Relationships forged on the golf course are the foundation of Mark Goldfarb’s career


Golf has always had a place in Mark Goldfarb’s life. The game has been both a personal joy and a tool that has helped him with what seems to be, for Goldfarb at least, the single-most important aspect of business: building relationships.

Today, Goldfarb is Ohio managing partner for BDO USA LLP. It’s a seat he’s earned through his more than 40 years of late nights, pounding the pavement and making connections — not just for himself, but also for the clients who would help make SS&G, the company he founded in 1987 and would later be acquired by BDO, a 15-time Weatherhead 100 award winner for its extraordinary pace of growth.

His success, confidence and abilities have created other opportunities. He helped lead a nonprofit in the name of a dear friend, growing it significantly in the process, and earned a seat on the board of Charles Schwab.

And while it’s a bit of an oversimplification, it could be said that Goldfarb owes much of his success to golf.

The future, from the beginning

Golf and business have always had a complementary relationship in Goldfarb’s life. His first job was as a caddie at Fairlawn Country Club, and it may have been his spot on the University of Akron’s golf team that got him his first accounting job with Heinick, Slavin and Co. back in 1974.

“The two senior partners in my first job were the typical 55-year-old golfaholics,” he says. “They’re interviewing me for a job. They find out I’m on the University of Akron golf team and they didn’t want to talk about accounting. They wanted to talk golf. At the end of the interview it was, ‘When can you start?’ I really believe that was the differentiator.”

Goldfarb cut his teeth at Heinick, Slavin and learned a lot. But he had a vision of a different future for public accounting that was more than just preparing financial statements and tax returns. It was an approach centered on business development.

“We wanted to get in and be a trusted adviser to your business,” Goldfarb says. “We wanted to help you grow. We wanted to help you at all financial aspects of your business — buying companies, selling companies, estate planning, tax planning, mergers and acquisitions, banking — everything that you could imagine, which is what accounting firms do today. I really believe that we saw it before any accounting firm.”

He got connected to Gary Shamis through Shamis’ wife, Mary Ann, and the two hit it off. After months of discussion, they bought out Shamis’ dad and his dad’s partner, taking over Saltz, Shamis in 1987 and replacing it with SS&G, an aggressive, fast-growing company with a novel approach.

Rudy Bentlage, Northeast Ohio market executive for Middle Market Banking at JPMorgan Chase, was a beneficiary of and party to Goldfarb’s entrepreneurial model.

“He would have clients that would need a new banking relationship and he would give us a buzz. Then I would have clients that needed accounting services and I would give him a call. So, it was really trying to find a way to help each other, and that turned into a friendship,” Bentlage says. “Mark became a friend really quickly for me, so I’ve always admired what he did with the business and the way he was able to grow it and the relationships that he has.”