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By Gatini Tinsley
The oldest Black owned CPA firm in Michigan, George Johnson and Company (GJC) is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. The firm was founded in 1941 by former Michigan Secretary of State, the late Richard H. Austin, who struggled to start his career as a CPA in the 40’s because white owned CPA firms refused to hire him. At that time, being a CPA required two years of experience to become licensed. Eventually, one of Austin’s former college professors started his own practice and gave Austin his big shot at entering the field and becoming licensed.
After becoming licensed, Austin opened his own firm called Austin, Washington and Davenport. Now African Americans had a firm they could join, making their goals of being a licensed CPA a reality. In 1971 the firm was rebranded to George Johnson and Company and later rebranded to GJC.
The firm has been a steady resource for many small businesses and works with many non profit organizations in and around the city.
Still black led, GJC is a community staple that has donated to 34 non-profit organizations in 2021 alone. In April 2016, Anthony McCree was proud to join the firm as managing partner after working for other firms for nearly 20 years.
“After hearing the history of the firm, I wanted to be apart of continuing the legacy and making the legacy more known. One of the things we’ve been doing this year is trying to educate people on our history because there are a lot of people who don’t know that we are the oldest black owned firm in the state of Michigan. When Mr. Austin wanted to become a CPA, he got the education, but he couldn’t get the work experience because none of the firms would hire him. He really created a way for other blacks to become CPA’s. He had to go through so much because he couldn’t just go work for a firm. He blazed a trail for us, he gave us a way to do it! I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t for him,” said McCree.
In a field where there are minimal African Americans going into the CPA profession, McCree is determined to give other African Americans exposure to the industry at a young age.
“I didn’t know about the profession until I was in college. I want to do anything I can do to educate our youth and show them a picture of success. A lot of young folks these days want to be entrepreneurs, they don’t want to work for anyone. I have to show them that you can be a CPA and be an entrepreneur,” said McCree.
GJC started an internship program with HBCU’s two years ago where every summer they bring in an intern to have an opportunity to work with their minority owned CPA firm. This gives students a chance to get some hands on experience. Interns from all over the United States are housed at Wayne State University dorms. They get a chance to work while getting paid. Interns see what being a CPA is like from a first hand perspective. Once the Covid Pandemic ends, they plan to grow the internship program over the next few years so multiple students can have an opportunity to participate in the program each summer. McCree is eager to show African American youth that being a certified public accountant is an option for them.
But with so much success, even in 2021 McCree still faces the challenges of gaining business from potential clients who may not be familiar with using a minority owned business. “I think there is a reluctancy to some organizations to use black owned firms. The comfort and trust level may not be there, but we overcome it by building our reputation in the city of Detroit. It’s not a reason to give up, its a reason to work harder,” said McCree.
Native Detroiter McCree takes his responsibility to the city of Detroit seriously. When other companies left Detroit, GJC stood with Detroit before it became trendy to move back.
“I’m so happy to be in the city of Detroit. When a lot of companies where leaving, we never left. We’ve been here for 80 years. It’s important for us to say that we are headquartered in the city of Detroit, and we’ve always been in the city of Detroit. This is our home and our community. We’re committed to Detroit, we don’t just make money in the city, we also give back to city. Me being a Detroiter my whole life means its very important to me that we always uphold the city of Detroit.
GJC has another office located in Chicago.