DLA's 20th Anniversary
a Letter and Special Thank you from David Landau
As I sit back and reflect on the last 20 years, I cannot help but think about the day I started DLA, then appropriately named Early Stage Solutions. It was January 22, 2001, I walked into my 400 square foot apartment in New York City feeling frustrated, scared and unsure of what the future would hold for me, a failed internet entrepreneur. I had just sold the internet company I started when I was 24, which was essentially Facebook long before Facebook was even a thing. Due to forces outside of my control, I was pressured to take all stock in a transaction that made no sense to me. A series of misrepresentations from the buyer and advisors led to a quick demise of the merged entity. Three years of hard work, the majority of my net worth and equity in the company evaporated in a matter of weeks. Later I would come to realize that the lessons learned from entrepreneurial failures are incredibly useful when building and growing a company. I was done running a company and taking this kind of risk. I wanted to find a job in private equity or venture capital and have some security in my life. During this time, the country was fresh off the heels of the internet bubble bursting, the Bush Gore recount and a wave of scandals that would change the accounting industry forever. Companies like Enron and WorldCom were on the verge of collapse almost overnight due to shortcomings in their internal controls. After the continual rejection by many venture capital and private equity funds, I quickly realized that the timing of my job search was less than perfect and securing a job in these fields was a long shot.
I sat at the large wobbly glass desk in my makeshift office on the side of my bed overlooking the beautiful southern skyline of Manhattan. Since I was unable to secure employment and I had no idea what else I wanted to do professionally, I broke every promise to myself and reverted to what came natural to me. I formed the company Early Stage Solutions so I could start making a living again. Early Stage Solutions was created to help companies write business plans and develop financial models for the purpose of raising capital. I enjoyed working with entrepreneurs and helping startup companies. Then the world was to change forever. I was sitting at my desk and glanced out the window enjoying a beautiful September morning. What I saw that morning changed me forever and the way I viewed my life. The city and country were in turmoil. Business dried up and venture deals were few and far between. What was I going to do now?
Fast forward six weeks later, with no income and consumed by stress, I received a phone call from my former senior manager at Ernst & Young, Bill Hitter. Bill explained to me that a merger had taken place between Mitsui and Sumitomo and the combined entity required assistance reconciling intercompany accounts and developing internal controls. I pulled together every bit of experience I gained working in the insurance practice as a staff accountant at Ernst & Young and drove for two months from my new apartment in Roseland, New Jersey, to downtown Manhattan, right across from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
As 2001 ended, I found myself in the same position that I was in a few months earlier. The Mitsui Sumitomo project was ending, and my pipeline was dry. In late December 2001, I received a phone call from Charles Yeomans, who was the COO of an insurance broker, Frenkel & Co. Frenkel’s operations were previously run out of the World Trade Center and a significant number of documents were lost. Frenkel moved their offices to Jersey City, and I went there to meet Charles and their CFO, Michael Glazer. In early January 2002, Early Stage Solutions signed up its second large insurance client and I quickly changed my fledgling company’s strategy from working with venture-backed companies to a middle market insurance industry advisor. It was at Frenkel that I would meet DLA’s first two employees, Terry Rose and Michael Glazer, who left his Frenkel CFO duties later in 2002.
Given the company’s new focus on the insurance industry, I regretfully changed the name of the firm from Early Stage Solutions to David Landau & Associates, LLC (DLA). The 47-year-old version of me would have named the firm something different and more exciting than the eponymous name I bestowed upon the company. Subsequently, the name of the firm was officially changed to DLA a few years ago.
It was now early 2003 and the Frenkel project came to an abrupt halt. I was focused on building a firm that gave companies an alternative to the larger accounting and consulting firms, without the bureaucracy and overhead of our competitors. As a response to the accounting frauds in 2001, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. Amongst other things, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 required public companies to assert to the veracity of their internal controls over financial reporting and mandated that public accounting firms issue an opinion as to the effectiveness of a client’s controls. Equally as important as these brief few lines of the legislation, public accounting firms now faced strict independence rules and limited the work audit firms can provide their clients. This was an incredible opportunity. DLA would not only be an alternative to the Big Four, but additionally could work with the larger accounting firms as a non-threating relationship, working alongside their audit teams on common clients.
I was extremely confident with this strategy. The market was on fire for internal control services. Fortunately, controls and process work came naturally to me. However, I found myself again with no revenue and no prospects on the horizon. Although this time the stakes were very different. I had just purchased a home in Roseland, New Jersey, and was expecting my first son in two months. January went by and no revenue. February was the same. I would sit in the attic of my townhome for ten hours a day emailing and calling prospective clients. To say I hit a dry patch was an understatement. The beautiful sound of my newborn baby son crying motivated me, and I was not going to give up. Failure was not an option.
It was a sunny day in April, and I was getting ready to play golf and then head to dinner. I decided to delay my round and head out later to only play nine holes. I went back to the same glass desk from my apartment, only now my office was in the attic. The calling continued. Fortuitously I called Charles Yeomans of Frenkel, and he told me about a company in San Francisco, USI Holdings, which was one of the largest insurance brokers in the country. Charles explained that USI needed controls assistance and I should reach out to Ed Bowler. With a lot of hope and an equal amount of desperation and fear, I called Ed and received his voicemail. Later that day, as I was walking out the door, my phone rang. I quickly picked it up and it was Ed. Ed told me that USI needed help with “404” and heard that I could help. I replied, “I am sorry, Ed, I do not know anything about 404.” Ed replied, “You know, this SOX thing.” I quickly pivoted and said, “Oh yes, I just call it SOX.” Ed set up a meeting for me to visit the company’s new CFO, Bob Schneider, in their newly constructed headquarters in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Fortunately for me, all the large accounting firms had excellent materials on how to implement a process to evaluate a company’s internal control over financial reporting. It was time to start studying.
My parents taught me that hard work and determination pays off. This is a lesson for which I am eternally grateful. My parents demonstrated this firsthand by working a combined five jobs to ensure my brother, sister and I had what we needed to achieve our life goals. I feverishly studied all the SOX educational materials from the larger firms prior to the meeting with Bob. I got in my car and took the one-hour drive up to his office. Bob and I immediately hit it off and he was confident in the knowledge I offered. What I did not appreciate walking into the meeting was that USI had 27 decentralized accounting departments spread out across the country with several different IT systems and processes. This meant that each of these entities must be evaluated for SOX compliance. Bob asked me if I was confident in my abilities to get this work done. I assured him I was. I left his office that day and closed what turned out to be a $3 million project. There was no looking back from here.
I immediately called Terry Rose and Mike Glazer from the Frenkel project and built a team around me. I flew back and forth to California almost weekly to build USI’s SOX compliance and internal audit functions. In addition, I began visiting many of the other locations where USI had accounting departments. I was on the road almost 100% of the time and reinvested everything I could into growing the firm. It became apparent that focusing solely on the insurance industry was going to be tough, so I began exploring real estate and financial services opportunities. The knowledge and accolades I received while working 80+ hours a week at USI helped the firm land its first financial services client. Al Friedman of Provident Bank hired DLA. Shortly following this, DLA began working with its first five REITs – Tom Wirth, Greg Hughes, Bob Foley, and Matt DiLiberto hired DLA to work with SL Green Realty Corp. and Gramercy Capital. Debra Hess and Jon Brown switched from using a Big Four firm to DLA and brought the firm on to work with Newcastle/Fortress Investment Group. Bill Stein hired DLA to work with Digital Realty. Mike Pappagallo, Joel Yarmak and Glenn Cohen of Kimco Realty brought on DLA next. It was an exciting time filled with growth and opportunity. It is with great pride that I can say the firm still works with many of these companies and people today.
Shortly after landing these clients, I was fortunate enough to meet Scott Levy, who was then a partner at Grant Thornton. Scott would later become my partner in 2014 and joined the firm to run our Accounting Advisory practice. In 2006, I received a phone call from my friend and former manager at Ernst & Young, Tom Ridings. Tom bestowed upon me a great gift, an introduction to Phil Ramacca. Phil joined the firm and became my first partner in 2013. Today, Phil is our President & COO. Keith Snyder started with the firm in 2008 after I made the huge mistake of tossing aside his resume in 2007. Today Keith is a partner and runs our Internal Audit practice, the firm’s largest business group. It was also in 2008 that I met a young associate in the firm’s advisory practice, Kyle Stebbins. Kyle left the firm in 2012 and returned in 2018 to launch our staffing firm, BradleyScott Resources. Finally, in 2015, while standing in a bar aptly named Irish Kevin’s in Key West, Florida, I met Kevin Baldwin, who later joined the firm as a partner to run DLA’s Forensic Accounting, Valuation and Litigation Support practice. These are the best five partners anyone could ask for and it would be impossible to sit here today celebrating 20 years without these amazing people. To say we are lucky is an understatement. Each of you make having a partner enjoyable. Thank you for your efforts, loyalty and friendship. We are all truly blessed.
20 years after starting DLA, I have been fortunate to meet some amazing clients, form fantastic strategic relationships and get to work with the best employees and partners. My team and I have worked tirelessly to build an incredible firm. Today, DLA has six partners, eighty employees and hundreds of clients. We have an office in Boston and two in New Jersey. DLA is known for client service excellence provided by a team of highly skilled professionals. I am honored to lead this amazing company and incredible group of people. 20 years after founding DLA, the firm is one of the largest boutique internal audit and accounting advisory in the country.
My partners and I are eternally grateful for every client that gave DLA a chance. My only hope is that for the clients that believed in DLA, that we provided outstanding service and made it enjoyable to work together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we appreciate each of you.
To the hundreds of people that worked at DLA in the past and to those that work at DLA today, my partners and I want to thank each of you for all your efforts over the years and for the first-class service you provided and continue to provide our clients. We continue to work tirelessly to make DLA a better place to work.
To the many people my partners and I met along the way, we appreciate the opportunity to work side-by-side with you and are thankful for everyone who helped DLA achieve this level of success.
Finally, and most importantly, a special thank you to my parents, wife and five children. I know it’s not easy with my demanding schedule and I thank you for constant support and understanding. I love each of you dearly.
I am humbled that you took the time to learn more about the DLA story and am grateful to have this platform to express how I feel as the firm celebrates its 20-year anniversary. I do not take this milestone lightly. DLA would not be what it is today without so many of you. We look forward to an even better future working together with such an amazing group of clients, employees, and friends of the firm.
For more information on our 20th anniversary, click here!