Neil Fauerbach’s family goes back six generations in Madison. His great-great-grandfather started the Fauerbach Brewery on the shores of Lake Monona in 1848.
He went to Edgewood High School, like his parents and their siblings.
“I worked at my aunt and uncle’s grocery store, Fauerbach Foods, like many, many Madison business leaders,” said Fauerbach, who is now director of business development and marketing for Smith & Gesteland, a large accounting firm in Madison. “We developed a strong work ethic and an understanding of customer service. We learned the need to give back to the extent we can.”
That giving back is a big part of his involvement in the Downtown Madison Rotary Club, the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence and the UW-Madison Family Business Center.
In addition, Fauerbach said, his parents were natural entertainers who had a talent for hospitality. All that shaped who he is: a professional recently inducted into the Association for Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame, named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Industry by Accounting Today Magazine and recipient of one of Edgewood College’s first Distinguished MBA Alumni Awards.
Q. What’s your best quality?
A. Curiosity. I love learning new things. I love technology. My friends call me “Gadget Man.” I taught myself video editing and have applied it for work and fun. (My wife) Marianne bought me a GoPro, but she won’t let me buy a drone.
Q. Your professional success has been with accounting firms, but you aren’t an accountant. What have you been able to bring to those crazy accountants that’s made you so successful?
A. Believe me, accountants can be creative, but what I think I have brought to my roles is a different way of looking at challenges. My background has been about finding ways to present a message about our capabilities, while also providing value to the audience. I have done many in-depth research studies that have been used to educate as well as market. One example is a study we did looking at what successful family businesses are doing to ensure transition from one generation to the next. A few years ago we did a study on why Wisconsin has not developed a strong venture capital culture.
Q. Tell me about the UW-Madison Family Business Center.
A. Smith & Gesteland was instrumental in starting the center. The partners approached the University of Wisconsin and asked that they start a center where family businesses can gather and learn. Now in its 20th year, the center provides world-class lectures for family business members and opportunities to network. I am on the advisory board for the center and have been active in helping recruit and retain members. It is a wonderful organization.
Q. What kinds of things have you done in marketing for Smith & Gesteland?
A. To help enhance our very strong family business practice, I started the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Award program. This award recognizes the great things that family firms do throughout the state. The program is in its 13th year and has recognized some wonderful business leaders. I am very proud of this program. We are also known for our creative seminars. “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” “I Am From the Government and I Am Here to Help” and “Meltdown or Opportunity” were some of the most popular seminars we have run.
And, these things have not gone unnoticed. Smith & Gesteland was named the No. 1 CPA firm in Madison the past 11 years in a row by the Executive Register members of In Business magazine.
Q. Accountants have a reputation for being kind of stodgy. How do you counteract that image?
A. In the role we play with clients, you cannot be stodgy. Our position as valued advisors to some pretty significant businesses in the state requires our partners to think big, be wise, and sometimes brave. I mean, you tell the client things they don’t want to hear, but experience tells us they need to pay attention. I have a great deal of respect for my partners.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love producing videos, relaxing at our family’s lake home “up north,” kayaking, fly fishing, and watching the success of our children. Our oldest daughter, Colleen, was an ad executive on the East Coast and has turned her love of fashion and design into a career in hair and makeup in Washington, D.C. Our younger daughter, Erin, is a lawyer, also living in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill for a U.S. senator. My wife, Marianne, is a retired Madison schoolteacher and is working with Edgewood College in the School of Education supervising student teachers.
Q. Accounting Today magazine named you one of the 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Industry. Why?
A. I am a member of my professional association, the Association for Accounting Marketing. I was one of the early members of the organization and served on the board of directors, including a year as the president. We have raised the visibility of marketers in the industry. Accounting Today has recognized AAM as an important part of the accounting industry, and has recognized the president of the association as influential in the industry.
Q. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
A. Definitely going back to get my MBA from Edgewood College. I started a student association and made some wonderful connections that continue to reap benefits today. After graduation, I was asked to serve on the board of trustees of the college. I chair the Finance, Audit and Investment committee, and I lead a capital campaign that raised funds to build a new residence hall on campus that will open this fall.