Lou Grassi: Long Island’s Accounting Juggernaut

Lou Grassi
Lou Grassi is CEO of Grassi Co. Photo by Bob Giglione.

One of Long Island’s most successful accountants, Louis C. Grassi, is chief executive officer, managing partner and – as he’ll tell you – the driving force behind Grassi & Co. After working briefly for KPMG, Grassi opened his own accounting firm in Forest Hills in 1980. Two years later, he moved to Garden City, later Lake Success and now Jericho. He oversees five offices, the work of 30 partners and annual revenue of about $65 million. An edited version of our conversation follows, which Grassi conducted on his feet.

How’d you get started in accounting? I started out as a music major at Queens College. I found most people majoring in music couldn’t find jobs. The economic outlook wasn’t encouraging. I had taken a bookkeeping class in high school, and worked part time preparing income tax returns. My guidance counselor said, “Wait a minute, you’re in the music program and you’re preparing income tax returns? Do you like it?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “God bless.” I changed majors.

Our parents are usually our first influencers. How did yours influence you? My father, Salvatore, was a salesman for a chemical company. My mom, Lena, worked in a sweatshop. They both instilled the value of education in me. My father would occasionally take me on sales calls. I witnessed what it was he did. When I was in that position myself I didn’t have a lot of experience but I had been exposed to the sales process. A lot in life is about exposure.

Did selling come easily to you? I’m entrepreneurial by nature, so probably the answer is yes. I didn’t want to work for a big firm and started out at a mid-sized one. KPMG tried to get me on campus and a year out of school they got me. I went there and it didn’t match who I was as a person. Didn’t want to be one of the herd. I took a leave of absence. My dad was dying of lung cancer, and the family rallied around.

How long was your leave of absence? Six months. During that time I started getting clients. I had more clients working part time, and made more money, than when I worked full time at KPMG.

So you put out your shingle and … I didn’t put out my shingle. I studied the market. I didn’t think of it as a money thing. I thought: Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can have my own firm.

Clearly you could. How’d you get the word out? My timing was good. A new law allowed accounting firms to do advertising. A case in Florida opened the floodgates. I thought, if I’m going to go into business for myself, why don’t I capitalize on that?

Did you? I bought a mailing list with 2,000 names. I stuffed envelopes and licked stamps. It sounds pretty archaic now. I got about 15 interviews from the mailing. One was with Marcato Elevator in Queens. They’re still with us as clients, third generation now.

So the mailing worked. Six months later we were doing $250,000 in revenue. Thirty-five years ago, that was considered a huge accomplishment.

Now your revenues are? About $65 million.

How does it feel to say that? Sorry if I sound like Doctor Phil. I couldn’t have imagined doing $65 million when I started out.

Is it enough? We still talk about doing $2 million more at our corporate retreat.

Warren Strugatch is a partner at Inflection Point Associates, a marketing, public relations and management consulting firm in Stony Brook. Online at InflectionPointAssoc.com