Joan Pratt has created a heavenly business

December 17, 1991|By Eric Addison

A few things have changed since Joan Pratt brought her home-based tax and accounting services business into an office with two female colleagues at Northwood Professional Building.

Many more clients walk through the doors now than in 1989. And the business now is a sole proprietorship, Joan M. Pratt CPA & Associates. Deborah Carter and Vera Ford, have left the firm.

But one thing unchanged is Ms. Pratt's very uncapitalistic belief that the company must be a vehicle to serve the Lord first before it can be a way to make money.

She talks with quiet enthusiasm about some of the ways she has put her spiritual convictions to work in her business, and how those convictions have worked for her.

"We perform pro bono services. Basically my firm does not turn business away because a person does not have the ability to pay. I guess that's just because I'm the type of person who likes to help everybody.

"But I found that in cases where we perform work for someone who can't afford to pay, and we do a great job, inevitably they will refer someone to us who can. . . . It has helped us."

Her involvement in the church also helped the firm, Ms. Pratt says.

"I am a steward at Bethel A.M.E. Church, and we do seminars there periodically. We are trying to teach our people the value of saving and home ownership. We explain to them that anybody who pays rent can have a mortgage. Most people don't see it that way.

"We try to get people to think about their future, to develop a plan, to reduce it to writing, to prepare a budget. And we meet to be sure that they are still on target."

She likes the fact that many of her clients come to think of her as a friend as well as a money manager.

"They'll come back to me after they've been able to save some money and say, 'Joan, you'd be proud of me,' " she says.

"Another thing that sets us apart is the fact that we spend a lot of time with our clients, explaining to them what we've done and why we've done it. The reason why I do that is that in the long run it helps both of us, because in the future they can see the types of things that can help them reduce their tax liability."

Ms. Pratt was born and raised in Baltimore and attended public schools here before leaving for Hampton Institute in Virginia, where she received her bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1974.

While at Hampton, she worked as an intern for Coopers & Lybrand, then worked full time as an auditor for the "Big 8" accounting firm after graduation.

She left Coopers & Lybrand in 1975 to take a position as financial analyst for Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two years later she became the comptroller for Family and Children's Society Project SAGA, an organization which works on behalf of senior citizens.

In 1980-'81 she was director of finance and administration for the Urban Services Agency, Citizens for Operation Champ, a youth recreational and athletic program.

Since then Ms. Pratt has been the controller for Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., an organization which offers legal assistance to indigent persons.

Ms. Pratt gives credit to Benjamin King Sr., a practicing accountant, for serving as her mentor. Mr. King, who was the first black person to become a C.P.A. in Maryland, encouraged her to take the C.P.A. exam, which she passed in May 1982, Ms. Pratt says. She received an M.S. degree in taxation from the University of Baltimore in May.

"The staff that I have here is very good," she says. "The full-time accountant who is here all day does a lot of the work, and I review everything that goes out of the office."

She also knows that to make a profit, her business must operate efficiently.

"Those things that can help you to operate efficiently are the state-of-the-art computers, accounting programs, typewriters, printers. . . . It's also important to have the up-to-date manuals and books and tax services because you can do the research in your office rather than going to the library.

"I thank God that my practice has grown," she says. "One of the reasons is that when people get laid off they still have their skills, whether they are plumbers, electricians or programmers. They decide that they want to start their own business and they know the necessity of having an accountant.

"So even though we're in a recession our business is doing great. And I'd like to thank God for that."

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