In some ways, Lexy Kessler spent the first half of her life going through the motions. She got by in school, did fine in college, and interviewed on-campus for a job at Aronson LLC, a public accounting and consulting firm serving the DC metropolitan area. There, she fell in love with her husband and began to think of starting a family. The hours at Aronson were long, so she decided to leave and take a job with a client instead.
Once she made the change, she began surprising herself. She found herself missing the clients, missing the work, and missing being part of the professional staff. It was as if a fire had been lit under her, focusing her professional intentions in a way she had never felt before. She wanted to excel as a member of Aronson, using her proficiency and skills to open doors for clients that would remain closed otherwise. “Taking that time off was the smartest thing I ever did, and I’d never do it again,” she avows now. “It helped me see what I really wanted for my future, and I was a different person when I returned to Aronson after only nine months away.” Now the Lead Partner of the firm’s government contracts practice, Lexy is thirty years into her tenure at Aronson—a road that was natural to follow, once she found the key to motivation and opened the door for herself.
Founded in 1962 by Jerry Aronson, the firm began diversifying in 1980 to service industry specialties like real estate, construction, not-for-profit, and government contracting. When Lexy joined the team fresh out of college on June 12, 1985, it had 65 employees and was located in Bethesda. Since that time, it has transformed and grown, and the government contracting practice has been a leader in that process thanks to its founder, Richard Weigle. “It was the first practice to have multiple partners, and the culture Dick embedded with all of us—the ability to grow and shift our model over time—very much defined the future of the firm,” says Lexy. “The practice has grown significantly because of that mindset and dynamic, to the point that we now have nine government contract partners which includes four audit specialists, four consulting specialists, and one tax specialist.”
On the consulting side, Aronson provides accounting system implementations, GSA Schedule services, outsourcing, and general business consulting services for government contractors. In addition, they acquired another GSA consulting practice from Deltek in February of 2015, which has integrated well with the firm. “From getting on the GSA schedule, to maintaining it, to consulting on compliance matters on challenges arising with doing business with the Federal government, our consulting practice provides the solution,” Lexy says. The firm also has several affiliates that include Aronson Capital Partners, an investment bank; Aronson SpringReef, an investor advocate; and The Aronson Foundation, which makes charitable contributions to help address the needs of the surrounding community.
Now a firm of around 240 employees, Aronson is uniquely positioned in the marketplace as an alternative to both small boutique and large regional or national players. It boasts the customer service of the former combined with the sophistication of the latter, helping to differentiate Aronson in an industry marked by rapid consolidation. “Aronson has grown into the firm it is today thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit,” Lexy explains. “When somebody has a passion or an idea, we work to figure out the business model behind it and then turn it into a service area.”
In this way, Aronson’s work becomes so much more than just a statement or a tax return. Rather, it’s about providing guidance and service to clients, even when they themselves don’t yet see the benefits. Lexy recalls a long-time S Corp client that had entered a period of rapid growth, who didn’t understand why their taxes had become so complicated. Lexy and her team reassured them each year that the extra legwork would make a big difference when they decided to sell. When that day finally came, and they were able to close seamlessly and painlessly, they thanked her for playing a key role in liquidating their biggest asset, which paved the way for tangible life benefits like retiring comfortably and visiting grandchildren. “It’s those moments with clients that make it all worthwhile,” she reflects. “I enjoy being an ambassador of the firm while I’m out in the community, serving on boards or attending events, because Aronson is a group of individuals who really enjoy helping clients. I find that extremely motivating.”
Lexy’s career is, in part, a nod to a father who taught her to always do the right thing even if it meant sacrifice, and to a mother held back by the glass ceiling who wanted more for her daughter. Born in Bryan, Texas, Lexy was named after her father’s mother, who fled from Russia to Greece to escape the revolution. She spoke only broken English, but grandmother and granddaughter communicated through an elementary Greek/English hybrid and adored one another all the more for it. Lexy, her grandmother, and her parents moved to San Antonio for four years, where her brother was born.
Lexy’s mother had attended two years of college for library science before deciding to stay home until the kids were older, when she got a job as a secretary at Sears. Her father was an electrical engineer who got a job at the nuclear testing site near Las Vegas, where the family lived for three years when Lexy was still little. “It’s where I learned to ride a bike, and I remember wanting to play the slot machines at the grocery store,” she says. Her family then moved East to Pennsylvania and then to the DC metropolitan area, where her father took a job at the Atomic Energy Commission and then at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They lived in the area from the time Lexy was ten years old.
Even after they left Texas, they had occasion to return each summer to visit her maternal grandparents in the small house they had built themselves. Lacking formal educations, they had a wit and cleverness engendered through necessity and grit, which always impressed Lexy. “My grandparents were definitely ahead of their time,” she recalls. “My grandfather was a real jokester and taught me to drive when I was 12 years old. We’d go out on the tractor together or get up early to fish. My grandmother made the best chocolate pie for a snack, which I still make today. She had a rock garden because she thought rocks were prettier than flowers, and they lasted longer. Since she passed, I bring her rocks for her graveside from Peru, Tokyo, China, Iceland, anywhere my family has traveled. We always made the most of the time we had together. To say I adored them is an understatement.”
Reflecting back, Lexy recognizes the lack of motivation that characterized her younger self, growing up shy and sheltered. Lexy’s father was born and raised in Greece during difficult war times. He believed, as most Greeks do, that education was a top priority, and after completing service in the Greek Army and venturing to America to join his brother, he was admitted to Columbia University.
After two years of study, he transferred to Texas A&M, where he met Lexy’s mother and earned his degree. The intelligent, logical man, who had been through so much to earn his education and achieve success, could not understand why his daughter wasn’t taking full advantage of the opportunities before her. “You have to want success for yourself, and I couldn’t see what it was for me yet,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do because I didn’t know what it could be.”
Lexy was interested in business and computer science, so she thought information systems might be a good fit for her when she enrolled at the University of Maryland, but they only offered the major at their Maryland campus in Baltimore. Lexy didn’t want to leave her social network of friends in College Park, so she decided to go a different route academically. In high school, she was always good at math and sailed relatively easily through a bookkeeping class, and though she loved her American Studies classes in the study of subcultures, she feared the major’s job prospects. “I decided I might as well do accounting, though I didn’t fully grasp what it was at the time,” she recalls. “I was relatively removed and detached from the industry.”
At times, Lexy felt so detached from purpose and possibility that she considered taking time off from school. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, and didn’t see the point of finishing college, but her mother had words of wisdom that kept her enrolled. “She told me I needed to finish so I’d never be financially dependent on anyone,” Lexy remembers. “I decided it was important to me to prove that I could be financially independent, taking care of myself and living on my own. That became a big source of confidence for me as I grew into the person I wanted to be. I knew that if I could take care of myself, I’d always have choices in life. That’s something I want now for my own kids as well.”
Thanks to this advice, she finished out her college career and set her heart on Aronson because it felt like the right fit. It was reminiscent of the firm she applied to four years earlier when she graduated from high school. The County had put on an economic development program partnering college students with employers looking to fill summer jobs. Through the program, she had gotten a job with a small firm called B&R Associates, where she had worked each summer since. “When I thought about the large accounting firms, I didn’t want to be a number in masses of people,” she says.
Thanks to her experience at B&R Associates, she was well-versed in accounting basics by the time she started at Aronson, which allowed her to hit the ground running. Years later, she was the first employee to be recognized with an Employee of the Year award, landing two free roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the world. “Since I was only the second person on my mom’s side of the family to graduate college, my grandparents were so proud of me, and they were thrilled I was getting to see the world,” she recalls.
Lexy passed the CPA exam, married Iver Kessler in 1988, and took her brief hiatus from the firm starting July of 1989. By the following April, she was back in action and better than ever before. Lit from within, she worked long hours with vigor and a smile, only cutting back when she had children. The sky was the limit—until she started thinking about making partner. “The idea of it terrified me,” she remembers. “My daughter Eleni was eight, and my son Tyler was five. I had a long commute and was working six days a week during tax season, then helping out with Sunday School. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cut it as a partner on top of all that, with all the responsibility involved. I was afraid of failing.”
Lexy soon realized, however, that the only thing holding her back was herself. She already treated her work with the responsibility, integrity, and commitment of a partner, so she made her intentions known. In June of 2000, she was officially promoted to partner. In 2013, she was one of two executives from Aronson invited to attend a conference for major firms hosted twice annually by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). “When I walked into the ballroom at the hotel, I almost froze in my feet, because I was one of maybe three women in attendance,” she remembers. “What was so transformative for me there was, in talking to these managing partners at major firms and hearing what their challenges were and how they think, I realized there was nothing to be intimidated by. I realized I could be that, too. It was a truly liberating experience, leading me to push outside of my comfort zone and beyond my barriers in terms of what I envision and believe is possible.”
Thanks to that experience, Lexy’s perception of her position in the world changed. In conversation, she began listening differently, focusing on the art of balance in working to achieve more for herself, her firm, and her personal life. Interested in pursuing new avenues that were personally fulfilling while professionally purposeful, she accepted a position on the Smith Business School Advisory Board and on the Choral Arts Board. She became more engaged in the AICPA, earning an official nomination to become Member-At-Large for its governing council. She also sits on its Private Company Practice Section Committee. “It’s phenomenal to be around public accounting thought leaders from across the country,” she remarks. “I’m committed to giving back as much as I get from it, and to bringing new insights back to Aronson.”
Through it all, Lexy’s husband Iver has been an irreplaceable partner and integral component of her growth and success. An outgoing, gregarious balance to Lexy’s more reserved and introverted personality, they balance one another perfectly. “He’s my biggest fan, no question,” she says. “He’s my rock, and an incredible father to our kids, who never cease to amaze me. I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful family.”
Amidst the obligations of family, work, and other commitments, Lexy finds time for the Professional Services Council (PSC), where she serves as a board member. As the premier advocacy firm for professional service companies doing business with the federal government, PSC is well respected in the community, and she was floored when she was asked to serve as the organization’s Treasurer. “Some incredible leaders are involved with PSC, and it’s just an honor to be around them, hearing their stories and picking up sage wisdom,” she says. “It’s thanks in part to these experiences that I’ve come to the understanding that I want to be a leader that inspires people to explore the unthinkable. I always tell my team to try a new approach, because you never know what the outcome will be. You never know.”
In advising young people entering the working world today, Lexy echoes her mother’s advice to do everything possible to ensure access to choices in life. “Create opportunities for yourself,” she says. “Don’t sit around waiting for life to happen—take the initiative and make it happen.” Lexy also emphasizes the importance of connecting with one’s internal drive. “I’m a firm believer that I can give someone advice, but I can’t change things for them unless they want to change things for themselves,” she affirms. “If you want a great future, it’s got to come from you, so do what you can to see it, believe it, and then live it. Know that, sometimes, the biggest hurdle you’ll have to get over in your career will be you. To see the future with your own eyes and understand in your own heart why it matters—that’s true liberation, and the most empowering path to success.”