Retired accountant always made ethics his top priority

March 2006

Albert Einstein once said: “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Alfonso Bellanca ’42, has lived his 85 years in just that vein, whether as a young auditor for his father’s store or as a volunteer and supporter for numerous nonprofit organizations throughout his lifetime.

Although still too young to read, Bellanca showed an aptitude for accounting at age 3 when he mastered how to count money. He would accompany his father, a landlord for several homes in Buffalo, while collecting rents on the first Sunday of each month. From there his curiosity about money grew, and when he reached high school Bellanca asked his father if he could practice by auditing the books from the family’s furniture store. Bellanca remembers his father giving him permission, but only if he did it for free. But doing work pro bono didn’t last long: When his audit revealed the store’s own bookkeeper had stolen $5,000, Bellanca was paid for his auditing work from then on. During an audit of his aunt’s business, a flower shop, Bellanca also found that she had been bilked out of $10,000 by her bookkeeper.

When it came time to enter college, Bellanca narrowed down his career choices to three: a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Naturally he chose the latter. He chose to attend UB because of the prominent business program that was offered and it was close to home. 

His fondest memories were those of Norton Hall, where he would meet his future wife, Hilda. The two met at an Alpha Kappa Psi event, which at the time was UB’s premiere business fraternity. The couple married in 1943 and had three children including seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Bellanca enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve as a senior, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the Navy for more than three years, with his last duty as commanding officer of a PCS (patrol craft sub-chaser). He separated as a full lieutenant.

Bellanca’s professional accounting career began at the Internal Revenue Service where he worked until 1950, at which time he became a partner in the accounting firm Reifer, Brock and Bellanca, CPAs. An executive of one of the firm’s clients, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, was so impressed with Bellanca’s work that he invited him and his family to Los Angeles. He was then offered a job with Telemeter Magnetics, another subsidiary of Paramount.

After Bellanca would not comply with an accounting illegality, Telemeter’s treasurer retaliated by not renewing his contract. Bellanca knew he had done the right thing, and after he left Telemeter he decided to start his own company, Cetec, Inc. The company was also called Computer Equipment Corp. and worked on government contracts in experimental electronics, mainly timing devices in the nano-second range. The company would later be bought out by one of UB’s biggest supporters, Salvatore Alfiero, for whom the School of Management’s Alfiero Center is named.

After he sold Cetec, Bellanca started another CPA firm, Schofield and Bellanca, where he worked until retiring in 1986. He also served as the financial and tax advisor to the wealthiest family in Pasadena, CA and a Forbes 400 family until 2000. When asked why he stayed in Los Angeles he said, “While I missed my family and friends (I visited every six months at first), the people we met made our lives here most interesting and rewarding. We have made lifelong friends which are added to but cannot replace Buffalonian friends.” He adds, “Twelve months of golf is another reason.”

After “officially” retiring from accounting in 2000 Bellanca decided to spend his time volunteering and supporting various nonprofit organizations in the Los Angeles area. His long list of volunteer work includes the Knights of Malta Free Clinic, where he assisted with the clinic’s financials as well as outfitting the office with computers. Bellanca also founded and operated the Pacific Junior Golf League, a nonprofit organization that supported high school golfers.

The precision of accounting as well as its absolute nature appealed to Bellanca’s own sense of ethics, which he maintained as a priority throughout his long career. The recent scandals from companies such as Enron and WorldCom have put the spotlight on accountants and corporate finance executives. “Regardless of the Enrons etc., ethics in accounting, business and all phases of life are necessary for peace of mind and ultimate success,” Bellanca says.

Written by Jessica Griffin