Taxed but Undaunted, This CPA Loves the Challenge
August 03, 2011
by Chris Barrett
Providence Business News
Many people dread completing tax returns. Jacquelyn Tracy savors it. The partner at Mandel and Tracy handles about 200 returns a year for high net-worth individuals and enjoys every minute of it.
"I like the challenge of it," she said. "I like being able to solve problems."
Perhaps that's why Tracy, 45, has had success moving from a paraprofessional in KPMG's tax office to a partner at her own accounting firm in Providence. Along the way, she became a certified public accountant, picked up a master's in taxation and served as president of the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants.
She's been quoted on tax issues in newspapers, appeared on television newscasts and recently returned from presenting at a national conference of accountants. In October, she will serve, for the second time, as the Rhode Island representative on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants governing council.
Not bad for a woman who found herself in the taxation field almost by accident. After graduating Stonehill College with a business degree, Tracy interviewed for sales and management jobs. When a note came from the college's career office that a job at KPMG matched her profile, she applied, attracted by the opportunity to work at a big firm, earn a good salary and participate in a rigorous training program.
KPMG would hire her and place her at its Boston office preparing tax returns. At the time, she would become one of few women in the accounting field. Even the female partners at KPMG tended to be relegated to fields stereotypical of women, such as health care and education.
For Tracy, being one of a few mattered little. She was hooked on taxation.
Her boss promised her a promotion if she became a CPA, so she did, putting in 1,000 hours in the audit division before securing her certification in 1992. In 1997, she headed to the Montvale, N.J., office to help KPMG redesign its tax process and then train its employees worldwide on the new process.
She would eventually work her way up to a senior manager and assistant director of a tax team based in Providence. The office handled returns for wealthy individuals.
But in 2005, KPMG was forced to divest itself of much of the business after a tax-shelter scandal. Tracy and a colleague, Kathryn Mandel, smelled opportunity.
With KPMG's cooperation, Tracy and Mandel set out on their own, taking KPMG's former clients with them.
"They were able to say we can't do this work but Kathy and Jacquelyn can," Tracy said.
By Jan. 1, 2006, the pair had incorporated and moved into temporary quarters at Eagle Square in Providence. On their own without a corporate parent, the partners found themselves starting from scratch. They lugged a shredder and a small copy machine from Staples across the street. They did a little cheer when they successfully sent their first fax. They also started implementing workflow policies to ensure all tax returns could be completed on time.
"It was fun because it was something new and different," Tracy said.
The duo found support from the CPA community, which Tracy said was surprising because she feared CPAs would resent a new competitor. Family members stepped in to lend a hand. Today, Tracy's nephew works at the firm.
The firm has since moved to a permanent office in Eagle Square, but the need to develop new policies has not slowed. Tracy must contend with changing tax rules, unusual tax situations and the annual race to complete returns by April 15.
Then there are unforeseen twists, like when record amounts of rainfall last year overflowed the Woonasquatucket River and cut off access to Tracy's office.
The likelihood of unexpected events means Tracy never slows down during tax season. There's an unwritten rule in the office that Tracy and Mandel do not talk about how the season is going. Instead, they put their heads down and barrel through the returns.
Somewhere in there, she squeezes in time to volunteer with the Junior League of Rhode Island - where she was president - and teach catechism at St. Mary's Star of the Sea in Narragansett. She also chairs the Stonehill College Annual Fund, raising money for her alma mater.
Each brings a unique challenge. And in some ways, Tracy started preparing for the challenges at a young age. In her early teens, she worked at Galilee Beach Club. Even then, she found ways to improve food service by identifying efficiencies in the process. When the club started a luncheon service on the deck, she was given a management position.
She quickly learned how to anticipate how busy each day would be and what that meant in terms of staffing and place settings.
These days, in perhaps an example of fate, she serves on the club's finance committee. And she counts one of the former owners as her client.
She also leans on the club as her place to rejuvenate after a long tax season defined by workdays that stretch to 11 p.m. and time at the office on Sundays.
After tax season, you may find Tracy with her toes in the sand on some warm summer days. The Narragansett resident is also a fan of country music - a genre she characterizes as coming with lyrics she's not ashamed to sing aloud - and spends time with her dog, Beau.
But from January to April each year, she's right back at the office, facing a stack of returns and a set of new challenges.
"People do kind of look at you like you're crazy," she said. "But also they're happy that someone does it because taxes have to be done."
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