Larry Bailey of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, & Co., grew up in the tough Parklands section of Southeast Washington and is one of the few blacks in the accounting profession. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance, he says he still "hangs out in his old neighborhood."
He is seated in his office, only one sheet of paper on his desk in compliance with company rules on efficiency. "A lot of the guys I used to be close with look at me and think I've got it made," he says. "People see the suits, but they don't see me waking up in the middle of the night wondering if I cost someone a few thousand dollars."
Bailey became interested in accounting during summer vacations from college when he helped his uncle run a store. His uncle hated to pay taxes: "He said they subsidized welfare." So Bailey went back to Southern Illinois University to learn more about taxes.
"If you make money you are going to have to pay some taxes," he says. "Once I did a return for a friend's father. He came back and asked me why I didn't deduct the car he gave his son. I told him it wasn't deductible. He said his friend did it. I told him his friend could go to jail too."
In Bailey's office on K Street is an excerpt from a legal decision: "Anyone may so arrange his affairs so that his taxes may be as low as possible. He is not bound to choose the path which will best pay the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes."
Bailey's job is to make sure that his clients do not pay more taxes than they should. He and other accountants in major firms go through years of in-house training. Starting with salaries around $15,000 a year, they are encouraged to work 10- and 12-hour days to reach the top level of accounting, a partnership. To become a partner in a Big Eight firm, the accountants have to buy a share of the company. It is a good investment. Those who run the firm have the potential of making as much as half a million dollars a year.