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Leader got an early start with numbers

Nancy Catarisano’s bookkeeping and accounting career began when she was a child collecting payments for her father’s lumber mill, logging in the workers there and balancing the company checkbook.
She is now managing partner at Insero & Co. CPAs P.C., overseeing 85 employees at its State Street headquarters and a branch office in Corning. The firm has plans to double employment in five years.
Catarisano, 52, became managing partner Oct. 1, 2012, after serving as chief operating officer since December 2008, when founder Frank Insero transitioned from managing partner to CEO. As COO, she managed the firm’s day-to-day operations.
"It’s a big change," she says of being managing partner. "I have a lot less time to spend just doing relaxing things. The firm is on my mind 24/7.
"With any leader, that’s what you do. It’s a responsibility; I take it seriously. Everybody is looking at me to set the stage for the future, and set the vision and set the culture."

Rare position
She is among the few female top executives at CPA firms.
"Her role is a little bit more hands-on than Frank’s," says Steven Mills, head of the firm’s tax department and a long-time friend of Catarisano. "She gets into a little more detail at times than Frank does.
"New leadership always brings new thoughts and new directions. She has certainly stepped up to the challenge. It’s a difficult thing, running an accounting firm, and I think we all agree she’s doing a great job."
Industry representatives do not track the number of women serving as managing partner or CEO. But Catarisano is reminded of her standing twice each year when top executives from some 83 firms aligned with Chicago-based McGladrey LLP gather for conventions.
She was the only woman at a table of 20 top executives from firms in the Northeast during a recent event.
"Law firms have had women CEOs in Rochester," Catarisano says. "I am the only one here, I think, in the accounting world as managing partner.
"I never pay attention to whether it’s a man or a woman. I never think that way. We have many women in our organization in leadership positions. A lot of firms tell me that they don’t. It’s just been second nature here. I know the rest of the world thinks that’s unique."
Cheryl Yawman, practice director of accounting and finance at employee placement firm Cochran, Cochran & Yale LLC in Brighton and a friend for many years, appreciates Catarisano’s stance.
"While that is not how Nancy defines herself, it is an inspiration, whether she realizes it or not," Yawman says. "She is an inspiration to other women in the public accounting practice, as well as to students coming up through the colleges and interacting with her.
"They know that it is possible to be not only an extremely successful businesswoman but also to have a family."
Mills has known Catarisano for 30 years.
"She’s probably the best friend anybody could ask for," he says. "She’s very genuine, just a very caring person, even though she can sometimes be very direct with you.
"But you never have to worry about where you stand with Nancy. She would do anything for anybody that’s a friend of hers, anytime."

Central N.Y. native
Catarasino was born and raised in Herkimer, 13 miles from Utica on the southwest fringe of the Adirondack Mountains. She was the sixth of eight children born to Herbert and Geraldine Engert.
Her father owned and operated Engert’s Lumber Co. on the family homestead.
"I grew up, from as far back as I can remember, answering the phone, ‘Engert’s Lumber,’" Catarisano says. "The business was at the house. Workers from the sawmill were at the house all the time.
"We just grew up with the family business and tons of community service, which is where I’ve been molded from my father and mother to this day."
Herbert Engert graduated from college with a degree in accounting. He was a member of the Herkimer Central School District’s board of education for nearly 20 years and a board member with the local library bureau. He received a Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1980.
"My father instilled in me the idea of giving back to the community as a firm," Catarisano says. "Everyone in this firm gets involved in community service, in a huge way."
Engert led the lumber company from 1955 until his retirement in 1996.
"I grew up doing all the books," Catarisano says. "We collected the sawdust money, logged in the loggers. I did bank (reconciliations), because my mother had to teach us so we could help. I was in the office all the time. Doing books at the house helped me do well in bookkeeping."
She took bookkeeping classes in high school and thought they were easy, and she decided to follow in the footsteps of her dad and one of her brothers and major in accounting. Her guidance counselor suggested St. John Fisher College.
"I came out and looked at the campus and the accounting program," Catarisano says. "I didn’t have aspirations to be a CPA or think I was going to be. I just thought accounting would be a good degree."

Career start
She graduated in 1983 and accepted a job from Bonadio, Insero & Co. after applying with the eight leading national CPA firms and large regional firms.
"I knew I wanted to stay in Rochester," she says. "I loved it when I came here to school, so that was definitely the choice. I did like the regional firms better than the Big Eight at the time. It was more me."
Frank Insero nearly did not hire Catarisano out of college, not because of her ability but because of her personality.
"I was very shy," Catarisano says. "Frank Insero always says he wasn’t going to hire me because he was afraid I was too shy. He didn’t think I would open up or talk to the clients."
Her job helped her come out of her shell.
"And it didn’t take long," Catarisano says. "Once I got to know my clients and I felt comfortable that I was helping them, it never was a problem. Anybody who knows me now knows I’m not shy. One of my strengths is client relationships.
"I love going in a room with people I don’t know. I just walk up and talk to anybody."
Catarisano spent seven years at Bonadio, Insero & Co., becoming a senior manager after five years. She left in 1990 to start Ciaccia & Catarisano LLP with Insero tax partner Mills and Peter Ciaccia Jr., who died in 2004.
"I worked a lot with Peter," Catarisano says. "He was my mentor from an early age. I say to this day that that’s where I got most of my business experience. I followed him around and listened to him."
She and Ciaccia envisioned a CPA firm with fewer clients but more services for them.
"We liked to do a lot for each client," Catarisano says. "It was pre-Enron. It was like we were an extension of the management team. You could do the audit. You could do the tax return. But you also could do all the consulting and helping them with their business. That was really our niche."
The firm grew from three people at its start to 15 before merging with Brovitz, Insero, Kasperski & Co. P.C. on Jan. 1, 1999, exactly one year after Insero & McLaughlin LLP had merged with Cortland L. Brovitz & Co. P.C.
"Businesses were getting more complex," Catarisano says. "There was the dot-com craze. Companies were going to go public. Companies were going global. We were a small firm, and we needed more resources. And we knew half the firm here (at Insero) because we had worked with them before. Culturally, we knew we would fit with this firm."
It was not a smooth transition, however.
"Ciaccia & Catarisano were nine really fun years," she says. "It was a small group of people. We were like a family. I really thought I was going to hate the larger firm, and the first year (after the merger) was tough.
"I felt bad for all the people because the culture, I thought, was going to be really hard. But today I feel the same way with a firm of 85 people that I felt with my firm of 15 people. The culture and the atmosphere feel just the same."

New initiatives
Catarisano’s initial responsibilities with the merged entity included audit and tax work. She soon gave that up to start an outsource accounting services group.
"I wanted to build a staff to go on the inside of companies, because I think there are a lot of companies that need higher-level financial help but not on a full-time basis," she says.
The outsource group’s one representative served two clients in its first year. The group now accounts for 33 percent of Insero’s business.
"I get more excited about consulting and being the outsource CFO and helping a business grow. That’s my passion," Catarisano says.
She has helped lead several other initiatives.
Insero opened a branch office in Corning last year after offering satellite service there for five years. The office employs five people, with a focus on outsource services, and Corning Inc. is among its clients.
Catarisano recently launched Defense Contracting Consultants LLC to help prime contractors and their subcontractors comply with U.S. Department of Defense contract requirements. She is its managing member.
The defense contracting group is a growth area because of regulatory changes two years ago that require compliance from all subcontractors, Catarisano says.
"Prime contractors can be a small business, too, that go directly to the government. If they sub that work to other businesses-and there are many in Rochester-all the rules that were applicable to prime contractors have to be applicable to every sub."
Insero & Co. ranks sixth among accounting firms in the Rochester market with 41 local CPAs. It employs 80 people here. Revenues were up 8 percent for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
"We had nice growth last year," she says. "We’ve added services where on some of those we haven’t seen the fruits of our labor yet. We’re making a major push in small business because we believe small business is still a growth area in Rochester.
"Most of our largest clients came out of being small companies. Companies are very loyal in this town. It’s very hard to take a middle-market company that’s already established away from their business advisers."
To accommodate that growth, the headquarters was moved in June to the Crossroads Office Building at State Street and West Main Street after 10 years at 1 HSBC Plaza.
"We were committed to staying downtown. We really like to be downtown," she says.
Insero has space on the third and fourth floors, with room to expand on both.

Off the job
Away from work, Catarisano concentrates on her two daughters. Danielle, 21, is a senior at Ithaca College. Aviana, 17, is a senior at Penfield High School.
"I am very active with my kids," she says. "Always have been. One of my goals this year is no regrets and to enjoy the senior years. I have been very active with the school system. And when I get involved in something, I can’t just be there in a small way."
She is president of the Penfield cheerleaders club and chairman of the finance committee for the school’s athletics program. She has been active in the school’s soccer program as well.
Catarisano has been involved with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children since its founding in 1984 and has been on the Rochester Area Community Foundation board for 10 years.
She spent 20 years on the board with CP Rochester, an agency serving people with cerebral palsy and other physical and developmental disabilities. One of her brothers has CP.
"I read," she says when asked about her hobbies. "People say I don’t know how to relax, that I have to be doing multiple things at once. But spending time with my kids and their activities is how I enjoy time.
"To me, it’s relaxing to do my community service. If I’m volunteering and helping someone, that’s what I enjoy doing."
Catarisano, winner of St. John Fisher’s Accounting Alumnus of the Year Award in 2000, says she has never felt restricted as a female CPA in an industry dominated by men.
"What’s helped me, I think, is I’m not afraid to share a vulnerability or talk openly about a fear or weakness," she says. "I’m not afraid to share with anybody if I’m afraid of something or I feel like I’ve made a mistake. And then they open up. Sometimes in corporate America, you don’t want to admit that there’s a vulnerability."
Yawman, a two-time president of the Rochester chapter of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, has known Catarisano professionally for 20 years and has been a personal friend for 10.
"Nancy is the salt of the earth," Yawman says. "She’s someone who you always know will do the right thing, whether it’s for her clients, her employee base, her friends or her family. She just goes above and beyond whatever you would imagine."
Catarisano’s long-term plans center on continuing to develop Insero & Co.
"When Frank decided to be CEO and give me the managing partner role, I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the culture as we grow," she says. "And that’s a challenge.
"That’s my biggest challenge, because it’s harder as you get bigger and bigger. But I feel I can do it. Our core values are hanging in etched glass around our office. That’s what my contribution to the new space was."
Insero & Co. strives to be client-centered, passionate about people, to operate as a firm and not as individuals, and with integrity.
"I don’t have a tax department, an audit department and outsource," Catarisano says of the setup at 2 State St. "Everybody is sitting all mixed up. At first, I think they thought I was crazy, but the only way you’re going to get people to work better together is if they’re with each other. I didn’t want it to be siloed."
She is content on a personal level, after earlier anxieties about combining her professional career and being a mom.
"As a woman, when you are balancing children and a career, you can do it all," she says. "But if I did anything wrong, I tried to do it all so fast early in my career. Early in my career, the guilt always got to me.
"When you’re at work, you’re feeling guilty that you’re not home. When you’re home, you’re feeling guilty that you’re not at work."
At one point, Catarisano boxed up the many awards she had won early in her career and put them in her basement because she felt they were infringing on her responsibilities to her daughters.
"I was almost ashamed that I had won all these, and I put them away," she admits. "Then I pulled them all back out one day, and I wish I had never felt ashamed of that, because I think I have instilled an example to them to be success-driven."
Danielle majors in business marketing at Ithaca. Aviana is considering a career in accounting.
"I’m now proud that they’ve grown up to be driven and career-minded. They want to have family, but they want a career, too.
"They’re proud of me, and they tell me that. That’s when you know you really did the right thing."

Nancy Catarisano
Title: Managing partner, Insero & Co. CPAs P.C.
Age: 52
Home: Penfield
Education: B.S. in accounting, St. John Fisher College, 1983
Family: Daughters Danielle, 21, and Aviana, 17
Hobbies: Community involvement, reading
Quote: "I’ve probably grown in my career more since I’ve been here at Insero than during those years when my name was part of the name of the firm."

12/27/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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