Michael Markiewicz of Markiewicz Enterprises, LLC joins us to share his focus on asset protection, consulting services, and CPA services. One of his noteworthy charity projects is in Malawi. Michael shares how the life of William Kamkwamba inspired him to make changes in his life.
Michael also explains the CPA point of view for international clients and the complications that come with working with different nationalities, including communist countries.
Who is Michael Markiewicz
A Ted talk by a young man from Malawi by the name of William Kamkwamba.
The CPA point of view for international clients and working with different nationalities?
Family-oriented business in different countries
Clients in Communist countries
Spanish business culture
With over 35 years of experience in providing financial guidance to entertainment professionals, family offices, small businesses, and C-level executives, Michael Markiewicz is the founder and owner of Markiewicz Enterprises, LLC, a New York-based financial services company specializing in CPA services, consulting services, and asset protection.
As a CPA and certified financial planner, Michael provides premium services, with particular expertise in providing production accounting services for films in all stages of development from pre-production through post-production. Included in those services is the application for pre-certification of film tax credits and the final application for credit funds to be received. Other focuses of his practice are outsourced family office administrative services and business management for sports and entertainment figures. Outside of his practice, Michael is a successful investor, and speaker, and is very involved with many philanthropic endeavors.
Michael graduated from Tufts University with a BA in Economics and Sociology. He received his MBA and MS in Accounting from Northeastern University. As a CPA, PFS (Personal Financial Specialist), and CFP, he is a member of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Estate Planning Council of New York City where he recently served as a Board Member. He is also the Finance Director of Marriage Equality USA and a member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Outside of his professional life, Michael studies and plays guitar, enjoys singing, is an artist in oil and other media, loves movies and the theater (where he is also an occasional investor), and is a huge animal rights activist. Michael also serves on the board of Moving Windmills Project, Inc, and acts as treasurer, a non-profit organization whose mission is rural economic development and education in Malawi, Africa.
Michael lives in Chelsea (Manhattan) with his husband Mark and their beloved wire-haired dachshunds, Maggie and Lily.
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Hello, everyone. So, today’s blooper is a sign in an outdoor food market in China on a stall that meant to say “fresh herbs” in English, but instead, the sign on the outdoor food stall in China said that it was selling “fresh herpes”. Not very appetizing, of course.
Today’s guest is Michael Markowitz. He’s the founder and owner of Markowitz Enterprises, LLC. This New York-based Financial Services company specializes in CPA services, consulting, and asset protection. Many of his clients are foreigners coming to the US to open businesses. He has over 40 years of experience in providing financial guidance to entertainment professionals, family officers, offices, and small businesses. Outside of his practice, Michael is a successful investor and speaker and is very involved with many philanthropic endeavors, one of which I will ask him about.
So welcome, Michael. I’m delighted that you’re with us today.
Thank you, Phillip. It’s great to be here. I appreciate the time.
Perhaps you could start by just telling us a bit about your background, not so much your CPA background, but how you developed a background with so many international clients. It’s unusual because most CPAs are very US-focused, and you are more internationally focused.
It almost happened by accident. I have a very good friend who is Brazilian and living in Rio de Janeiro, and he is involved in a worldwide, global kind of consortium of language translators. They had asked him, you know, about setting up an entity in the United States to do business here and
Oh, you. Yeah, I’m sorry.
You know, I told him. Well, sure, I think I can help you. You know, I don’t think this is going to be that crazy busy or impossible for me to do. And so, as a result of that, and they did become my client, I helped them establish an entity here in the United States and subsequently took care of for them all of their financial and tax filings that were required.
This person referred me to that person, who referred me to that person, and so on. And you know, in the kind of business and practice that I have, a lot of my business comes through those kinds of referrals, whether they be international or not.
That’s great. And so, it just grew from there from those referrals?
It did indeed.
That’s wonderful, yeah. Well, our language translation agency started similarly over 30 years ago. We were approached out of the blue one day by a group of translators in, of all places, New Zealand. They were looking for a marketing agency, and that fit my international marketing background, language studies, language knowledge, and so forth. We just started with them, and they were our translators and translation group for about six years. And they no longer are, but by then we were well established.
Like you, that first company that was my first international client is no longer my client. But it’s not because of anything that I didn’t do. It’s just because they decided to move out of the U.S. market.
Oh yeah, that makes sense, and, in our case, the quality diminished to a certain extent, and we couldn’t have that, so we got a different model.
Let’s skip ahead for a moment, while I’m still thinking of it. I know that you’ve got a wonderful non-profit in Malawi.
Perhaps you could tell us about that, how you came into that, what you do for them, and so forth.
It started because I have a client who works for TED. I think everybody these days knows what TED is. Back in 2007, TED held an international conference, one of the big international events in Africa and Tanzania.
And one of the people that were there for the conference from the United States discovered this young man from Malawi by the name of William Kamkwamba. And William was 14 years old. And you know, Malawi is an extremely poor country. Like many countries in that region, it’s a very, very poor country. And his father could not afford the $80.00 a year in tuition for him to continue to go to school, so through his ingenuity, William took some books out from the local library on physics, and he had no electricity in his home or in that town, and he ended up building a windmill out of scrap materials that he found in the local junkyard, and everybody thought he was crazy.
Everybody in his village thought he was crazy because he was building this windmill. He built this windmill, and the first windmill he built generated enough electricity to power a single light bulb and a radio in his family home. Then he installs a second windmill to pump water from underground to irrigate his father’s crops because Malawi has extremely long periods of drought and he would lose a lot of his crops. And because of this, he was no longer losing his crops.
Fast forward, they brought William to the TED Conference to speak about what he had done. My client, of course, works for TED and was there. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And if you go into the technology website, you can see William Kamkwamba’s speech in Tanzania, and it’s a TED talk. He came back home to New York, and he approached me and said he would meet with me. He said, “Michael, I want to start a not-for-profit and I want it to be an organization that works with people on the ground in Malawi to provide education. You know, there is much more available to all. And to work on sustainable economic development.”
So, you know, we started that. I mean, he asked me to be the CFO Treasurer and I agreed, and after that, that organization is still running very strong and stronger than ever. So that is a US-based not-for-profit and we now have also established a not-for-profit in Malawi.
And just as an aside, there’s a book that was written both by William and an American co-writer. It’s called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. There’s a Netflix film based on this with Idris Elba in the film.
You can catch either the book or the film, or both. I highly recommend it.
I think, for the benefit of our viewers and listeners, we should clarify that in Africa, and many developing countries for that matter, public education is technically free, but parents have to pay what are called school fees, which are basically for books, for the mandatory uniforms, for school supplies, and so forth so if a family is poor, obviously it doesn’t have the school fees and the kids can’t afford to go to school.
So, thank you for that.
So yeah, and when I lived in Africa and encountered the same thing, I paid school fees for some of the young people I met as well.
Just on the subject of Malawi, are there cultural differences or business issues that you find just dealing with them?
Yeah, there were. There are cultural differences, as anyone can imagine. You know US culture and we have many different cultures as well, but overall US culture versus the culture in a developing country in East Africa like Malawi.
The good news is that you know, William is now, I mean, he lives in the United States now. He went through—yeah, he went to the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg to learn English, and he came to the United States. He went to Dartmouth College and got his bachelor’s degree in engineering. He found he had met his current wife there. They’re married, living in North Carolina, and have a child.
Here’s the thing: is that William and his wife Olivia, visit Malawi frequently. She’s not from Malawi; she’s from the United States. But they travel to Malawi frequently to work on the organization that exists there, and we still handle all of the finances for both the US and them. We don’t file any tax returns in Malawi, but we do because the Malawian entity is a subsidiary of the US not-for-profit. We have to incorporate that into the US, but in terms of what’s happening on the ground there, I’m personally not directly involved in that. So the cultural differences that exist are handled very well by William and his wife, Olivia because he’s from there, she’s from here, and they bridge that cultural gap.
What is the name of the organization?
It’s called the Moving Windmills Project, and if anybody wants to Google it, it’s Moving Windmills Project, and the URL is movingwindmills.org
You can get it.
Perfect. Thank you. It’s fascinating.
It is, and I’m very proud to be a part of that.
Yeah, of course, they do wonderful work. Of course, that’s outstanding. So perhaps you could tell us more from the CPA point of view about some of your international clients and what it’s like to work with different nationalities.
Well, the first thing I’m going to say is that, initially, when I started working with international clients, they were in the business of language translation, mostly for software companies, because if Microsoft or Intuit or anybody writes a piece of software and they want to sell it in other countries, the software itself needs to be translated into the local language.
So why do they call it language translation and localization, which Philip, I’m sure you’re familiar with, after the initial few clients I had that were in that business, It then expanded to clients in other countries and a variety of different businesses. So, for example, I have a client in South Africa who runs a travel company and develops tours for people who want to come to South Africa and experience all the variety like going to see the animals and safaris and all that kind of thing in South Africa. bars. Simple. I have a film company out of Australia. I have tech companies from Asia, primarily from Vietnam, Singapore, and China. I have a real estate guy in Italy who does real estate business here in the United States, but he’s based in Italy. I have another film company in Spain, you know, and so the types of businesses that my international clients are in are much more varied than it was initially.
There are vast cultural differences, as you may imagine, between what I would call the laid-back Australians versus the not-so-laid-back Italians versus the rest, versus almost like-uh, I wouldn’t say lazy, but, you know, extremely laid-back Argentinians. That’s not to say that these people aren’t good businesspeople. They are, and they’re smart and they know what they’re doing, and so on.
But just understanding, for example, I’ll give you an example. So, when I’m dealing with my Asian clients, mostly the ones in Vietnam and also in Singapore, they may e-mail me and ask me, “Well, isn’t this [issue] finished? Something already happened yesterday, and often it’s in most of the time, if not all of the time, it’s not because of something we didn’t do, but we’re now waiting for a response from a government agency, which could be the IRS or something else. And so, but for them, it’s like this: This should have already happened, whereas if I’m dealing with someone from Australia or Argentina, they’ll just wait until it happens. And that’s just one example.
I think that you know, there are a lot more cultures already happening, whereas if I’m dealing with someone from Australia or Argentina, they’ll just wait until it happens. And that’s just one example. I think that you know, there are a lot more cultural and linguistic differences than that, but those are a few that I can think of.
You know, I work with some people in the United Kingdom, both in Scotland and in England, and especially in England, in London, where their cultures are very similar to ours. The financial people in New York, London, and New York, in particular, have a very, very similar cultural mindset about the work that they do.
We mentioned that the Italians are less laid back, which is sort of funny because they’ve got a reputation for, being not lazy, but just relaxed, shall we say.
Yeah, they do have that reputation, and it’s a well-earned reputation. I mean, I’ve been to Italy nine times, so I can attest to that, but in my travels to Italy, I wasn’t there on business. One of the things that I’ve done: I’ve dealt with a couple of different Italian businesspeople.
They’re pretty high-powered people that have vast business holdings not only in Italy but throughout the world, and, of course, in the United States, which is how I work with them, and you know, they’re just as on point about what needs to be done. How they view their business is that this is a business and it’s not about sitting around and having coffee, which is OK to do too.
But they’re very, very, very organized about their business.
Straightforward. One of the traits in Italy, as well as I think in Germany and other countries, is that there are a lot of family-oriented businesses, and there may be conglomerates, or what we would call conglomerates. The number of businesses is relatively small because many key families own many key businesses. There’s less of an entrepreneurial culture in China than in the United States. It is growing and changing, but for the most part, traditionally, these family businesses have dominated the economies for generations.
Right. I would agree with that. I would agree with that.
So, one of your clients is one of these major Italian families I assume?
Yes, they are. Yeah, they are. They own a couple of pieces of real estate here in New York, and they were referred to me by their real estate broker, who also happens to be a client of mine. So, I now handle all their U.S. tax work that surrounds that real estate here in New York.
Fascinating. Do you find that in other countries such as Singapore and Vietnam which are a much newer international business culture? So, are they mostly small and medium-sized businesses, or does the government have a stake in them as well?
There’s no government stake as I understand it, but there are smaller entrepreneurs for sure. Because, as we all know, Communist countries such as Vietnam exist.
Just like, you know, China is Communist. For the longest time, entrepreneurship was not something that was ever encouraged.
Or even tolerated and there are a lot of millionaires and billionaires in China. Vietnam is new to the game, so the entities and businesses are smaller than what you would find, say, in China.
But it’s growing, and the government there actively encourages people into entrepreneurship to do whatever it is that they do. You know, it’s an interesting change. I mean, I remember the Vietnam era when we were fighting over there, and who could have predicted what’s happening now in Vietnam, which has become a very, you know, successful modern country, even though it’s still run by the Communists? I’ve seen the photos. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen photos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and you know, all the skyscrapers, and you look at all of this and say, “Wow, look at what they’ve done.”
It’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, it is. It’s truly amazing. So, do your Vietnamese clients have businesses here in the US?
They do, yes
Are you able to say what sector they work in?
I can, I can. I would say the majority of them are what I would call resellers. So, they have developed an arrangement with companies like Amazon where they source products elsewhere. And they always sell it through Amazon. I have one guy that started a mortgage company in the United States based in Vietnam but a mortgage company in the US to provide mortgages here. I know a guy in Mexico who does the same thing.
They provide mortgages for US clients. So, you know, the variety of businesses that I see coming out of Vietnam isn’t that great right now, but I imagine over time. That’s going to change as well.
And do you find different cultural differences when working with the Vietnamese versus the Mexicans?
Well, I forgot how I worked with the people in Vietnam. Yeah, through a conduit in Singapore. Singapore is a conduit. They have a representative relationship with Vietnamese clients. OK, so everything kind of flows from Vietnam through the Singapore agent, if you will, to me, and almost everybody in Singapore speaks English, and so it’s a much easier relationship for me and my people to have, you know, speaking with them than it would be perhaps dealing directly with the Vietnamese clients.
And concerning the Mexican client that has a mortgage company here in the United States, that’s not that difficult at all. It’s a very easy relationship.
You know, in the translation business, and this was maybe 15 or 20 years ago, there were certain terms like home equity loan that did not exist in Spanish, an we could translate the words, but then they had to be explained in parentheses with the meaning.
I’m curious if those words exist now in Spanish.
I assume so.
I think, yeah, it’s much more familiar, but we haven’t had to do those kinds of translations for quite a while now.
But that was very interesting culturally.
I’ve often found in other languages, every once in a while, you go so much speaking. Another way would be Spanish, Portuguese, or whatever it may be All of a sudden, you hear an English word and, yeah, there’s no word for it in their language, so they just take the English word and adopt it in.
Make sure that’s common also, especially in the IT business and in the entertainment business Yeah, that’s very true. Your Vietnamese client—are they ethnic Chinese by chance?
No, they’re Vietnamese.
Yeah, and I have several, by the way, in Vietnam, not just one. I have probably four or five.
And do they all deal with this Singaporean? They go through the Singaporean conduit?
That’s how they found me because that’s how the people in Singapore found me some years ago. So, when they get a new client, they reach out to me and ask, “You know, can you handle this and take it on?” And so that’s how it develops. It’s almost like a feeder agent for me for a business in Vietnam.
Wonderful. Many or most Singaporeans are Chinese, which is why I asked, and very often there’s a clan connection, especially in southern Vietnam. A lot of ethnic Chinese are there, and so, you know, they tend to work with their networks there, in clan networks, as we would call it. The Lee family works with other Lees in Singapore, in the US, and so forth.
When you deal with Singaporeans, do you find that their business culture is more British or American? Or do they have some uniqueness that we don’t?
Well, I would say it’s more British than American, but I don’t find the British business practices or cultures significantly different from our own.
What’s also nice about it, and, you know, I don’t know if this is appropriate to say, but I have this woman that’s worked for me for 12 years, originally from China, OK? And she speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin. And so, if there’s ever a requirement for that kind of communication, she can handle it for me … which is fabulous!
Well, yeah, it makes it very easy to understand what they want to say.
Exactly, exactly. So sometimes there’s a phone call and, you know, often they will be able to speak most of it in English. But when they got kind of hung up a little bit, I brought her and I said, can you do this for me and just do the translation? And so, she does.
That’s great. As you may be aware, we also provide OPI, over-the-phone interpreting. So, when do need to speak to someone, let’s say in Vietnam, directly and you don’t speak Vietnamese, or whatever. I assume your Vietnamese is not very fluent this year. It may have been better last year, but perhaps it’s a bit better now.
So, if you do need to speak to someone in another language, we have a service called “over the phone interpreting,” where we give you a toll-free number and a PIN and you tell the agent the language you want, and you’re connected within seconds. And then you have a three-way conversation where you have you, the interpreter, your client, and your client, the interpreter and you.
So that’s what’s great to know. I think I didn’t know that, but I’m glad. I’m glad you reminded me.
From a personal perspective, as you know, Phillip, I plan to relocate to Spain in about a year, less than a year and a half, and I’ve been in conversations with a woman in Madrid who was interested in doing some work. With me there, it has nothing to do with my financial CPA practice at all. It’s her business.
I don’t know how many people know this, but you know, unlike in a lot of Western European countries where the native language is not English, where most people, at least in the largest cities, speak at least some English, right? It’s not the case in Spain, or even in Madrid, which is the biggest city. Some younger people do, but a lot of people don’t speak English, and I’ve read that is the reason for that is during the Franco regime, the dictatorship, he outlawed it because no one could learn. And because it’s a family hierarchical society where families live together a lot for a long time, if the grandparents don’t speak, if the parents don’t speak, if the kids don’t speak well, and so on, younger people today, now that they’ve introduced English in the schools there. I mean, it’s been like that for a while. So, more people are starting to speak English, but a lot of people in Spain don’t.
Well, our OPI service can be very useful to you.
Right. That’s good, good.
That brings up an intriguing point about the generations in which the United States has nuclear families: mother, father, children, whatever. They lived independently. And then when the children are, say, college age or early 20s, whatever, they would go off and, live separately. But in Spain, it’s a more traditional society where you would have three generations in one household.
I don’t know about Madrid, but certainly elsewhere in, like, a family compound with a house with a wall around it, there may be multiple rooms or perhaps separate buildings, but pretty much everyone lives in the compound.
Italy’s like that too.
Italy is the same way.
I think there are more Italians that I find that speak English than Spaniards.
Yeah Oh, and that’s the other point.
Just because when people learn English, just like when you know, people here learn Spanish in high school, you learn conversational English but speaking at a business level is much more complicated, and most people don’t do it, can’t do it, or don’t know the vocabulary to do it, and that’s where translators and interpreters are extremely necessary.
Absolutely. I agree. I agree.
Michael, you mentioned moving to Spain, which is a distinct business culture in and of itself. And you mentioned the relatively few people who speak English. Of course, younger people do, but older people do not. But what other aspects of Spanish business culture do you find?
Well, what’s interesting about Spain, and I’ve learned this in the last few years that I’ve been going there a lot more. I purchased a flat in Madrid, as I find that when I’m trying to communicate with people from here, it’s difficult to use a phone or zoom or WhatsApp or what. However, we do it, and we do it all these different ways. I often find that people are not available because it’s either a bank holiday or they have many saints’ holidays, which they have many of, and then some holidays are regional as well.
So, depending on what part of Spain you’re in, it might be a holiday there and not in another part of Spain, and vice versa. They love their time off. They love their time away. And what’s interesting is that you know, we’re going to be living there, and, just like here, most banking is done over the Internet, with direct payments via ACH and other such things. So, it’s not like you have to go into a bank branch much. But you know, when there’s a bank holiday, it means transactions don’t even happen that day, Right
If you want to make a payment or expect to receive a payment on a bank holiday or a Saint’s holiday, the payment will not be made because of the holiday. If you’re in one region of Spain and then you are working with someone in another region of Spain, it might be a holiday there and not where you are, or vice versa. It’s an interesting phenomenon, which is something that I’m not that accustomed to here in the United States.
I mean, we generally, you know, don’t have more than, I don’t know, 10 or 12 recognized holidays. whereas it seems like every other day over there is a holiday..
Well, then it’s amazing that the country is developing so well and so fast.
It’s a first-world country and having recovered from the years of dictatorship under Franco, which was only since 1975, it’s not that long ago that they did everything that they’ve done and developed as much as they have. It’s amazing. I salute them for accomplishing this feat.
Well, they were getting a lot of EU subsidies in the beginning when they joined the EU, and the EU subsidizes the less developed or poorer parts of the EU. For many years, subsidies went to Spain and Portugal.
And somehow, with all that money and between the holidays, they managed to build the buildings and build the country.
Yeah, it’s very, you know, at least in, you know, Madrid, where we’re going to be and in many of the other cities. We’ve been to many other cities in Spain. It’s very highly developed. Yeah, very.
Highly developed. It’s fascinating. Before we go, is there anything you would like to add?
No, not necessarily. You know, the only thing I would say is that, uh, having gotten into this area of my CPA practice, I can tell you that it’s very fulfilling. I love having clients all over the world. I mean, I touch every continent except Antarctica, so I can say that my business is truly global.
And I’m proud of that.
I would encourage anybody who has an opportunity to work with people from other countries to do so. I think it’s not only good business, but I think it opens your mind. Umm, through other cultures and other ways of doing things, other business practices, and all, I think it’s exciting. It is wonderful to do. I highly recommend it. I highly encourage it, and if anybody wants to talk to me about it, I’d be happy to do that.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Michael. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show, and I appreciate all of the wonderful work you’re doing to facilitate international business, as well as the wonderful work you’re doing with Malawi.
Thank you, Philip. It’s been my honor to be here. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and it’s been a pleasure.
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