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Jaffe Handed Reins at Accounting Firm

Having held the reins of accounting firm Kirsch, Kohn, & Bridge LLP for 24 years, Mel Kohn, 68, is stepping aside to allow fellow partner, Stuart L. Jaffe, 50, to lead the firm. Kohn will continue to work as an active partner at the firm that bears his name, managing his own portfolio of accounts. “I was a sole proprietor on the West Side for five years, and joined this firm because I was growing too fast on my own,” Kohn said. “It was 1982, and the firm was called Kirsch, Stein, and somebody else, whose name I can’t remember any more because that was before my time.” That was a lifetime ago, said Kohn. He doesn’t want the same kind of events that led to him unexpectedly taking over management of the firm to unfold again. That is not only why he’s stepping aside, it’s also why the firm has been advertising its interest in absorbing another firm and/or taking on a new partner or two. As with other professional services firms, there is a shortage of proven leaders in the 35-45 age bracket in the accounting field. “When I joined the firm, we were all ten years apart in age,” Kohn said. “So we seemed to have a succession plan, but life, being full of surprise, had a different plan.” The middle partner died unexpectedly two years after Mel Kohn came to his new firm. Suddenly, he was in charge. Since then, Kirsch, Kohn & Bridge has had a couple name changes, has expanded the amount of office space it occupies on the 11th Floor of the Ventura Blvd. high rise it occupies in Encino, given up some of that space, and, most recently taken back the entire floor. Furthermore, Kohn has led KKB through three recessions, always managing to grow the firm despite economic conditions. So far, he told the Business Journal, the company has weathered the current, historic recession in the same manner. “We’re still growing.” Now it falls to Jaffe to keep up the momentum. “The reason we’ve done so well is because we’re very well diversified,” Jaffe said. “We’re never beholden to one particular industry or client, and that will continue to be our strategy.” According to Jaffe, in addition to maintaining a client base that is widely diversified by industry and sector, there is, nevertheless, a common thread that defines KKB’s clients, and complements the accounting firm’s growth strategy. “It’s the closely held business, the high-net-worth individuals that we specialize in not any one industry,” he said. Focusing on closely held businesses has led to KKB’s evolution as a tax practice-dominated accountancy. “To a great extent, the closely held business owners are interested in maximizing tax benefits, which then provide working capital for their businesses,” said Jaffe. That market segment is aging, and as a result, said Kohn, the firm is now doing more trust and estate planning than ever. Stuart Jaffe plans to maintain the course Kohn has set for the firm during his tenure, at least for the foreseeable future. “We’re not in a precarious position as a firm would be if it were solely real estate related, or solely medical related or solely garment related,” Jaffe said. “Mel has done a great job as managing partner.” The idea for Kohn to hand over the duties of managing partner to Jaffe has been discussed for years, according to the pair. “We decided to have a consultant come in as we have many times through the years,” Kohn said. “I realized and I said to myself, ‘we don’t need an accounting consultant, or a business consultant; we need a management consultant.'” After a weeks-long analysis, the consulting process ended early this year with a dictum: It was time to pass the torch. “We decided to just go ahead and do it,” Kohn said. “I’m not going anywhere, but I am letting the younger generation have its turn at the wheel.” For his part, Jaffe is comforted by the fact that Kohn’s expertise, experience and institutional memory will be at the ready when he feels the need to access any or all of the above.

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