by Terry Rogers
George Luff says that he does not consider what he does work because he loves what he does. This year, a practice that he began with four clients will celebrate its 30th Anniversary, but Mr. Luff says that he did not build the practice on his own.
“I am very blessed,” Mr. Luff said. “I have a great wife, great boys, grandchildren and a group of people who helped me grow this practice into what it is today. I could never have done it alone. You know how you hear all the time that it takes a village to raise a child? Delaware is very unique because this area is like a village. My success is not just mine but can be attributed to the people around me who helped me get here.”
Mr. Luff began his career in the banking industry, attending college at night while working full-time. He intended to remain in banking but had an undergraduate adviser, Doug Marshall, who suggested Mr. Luff take an additional year of public accounting. Mr. Luff said he never looked back after that and is now a certified evaluation analyst, certified fraud accountant and has two distinctions in forensic accounting.
In his office, Mr. Luff displays the first calculator he used when he started with his first firm as well as the first laptop he ever used and his first electric typewriter. He said that the advent of desktop computing has had a significant impact on accounting. He jokes that when he began in the accounting business, the most important thing was finding a soft eraser to avoid tearing tax forms when you had to make a correction.
“The complexity of the tax code has also changed the business as have changes to financial statements,” Mr. Luff explained. “I speak at colleges and high schools about accounting and I tell students that accounting is not what people think. Yes, you do tax returns and financial statements, but the industry has evolved tremendously. I have parents who say, ‘my kid is good in math, so I think he would make a good accountant,’ but it is much more than that.”
Mr. Luff equates accounting to figuring out a puzzle, especially when he is working as a forensic or fraud accountant. Although forensic accounting does not always mean there is fraud involved, when he is called in as a fraud attorney, there is often someone who has “their hands in the cookie jar.”
“Those cases are always sad,” Mr. Luff said. “I know that when I figure it out, someone’s life is going to be ruined. They may deserve it as they were the ones stealing, but it is still upsetting to know that what I discover could ruin someone and even send them to jail.”
In order to become a Certified Public Accountant, most states, including Delaware require 150-credit hours of education beyond high school. Because the average bachelor’s degree is only 120-credit hours, students who wish to become accountants must attend college beyond the bachelor’s level. However, Mr. Luff says that education for accountants never ends. He is contemplating attending an educational course in Chicago this year to extend his knowledge even after 30 years in the business.
“I think I had been in the business for 18 months and was working on something,” Mr. Luff said. “Something I did, and it was like a lightbulb went off. I remember thinking, oh, that’s why we do that. I was 18 months in and still figuring it out. It still happens today. I am still learning things about this business. I think for new accountants the hardest part is the need for instant gratification in today’s world. I think that is what they struggle with the most, because this business moves much slower than other industries.”
Mr. Luff was working for a large firm in Wilmington when he decided to open his firm in Milford. At the time, he had a new house and young sons. Today, Luff & Associates has three offices in Milford, Rehoboth and Dover. His son, Tyler, is currently a CPA in the Rehoboth office of the company. His son, Chase, is a statistical analyst for Navient while his son, Connor, is attending George Washington University law school. The firm is planning a small celebration for their 30th year in October.
“People have told me I am living the American dream,” Mr. Luff said. “And I really am. However, there have been times when that dream was more like Nightmare on Elm Street. It hasn’t always been easy. The business side of this profession is challenging. When someone tells me they have had to meet a payroll, I have the ultimate respect for them, because making payroll can be the hardest part when you run your own business.”
Mr. Luff said that if he is asked by a young accountant what direction they should take their career in, he recommends making a partner in a large firm. The complexity of the accounting business is frightening and, without a strong support system, running a firm on your own can be difficult. He says that an accountant should always be asking questions. He says that when he interviews accountants for his firm, he leans toward hiring those who have experience dealing with people, like those whose experience includes waiting tables or hostessing.
“At this firm, we have two mottos that we follow,” Mr. Luff said. “At the end of the day, we do the right thing even if it is painful. We never have problems, we have opportunities. By following those mottos, we have seen great success with the firm. I am very blessed and happy.”
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