13 kin and accounting

This dynasty of financial pros proves that the family that CPAs together, stays together.

It's a sunny but cool Friday evening in June when Matthew Cassidy and Cheryl Molyneaux exchange their vows at St. Dunstan’s Basilica. With its 200-ft. copper-covered spires, the century-old French Gothic cathedral is one of the most visible and regal landmarks in Charlottetown, making it the perfect site for the son and nephew of what The Globe and Mail  once called the "local power family" and "Prince Edward Island’s version of the Boston Kennedys" to tie the knot.

The event is a virtual who’s who of Maritime entrepreneurs — including the groom’s parents, Mary Jane Murphy-Cassidy and Mike Cassidy, owners of charter bus company Coach Atlantic Group, Maritime Bus and municipal transportation provider Trius Transit; Matthew’s uncle Danny Murphy, who owns all 20 of PEI’s Tim Hortons, more than two dozen Wendy’s restaurants and nine hotels and resorts; uncles D’Arcy, Stephen and Joey Murphy, who own Tim Hortons franchises throughout the Maritimes and in Ottawa; and uncle Kevin Murphy, owner of Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., where today’s 165 guests convene after the ceremony to laugh, drink and dance all night.

It’s a momentous occasion for the family, as is any wedding, but this one is especially sweet for parents Mary Jane, 54, and Mike, 61. Not only is their eldest child the first of their four kids to say "I do," but their new daughter-in-law is now also the fifth accountant in their immediate family. Mike and Mary Jane, as well as Matthew, 27, and their son Stephen, 25, are all CPAs, and their youngest child, Ryan, 22, expects to have his designation in two years when he finishes his studies.

But look a little more carefully into the family’s background and you find that accounting runs deeper. Two of Matthew’s uncles are accountants, as are a half-dozen of his cousins and cousins-in-law. With this matrimonial union, Cheryl becomes the 13th CPA to join this remarkable clan.

It all began with Matthew’s maternal grandmother, Kathleen Keefe Murphy — known as Grammie to her 28 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Born in 1927, the youngest of 16 children, she made it through the Depression to attend Charlottetown’s Saint Dunstan’s University where, in 1949, she was one of the first women to graduate with a degree in science. While neither she nor her husband, Bill (also a science graduate), went into accounting, their eight children — Shawn, D’Arcy, Danny, Kevin, Michael, Stephen, Mary Jane and Joey — all had an affinity for numbers.

Card games were a favourite pastime, and there was early evidence of their entrepreneurial spirit as well. Never mind the traditional lemonade stand, they’d buy cola in bulk, wheel it around in a cooler on their wagon and sell it to the construction workers who were building homes in the area, toiling all day in the hot sun. Kevin (who’s still in the beverage industry with his PEI Brewing) ran the operation, and the siblings drummed up so many customers that the catering truck owner who frequented the neighbourhood wasn’t pleased. "Neither my brothers nor that company were happy about the competition," says Mary Jane. It was the kids’ first taste of business, so the story goes.

Grammie Kathleen, a fierce advocate of higher education, instilled an academic work ethic in her children, all of whom eventually graduated from university. "It was expected of us — there was no talk about not going," says Mary Jane. The first Murphy to go the accounting route was Kathleen and Bill’s fifth child, Michael, now 57. "He picked accounting, then Stephen and I followed right after; he always teased us and said we wanted to be like him," recalls Mary Jane. "But we found out that getting a CA was smart. Our mother always said it would be easy to travel with. It’s a ticket that can take you anywhere."

When Michael took the UFE in 1982, he failed. He wrote it again a year later — the same time his younger brother Stephen was writing. Michael ended up making the grade but Stephen fell short. "It was like going to a wake in the house with our parents when the boys didn’t pass," says Mary Jane. After travelling, working at firms and even starting a multimillion-dollar insurance firm, Michael moved back to PEI and joined the family’s booming hotel business. Meanwhile, Stephen, 55, followed in Michael’s footsteps and passed the UFE on his second try in 1984. He eventually took a page from his brother Daniel’s portfolio and bought a Tim Hortons franchise in Ottawa.

After her brothers left university, one of Mary Jane’s accounting professors, Ab Ferris, suggested she fill a job at his firm, and she jumped. Ferris & MacPherson was small back then — it had just four accountants and six students, one of them Mike Cassidy, who conducted Mary Jane’s second interview for the job. (Needless to say, her soon-to-be boyfriend endorsed her hiring.) The two spent countless hours studying together and were soon an item. She and Mike took the UFE together in 1985 and she passed on her first try, but Mike didn’t. The following year he did it again with a much better outcome and, in 1987, they got hitched.

History repeats itself with the second generation of CPAs in the Murphy and Cassidy clan — all in their 20s and 30s — as they mirror the first. Though Grammie’s oldest two boys, Shawn and D’Arcy, didn’t enter the profession (Shawn became a lawyer, then MP, and D’Arcy is a businessman), they each have two children who did — and two of the four have also married accountants. And all three of Mary Jane and Mike’s sons have followed their parents’ example and joined the ranks. In fact, when they were in elementary school, the boys gave Mom and Dad a strong reason to believe they’d end up with their designations one day.

Always looking for ways to start a business and make money (just like the Murphy siblings did in the ’60s), the Cassidy boys decided to start their own cola-selling venture. They stacked cases of cold pop — and Mary Jane’s freshly baked cinnamon rolls — onto their wagon and headed out to find thirsty construction workers in need of a snack. Ryan carried around a mini-balance sheet and tallied up how much the pop cost and how much he sold. This was Ryan’s first accounting lesson — on the costs of goods sold.

"I made more than $200 in a two-week period! However, my joy was soon diminished when Mom casually took more than $100 from my proceeds," he says. "I thought it was unfair until she explained that she originally paid for the pop and the cinnamon roll ingredients. She then implied that I’d be left with nothing if I had paid for her baking labour. Long story short, I liked the accounting concept of revenue, but not of expenses."

The Cassidy boys all went to the University of Prince Edward Island and learned about the profession under their dad, one of the school’s most respected and liked accounting and entrepreneurship professors. (He continues to teach at the university today.) "They were at the top of their classes; both Matthew and Stephen finished with 98% and Ryan finished with 99%," Mike proudly says.

Matthew met Cheryl, who was a year ahead of him in accounting, at UPEI. When they bumped into each other one night after graduation, they started dating. She went for her CMA while Matthew worked toward his CA. Last June, more than a year after he received it, Matthew told his dad he was ready to join the family business. It turns out the Coach Atlantic Group was in need of a new head of finance and with his background, Matthew was welcomed with open arms. He’s been the vice-president of finance and taxation for a year.

The 13 CPAs in the family 

Today, there’s no shortage of business chatter on holidays, at get-togethers and around the dinner table. "I remember as a kid being a fly on the wall at meals, when my uncles and parents talked about business and what was going on in their companies. It excited me," says Matthew. "Now it’s nice because we have a great support system. We can confide in each other. We know what to ask and, more importantly, what not to ask."

Mike says his three boys talking business at the table results in "unbelievable conversations about our different industries and businesses, who’s buying and who’s selling." That said, the stereotype about what a bunch of accountants talk about when they’re together isn’t lost on the family. "I have friends who jokingly say that our family get-togethers must be ‘a lot of fun’ with so many of us discussing the tax act," says Michael. The family even has a running gag about all of their CPAs — every time tax season rolls around, they joke about who (of the 13 accountants) will do Grammie’s tax return that year (even though Mary Jane has been doing her mother’s tax return for so long that she "can’t remember not doing it").

While business is a key part of their lives, Matthew says the importance of family values and support was instilled in everyone long before accounting or entrepreneurship. "This makes us more successful than how much money is in our bank accounts. Family businesses can go bad, but that hasn’t been the case with us."

Besides support, the upside to having a bunch of uncles, an aunt and cousins in the same field is that the advice flows freely. "When I entered the program, I had two cousins who had recently obtained their designations. It was reassuring having family who could answer questions and provide information about the program and the final exam," says Sarah Murphy, 33, a CPA in Saint John, NB, who works as the vice-president of finance for the Tim Hortons franchises owned by her father, D’Arcy. (She met her husband, Jim Mowbray, also a CPA, at a firm in Halifax.) "The CPAs in my family made me more aware of the designation than the average person. It’s great having someone you can talk to about work who can relate."

Sarah’s cousin, Paul, 34, vice-president of finance at his uncle Daniel’s group of companies, D.P. Murphy Inc., says his older brother Kevin went through the CPA program before he did, and was "a great resource who helped me along the way. My uncles and aunt always had great things to say about it and the tremendous impact it had on their careers." Ryan, the youngest Cassidy, is ambitious and sees getting his CPA designation as a "steppingstone for any career in business." Coincidentally, Ryan recently started as a student of accounts at the firm where his parents fell in love, Ferris & MacPherson, today called MacPherson Roche Smith & Associates. It’s also the firm where Stephen Cassidy articled. "The circle closes," says Mike.

The original accountants in the family are just as busy as the younger crowd. Michael retired in 2009 to travel and putter around his hobby farm outside of Charlottetown, while Stephen sold his four Wendy’s restaurants in 2012 to focus on expanding his Tim Hortons doughnut empire. Mike and Mary Jane continue to be immersed in all things transportation.

Making their own marks in the business world seems to be high on the second generation’s list of priorities, as is becoming parents. While becoming a CPA and going into one of the family’s enterprises isn’t a requirement, it’s also not unreasonable to figure there will be even more CPAs in the family down the road. It probably wouldn’t surprise Matthew and Cheryl — or Mary Jane and Mike, for that matter — if they find themselves talking shop with the next generation of accountants years from now.