Harriet Greenberg, Co-Managing Partner, Friedman LLP

Harriet Greenberg has worked for Friedman LLP, an accounting and advisory firm based out of New York, for 40 years. Although such long tenures are less common now, Greenberg has never really explored the idea of leaving the firm because of the people-first culture she’s help build within its offices.

“The key to my success and the key to our success as a firm is we are an empowering place,” Greenberg, who has been a partner with Friedman since 1985 and is currently a co-managing partner, says. “There’s no in ‘I’ in team, like they say, and that’s how I manage.”

Work-Life Balance

Greenberg’s focus on creating an empowering workplace is what makes her a disruptor in the specialty finance industry, as she promotes flexibility when it comes to creating work environments, something she was doing long before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a reckoning on the workplace status quo.

“There are times in your life where things are overwhelming,” Greenberg says. “You can’t do everything all the time. And in order to keep people in the workforce and to reap the benefits of long-time employees, you have to be flexible. It can’t be a one size fits all workplace. Flexibility is the key to happiness.”

Prior to the pandemic, Greenberg made sure Friedman provided more accommodating work arrangements, such as giving Fridays off in the summer, but she and her team have been even more vigilant in the era of COVID-19.

“We’ve been very careful not to mandate return to work because making people do something I don’t think ever works,” Greenberg says. “We have to figure out how to accommodate different styles of work.”

Greenberg knows first-hand how important such flexibility can be. Right after she was made a partner at Friedman, she gave birth to her first child, her son Josh, who is now a cardiothoracic surgeon in Michigan. Greenberg admits that she feared her career was over, but she and the firm created its first alternative work arrangement, with her working four days a week with an extended weekend to spend more time with her family.

As a co-managing partner at Friedman, Greenberg has continued to cultivate a progressive and supportive approach to the lives of employees, something she believes is especially important given the demanding nature of the accounting business.

“Accounting — and to some degree banking — is not a nine to five job. Our people work very long hours,” Greenberg says. “I think it’s not sustainable. People want to have more than just work and home and sleep and back to work. I think that if we could change our industries to be more supportive of that, we’d have more dedicated employees.”

Accounting for Change

Greenberg hasn’t just been at the forefront of progress in the realm of work-life balance; she’s also been a leader in the accounting industry overall, helping to shape it as it has transformed from when she started after graduating from Brooklyn College in the 1970s.

“I think it’s not even the same animal. When I started, it was really a compliance-driven business,” Greenberg says. “It’s become so much more consultative.”

Prior to joining Friedman, Greenberg cut her teeth at Clarence Rainess & Company, which was an accounting firm for the apparel textile industry at the time. She then transitioned to a role at Main Hurdman & Cranstoun, which would go on to become part of accounting powerhouse KMPG. By 1981, Greenberg sought a new challenge, leading her to Friedman.

“We saw that larger firms at the time couldn’t service our mid-sized entrepreneurial type of clients and that Friedman would be a very good place for those clients,” Greenberg says, noting that the company has grown to employ roughly 750 people and do $175 million of business annually.

Through all her years with the firm, prioritizing entrepreneurial clients has always been a passion for Greenberg.

“I love entrepreneurial businesses,” Greenberg says. “You’re dealing directly with the owners and you become more of a consultant to them, and they really rely on you. If one of my clients is getting divorced, I’ll know before the other spouse. Now that might not be a good thing, but it’s the truth.”

Due to the nature of her clients, Greenberg has also become partners with many practitioners in the asset-based lending industry, and she brings a consultative approach to those relationships as well.

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” Greenberg says, explaining how she and her colleagues perform due diligence, quality of earnings and other tasks associated with providing financing for a company. “These asset-based funders have become my friends. I ask them questions and they ask me questions.”

Future Focus

Aside from working with entrepreneurs and changing the work-life culture at Friedman, Greenberg is also making strides to improve the firm in other ways. She serves as the leader for Friedman’s Women’s Development Network, a mentorship and support program for those who identify as women within the firm.

“You need somebody to help you when you’re having issues, and the Women’s Development Network is a very good way to do that. It’s a mentoring system, it’s an empowerment system and it’s worked at Friedman,” Greenberg says.

Greenberg has introduced a similar initiative to DFK International, a worldwide association for accounting, tax, legal and business advisory professionals, by helping to build a mentor program that make connections around the globe. Greenberg, who serves as president of the association, is one of the program’s mentors, expanding on her work of providing support and wisdom to the next generation of leaders at Friedman and the accounting industry overall.

“I don’t want to be there when I’m 70, hanging on,” Greenberg says. “I think sustainable businesses empower the next generation. Look for leaders, look for talent, pay for it and reap the benefits.”

In addition, to providing opportunities to build careers, Greenberg also urges an empathetic approach when molding the leaders of tomorrow.

“Everybody makes mistakes every day. I wish somebody had told me that when I started working. Mistakes are a learning opportunity and the only really bad mistake is when you don’t tell people. So, own up to your mistakes and use them as a learning experience,” Greenberg says, noting that creating a strong work environment and culture goes beyond forgiving miscues. “Find what motivates people and give them what they want. They want to see value in what they do.”

Greenberg has certainly found the value in her professional life and by emphasizing the need to balance those responsibilities with her personal life, she is helping to create better workplaces in the accounting industry and beyond.

“I’ve lived the most unbelievable business life,” Greenberg says. “I think accounting is a good place for anyone to start. An accounting background is the language of business.”