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Alan C. Young

Thanks to his company’s role as the independent auditing firm for all drawings conducted by the Michigan State Lottery, Alan C. Young, the CEO and founder of Alan C. Young and Associates is very well known in Metro Detroit and beyond. For more than a decade, his company has had a continuous presence on the Detroit Crain's List of the largest accounting firms in southeastern Michigan. Is his success due to his talent or something else?

In a recent interview, Young spoke with Kerry Coleman, a MSUBA-Detroit chapter member and shared his story. He touched on starting his own CPA firm, mentoring his children, his friendship with United States Senator Debbie Stabenow and his relationship with God.

You were recruited out of MSU in 1977 to work for what is now Deloitte and Touche. While there you worked as a senior accountant with Fortune 100 companies and served as an international tax specialist and senior accountant in Saudi Arabia. You were on the fast track to senior management. Why did you leave?

I was in law school when I left Deloitte because I was looking for a less time consuming proposition. However, in the process of attending law school, the entrepreneur bug hit. I finished one semester at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law with a 3.0 average. While attending law school, I was meeting many people. At the time, there were a lot of Black attorneys in private practice [self-employed] and not so many CPAs. The Black attorneys were struggling financially. I decided that establishing my own CPA firm was a better fit for me.

You and United States Senator Debbie Stabenow are very good friends. How did that friendship come about?
About 20 years ago when Debbie was running for state representative, she wanted some exposure. I was a Booker T. Washington Association officer. Debbie asked to be a speaker at one of the events. We became fast friends. I’ve been on her finance committee, primarily doing fund raising, from that time until today. Debbie is like a sister. If I have issues, she makes time for me after 5PM and helps me out with personal advice. She is a wonderful politician who understands her role as a public servant.

Maintaining a successful CPA firm entails recruiting new client, retaining current clients, adding new services, managing employee benefits and staying on top of legislation that impacts the services you offer. How many hats do you wear? Or, do you delegate?
You must delegate. Everything deserves its ultimate respect or, any piece of the puzzle left unattended can have a devastating effect. I hire through the executive committee. I meet with my core fee group, CIO, COO, etc., and tell them what needs to happen. They also tell me what I need to do. The firm administrator handles Human Resources and the partners oversee the audit staff. We all meet together periodically.

The National Association of Black Accountants - Division of Firms website quotes you as saying one of the greatest rewards of business ownership is “a job well done which was provided by an organization you created and nurtured.” What does that statement mean?
I had a conversation with my mother and told her I didn’t feel successful. She said I was successful. Any time you can create a salary for yourself and provide jobs for a couple of more people, that’s a good thing. ACY has hired over 200 people over the years who have gone on to be very successful even though they didn’t have a 3.7 or 3.8 grade point average. They really excelled and did big things. That makes me feel that this venture is successful.

You didn’t start out at MSU. Where did you start your secondary education and what made you leave that institution and transfer to MSU?
I went to Western Michigan University my freshman and sophomore years. I pledged Kappa there and made a lot of good friends. Just left their homecoming. One of my sons also attended Western. After spending two years at Western, I wanted to go into programming and the school didn’t have a strong computer programming department. So I transferred to Michigan State because they had a strong programming department. When I got there, people told me that Black folks weren’t making it through the accounting program. I was good with numbers and I enjoy a challenge, so I became an accounting major.

What has been the most difficult part of being in business all these years?
The most trying times are when the economy slows down. Bigger firms that weren’t your competition are now your competition. Also, it’s tough to find good, experienced staff. We do OK in attracting clients but we have a lag in putting all the required staff in place. We are mindful of recruiting and we are always looking for people with experience in auditing. Our average employee has been here 12 to 15 years.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you attend?
I grew up in Inkster and I attended Cass Tech for 10th to 12th grade. Every day I caught the Michigan bus downtown, got off near Detroit Edison (DTE Energy) and walked over to Cass Tech.

What have been the highlights of your life?
In addition to marrying my wife Colette and the birth of my three sons, the highlights are graduating from Cass Tech, Michigan State University and Walsh college - - and being a Kappa. ACY is the auditor for the national Kappa organization.

Tell me about your sons
Aron and Adam work at the firm. Aron, who graduated from Morehouse College, owns an eco friendly janitorial firm. Adam is working on his MBA at Wayne State. Austin is in supply change management in Chicago. He graduated from Western.

You are an active democrat. Any predictions for the 2016 presidential race?
Historically, once the House and Senate are in one party, the next president is usually of the opposite party. It’s just how we are. I have no predictions for the winner of the presidential race, but I like Hilary Clinton’s chances.

Has being politically active opened any doors for you?
Yes – I stay on top of politics because they impact what happens. The Single Business Tax was an impediment to business. It was good to be able to voice to Governor Snider how the tax impeded me and impacted my business. Being politically involved gave me the opportunity to talk to someone who could make a difference. The current governor understands business needs.

What is your opinion of the Affordable Health Care aka Obama Care? Do you think it will be repealed?
I hope not. If you take away the name Obama, people will say affordable health care saved their life. Same challenge with social security. the president [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] drove it down everyone’s throat. I think it is right and it will prevail. I don’t like 100% of the provisions. Not the best for small employers, but it really serves a need.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given your sons?
I give them a lot of advice. Each son is different and requires a a different approach and needs different advice. I tell them God is real and that a lot of my success didn’t have to do with me being intelligent but with God watching over me. God knew what was behind each door. They are proud of me, but I have to remind them that my success required a ton of prayer that the right door would open at the right time. I’ve tried to get them to understand how God works and that they need to give him the credit. My success didn’t happen due to smarts. Circumstances presented themselves [because of my faith]. They must keep God in the equation. I tell them I did my best and God did the rest.

How’s your golf game? What do you shoot in a typical 18 holes?
My game is much better this year. One of my sons is working with me. I shoot high 80s low 90s in a typical 18 holes.