This retiring EY US partner reflects on a career of putting private clients first.
Gino Sasso wanted a career that would allow him to build long-term relationships with people and support their vision. His tenure with Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) gave him that opportunity and much more.
Spanning more than 38 years, Gino’s career took several directions as he worked with global public and private companies. But he always remained connected to private clients, advising multi-generation family businesses. He’s one of the firm’s longest-serving professionals focusing in this space.
The EY Americas Private Client Services (PCS) tax partner will soon take another path, becoming an EY alumnus in July. The Los Angeles native recently shared his thoughts on the evolution of the private market and the firm’s support of these ambitious owners as they strive for growth and navigate unparalleled challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. He also described how EY alumni can help elevate private companies within their business communities.
How did your EY career start and progress?
I joined Ernst & Whinney in 1981, began working with tax clients in 1983, and I’ve served all types of clients since then. But I’ve always gravitated toward the private market because tax planning is an important part of running a successful closely held business. Most of these companies don’t have a significant in-house tax function, so they see you as a trusted member of their extended team.
Working with these clients gives you a different perspective. I’ve worked directly with founders and key decision-makers on unique business issues and supported them in implementing tax strategies to help them grow their businesses, and sometimes pass them on to the next generation.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen for the private market and those who serve it?
The past three decades have brought significant changes in technology, supply chain and talent. All three areas dramatically impact private clients in their ability to expand globally. Investment, legal, income and estate tax planning service providers have also been challenged to change to meet the needs of multi-generation families seeking to transfer wealth and seamlessly transition their businesses. And as global family wealth has grown, so has the role of the family office.
The issues family enterprises face present significant planning opportunities, as well as financial and reputational risks. Just as we have seen the need for broad skills in periods of fast growth, the business challenges that COVID-19 has triggered highlight the benefits of working with a firm like EY US. It’s an organization whose professionals can offer guidance across all aspects of business operations and family wealth planning. Times like this highlight the range of critical decisions owners must make to sustain their businesses.
How has the firm flexed to meet the needs of private clients?
The professional services industry has changed dramatically, and as we have broadened services to clients around the world, the focus on private clients has also changed during the past 20 years.
The EY PCS strategy encourages tax professionals skilled in business entity and individual income tax planning and wealth transfer strategies to team with other tax lines of business to deliver seamless, high-value service to the full realm of private clients. These clients include domestic and foreign-owned family business enterprises, ultra-high-net-worth families and individuals, and private equity-backed companies.
Going to market in an integrated way with the PCS Assurance team has been essential to bringing clients the full breadth and depth of what EY US can offer – including pre-IPO, private equity and family business services. Together, we deliver a reimagined, holistic private client experience that utilizes a digital approach to automate and simplify processes.
PCS has also expanded our non-tax advisory services with Family Office Advisory Services to support family owners as they transition generational wealth. Our services include establishing family governance processes and upgrading technology. We also have a dedicated, full-service advisory practice for family enterprises. Family Enterprise Business Services supports owners with growth, capital, liquidity and succession planning.
On the tax side, we quickly mobilized to assist clients with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), working through key sources of funding the legislation provided. And when COVID-19 caused asset values to tumble further and made market conditions more volatile, it reinforced the importance of legacy preservation. This is an area of enhanced focus that our Wealth Transition Advisory professionals address.
What inspires you about serving individuals and multi-generational family groups?
These business relationships remind me of why I stayed with EY: to interact with business-building individuals and not just corporate clients. Each multi-generation enterprise has a unique history, business story and diverse set of family dynamics.
I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with founders, their children and sometimes grandchildren, and understand how they make decisions – what’s important with company operations, as well as family and business values and the legacies they have with their employees and communities.
What lessons stand out from your EY career?
Leaders gave me opportunities to work with many types of clients and industries. When the PCS strategy was redesigned in 2013, I used my experience to shift to serving private clients full time and continuing to grow. I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of being able to consult many EY subject-matter professionals on complex matters, which helped me develop trusted advisor relationships with clients.
As you approach retirement, what are some of the fondest memories you have of EY and its people?
I’ve worked with many exceptional partners and professionals over the years. My fondest memories date from my early years as a manager in Los Angeles working for then-West Tax Managing Partner Jim Dox, and later, with Oscar Jimenez, Office Managing Partner in Long Beach. Jim was a mentor to me in many ways. He gave me the opportunity to lead our Tax practice in the Long Beach office from 1988 to 2003, where I worked closely with Oscar to grow the practice before returning to Los Angeles.
Both Jim and Oscar taught me the importance of developing our people, being a good client server and other critical life skills underpinned by our values, all of which helped me become a partner and still guide me today.
What’s your advice for those who are new to serving private clients?
The firm is offering more services to the private market and our people are cultivating subject matter skills. This goes well beyond tax compliance; they also need to sharpen consultative and business acumen skills, better understand all of our services, and build internal networks so they can bring those services to enable their clients’ strategies.
The breadth of PCS is good news for the future of all our people, including those who are considering returning to the firm as a boomerang. Tax professionals who left and are looking for an opportunity to serve these dynamic clients as a strategic advisor might now find a home in PCS.
What role can our alumni network play in the firm’s enhanced focus on private clients?
Our PCS practice is embedded in our regions across the US. Alumni who are active in their communities — working with nonprofits, serving on boards and involved in other social organizations — often interact with business-owning family members and other private client advisors in some fashion. Our alumni can play a vital role in connecting our local EY advisors with these ambitious owners and other business advisors, and in some situations, assist private companies as a board member or business advisor.
What’s next for you?
I plan to take a pause, reflect on life after EY, and spend more time with my wife and family. Our daughter and her husband are in New York, while our son and his wife are in LA, so we will split time between coasts. I’m exploring ways to be more involved with community charitable interests, as well as use my EY experiences to help accounting students at the University of Southern California.
I am very grateful to EY for allowing me to be part of the resurgence of PCS, and I still have a strong desire to work with family enterprise groups. I will find ways to stay active in some capacity as an advisor or director. There is so much going on with the generational transition of wealth and business succession, it will allow me to utilize my experience to support families working through some of the most challenging decisions in their lifetimes.