As George Klenovich prepared to graduate from George Washington High School in 1976, college didn’t appear to be in his future. A standout student, Klenovich was double promoted during elementary school. But Klenovich’s mother was concerned about him leaving home to attend college at such a young age.
“No one in my family had ever attended college, and my mother was strongly against me doing so,” Klenovich says. “She thought that some societal issues during that time could have a negative influence on me if I went away to college.”
Klenovich, 17 at the time, was too young for a job in the steel mills, the path for many young people growing up in southeast Chicago. His high school bookkeeping instructor, 1970 SIU management graduate Sam Panayotovich, saw potential for more in his understudy. So Panayotovich, who was also raised in the southeast side of Chicago, visited Klenovich’s family.
“George is very intelligent, and I saw a spark in him,” Panayotovich says. “George’s mother was concerned that he was too young for college. So I used myself as an example of someone from the neighborhood who flourished as a result of attending college. I convinced George’s mom that there were more opportunities out there for him.”
And Klenovich is forever grateful.
“Sam took an interest in his students. He is an exceptionally personable and charming guy who somehow persuaded my mom to reconsider,” Klenovich says. “Sam proceeded to contact SIU’s admissions office on my behalf.”
And now Panayotovich’s prized student, a CPA, is regional managing partner for CohnReznick, the 10th-largest accounting firm in the United States, with 28 offices and $575 million in revenue. Klenovich serves in this capacity for the firm’s South/Central Region, which includes offices in Chicago, Atlanta, Austin and Charlotte. He also serves on the firm’s 10-person executive board.
Klenovich has served public and private clients in multiple industries, often as the lead assurance and coordinator partner on large, privately held, private-equity-owned and public companies. Many of the companies are active on an international level.
Previously, Klenovich was Office Managing Partner and Director of the assurance practice for the St. Louis office of Ernst & Young. He focused on strategic growth for the Midwest region.
“CohnReznick fosters a culture of excellence and high performance. The key in professional service is attracting highly motivated, talented people. We strive to present them with challenges and opportunities for input,” Klenovich says. “Our firm is committed to fulfilling our strategy and value propositions. That goal can only be accomplished with the right people who are committed to the firm’s vision.”
Klenovich, who was inducted into the SIU College of Business Hall of Fame last spring, says the honor gave him an opportunity to reflect. In particular, he is appreciative of SIU accounting professors Phil Neal and Richard Rivers, who he says influenced him in their own distinctive ways. Klenovich says both challenged young people to be their best, and he, in turn, practices this method at CohnReznick.
Additionally, he says all professionals should seek opportunities to have an impact on the lives of others, like Panayotovich, Neal and Rivers did for him.
“Young people should always embrace mentorship as their careers are developing. And once you have a chance to return the favor, seize the moment because it’s one of the more rewarding elements in the circle of life,” he says. “Many of us are fortunate to have certain people take an interest in our lives and careers. It’s important to take time to reflect on those who made a positive impact in your life and, in turn, strive to make a favorable impact on others as they are in the development stage of their lives and careers.”
Klenovich and Panayotovich reconnected recently, and the latter admits to taking pride in his former student’s success.
“George was going to be successful no matter what. I’m happy that I was in a position to impact someone’s life,” Panayotovich says. “In addition, George is quite a family man. When we visited, he talked 15 minutes about his children. That says a lot about a man.”