Richard Levychin is a member of EO New York and chairman of EO OneWorld, a membership platform affiliated with the New York Chapter of EO that believes that a diversified EO is a stronger EO. EO OneWorld will add value to EO by attracting more EO members from the Black, Hispanic / Latino (a) (x), Asian and LGBTQIA + business communities. Richard is also a partner at Galleros Robinson Certified Public Accountants and Advisors, where he leads the firm’s Commercial Audit and Assurance. Richard is grateful to the mentors who inspired his success and wrote a touching tribute to a college professor who left a lasting mark on him. The following article originally appeared in Business Insider and is reprinted here with an addendum as mentioned at the end.
When I received a letter from my alma mater, Baruch College, awarding me the Baruch College Alumni Association Leadership Award for Business to be presented at their annual meeting, I was deeply humble.
I looked back at the time I was the 18 year old immigrant kid from Jamaica who lived in Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York and was enrolled in two consecutive advanced accounting classes with Diane Gold, one in his sophomore year with Baruch 25-year-old Jewish woman with a BA, an MBA, a CPA and a PhD.
She weighed almost 300 pounds. So the black kids in class called her “Slim” in our infinite wisdom. She wasn’t much older than us, she was part hard-nosed teacher and part smart teacher.
The class was a combination of heavy bookkeeping and jokes that flew across the room between her and most of the black students. The other students simply did not have the courage or the material to participate in the jokes. The thing about Slim was, as long as you were doing your homework, doing your classwork, and getting good grades, you could make as many clever comments as you wanted.
She was particularly interested in me and was unimpressed by my more than 90 test results. Instead, it focused on the 10% that I got it wrong. (“Richard, 90% in college you get an” A “. 90% at work you get fired”). She delved into the 10% wrong with me and usually ended our conversations with, “What were you thinking about here? Come on. You’re smarter than that. “
Slim had no problem giving you her opinion on things in no uncertain terms. For example, a week after meeting my gorgeous college friend with the 4.0 GPA, I was told pretty bluntly that she wasn’t the “one” who was going to get me where I should be.
Slim’s classes were intense, and the fact that I had them back-to-back made my week even more intense. Both classes ended four weeks early when Slim whipped the whip at her students while she found time to shoot or respond to clever comments (Slim: “Explain me how someone with a Jewish / Chinese surname looks black?”: “It’s a form of consolidation that only Jamaicans understand.” I got two ones and a look from her that was, “OK, whatever. You have to work harder next time.”
When I moved to the northern part of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York later in life, guess who a neighbor was? Yes: slim. However, 100 kilos less of her. She would point out how I was doing, mostly to make sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. After my answers, whether it was the great new job I got or a partner in a company, she would give me this look like, “What, do you want a cookie for your accomplishments? You should do well. “When I asked her what she thought of my wife Belinda, she replied,” She will do that. “
Years later, Slim came to the annual Levychin holiday party with her husband and children. She gave my apartment her “that’s enough for now” look. At a party, I had the opportunity to tell her daughter Slim war stories, who laughed and told me that Slim treated her the same way. That was just how Slim was.
From Slim I learned the importance of quality and substance to get an “A” as opposed to doing the bare metalwork to get an “A” and how the hard work behind it trickled down on your classmates and yourself affected their efforts. I learned the importance of showing up and giving back instead of just showing up. And I’ve learned that while talent is great, hard work combined with talent equals genius – and produces spectacular results.
When I got that letter from Baruch College about the Leadership Award, I kept thinking of Slim. She had long since left my neighborhood, so I had no longer had the pleasure of meeting or seeing her, except at our Levychin holiday parties.
She told me that she had lost even more weight – so much so that the doctors told her to stop. I invited her to the awards show and she told me that she had her aerobics class that night and made no exceptions when it came to going. But because it was a very special occasion and it was important, she would make an exception this time and would like to attend the award ceremony.
And although she appreciates the way I tell everyone, I introduce her to how special she was to me, that she was just doing her job and that I would have been just fine without her. I told her I disagreed and the bottom line is that she was there and I got on just fine with and about her. But as always, there’s no argument with Slim, so I agreed to disagree. She just didn’t agree.
So slim, here I say “thank you” again. I know you hate it when I recognize you, especially in public, but your influence on me as a teacher has been both transformative and profound and continues to influence my behavior as a professional.
With people like you being in the lives of people like me, our only option in life is to achieve greatness. And your only option in life is to expect nothing less than greatness from us.
I send light, love, and extreme gratitude to my college professor Slim. And to all the teachers out there. You are deeply valued.
Slim always threw parties to which she invited her current and former students.
She always invited me and I would never go because – well, have you ever partied with accountants?
Finally, a year, I broke down and left.
Recall from the article that no matter how well you did, Slim would never compliment you. She would just keep pushing you. So she was with her children, one of whom ended up as a doctor at Harvard. The other was a scientist.
So I went to the party and one of Slim’s (Dianes) students came over and introduced herself to me. After she finished, I introduced myself to her.
Her eyes went as big as saucers and she blurted out: “You are Richard Levychin?!? Oh my god, Diane talks about you all the time. She is so proud of you! She always tells the class that we have to be like you! “
I was shocked.
I met Slim later that evening. She asked what I was up to (her way of making sure I was doing what I should be doing). After I finished, she gave me her standard “OK”. Just before she turned and abruptly walked away (normal slim practice), I remembered the young lady’s words, smiled and hugged her tightly. She took it and then walked away without comment. Just be slim slim.
A few years ago Slim died of a brain tumor. Her husband contacted me to work on family ownership, which I did.
Rest in peace, slim. And thank you for the difference you have made and continue to make for me and your fellow students. Your legacy continues to pay us dividends to this day, which we enjoy and pass on to others. You will always be remembered.