Baker soaks up knowledge
Lori Baker decided early on in her career she wasn’t going to be a wallflower in a male-dominated industry. She tested her mettle when she attended a continuing education conference for CPAs in the late 1980s, held, if her memory serves correctly, in Ann Arbor.
Baker decided to abstain from wearing a staid blue pinstripe suit.
“I stand out already at almost 6-foot tall,” she said. “So I decided to wear a hot pink suit. It was my way of standing out, making more of an impression.”
Baker, of course, has relied on more than fashion to make a credible impression that’s fast-tracked her in the accounting/tax preparation field. Her employment record is testimony to that fact.
In January 2013, she will have worked for the same accounting/tax firm for 30 years, Baker Spindler Holtz — recently shortened to Baker Holtz — based in the downtown Waters Building. She has been a shareholder since 1992.
She started working for the firm when it was known as Adamy & Co., an accounting firm founded in 1979 by Rick Adamy. Baker Spindler Holtz was formed in 2009 when the valuation practice was spun off. When she first was hired, Adamy & Co. had two partners, a receptionist and one accountant. Baker was hired as its second accountant.
Crunching numbers, estates and trusts, retirement, financial and succession planning, employee stock ownership plans, human resources and general business consulting are all in the mix that continues to hold Baker’s interest because changing tax laws and a variety of clients keeps her challenged.
The one thing that has changed as Baker looks in the rearview mirror of her professional life is she no longer feels a need to prove herself as a CPA who happens to be female. She felt that way after graduating from college when most of her clients were male.
“I felt I needed to work a little harder to be recognized, to prove myself,” said Baker, who earned her accounting degree from Aquinas College in 1985. “I do remember back then wanting to look a bit older, thinking it might help me because I was quite often one of the younger people, and a lot of my clients were older men.”
Today, Baker advises accounting interns not to follow the advice she gave herself years ago — and that includes admitting to not having an encyclopedic knowledge.
“I don’t think you need to look older, but be sure of yourself,” she said. “It’s the confidence more than the age, and knowing when to say ‘I’m not sure about that, I’ll get back to you,’ instead of pretending to know everything.”
Baker credits her mother for shepherding her passion for accounting. Her parents owned and operated Byron Township-based Tyce Bruursema Produce and Trucking Inc., a wholesale produce delivery business, at a time when her mother was raising three daughters and handling the business’s bookkeeping.
That sparked Baker’s destiny.
“She made me realize I could do it all if I had the drive,” said Baker. “I was a single mom for years. I knew if she could do it, I could do it. Owning a business, to me, seemed like a great way to make it in the world.”
That front-row exposure to the family business fueled a better understanding of what Baker’s clients expect from her. She is more than willing to oblige.
“My background in small business has been extremely helpful to me,” said Baker. “Growing up in the trucking industry helps me to relate to a number of businesses.”
Though she wouldn’t wish the fallout of the economic downturn on anyone, Baker believes her firm enabled its clients to stand on firm financial footing despite having less profit margin.
“We didn’t lose any clients,” said Baker, adding her firm works with about 200 individual clients, 40-plus trusts/estates and 120 companies. “One thing our firm excels at is the business-advising side of things.”
Baker feels her firm endeared itself further to its clients when, in January, it launched fixed pricing instead of rate-times-hours, allowing clients to contact Baker Holtz with questions or concerns that arise without fear of getting yet another invoice in the mail. “Now they’re not afraid to call us,” said Baker.
Getting to where she is today wasn’t a cakewalk.
She went to school at night, first at Davenport University before transferring to Aquinas, while raising her daughters as a single parent and working a full-time bookkeeping/accounting job during the day. She doesn’t regret the route she took to get to where she is today.
“I know people who have planned their lives out and followed their plans,” said Baker. “I haven’t. It means I was a little bit flexible. I didn’t do things in the correct order to become a CPA. I worked during the day and went to school at night. The best and craziest part was the week I finished my classes. That same week I took the CPA exam and then graduated on Saturday. I guess I’m an overachiever; I do everything at once. I have to have a lot of things on my plate all the time. Looking back, it made me focused and not take ‘no’ for an answer, and to figure things out no matter what.”
Figuring things out has been a hallmark for Baker’s life. As a result, she never feels she’s quenched her thirst for knowledge. She wants to keep it that way.
“I describe myself as a sponge,” said Baker. “I read whatever I can get my hands on and watch and listen to whatever I can. That’s not to say my job isn’t fulfilling, but numbers, taxes, are only part of who I am.”
That other part of who she is includes serving as president of St. Cecilia Music Center’s board of directors and as a member of its finance committee. The experience of hearing live music from the renowned musicians and singers who grace St. Cecilia’s Royce Auditorium never stops amazing Baker.
She enjoys just about any genre of music as long as it doesn’t have a certain twang.
“I don’t like country music,” she said. “But at St. Cecilia, I learned about so many new genres and artists I never heard of before. That to me is amazing. These are people who won Grammys and performed all over the world, and to have them come here is just exciting.”
Baker credits her appreciation for the arts to the years when she was an Aquinas student. The classes she took afforded her a big picture worldview: arts appreciation, geography, history, the Vietnam War — all of which gave her a lifelong desire to learn.
“None of that went along with my degree in accounting,” said Baker.
“I wanted to do well in my accounting and tax classes, but I also wanted to learn about all those other things. Those two sides feed each other when I meet people on the business side of life and meet people from nonprofits who become business clients. It’s an opportunity to broaden those connections.”