First, some words about a few of the people I worked with at Coopers & Lybrand. Two of them, Don Beach and Ed Marchant, had a profound effect on my career (see How I Met Anne Murray; How I Got Involved in Hockey; and The Four People Who Most Influenced My Career) and have remained life-long friends. I mentioned Frank Sanders last week (see Finally My True Niche), who was easily the most interesting person I’ve ever been associated with, so much so that I’ll devote an entire column to him later.
The managing partner of the Toronto office was a gentleman by the name of Ken Carter. In the mid-sixties he headed the famous Carter Commission which produced what many say is still the most important income tax analysis ever produced anywhere in the world. He died not long after I joined the firm, but it was an honour to be associated with such a luminary, even for a short time. His successor was Robert B. Dale-Harris, who was married to the daughter of the Academy Award winning actor Leslie Howard.
The head of the Toronto Tax Department, as mentioned last week, was an Englishman by the name of David Timbrell. David, who was both a CA and a lawyer, was the smartest tax practitioner I’ve ever been associated with; every meeting or assignment with him was like going to university. On top of that he was a real gentleman with a sensationally dry wit, a lot of which went over people’s heads.
My favourite David Timbrell story involves a meeting with a very senior bureaucrat at Revenue Canada (as the CRA was then called) that I attended with him. David spent a fairly long time setting out our case on behalf of our client, after which the bureaucrat said, “Mr. Timbrell, I’ve been listening to you for about half an hour and I’m none the wiser.” “Probably not,” David replied, “but you’re better informed.” Obviously we didn’t win the case, but it’s still one of the best ripostes I’ve ever heard.
David and one of our Montreal partners, Herb Spindler, were the leading estate tax and succession duty accountants in the country. Herb and I became buddies the first time we met and remained so until his death a few years ago. We had a number of great times, including matching wits with Revenue Canada and teaching the CICA Tax Course. Herb, a Newfoundlander by birth, also had a great wit and was the nattiest dresser in the firm. He was about six-five and was Hollywood handsome.
Peter Watt, another Englishman, whose command of the English language was the greatest I’ve ever known, was a superb speaker and writer as well as a very good tax man. I learned a lot about communication skills from Peter.
Even though I ended up specializing in personal tax and financial affairs, because I had taken the CICA in-depth tax course I was quite capable of doing corporate income tax work and did spend some time doing so while at Coopers. One thing I assiduously avoided, though, was getting involved in any way in the administration of the firm. I thought, rightly so as it turned out, that my main strengths (communication skills, an understanding of what makes people tick, and being able to think on my feet) were better suited to dealing with clients and the general public than in trying to run any part of an accounting practice.
Also, by the time I joined Coopers I was heavily involved with both the Ontario and the Canadian Institutes of Chartered Accountants; an activity which the management of the firm encouraged. Throughout my career I chaired twelve different Institute committees and served on eighteen others. I seriously doubt any other CA can match that breadth of involvement.
It was also while with Coopers that I began my writing career. Some of the tax partners at Coopers, together with a number of the tax partners at the law firm of Fraser Beatty, collaborated on writing a loose-leaf income tax service for CCH Canada, and I became a part of that group. Also, the release of the Carter Commission Report on Taxation, and the subsequent legislation changes, meant there was a tremendous market for income tax books, so the cadre of Coopers and Fraser Beatty partners wrote many, on six of which I was one of the co-authors.
The first book I collaborated on was, as I recall, An Explanation of Canadian Tax Reform, which we wrote in 1969. One of the Fraser Beatty writers on it was a gentleman by the name of Jack Stewart, whose granddaughter Beverley married our older son Matthew thirty-two years later. As if that wasn’t coincidence enough, Beverley’s other grandfather, the world-renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr. James Bateman, was a client of mine at Coopers.
I started writing columns for The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star (how this came about will be dealt with in a later column) and was a frequent commentator on CFRB and CBC radio in Toronto (which I will also deal with in a future column). I’d been involved in public speaking since 1957 (see How The Dale Carnegie Course Affected My Life) so I also spent a great deal of time giving speeches to various groups all over Canada and the U.S. These, too, were activities that the management of the firm appreciated and encouraged because in those days, under the profession’s rules of professional conduct, CA firms couldn’t advertise and I was garnering a lot of perfectly legitimate free publicity for the firm.
All this outside activity, however, meant that I had to narrow my client focus. The result was that from about 1970 on I limited my practice to personal financial and tax planning, an activity which, as mentioned last week, I thoroughly enjoyed. Not only did I get to deal with complex financial and tax problems, but I got to know intimately many well-known athletes, entertainers, media people, entrepreneurs, and some of the most important executives in the Canadian corporate world.
All my clients would have other professionals advising them as well, such as lawyers, insurance and stock brokers, agents and managers. Because every dollar they earned or spent had an income tax component, I was involved in all their major decisions. This meant that I also dealt with, and got to know, many of the top professionals in those other disciplines, both in Canada and the U.S. I routinely spent time in Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and, my favourite of all, Nashville.
Speaking of Nashville, another very enjoyable aspect of my involvement in the entertainment business was getting to meet and know some of my country music idols, such as Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash. A highlight of my life was playing with the greatest banjo player of all time, Earl Scruggs (see The Night I played With Earl Scruggs), which came about through my involvement in the music business.
I was enjoying myself immensely in Toronto in general and at Coopers in particular, but, as I’ll describe next week, in the summer of 1974 I made a major change.