Hometown: Plattsburgh, New York
Family: Wife, Patricia Chartier, daughter, Jessie Palian and son Forrest Edwards who is a third-generation member of the firm
Education: High School: Mount Assumption Institute, BS. Resource Management, Syracuse University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, BS: Business Management, SUNY Plattsburgh
Occupation: Certified Public Accountant
Community Involvement: Dean’s Advisory Council, SUNY Plattsburgh SBE; Eastern Division National Ski Patrol, Finance and Long-Range Planning Committees; Ski Patroller, Whiteface Mountain; CVPH Pension and Finance Committees; UVM Health Network Audit, Investment and Compensation Committees
Alexander Edwards is a Plattsburgh native who has spent his life as an active member of the community. He is the president and managing partner of the Alexander Edwards & Company accounting firm, which celebrated its 100th year of business in 2020. The firm was established by public accountant Ed Gilmore who recruited Edwards’ father. The senior Edwards left New York City in 1946 to become a partner in Gilmore & Edwards and the Plattsburgh area’s first Certified Public Accountant.
Edwards said he was born to be an accountant. He worked for his father’s firm in high school, but had a self-professed “midlife crisis” at age 20 when he decided to become a forester. His love of nature drew him away from the accounting world for a little bit, and he studied at the well-known SUNY ESF school in Syracuse, New York. He went into the forest service, but did not “gel” with the profession. He soon returned to Plattsburgh to continue his true passion for accounting.
Although Edwards stepped away from a career in the woodlands, he is still enthusiastic about nature. He is an avid skier and takes advantage of Whiteface’s slopes and Lake Champlain in the warmer seasons.
The firm has both U.S. and Canadian clients. Edwards explained, “We have close to 1,000 clients so there’s a lot of change and dealing with people. It’s not the same old, same old. Our work is different everyday.” This ebb and flow each day is what Edwards loves most about his job — working with clients and connecting with people. He is looking forward to being able to have clients return to his office in a post-COVID world.
Edwards doesn’t plan to retire any time soon. His father worked until his last six weeks, and he will likely follow in his industrious footsteps.
Edwards shared wisdom from both his personal and professional life with Strictly Business during a recent interview.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
AE: It is not what you know but rather who you know.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
AE: My father, Alexander D. Edwards, was the first CPA in Plattsburgh in 1946. I worked for him before I was licensed in 1979 and we were partners until his death in 1990. He groomed me to lead the firm and always had time to answer my questions.
SB: How have you inspired or mentored others?
AE: To become a CPA, you need to have a two-year apprenticeship with a CPA. I signed off on the experience of eight individuals who were subsequently licensed and have become successful.
SB: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
AE: Work hard and tell the truth.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
AE: Find a career that excites you. Do not hesitate to change your direction if you cannot find that excitement.
SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership.
AE: Lead by example and show your team you are not above doing the tough jobs.
SB: Tell us about the culture of your company.
AE: We are a closely-knit group of individuals. We all have each other’s back and are willing to help.
SB: What do you look for when you hire?
AE: High intelligence.
SB: How do you work with others in difficult situations?
AE: I like to give others the benefit of the doubt. I try not to play the blame game.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
AE: I believe in the butterfly effect.* I may regret a few choices I have made, but do not think I would be where I am or who I am if I had not made the choices I have.
*The butterfly effect is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. The concept imagines a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
AE: Being the sounding board for some of the most successful businesspeople in the area.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
AE: Spend time in and on Lake Champlain. I also like to downhill ski and am an avid reader.
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
AE: I used to compete in water skiing tournaments.
SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
AE: Ever since an episode of I Dream of Jeannie brought Benjamin Franklin into the present, I have thought of what I could share of the future with him. Also, he was a founding father, and I would like his spin on various constitutional matters.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
AE: Hard working and smart.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
AE: We need to recruit people to move into the area and convince our young there is a future in Plattsburgh for them.