I’m seeing what People are making, was it the money opportunity, or was it the opportunity to expand what you know and help others? What what made you switch from wanting to work for the man to being the man?

Phil Whitman [00:23:39]:

So, you know, I I guess I’ve always, I’ve always had very thick Scan and had the ability to let things roll off my shoulder. And I’m sure if you imagine when you’re in a role and whether they call you the director of administration, chief operating officer, Or or a firm administrator.

Julie Smith [00:23:59]:

You’re like barista.

Glenn Harper [00:24:00]:

She’s barista.

Phil Whitman [00:24:01]:

Barista. There you go. And you can do that too. You you deal with a lot of things. I mean, everything comes across your plate. And it’s and so, a, Being a person that liked having a seat at the table and having my hands in so many different things, It was just, I guess, the the variety that I wasn’t sitting there and, you know, I wasn’t Troller or CFO closing out, you know, month after month, being the orchestra leader of, an administrative team, You know? And giving my partner group the ability to do what they do best. So I’ve always been a people person. You know? Someone comes in your office, they’re upset.

Phil Whitman [00:24:53]:

You gotta calm them down. You gotta be a little bit of a psychologist. You know? And, you know, when do you invoke the 72 hour rule, which is, yeah, I understand you. Let’s get together, you know, on Monday. And clearly, By Monday, everything has kinda calmed down, and we don’t have to deal with you know, take take harsh action. But in any event, I think it was the diversity of of, you know, just running a business, and I always did it in such a way that, Hey. I could save you money. I’m a tax guy.

Phil Whitman [00:25:26]:

The 1st firm I went into, you know, unfortunately, they were able to hey. We don’t need you to Prepare the tax return and do all this accounting work. All we need you to do is review it because Fella’s gonna do this now. You know? So I always went into these roles with the idea of I’m going to be a profit center for you because It’s gonna ultimately end up costing you nothing to have made because I’m gonna save you money and waste that you’d never thought of. I always went in As if I was the outsider, a consulting coming in and looking under the hood and being a fixer. And then I felt like when I fixed things, it was time to move on. So I went from a $6,000,000 firm to an $18,000,000 firm, and it was all health care and not for profits. And I helped them grow to 30,000,000, and then I got a Paul and someone said, I got a $60,000,000 firm for you.

Phil Whitman [00:26:21]:

And, you know, I joined that firm, and after 6 years helped them grow to a 100,000,000. We went from 300 people to 400 people, 38 partners to 48 partners, and then a series of life events. And I think there’s always something that puts you, into, whether it’s your true north direction or another direction. My mom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. My middle son who was 10 years old, was diagnosed. He had a very large, arachnoid cyst, on the left temporal lobe of his brain. And here I am running a firm that’s almost a 100,000,000 in revenue, and I’m going to world class brain surgeons and cancer treatment centers. And I had an amazing team.

Phil Whitman [00:27:14]:

And that amazing team was able to even if I didn’t come in until 3 or 4 PM to get the The stuff I needed to get done, things were operating seamlessly. Almost so seamlessly that in my mind, I was thinking these guys are I think, what do we need Phil for? But in any event, you know, my mom passed away after a 1 year battle with multiple myeloma. My son, thank goodness. And to this day, you know, the the event, which I believe was, You know, amusement park rides rattling the brain a little bit too much that caused, you know, a a little this is something congenital he was born with. But, you know, everything’s settled down. And I was laying in bed 1 night, And my oldest son it was the night before his middle school graduation. And I said to My wife I can’t believe Charlie’s going to, high school next year. And she sat up and she looked at me, and she said, what? Are you kidding? You’re missing it all.

Phil Whitman [00:28:21]:

You leave, it’s dark. You come home, it’s dark. And the truth of the matter is I had become my father. My dad was a workaholic. He dedicated his life to, Price Waterhouse, and he He came to maybe 1, Little League Baseball game of mine because he was always working Saturdays, Sundays. But then again, sometimes I think maybe it was because I really I I wasn’t an a player. You know? Maybe if Maybe if I wasn’t a bench warmer or or maybe if I was a first stringer, he would have been at my gates. But, no, all kidding aside, Dad work.

Phil Whitman [00:29:00]:

I had become my dad. And the truth of the matter is I would go to work, I’d fall asleep on the train, and I’d wake up, and I wouldn’t know if I was going to work or coming home from work. And that evening when my wife sat up in bed was pivotable because we were like ships passing in the night, And I could have been a statistic. I’m gonna be married 33 years next June. And I said, you know what? I’m gonna go in, And I’m gonna tell them I’m leaving. I have no idea what I’m gonna do, but I’m gonna let them know after October 15th, and this was in June, I’m gonna leave the firm. And, you know, I ended up leaving the firm. I took a month off because I had just built, You know, the $1,000,000 interest only McMansion on a hill in, you know, Edroom community.

Phil Whitman [00:29:59]:

And all of a sudden you know, my wife did everything. So the final punch list, this was like the 1 year walk. I said I’m gonna take care of it. So I took a month off, and then the 1st Monday in November, November 3rd Of 2008, so we’re coming up on our 15 year anniversary. I formed an LLC. I picked up the phone. I started calling managing partners, And I told them that I’m doing mergers and acquisitions.

Glenn Harper [00:30:31]:

You’re back in the game.

Phil Whitman [00:30:33]:

I’m back in the game, and, and and I decided to do that because one of my former partners who had left my firm called me up, and he said, Phil, with 3,000,000, you know, I left as a solo. I joined 2 other guys with 12 people. I can’t take on a new Client, I’m having trouble hiring staff. Maybe you could introduce us to managing partners. So I started doing that, But then I realized deal cycle was so long, I wasn’t gonna be able to pay my $1,000,000 interest only mortgage. So I started doing Some lateral partner talent acquisition. And I realized, okay. That’s gonna be how, you know, every 2 or 3 months, we earn a See, I’m able to pay my bills.

Phil Whitman [00:31:16]:

Now I will tell you, I’ve often thought of doing, like, an infomercial. You know? Like, Come visit my house. You know, you see the guy in front of the Ferrari. I don’t have a Ferrari, but, you know, the swimming pool. You know? I’m still in the house Despite the fact that along the way, I got notice of foreclosure a notice of intent to foreclose from the bank Least a half a dozen times. I’d fall 3 months behind. I closed a deal. I would then get caught up, and I’d be good for 3 months.

Phil Whitman [00:31:50]:

And then, you know, it was those peaks and valleys. You know? And, I would come home from a great day in the city, which was, I got to meet a managing partner today, and he said he wants to work with me. And my wife would be like, you know, the movie, Jerry Maguire. Show me the money, Jerry. Show me the money. Did you make a bank deposit today? Well, what Maybe.

Glenn Harper [00:32:10]:

I’m trying. I’m trying.

Phil Whitman [00:32:12]:

Day. You know? But We would go back to where she’d be like, you need to get a job, and I’d say I’m building a business. And she’d say you need to get a job. And then my old firm Called me up one day, and they said, oh, you know, because they were had become a client of of ours, and the managing partner was retiring. And the two Guys that ultimately became co managing partners, they each had, like, $4,000,000 books of business, and they were Started running the firm on Saturdays, you know, in the Long Island office, and they asked me if I would come back, bring me in as a Partner. When I was COO, I wasn’t a partner. My dream was always to be a partner in a CPA firm. And I still, to this day, have the contracts in my drawer, And it was gonna be a very nice retirement benefit.

Phil Whitman [00:32:58]:

By the way, they recently folded into Citroen Cooperman, so there was a very big payday. And I’m sure I would’ve participated in that. But, ultimately, I told them, you know what? I love The one to many. Helping many. You know, when I was at that firm, I always felt like, what good am I really doing in the world? I’m helping 48 partners become extremely wealthy. But then I would say, okay. We have 400 people. We’re all putting food on their table.

Phil Whitman [00:33:29]:

You can measure things different ways. But, You know, I truly found my, my my passion. I mean, I love helping people. Sometimes people think I’m crazy. I was on the phone with a managing partner yesterday. You know, we recently launched this new offshoring company where we’re consulting with firms, and our chief fractional, Outsourcing officer, as we call him, instead of CEO. It’s a company we started, Impact, Global Solutions Group. We’re the only, firm, consulting with CPA firms how to do offshoring and outsourcing the right way.

Phil Whitman [00:34:08]:

And when I told the managing partner, when we’re done reviewing the contracts or introducing you to the right offshoring partners, The conversation’s gonna go something like this. How much do you think our services were worth? You wanna pay us 1500, 25100? Whatever you think is right. And he looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m like, well, we’re helpers. Now the truth of the matter is That company because we’re doing business with South Africa, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, Colombia, and there’s one more. Obviously, India. So there’s 6 countries. And the people that we ultimately bring the business to, they Sure. You know, they give us a referral fee.

Phil Whitman [00:35:00]:

So it’s not about when we first got into the, offshoring business, we have a partnership with a company in the Philippines. We had heard Sue Coffey at the AICPA say that there aren’t gonna be enough auditors go around with all these PPPs and governmental grants. So we went to the Philippines. We formed a partnership with a company that had almost a 100 people deployed to a charter accountancy firm in Australia. Now they get their CPA in the Philippines. They were having trouble breaking into the US. We now have a 100 people deployed at 10 CPA firms. And when we did it, we did it in such a way that we weren’t gonna mark it up and make Crazy money on it.

Phil Whitman [00:35:42]:

It was sort of like McDonald’s selling a 1000000000 hamburgers, a numbers game, because we wanted to give back to the profession. And in in a time when it was so difficult for firms to attract talent so Do we do we work and do what we do to make money? Yes. But you know what? To me, the end all and be all is when I work with someone 5 years from now when they say, I’m so glad I met you. You changed my life. And I think that’s what we do. We change people’s lives. And, I’m proud that we’ve now grown. I went from where when I started in 2008, it was me.

Phil Whitman [00:36:22]:

In 2010, I had a stay at home mom join me To help with recruiting. And then in 2015, I said, you know what? I’m leaving so much on the table, And I’ll never be able to sell this because it was all about me and, you know, my relationships when we now have built the single largest advisory firm for CPA firms in the nation, together with our c suite impact group of companies, we have 50 people. It’s no longer the Phil Wittman show. And like most firms, yeah, it’s Whitman transition advisers, will probably, at some point in time, become WTA or, You know, c suite impact, transition advisers because it’s not about me. It’s really about the team, And, I I wanna perpetuate the help that we’re giving and really, you know, we we need to boost this profession up. And I think there are great things that are going on. And, you know, we all have to be the mouthpieces to get that out.

Glenn Harper [00:37:26]:

I feel like you’ve read our script. You kinda hit all the high points, and and I wanna highlight a couple of those. Yeah. At some point, you’re probably gonna be a client Of Whitman transition advisers to get you transition out, which is kind of ironic. But I think one of the things you said earlier I wanna bring back, which which is important for our listeners, is that you were fortunate enough that you had The accounting tax advisory experience. So you were able to navigate your own journey kinda doing it yourself. You probably got some help from other I would imagine a little bit, but mostly, you kinda knew it because of your experience. But most entrepreneurs don’t have that experience.

Glenn Harper [00:38:03]:

They just have their idea. It is very important, and I think you would agree, that if you’re an entrepreneur, you really need not just a tax or accountant person. You need that adviser that’s bringing you value, That’s gonna show you the secrets and the shortcuts. And you ultimately had that, but our our listeners, that’s that’s the secret sauce generally because just Then the tax savings alone and the efficiencies of your operations, if you’re you’re making a 100,000 a year and somebody can save you 15, $20 in taxes, That is literally that’s life changing for somebody at that level. If you’re making a million a year and somebody can save you a couple 100,000, that’s life changing. That value, You people think you pay for that. It’s an expense. But like you said, it’s really an investment.

Glenn Harper [00:38:43]:

So I think that’s one thing that you you’ve touched on, but, again, you You did it from a different perspective because you kinda knew all those things. Right? You’ve already had the experience. But most most most people, entrepreneurs, don’t have that. The second

Phil Whitman [00:38:56]:

Entrepreneurs need that team. And and and, Glenn, I frequently call that, How do you give yourself a raise? Mhmm. You can give yourself a raise just by bringing in the right adviser, the right team around you. You know, you need someone to be the quarterback. You know? Great ideas. You know? Look, e even myself. I never could have done this myself. Yep.

Phil Whitman [00:39:21]:

I have a I have a partner who, yeah, there were things. You know, I’m I’m an outside guy. I’m a visionary. But you know what? All the fine details that help you get where you really wanna go to, I’m I’m I’m not that, you know, guy on the ground, the detail guy. So, you you know, there’s Complimentary skill sets, and you need that team. You need that quarterback that can help you put that team together.

Glenn Harper [00:39:50]:

Hey. Your your biggest expense, it there’s really 2 things. It’s like how much you spend in your business knowing Well, you think it’s gonna keep working, but it might not. You need to pivot and change it. Right? So you keep dumping, pulling money out of retirement. A lot of entrepreneurs do that. Before you do that, have that evaluation, the Time, money, effort for the results to know that take the emotion out of it. Look at it like a business.

Glenn Harper [00:40:11]:

Your adviser can help you with that. Your biggest expense if you’re making money is taxes. You can get a raise without having to change anything other than just being more efficient. Right? So so I think you’ve touched you hit that one on the head. The second thing you did, which was really cool, is, you know, You get so caught up in you know, our parents, they just were because that’s what they did. They didn’t know any better. I mean, that’s how it went. We were lucky in our generation.

Glenn Harper [00:40:34]:

Again, you’re way older than I am, so it’s a little different for you. I’m totally messed with you. You’re almost qualified for Social Security here soon. But

Phil Whitman [00:40:41]:

In April. Yes.

Glenn Harper [00:40:43]:

Get it give it up. So what’ll happen is that we were fortunate to learn that, wait a minute. That’s how we started our careers, And then we realized, wait a minute. That’s that’s not cool. You were lucky that you were able to listen to the people around you that said, hey. You gotta back off because this is not sustainable. And for whatever reason, nobody an entrepreneur doesn’t like what doing what they’re told. They like doing what they wanna do.

Glenn Harper [00:41:07]:

Right? But However it was marketed to you, you were able to go, wait a minute. That’s right. And, again, you’re probably working harder, but you’re working smarter, I’m guessing. And the hours are just different. It’s not the grind. It’s the bigger picture things. And as an entrepreneur, you made the transition from Doing business to building businesses, and that’s way different. That’s way more funner.

Phil Whitman [00:41:30]:

You you hit it on the head. Went from doing everything to focusing on the highest value use of my time By by bringing in people who you know, all those other things much better in their hands than mine. And, yes, working on the business as opposed to in the business.

Glenn Harper [00:41:54]:

What age were you when you made that transition? When it finally hit you with the 2 by 4 to the forehead, did that happen? Go, wait a minute. What am I doing here?

Julie Smith [00:42:01]:

Glenn and his HR questions.

Glenn Harper [00:42:03]:

I love it.

Phil Whitman [00:42:04]:

No. So so so that is a great question. So do you remember the days, Glenn, when it was in vogue to say, I’m amazing at multitasking. You know? I I I I was, like, better than the the the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey clown that was, you know, juggling 5 or 6 balls. You know? I had Funny things up in the air. But the reality is everyone now knows that when you got 20 things up in the air, you know, You got 20 things in various stages of, disarray and incompletion. You know? You you’re supposed to single mind things. So I would say I’m 61.

Phil Whitman [00:42:45]:

I would say it was during the beginning of the pandemic. Well, going back to 2015 when I hired a strategic coach and that strategic coach became my partner, I think that’s when it really was triggered that, you know what? I I could bring someone on at, you know, $15 an hour to do some of the stuff that I’m focusing on, and I can go out and be making, you know, 6 or $7,000 an hour. Obviously, you know, when you when you do a recruiting deal and you earn, You know, a $135,000 fee and you know? But, obviously, you spend so much time, you’re not earning any fee. But in any event, The more time I could spend talking to partners, the more time I could spend talking to managing partners about their goals as opposed to, Hey, Joe. You know, you need to put an invoice in so that I can pay you. You know? But but the reality is, You know, working on the business, the quadrant 2 stuff. You know, if you think about Covey, quadrant 1 being, you know, urgent and important, quadrant 2 being important but not urgent. That’s what really propels business success, focusing on those quadrant 2 things.

Phil Whitman [00:44:08]:

And I think many entrepreneurs, they’re so entrenched in the business because they don’t have the resources and the help that they need so that they can focus on the business. So so

Glenn Harper [00:44:18]:

the question that comes to mind then is 2 things. 1, everybody listening, it’s never too late too late to make that transition. Look at this guy. He’s been doing this, Quote, a way for 40 years, and all of a sudden in the last 5 years, the light switch clicks, and here he goes. What do you think? It was it a Life changing event that pushed you that direction. Was it the sudden realization, the moment? But what you know, there’s a trigger, and and what we’re trying to do is figure out all these other entrepreneurs that are out there that are struggling. How do we get them to open up that curtain and go, oh my god. That’s the answer over there? I had no idea.

Glenn Harper [00:44:54]:

How do you get them to take that step over there? What was your kick that said, oh my god. This is crazy. Was it because of the hours? What what do you think it was?

Phil Whitman [00:45:03]:

You know, I think for a long time, I resisted. You know? My my my partner was telling me, You know, you really need to get an administrative assistant. You know, I was I I grew up in a law firm arena where, you know, the attorneys, you know, they did their own memos. It wasn’t like Every attorney had a legal secretary. I mean, there was a pool of them that, you know, 20 attorneys shared. You know, obviously, there are other environments where, you know, it was like a one to 1 relationship, you know, or an attorney and associate sharing. So So so the reality is, you know, I, for the longest time, believed that I’m self sufficient. I could I could handle this.

Phil Whitman [00:45:44]:

I could do the billing. The reality is I was living the e myth. You know? I had my administrative days. I had my sales days. I had my work days. But the reality is when you try and do it all on your own, you’re doing yourself a disservice. And, yes, when you first start out, The 1st year, you know, you do that because that’s what you do when you start a business. But I think if you get yourself educated and realize that You gotta put together that team.

Phil Whitman [00:46:11]:

And short term pain, long term gain, yeah, you’ll make a little bit less. You know, it will cost you money, but, you know, the old dash, you know, it takes money to make money. Reality is you gotta make that investment. And and what I could tell you, there were years where once I made that decision, Like, I could’ve put my arms around and not done that and made a lot more money, But the reality was it was trying to I I think it’s just believe that it’s possible. You know? And and sometimes it’s going against you know, because you’re so accustomed to, I don’t need it. I can do it. But the reality is, you know, once you get into your zone and I mean, I’ll give you a perfect example. After October 16th, the, you know, the tax filing deadline, I just looked at the calendar.

Phil Whitman [00:47:11]:

I said there’s 75 days until we ring in the new year. And I made a public goal to to my entire team. I said in the next 75 days, even though I don’t work Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, I My 3 day weekend every week, I’m gonna do 75 meetings between now and the end of the year. And then I said, okay. 75 merger meetings. And I want 37 of them to be with new potential sellers or people that are looking to take an investment. And, I made that announcement publicly to the team. We are tracking it.

Phil Whitman [00:47:51]:

I think I have 46 meetings to go between now and the end of the year. We figured out I have 2 meetings a day that I need to do to achieve that goal. And it’s not just any meeting. It’s meetings with people that have raised their hand and said, I wanna do this. Now if I was focusing on all the other, oh, man, I gotta I gotta do payroll, and I gotta do this, and I gotta do that, I’d be lucky if I got in, you know You know, 1 or 2 meetings a week. You know? So I I think getting in that zone and and I think, You know, have a goal. Have a goal and, and write those goals down because most people don’t write them down. You you know what, Glenn? I think, the difference between, like, a true entrepreneur And and someone that’s just, in a business.

Phil Whitman [00:48:49]:

Like, I’m sure you see partners in CPA firms, And many of them, and I meet with plenty of them, they don’t act like business owners.

Glenn Harper [00:49:00]:

Never.

Phil Whitman [00:49:00]:

They they they they act like, you know, they’re a glorified employee that makes a lot of money. They’ve never known what it’s like to, Oh, man. I gotta call this client, that client, and the other client because I don’t have enough money to make payroll this week. And, oh, Since I don’t have enough, I’m not gonna take payroll. And and I think for the entrepreneur, I think there really has to be a, you know, that internal drive and that that it says, I can do this. I think too many people get off the merry-go-round too soon. They don’t realize exactly how close they are to success.

Glenn Harper [00:49:47]:

So close.

Phil Whitman [00:49:47]:

And they and they give up, and they quit. And, you know, there’s so many people, you know, whether you look like a failure or not.

Julie Smith [00:49:57]:

No. No worries. Like that f word.

Glenn Harper [00:49:58]:

We never use the f word. That that we can’t use the word. It’s funny. The accounts that we always I love poking fun of accounts being 1 and all. And, Julie, she gets I get a lot of, abuse on her on my behalf of being 1, but accountants are great. We just do whatever we did last year, and that’s what we do. And we we think like accountants. We don’t think like entrepreneurs and business owners, and we truly are.

Glenn Harper [00:50:18]:

And if we operate our business like that, it’s gonna be a better experience for our team. It’s gonna be a better experience for the entrepreneurs or our clients. And so you just gotta change my we know the secrets. We watched our clients do it. We advise them. We tell them what to do. We literally give them the blueprint, but a lot of times, we don’t take it ourselves. So That was good that you did that.

Glenn Harper [00:50:34]:

And can you just imagine it’s not a regret, but can you just imagine back in 1991, The Internet was a thing, and you could get all the information you could get today back in 91 where we would be today. But And, again, it it’s just times change. But today, there’s really no excuse for anybody to struggle like this. They just have to ask the question and want to find the answer. That that’s it. As entrepreneurs, just seek that advice. It’s out there. It’s everywhere.

Glenn Harper [00:51:03]:

They just before, we didn’t have Like, if you didn’t have a bunch of people you went to Harvard with, you’re not gonna learn the secrets of what the wealthy people do. Today, you go find it out in 2 seconds.

Julie Smith [00:51:13]:

So I have I have 2 questions for you as we’re ending our time here. My first one is, Phil, what is your superhero superpower?

Phil Whitman [00:51:27]:

I would say my superpower Is the ability to take a bad situation and see the silver lining in the cloud And and and just not let it, hamper whether it’s a relationship. My dad used to tell me when Pricewaterhouse he was in the New York office. When there was a client that they were on the verge of losing, they would send my dad in Because dad was blessed with diplomacy intact. And and and dad, I would say he wasn’t like me in terms of being an entrepreneur. He was at Pricewaterhouse his entire career, And he loved what he did, and he loved every minute of it. But he was the guy filled with diplomacy intent, And I think I was blessed. It must be genetic. I talked to some of his old partners now, and they’re like, oh, if I close my eyes, it’s It’s like I’m talking to your dad.

Phil Whitman [00:52:39]:

So I I think it’s and I have you know, every once in a while, whether it’s a dissatisfied client or a client that thinks he’s dissatisfied Mhmm. But doesn’t realize that there are things that he’s not doing, Or she’s not doing to, to make things happen, whether it’s getting a deal across the finish line. So I think it’s My my real strengths are shoot bullets through me. They bounce right off. Everything rolls off my shoulders. I I have, and my dad coined this term. I don’t know if you ever have heard this. And, unfortunately, my dad passed away in 21.

Phil Whitman [00:53:19]:

He he was my superhero, but, he said because he talked about stress, and he said, I’m worried about you. You work so hard. Work harder than anyone I know. You need to slow down. So, you know, He said stress is gonna kill you. And I said, dad, I have no stress, absolutely no stress. He said, come on, Philip. Everyone has stress.

Phil Whitman [00:53:44]:

He said, ah, I got it. He said, you have enjoyable stress. And the reality is I have enjoyable stress. I love what I do. I love every minute of my day. I never feel like I’m working. You know? And so when my wife says to me, you know, when are you thinking about retiring? And she’s caring for her elderly mom who has dementia. You know? So we all got things.

Phil Whitman [00:54:10]:

I said, I don’t know. But as long as you’re, you know, caring for your mom, you know, I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing. But the reality is if I have my health I mean, I could see myself doing this well into my seventies because I love what I do, and there’s no stress. And I never feel like I’m working. I always feel like I am helping people.

Glenn Harper [00:54:33]:

I’m gonna start calling you, Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction. You’re the guy that comes in and cleans stuff up. It’s the best.

Julie Smith [00:54:39]:

So I have I have 1 last question, and you kind of answered it. But I also think you gotta take it a step further for our listeners. What is your end game?

Phil Whitman [00:54:50]:

Okay. So so my endgame and we’ve already had opportunities but have resisted. Obviously, you know, private equity and other strategics have come into the public accounting arena. And unlike, you know, the late nineties and early 2000 when, you know, American Express and H&R Block were in, I think they have the model right this time. We’ve seen, degrees of success. And in a short year or 2, We’ll see how some of these larger private equity backed firms, get the proverbial, second bite at the apple and What happens then, we’ve already been approached by private equity. I have told them it’s too soon. And I do believe with our c suite impact group of companies, which is if you wanna talk about entrepreneurial, my wife keeps telling me you gotta stop.

Phil Whitman [00:55:49]:

Under c suite impact, we have, 11 companies, everything from a fractional CFO business, which was started to help our CPA PA firm clients that were doing audits that, you know, couldn’t do that work if their client lost the CFO. You know, we don’t do audit. We don’t do tax. You know, we figured it would be a natural. And so we have a Fractional CFO business. We have, Impact Business Builders that helps people that are 3 to 5 years away from retirement. We have 5 recruiting companies. We have impact legal resources.

Phil Whitman [00:56:25]:

We do the same thing in the legal arena that we do in the public accounting arena. And people say to me, God. You know? Do you have time to sleep? And the reality is I’m the chairman of that group. I help them with business development. The CPA firm, Arena, is amazing in terms of You introduce 1 CPA, and they have a 100 or a 1000 clients. Everyone wants to meet that CPA. So I think It’s taking the c suite impact group of companies. And I say Whitman Transition Advisors is one of those brands.

Phil Whitman [00:56:59]:

It’s part of the C suite impact group of companies, and we’ll do a private equity, event. My My partner tells me we should wait until, you know, we could get a multiple that’ll ultimately End up being in the 50 or $60,000,000 range. Look. There’s You know, if I live another 25 years, I I’ll consider myself blessed. You can never spend all that money in a lifetime. You know, I am very charitable. My mailman probably thinks, what’s wrong with this guy? Because, you you know, I made a mistake, you know, for Last year toward towards the end of the year, I said, alright. You know, I wanna, you know, make a whole bunch of charitable contributions.

Phil Whitman [00:57:47]:

And anyone that sent me, you know, a solicitation, if it seemed like a reasonable mission, I made a contribution or I made a monthly contribution. And they must have sold my name because every day, I get at least 20 solicitations. And my wife said, you have to stop. You can’t give to everybody. So So then I said, okay. You know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna take all the ones that we get. And at the end of the week, you know, I have 3 sons. The 5 of us are gonna decide.

Phil Whitman [00:58:17]:

Which one of the 30 or 40 we got this week we’re gonna make a contribution to? But, you know, my you know, I think there will be an exit. I I think it will be with a strategic that wants to continue to have relationships with what I call The keeper of the golden goose, and that’s the CPA, because, you know, the the golden goose that keeps on giving, and there’s Such tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities for the CPA firm, which I believe is already on the verge of becoming a multidisciplinary Consulting organization, and, I’m just quite surprised all these strategics Took so long to wake up and realize, but it’s kind of with the with the baby boomer, owners of CPA firms. It’s the white night that’s coming in at the 11th hour, and there’s never been a better time To be a CPA or CPA firm that hasn’t planned well for transition. But I I believe, like the CPAs we work with, our exit will be with a strategic.

Glenn Harper [00:59:37]:

I think Julie’s got you trapped. Go ahead, Julie.

Julie Smith [00:59:39]:

So, Phil, I I love your answer. It’s very well thought out, and I don’t not think that’s gonna happen. But I also don’t think Phil Wittman can stop after that exit strategy. I think there’s something else on the horizon as long as you have your health and your your driving ambition. I don’t think that’s going away. So I

Glenn Harper [00:59:55]:

It ain’t gonna happen.

Julie Smith [00:59:56]:

I can’t wait to hear about that exit, Sid. And then I can’t wait to, revisit your your next thing.

Glenn Harper [01:00:02]:

Sucked back in. Yeah.

Phil Whitman [01:00:06]:

It’s in my DNA. That’s it. Well This has been wonderful. I I really appreciate you Bringing up, you know, lot of thoughts going through my head in having this conversation with both of you.

Glenn Harper [01:00:20]:

Well, you Thank you enough,

Phil Whitman [01:00:22]:

Julie and Glenn. Absolute pleasure meeting you.

Glenn Harper [01:00:25]:

Well, you 2, we’ve been a wonderful guest. We appreciate your insight. And I I know our our Our, listeners are gonna glean a lot of nuggets out of this one. So we really appreciate it, and I’m sure our paths will cross again, as you keep, Keep going and doing great things. So we wish you the best.

Phil Whitman [01:00:42]:

Thank you so much.

Episode Show Notes

In our latest episode, we had the privilege of interviewing Phil Whitman, a renowned CPA and certified exit planning adviser. Phil has incredible insights and experience in helping CPAs improve leadership and client experience. Here are some key takeaways from our conversation:

1️⃣ Short-term pain for long-term gain: Phil shares the importance of making investments and decisions that may result in short-term financial sacrifices but are necessary for future success. It’s about looking beyond immediate gains and focusing on the bigger picture.

2️⃣ Entrepreneurial opportunities for CPA firms: Phil believes that CPA firms are on the verge of becoming multidisciplinary consulting organizations. With the right planning and strategies, CPA firms can expand their services and create tremendous value for their clients. It’s an exciting time for the accounting profession!

3️⃣ The value of a trusted adviser: Phil highlights the life-changing impact a knowledgeable adviser can have on entrepreneurs. Whether it’s saving on taxes or improving operational efficiency, having an adviser who brings value and provides insights can be a game-changer. It’s time we see advisers not as expenses, but as valuable investments.

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