Spencer Bakst leads his team through education and care.
First and Ten
Since childhood, Spencer Bakst had set his sights on making a living in a role that would benefit others the most.
The charitable calling became apparent to him in his teenage years, when he attained the highest rank offered by the Boy Scouts of America: the oft hoped for but seldom achieved Eagle Scout status. The Eagle project Bakst chose was a park beautification project for his community.
“As a young kid, an Eagle Scout project teaches you that you can do it,” Bakst said. “You can take leadership and initiative. It also sets the trajectory for other projects you’ll do in your life.”
Bakst completed the project and earned his Eagle Scout accreditation shortly before turning 18, but even before that, he began to understand the roles business and finances play in adulthood.
“I knew life worked off of money, and it started to click at an early age, where I saw everything as a business,” he said. “When I looked at billboards, I didn’t see an advertisement. I saw rental real estate and the ROI.”
He says people aren’t too surprised when they find out he is an Eagle Scout, despite how self-described “nerdy” he’s become. But they are taken aback when they learn he was his high school’s football team captain, another role that helped shape his community-oriented mindset.
“In addition to the skills I learned in the Scouts, being in football helped too, because it taught me how to take one for the team,” he said. “I learned how to be in high-stress situations with my teammates and come out as better friends afterward, hopefully with a ‘W,’ but sometimes you learn more from the losses.”
Calling the Plays
Today, Bakst still lives on the West Coast, working as a senior audit associate for CohnReznick, a professional services and accounting firm based in New York City with branches across the nation. CohnReznick provides top-tier institutional knowledge, a global perspective and comprehensive technical and financial skills to help companies succeed in the market and achieve a prosperous bottom line.
With Bakst on the team, CohnReznick has become one of the nation’s most innovative and acclaimed accounting firms in the industry.
“CohnReznick has been making a name for itself in the financial services space, particularly in alternative investments,” Bakst said. “The firm has won several awards recently. Just in 2018, the firm won Accounting Firm of Year by ACG New York and Best Hedge Fund Accounting Firm by both Acquisitions International and Corporate USA Today.”
The way Bakst sees it, there’s no need to stop the progress there.
“As CohnReznick continues to build traction, I envision our firm as the leader in the alternative investment space within the middle market,” he said.
Bakst’s intuitive drive to empower others means he fits right in with a firm like CohnReznick—one that fosters success among companies in the marketplace. He’s also pleased to have found a role that’s so naturally in tune with his instinctive skill set, one in which he can take joy in helping his clients become more prosperous.
“One of the things I love about my job is that I get to learn about my clients and their businesses every single day,” he said. “I enjoy advising them as they scale up, undergo REIT structuring, secure lines of credit, spin off new funds and more. It has been very rewarding, being able to work with them from the time they were newly incepted and advising them along the way as they evolve to achieve even larger goals.”
Talking with Bakst, it’s easy to tell that emboldening and strengthening his clients is more than just a nine-to-five desk job. He lives that philosophy every day and night. From his perspective, the skills he’s acquired are more than simply words on paper.
“One of the reasons that I chose a profession such as public accounting is that your value is intangible,” he said. “You take it with you everywhere you go. It’s all human capital, the knowledge you have and the trust you build.”
Now, Bakst finds himself in the position for which he was made, but it wasn’t until the 2008 financial crisis that it became clear how he should apply his talents.
Learning From the Losses
Recalling a lesson he picked up on the football team, Bakst learned from the catastrophic failures of 2008 and 2009. The disaster crystallized his focus as he entered the professional realm and made it clear that educating and advising people on financial matters was the right place for him.
“I felt drawn to a career in accounting after living through the economic recession and seeing firsthand what can happen to an entire nation when financial information is not understood or entirely vetted, particularly in the financial services industry,” Bakst said. “I was fascinated at how such economic busts could occur in our advanced economy, and I wanted to understand it better. In fact, I wanted to help make it better.”
The work Bakst does now can be seen as a direct response to both the Great Recession and the widespread lack of fundamental financial knowledge, which he believes should begin at a young age.
“Young adults are hit with their first business class at 19 years old,” Bakst said. “It’s not a good look for our society.”
So, while he loves helping established clients professionally, he’s mentoring today’s youth on fiscal matters and equipping them with the knowledge to make their lives easier, and—if everything goes according to plan—more successful.
“I think finances are one of the most overlooked things in young people’s literature. If we had more of a foundation in how this world is run, it will change for the better,” he said.
All of that is not just talk—Bakst has ideas for taking the next steps to move forward.
“One thing that’s still on my bucket list is to write a business administration book for children,” he said. “It’s also a sign that you’re a master at the subject, to be able to teach it to others.”
Along with Bakst’s deeply intuitive understanding and commitment to the craft, his caring demeanor makes him the ideal candidate for educating the next generation of investors and professionals.
“During my life, I wondered what’s the x-factor—the thing essential to life—and these are the three that worked for me: to be smart, hard-working and nice,” he said. “These are the most important traits needed for success in building a life and a career. The people that have the first two are the people who are going to become the leaders and the trendsetters, and the ones who are nice are going to have an even more augmented positive impact.”
Maybe that’s why Bakst said Mr. Rogers is his spirit animal.
“And Deadpool,” he added. “Yes, I’m a conflicted person.”
Even so, it’s clear that Bakst doesn’t have an ounce of hesitation when it comes to taking on a mentorship role.
“I’m the co-founder and president of the Business Honors Alumni Chapter at Cal State University Northridge,” he said. “One of my biggest missions in life is to help create opportunities for fellow alumni to connect and maintain relationships with each other as we grow in our careers. Just as important, I want to bridge the gap between students and alumni, in order to pave the way for a smoother transition for aspiring business professionals following in our footsteps.”
Undoubtedly, Bakst knows the power a good mentor can have on an interested pupil because he’s had a couple himself.
“The best piece of professional advice I ever received came from one of my partners, Maier Rosenberg. He was the one who gave me my start in the private lending space,” Bakst said. “Maier once told me that when it comes to business development, ‘We create our own luck.’ It was short and it was simple, but I never forgot that statement. Even further, I’ve seen that advice play out countless times in my career and others. Putting yourself out there gives rise to many opportunities. Thank you, Maier!”
As Bakst looks ahead, he has his eyes set on becoming as proficient as possible in his field and continuing to use his talents to help others, just as he always has.
“Attaining accounting and financial industry eminence is my biggest goal. I want to be known as the go-to adviser for my clients,” he said. This is why I didn’t stop at earning my CPA license, but continued pursuing professional certifications in my industry specialization of alternative investments. Most recently, I had the opportunity of receiving the Certified Fund Manager designation through AAPL. I’m looking forward to considering future certifications that AAPL and other industry-specific institutions provide.”