Q: Turnaround and restructuring professionals usually work boots on the ground. How has the pandemic and the resulting virtual environment affected your work?
Berret: Everyone involved, from the courts to the professionals to the DOJ, has risen to the occasion and found ways to keep cases moving in real time. I think that says a lot about our industry. You figure it out, and it is business as usual.
I anticipated that acclimating to a new firm in a remote environment might have proved challenging. A few months ago, I joined the CBIZ Corporate Recovery Services team, and my onboarding and team interaction have all been remote. It proved to be a fantastic transition because I joined a very close-knit team that genuinely works well together, even remotely, to serve our clients.
While being based in Philly, I was usually on the road or traveling before the pandemic, so I was used to working remotely. I was able to set up a designated workspace in my apartment. If anything, the adjustment to my being home all the time has been harder for my cat. I have a rescue cat named Oliver who I adopted about five years ago. He was used to his peace and quiet, but he’s become something of a fan favorite during virtual meetings.
Q: What have been some of the key milestones in your career?
Berret: Passing the CPA exam was a big one. I get asked all the time: Which was more difficult, the bar exam or the CPA? For me, the CPA was more difficult because I was studying for the exam while managing a full client load. It took a lot of self-discipline to stick to my study plan.
When I started down that path of pursuing my accounting certification, it was with the goal to pass the exam and become licensed as a CPA. The CPA is still the gold standard of accounting. The whole process may have taken a little longer than I initially anticipated, but I’m really proud of my accomplishments.
Q: Any other milestones come to mind that have made you the professional you are today?
Berret: The other milestone was building and running my own law practice. In addition to providing client service, I had to learn how to run a business, market, and network. I did that until my growth necessitated the move to a larger firm where I had more resources. Though I knew it was the right move for my career, it was still tough to close my firm down.
Q: It’s unusual to start out a legal career as a solo practitioner, isn’t it?
Berret: I was one of the “lucky” members of the class of 2010. We graduated right after the Great Recession, which changed the legal marketplace. Unfortunately, firms were not really hiring, so my class had to get creative. And we did. I was initially working for a solo practitioner and decided to make the leap and go out on my own.
Q: You were handling consumer bankruptcy cases early on in your career, weren’t you?
Berret: I was. There was a demand for affordable assistance by individual consumer debtors at the time. These types of cases generally could not support the retention of accountants or financial advisors, which sparked my interest in being able to better analyze and assess the economic impact of the legal alternatives presented to my clients.
Q: How did you move into turnaround/restructuring work?
Berret: That desire to become a more comprehensive service provider, which prompted me to go back to school to gain a more in-depth understanding of accounting and led to my CPA, opened the door for me into turnaround and restructuring work.
Q: What have been some of your favorite or most gratifying engagements along the way?
Berret: It is difficult to pick just one engagement, given the diverse portfolio of cases that I have worked on. Generally speaking, it is gratifying to leave a client better off than they were when they came to me. That’s the value-add of the turnaround and restructuring community—to assist our clients during times of financial distress, listening to and addressing their concerns and helping them through a difficult situation
Recently, I have had the pleasure of working as a financial advisor to a committee in a regional healthcare case. The parties involved have come together to help preserve jobs for the employees who are being impacted and to ensure that the community has continued access to quality healthcare. That’s especially important, given the pandemic.
Q: It shows the importance of what you’re doing. Either this place survives or a lot of people don’t have easy access to healthcare.
Berret: I think that it is a good example of the positive impact of what we do as an industry. There’s a greater good that we are all working toward.
Q: What role has your TMA membership played in your career?
Berret: My TMA membership has helped me both professionally and personally. I joined the organization as a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter. I was originally practicing in Pittsburgh and moved to Philadelphia about four years ago. One of the first things I did was reach out to the contacts for the Philadelphia/Wilmington Chapter. I was immediately welcomed into the community here.
It is rewarding to be part of a community of professionals who strive for excellence in all things restructuring and welcome their own. It made the transition a lot easier. Over the years, I have been honored to be elected to the chapter board here. I also participated in planning the TMA NextGen Leadership Experience that we held in the fall. The TMA staff and everyone involved put together an amazing virtual conference, although I will be excited to see everybody back in person as soon as possible.
Being part of TMA helped me gain exposure in the turnaround and restructuring community and build my personal brand. And I’m lucky enough to call a lot of other TMA members my really good friends.
Q: What advice would you have for someone who was new to the industry or was thinking about getting into it?
Berret: Never stop learning. Stay engaged. Find yourself a professional community that you are genuinely interested in to support your professional growth and contribute to that organization by giving back in a meaningful way.
Our industry is constantly evolving. In the past year alone, with the pandemic we’ve seen a bigger impact on businesses than we could have predicted. We’ve seen new tax regulations and lending programs. The TMA professionals are on the front lines in navigating these changes.
One of the most important things for me in my career has been seeking out mentors. I think it is important to have a network to tap into to get different opinions and perspectives. Starting out, do not be afraid to ask for help or to ask for advice. I think it is important to find these people in your life who will encourage you to trust your dreams and master the skills you need. They catch you when you fall, and they celebrate in your successes. In my attempts to pay it forward and in mentoring others, I have come to appreciate that the relationships can even become symbiotic.
Q: What are you passionate about outside the office?
Berret: I have a background in art studio and art history. I was in art studio in high school and enrolled in art history courses throughout college.
I also volunteered with The Art Connection at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It’s one the premier art programs for students in grades five to nine, and Andy Warhol is actually an alum of this program. Spending Saturday mornings with fifth graders going through the gallery, seeing what their take on the art was, and then going back to the studio to see what they created—it was an experience I will never forget.
I also love exploring the area in which I live. I am right in the heart of Old City Philly. There is so much history in the area, from Elfreth's Alley and the Betsy Ross house right around the corner, to Independence Hall and Independence National Historical Park down the street.
The neighborhood is made up of beautiful brick buildings with ghost signs and cobblestone streets. It’s full of 18th century charm. I actually live in the old Wilbur Chocolate Company factory, and the hand-painted advertising is still visible from the bridge.
Old City is also a true neighborhood with small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. It’s a community of restaurants, bars, boutiques, cafes, and art galleries. My favorite place to get lost in is a used book store by 2nd and Market. I’ve amassed a small library from their shelves.
Shane’s Confectionery, “America's Oldest Candy Shop,” is a quick stop after that. It has been operating since at least 1863. And there is a fantastic vintage shop specializing in mid-century modern furnishings that has been outfitting my apartment.
While the neighborhood here has rallied behind the small businesses, it has been sad to see some stores, unfortunately, close up shop. I am confident that the area will recover though—the historic core of the city has endured through hundreds of years of changes and has kept its charm.
Q: What might people who only know you professionally be most surprised to learn about you?
Berret: I started painting again about two years ago. It had been 10 years or more since I had picked up a paint brush, and I always missed it. It has been interesting to see how I’ve built on some of the techniques that I started developing in high school.
Q: Do you follow a particular style of painting?
Berret: My art movement of choice is abstract expressionism, and my medium is acrylic paint. For me it’s a creative outlet and good stress relief. I also shared some of my work on social media, which encouraged a few of my friends to pick up some art supplies. I have enjoyed seeing what they have created and what has inspired them.
Q: Is there anything else people might be surprised to know about you?
Berret: A few years ago, I started getting into vinyl, collecting albums. I am part of the generation that went from cassette tapes and CD players to music file sharing and the first-generation iPod. Now all the music we could possibly want is streaming whenever we want it. We can create playlists and skip from track to track just by talking to our smart technology. There is something nostalgic about the vinyl listening experience and slowing down to enjoy a complete album.