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Meet Ilona Brunner of Brunner Accounting Group in San Fernando Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ilona Brunner.

Ilona, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m a daughter of two immigrant parents who were born in communist Romania. They immigrated here with the hope of a better life and with the desire to live the American dream. My mother was an entrepreneur at heart and not only did she open and sell many successful businesses, she managed to do that while raising two daughters and always being there.

Seeing her juggle her career and her personal life inspired me as a young girl to follow in her footsteps. Work ethic and a can-do attitude were the keys to her success, and that rubbed off on my sister and I. I too wanted to one day “have it all” while realizing that certain sacrifices have to be made. She stressed education and independence. Thanks to her guidance and her example I was always motivated to do my best and be the best version of myself.

I ended up attending Claremont McKenna College where I majored in economics-accounting and minored in finance. I graduated Cum Laude and received a full scholarship to get my MBA at Claremont Graduate University where I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I was offered a tax position with PricewaterhouseCoopers in the tax department which I accepted. I worked in the Private Client Services group at PwC for five years before I decided to change companies and accept a position with KPMG as a tax manager.

After being at KPMG for three years and reflecting on my eight years working for two of the four largest international public accounting companies in the world, I realized that my passion for helping smaller business owners and having more intimate relationships with the stakeholders was what made me happiest. I decided to enter the local accounting firm realm and joined a well-established media district firm in Burbank named Benadon Shapiro Villalobos where I was exposed to more clients in entertainment and business management.

Upon building a client base and starting a family, I realized that my thoughts about being an entrepreneur were getting louder and ultimately decided to start my own CPA firm focused on tax compliance and planning. I’m more excited and motivated than ever and am looking forward to serving small to medium sized business owners and individuals navigate the complex world of tax compliance.

My passion is helping people make a better life for their families, and I believe my work is doing that. I was fortunate enough to be born and raised in Southern California.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have been a few struggles just like any professional experiences, but all which taught me invaluable lessons.

– Having immigrant parents meant we all had to learn the system at the same time. So being resourceful was a necessity because although I attended a great public school, getting the attention of a college counselor or getting a letter of recommendation took some effort.

– The reality of working for world-class firms came with the harsh reality that it’s up or out and meeting high expectations starting at 21 was great training. It taught me how to be the best professional I can be. Being a great professional is knowing how to work with people with different personalities, styles, backgrounds, etc.

– Coming to terms with your strengths and weakness and the limitations those create is humbling. I’ve always been good with people, with project management, effective communication, but I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to be the CPA who can recite the tax code like it was the lyric of my favorite song. I’m more of the “people’s” CPA rather than the CPA looking to publish white papers.I’m happy with that now, and I think I do that very well with my base of clients. Just like many others, I tend to focus on my points of improvement and was harder on myself than I needed to be.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Brunner Accounting Group – what should we know?
My company has just launched, but my road as a professional is long. My website is www.brunneraccounting.com and provides a list of all my services and my background. My testimonial page I believe is the most revealing about my work and relationships with my clients. I’m building a firm where the client is the focus and the service they receive reveals my values. I truly care about my clients as people and want to get to know them personally and understand what matters most to them. I believe this is imperative to forming the type of relationships I want with them.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I’ve had a TON of help, encouragement, and support along the way. I truly believe that no one makes it on their own. I’m constantly surprised and so grateful to be surrounded by people who give me their time,

I’d like to start off by giving credit to my mom who has been the foundation and reason for my success. I was lucky enough to feel supported, loved, and encouraged to pursue my dreams, to take risks and not be afraid to fail from a young age. Phrases like “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”, “if you don’t ask the answer will always be no”, “don’t be afraid to fail”, “you can do it”, “you are the best” were constantly repeated in our household and I’m here to tell you that those mantras matter! They stuck and one day I started believing them.

Once I entered college I realized how lucky I was to be attending a college like Claremont McKenna College where each student matters and where professors took the time to get to know me as a person and not just as a student. It’s truly a unique place. Specifically I’d like to recognize Professor Joshua Rosett (my professor, mentor, and senior thesis reader) for believing in me and always having my back. Professor Marc Massoud sparked my interest in accounting and is always there for me no matter what. Brian Dennis spend countless hours helping determine whether I should apply for the accelerated MBA program and navigating the application process. These mentors have always supported me and truly cared about me as a person.

There are too many professional relationships that have made all the difference in my career and have taught me lessons I’ll never forget. I have learned so much from all my formal and information coaches, mentors, managers, and partners I’ve worked with.

Lastly, I wouldn’t have been able to launch this practice without my husband, Takaya Brunner. I agree with those who believe that who you marry is one of the most important if not the most important decisions in your life. I know I made the best decision when I said yes. He’s a man with integrity and character. He believes in me more than I believe in myself and that gave me the confidence to start this journey.

I’m blessed beyond belief and I know it.

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