NYSSCPA Award Winner Sid Kess Spent Lifetime Educating Others

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
May 12, 2015

Sidney_Kess_headshot

If you’re a CPA and you earned your license within the last six decades, you’ve probably learned a thing or two from Sidney Kess, the 2015 winner of the NYSSCPA’s Dr. Emanuel Saxe Outstanding CPA in Education Award. 

The Brooklyn native, who celebrated his 56th year as an NYSSCPA member this February, has been a trusted guide for accountants since 1952, teaching review courses, seminars and conferences, and producing audio cassettes, newsletters and books. He has also published an analysis of each major tax bill since 1969.

All told, he’s estimated to have taught more than 1 million CPAs, “making him a living legend for all practitioners of tax and financial planning,” said Nassau Chapter member Perry A. Shulman, who nominated Kess for the award.

“There is no person who has had a more vital impact on tax education than Sidney Kess,” Shulman said.  

Oddly enough, Kess, who was not trained as an educator, describes his presence in the classroom as “a happy accident.” 

As a young staffer at the now-absorbed Coopers & Lybrand preparing to take the CPA exam, he analyzed 20 years’ worth of tests, using the material to create a set of study aids for each exam section. When he passed with flying colors, he began prepping colleagues after hours—and free of charge—to help them do the same. Eventually, he was asked to teach the Comprehensive CPA Review Course, one of the leading coaching courses at the time. 

This led to a pivotal moment in 1964, when his roommate, who happened to be a member of the NYSSCPA’s CPE Committee, asked him to write, teach and develop a plan to market a course on individual tax returns. The class turned out to be so popular—drawing more than 700 attendees—that the AICPA recruited Kess to teach the course nationwide. He agreed, but with one stipulation: that the NYSSCPA be allowed to continue offering the course, free of charge. For Kess, that decision, too, was a teachable moment. 

“The NYSSCPA gave me an opportunity,” he said. “They created the class, so I made sure I didn’t forget them. That’s a lesson that I think is important to realize. Some things you do out of gratitude for the people who have been nice to you.”

Asked why his particular style resonates so much with people, Kess said that his approach is to keep practicality in mind and ensure that information is stated as simply as possible, steering clear of too much jargon. 

“I love to explain the complex and make it understandable,” he said.

In addition, he said he takes pains to keep the focus on helping CPAs, rather than commanding the spotlight for himself. 

“I would talk about the average client instead of trying to impress the audience by, for example, saying that I handled the Rockefellers,” he said. “People, after taking my course for the first time, would say, ‘I had someone talking on my level,’ and not about the big multi-million dollar clients that they didn’t have.” 

Kess has been a standout since he was a young man growing up in Brighton Beach. The head of not one but several honor societies in high school, he introduced new forms and checklists before he went off to Baruch College of the City University of New York, so that he’d leave behind a more systemized set of organizations. He still has the letter given to him by his principal that praises him for, among other things, being “so sacrificing of his time and energy.”  

“It was often necessary for me to tell him to take it easy and go home for the day,” the letter continued. “He wasn’t just the president, he was half the organization.” 

Kess has no plans to slow down. He maintains his own practice and works with the tax controversy firm Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP. Reflecting on the current state of the profession, he said that it’s become more complicated than ever. With each year bringing with it a boatload of new laws, standards, rules and regulations, it seems more necessary than ever to offer easily understood instruction. 

In the end, though, Kess said he was honored and humbled to receive the NYSSCPA award, noting that he knew both Emanuel Saxe, for whom the award is named, as well as the late Samuel A. Dyckman, a beloved accounting professor who won the award in 2011. 

“It’s an honor to be in the same league as them,” he said. “Manny and Sam were great teachers.” 

And as his relationship with the NYSSCPA continues, Kess continues to give back. The FAE and Baruch College are partnering with him to provide a low-cost personal financial planning conference that begins on July 15. 

cgaetano@nysscpa.org

 
Hear Sid Speak

Join Sidney Kess on July 15 at the Personal Financial Planning Conference, jointly sponsored by the Foundation for Accounting Education and Baruch College. For more information, visit cpe.nysscpa.org.

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