Accounting Profession is at the Heart of the Rotenberg Family
“Humor me, and, if you hate it, I’ll never bother you about it again.”
Those were the wise words that Neal Rotenberg ’79 used to convince his daughter, Olivia Rotenberg ’14, ’15 M.S., to try just one accounting course during her second semester at Syracuse University.
Unsatisfied with her current major and seeking a career path that would give her good job prospects and financial independence, Olivia had gone to her father for advice. She had never been great at math in high school, but reluctantly registered for Introduction to Accounting at the Whitman School. At first, she struggled, but then “something clicked.” Before long, Olivia was majoring in accounting (and finance), following in the footsteps of her dad and her mom, Sharon Singer, ’79, both of whom had majored in accounting at what was then Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.
Accounting has served the Rotenberg family well. Neal and Sharon actually met in their managerial accounting class and have been married for 42 years. Sharon went on to use her accounting skills in her family’s business, Shop Rite supermarkets, where she worked as head of finance. Today, she continues to use accounting to help run an aviation business. Neal, whose father, Jerry, is an accountant in Rochester, New York, and whose mother, Clare Rotenberg ‘53 (FALK), attended Syracuse University at what is now Falk College, began his career at Arthur Young (now EY). Eventually, Neal decided he wanted more contact with clients. So, he and another Whitman alum, Larry Meril ’77, founded their own accounting firm, Rotenberg Meril Solomon Bertiger & Guttilla, P.C., in 1986. After 35 successful years, the firm merged earlier this year with Marcum LLP in order to offer clients a greater degree of specialization, something that has become essential in the field.
Neal is a managing partner of the Saddle Brook, New Jersey, office of Marcum LLP. He has watched the industry become very complex over the years. “It used to be that small firms could do everything—auditing, tax work, consulting—but as the world has changed, the IRS and SEC have adopted more and more regulations, and the world of accounting has become more complex,” he explains. “It is difficult to be a generalist anymore, which is one of the reasons my firm merged with Marcum, the No. 10 accounting firm in the country. Today, one client might be filing in all 50 states—and even overseas. We needed a larger bandwidth of people to serve all of our clients’ needs.”
Daughter Olivia didn’t join her father’s firm when she graduated from the Whitman School. Like many of her classmates, she wanted to work for the Big Four and forge her own path. She started at EY and later went to work for BDO, where she eventually became a senior auditor. There, she met another accountant, Christopher Holt, whom she will marry in late August 2022. Today, she is an accounting manager at Castleton Commodities International.
“I always knew that I wanted to go to Syracuse because my grandmother went there, my parents met there—aunts, uncles, cousins went there—but it wasn’t until I finally came to Whitman and declared my major that I truly fell in love with Syracuse University,” she explains. “It was, and continues to be, a lifeline of really smart, accomplished people who have become colleagues and friends. To me, Syracuse University and the Whitman School do a great job of not only educating you but also bringing you into a community that you can stay in contact with forever.”
Both father and daughter are grateful to the Whitman School for the foundations they received and have shown their gratitude both financially and with their time and talents.
“I’m extremely impressed with the caliber of today’s Whitman students, and I enjoy visiting campus to meet them and see how amazing and smart these kids are,” says Neal, who is a member of the Whitman Advisory Council (WAC) and the Whitman Accounting Advisory Board. “I had a great experience at Syracuse—my marriage, my daughter, other family members and my business partner—they are all related to Syracuse University, and I want to honor that by giving back.”
Olivia feels the same. She joined the Young Whitman Advisory Council (YWAC) in May 2022 and has participated in an accounting panel for the IMPRESS program, as well as a career training program that included hosting students for lunch in New York City with other YWAC members as part of the Whitman Women in Finance Career Trip.
“Looking back, I wish I had known there were opportunities outside of the Big Four. So, I really enjoy talking to students about the many options that a career in accounting can offer today,” she says. “My involvement has been a great fit, as Whitman was looking for a full-time practicing accountant to join YWAC, and I was looking for a way to continue engaging with Whitman students. I think it’s great match.”
Olivia readily admits that her dad’s advice to take just one accounting course did pay off in unexpected ways. “Accounting is something that I really love sharing with my dad,” she says. “We’re both very busy, so it’s nice to have that in common and the time to talk about what the future of accounting—and the future of Whitman—might look like. Accounting and Syracuse University: it’s a family legacy.”
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