Members of the PICPA hold many different credentials and certifications that they proudly display with their names, but we’re confident that we have never seen MBE before. That’s because it stands for Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and it’s awarded by Queen Elizabeth II. This unique honor was recently presented to PICPA member Howard Silverstone, director and cofounder of Forensic Resolutions Inc., and he joins us to discuss why he received it, what it’s like to meet Prince William, and how his family reacted when they got the news.
By: Bill Hayes, Pennsylvania CPA Journal Managing Editor
CFE. CGMA. CFF. JD. And, of course, the ever-important CPA. As someone who works with contributors to a magazine, I see a lot of credentials after people's names. But the last issue of the magazine was the first time I had seen the letters MBE in our pages. There's a reason for that. Because Howard Silverstone is almost certainly the only member of the PICPA ever to receive the honor, which stands for Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. And, oh yeah, it's presented by Queen Elizabeth II. To learn more about this prestigious honor and his feelings upon receiving it, today we are talking with Howard M. Silverstone, MBE, CPA, CFF, director and co-founder of Forensic Resolutions Inc.
For the people who are not familiar with the MBE honor, can you tell us a little bit about what it represents and how you earn it?
[Silverstone] As they're known collectively, the Order of the British Empire were actually first established during the First World War by King George V, actually, in 1917. And he did it to reward people who weren't necessarily in the military and the medals that you associate with that, but to reward civilians and other service people who were considered to be in support positions and really for their contribution to the war effort.
After the war ended, it was decided to continue those awards and to recognize various achievements of service that people gave to the community in various ways, whether through the arts, through charity, through education, or generally in service for the United Kingdom in the Commonwealth.
You received the honor in large part due to your work with the British-American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia. Can you tell us a little bit about that organization, its purpose, and your experience with it?
[Silverstone] In general terms, the British-American Business Council at large, so internationally, it is in fact the largest transatlantic business network that's out there. There's 22 chapters with about 2,000 member companies throughout the United Kingdom and North America. And the idea of the BABC is to allow people to gain access to this larger transatlantic business network and help with business development networking and marketing opportunities.
The chapter in Philadelphia, which covers Philadelphia and southeast Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, really gives members the chance to develop these networking contacts within the community of people who do business on either side of the Atlantic and also gives them opportunities to exchange ideas and information, especially in this day and age where there's a lot of moving parts and a lot of things happening and it just gives everybody that chance to network and help develop business.
You've spent a lot of time in the States. You've been here for a long time. But you have a great love, obviously, for your home country. I wonder if you can walk us through what goes on in your mind when you get a call, maybe out of the blue, saying that you'll be getting this award.
[Silverstone] Well, yes, I would say that, and I have to just preface that by saying that these awards are published twice a year. They're published in the Queen’s New Year’s honors list, so around New Year's Day. But there's also where I received it: the Queen’s birthday honors list. And even though the Queen’s birthday is in April, she actually has an official birthday, which is the second Saturday of June. And that's when they announce the birthday honors. So every year as someone from Britain, you always look twice a year to see the famous people that got these awards and it's just, it's one of those things. It's a tradition.
In May, I got a phone call from someone who's a member of the trade office with the British Consulate in New York completely out of the blue and told me that I had been nominated for this award and it had been approved by the prime minister and Her Majesty and asking me if I was willing to accept it. And I literally, I have to admit, I'm not one who's short of words. but I literally was speechless. I said, "Me?" It was just one of those very unique phone calls.
And, if you don't mind, I would like to just share one private thing with you.
[Silverstone] My mother passed away in July. My mother was living in the States, geographically near where I live and work. My mother was alive to find out this news. Sadly, she wasn't alive when I actually went over there to get it, but she did know about it. I wasn't allowed to tell anybody until they were published in June. As soon as they were published, I called her and I told her about ... I said, "You know, it's the Queen’s birthday and the honors," and I mentioned all the well-known people who were getting awards. She said, "Oh, nice. Anyone else?" I said, "Me." And she said, "You?" Like, "You? What have you done?" And that kind of sums it up. You don't think the average person in the street would get that phone call and to get it was just ... I can't explain how special it was.
That's incredible. I'm so glad she was able to learn about it. To receive the honor, you traveled back to the United Kingdom for a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, as I believe you mentioned. What sort of preparations did you have to do for the ceremony? Is there anything involved or is it just having to get the tuxedo pressed? What were all the sort of things that you had to go through?
[Silverstone] There were actually several things. They sent out various communications through the mail about the process and when it was going to be held and where it was going to be held and certain protocols. In other words, you're only allowed to bring a certain number of guests with you and there's a certain way that you have to dress. For gentlemen, it's either a business suit, military uniform, or a morning suit, which is essentially a traditional suit with tails and a waistcoat and striped pants, which is actually ... that was my biggest preparation was getting myself measured and then calling a very well-known store in London that you can rent a morning suit from and giving them all my measurements and making sure they had everything. Because I want to make sure that when I got there, everything was ready to go.
And then several weeks before, they sent out official invitations for you and each of the members of your family who are attending. They even give you a parking pass. So if you have someone driving you into Buckingham Palace, the police know that you've been officially invited. They send you a huge proclamation actually hand-signed by the Queen and a whole bunch of other information. So there's a lot of stuff that went on before the actual ceremony.
The ceremony itself: how does that work and is it a nerve-racking process or is it a lot simpler than it sounds?
[Silverstone] Well, I would say the most nerve-racking thing for me was twofold because I was flying 3,000 miles to get there. I wanted to make sure I had no problems getting there. And then the morning that I had to be there, my biggest fear was getting into a cab and having one part of my suit rip or having a shoe fall apart or something. That was what I was most ... the most concerning thing for me was the logistics of getting there. Once I got there and we were escorted into the Palace, you just have this ... you're overawed by everything but you're just ... you realize you're there and there's no nerves. You kind of meet all these other people who are getting awards and you move on.
But, for me, the most nerve-racking thing was actually just getting there and making sure we got there without any problems.
I could see that. That's not the day that you want to get the coat stuck in the cab or anything like that.
[Silverstone] No, and as far as the ceremony itself, the recipients, you get escorted into one room and a very senior member of the Queen’s staff talks you through what's going to happen and how you have to present yourself. The day I was there, Prince William actually gave out the awards. So he explained to us how you would present yourself to Prince William, how to know when he is actually finished with the conversation, what you have to do. And then my family was escorted into the main ballroom and they were given a program. Then someone speaks to them beforehand about what's going to happen. And it is just so well-staged, just, it's incredible, it really is.
You mentioned Prince William. In the States, there's obviously a certain celebrity status afforded to the British royal family. But of course you're a native of the United Kingdom. I wonder what it was like to be in Buckingham Palace and to meet Prince William. Is there a feeling of being starstruck or was it sort of just like meeting a normal person to you? I imagine that can't be the case.
[Silverstone] Well, having grown up there, I've been hundreds of times to Buckingham Palace but I stood outside the gates as a tourist.
So to actually be inside where all these members of other royal families and heads of government have for hundreds of years been going is, it's quite ... you are somewhat not starstruck but you are struck by the history. And when you walk through the halls of the palace and you see the artwork and the furniture that goes back hundreds of years, you just realize how special it is. And to meet Prince William and to have Prince William, when he presented me with the award, he engaged in conversation asking me about my work with the Business Council. He had been briefed and knew why I was getting the award.
And I just ... there's a video that I've got of the event. And if you see the body language between the two of us, I realize that I was actually just having an eye-to-eye conversation with him and he set the tone. He was very relaxed and you could just look at him and know that one day down the road, he is ready now, but it might not be for some time to be king. You just know that you're talking to a future king and so you are somewhat awestruck by it. But it was just ... it's hard to describe. And he made you feel very much at ease.
You mentioned your mom's reaction. How did the rest of the members of your family react not only to your honor but to the ceremony itself? I can only imagine as a child, you're seeing your dad go to work every day and then one day he says, "I'm being honored by Queen Elizabeth." Were they blown away by this or is it more like, "Cool, dad."
[Silverstone] Well, I would say, there's a number of steps to this. The first one was when I wasn't allowed to tell anybody about receiving this award. Until it was publicly announced, I wasn't allowed to tell anybody. So my wife knew, that was it. My kids did not know and they're all out in school, in different universities. So I got them on a conference call and they didn't know what was going on and I told them and there was silence. And one of them said, "What?" Because even though they were born here, they just know what this means. And they know how much getting an award means for someone from Britain. So they were just like ... they were speechless. They literally were speechless.
And my brother as well. I have an older brother who I'm very close with. He lives in this region too. He actually has a live show that he does on the internet. And his show was live at that time so I couldn't talk to him for about an hour. And as soon as his show was done, I called him up. And literally if he could have hugged me through the phone, he would have.
But the day that we went, I've now seen video because there's hidden videos that you don't know they're taking while you're walking through the Palace. And I just see my wife and my three children just looking up the whole time as they're walking through in wonder and literally open-mouthed because they just can't believe they're walking in Buckingham Palace.
And just while we're talking, I just want to share one other little thing with you. As I told you in between getting the news and going to the ceremony, my mother passed away. But in the intervening time, she had said to my wife, "I have a lot of hats. Please wear one of my hats to the palace," because that's a requirement of ladies that they wear a hat. And after my mother passed away, we were going through her things, and my wife found a hat that perfectly matched a dress she had bought for the occasion. And my dad had passed away in 2001 and my mother kept one pair of very nice dress shoes he had that I always used to wear when I was in England. And I wore those. So my wife wore my mother's hat and I wore my dad's shoes. And my kids realized that they literally ... that this was a real piece of family history going on here.
That's incredible. As you look back now on receiving this honor, how does it make you feel about not only the choice of your career, the work you've done for the British-American Business Council, or the entire picture of your experience, of what you achieved. I imagine it's got to be very fulfilling.
[Silverstone] It is. You know, in the work that we do every day as CPAs and forensic accountants, it's stressful, it's long hours, and the things that we do outside of that, that we volunteer, and, in my case, one of the things I volunteer is with the British-American Business Council, that's an outlet for me to use certain skill sets I have aside from the work I do every day. And to be recognized all the way to Her Majesty, recognizing the time and effort that's been put in over ... because I've been involved literally with this organization since it started, so over 25 years. And I've been on the board for 25 years in Philadelphia. I've been president of the organization twice. That's a lot of hours. And no one goes into this saying, "Well, I'm going to do this because I want to get an honor." You do it because I'm from Britain but now I'm in Philadelphia and I really love Philadelphia as my home. And I'm trying everything I can do to help promote British interests over here because I'm British and I have, you know, there's a bit of a selfish reason for that but it's to help other businesses from the U.K. over here.
To get this honor, you realize that someone somewhere has recognized what you've done even though that's not why you started out doing it. But you just keep pinching yourself because it's something that always happens to other people and famous people. And you suddenly realize that you're up there with the Beatles and Ed Sheeran in terms of getting the same award and it's humbling. I would tell you, it really has been one of the most humbling experiences for me because I got to meet other people and people who did really heroic things. And I realized all I have done is help business but someone somewhere has seen that and deemed it worthy of an honor. I mean, you can't help but just smile every time you think about it.