Benay Enterprises shines in back-office space

By Kevin Zimmerman

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“If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it.”

That’s something of a mantra for Dawn Reshen-Doty, president of Benay Enterprises, which provides back-office administrative management and bookkeeping services for companies seeking to focus on their core business and reduce their administrative costs. It’s a saying that has served her and her Danbury company well over more than a quarter-century, as she said most of Benay’s business is garnered through personal meetings and word-of-mouth.

“Our clients are our best sales force,” said Reshen-Doty.

She said Benay has grown 5 to 10 percent each year for the past five years, since she has taken sole charge of the company following the retirement of her father and company founder Neil Reshen. Benay currently has nine full-time workers and three part-timers, including one who recently got married and relocated to North Carolina, where he telecommutes. She expects to add another two employees over the next year.

Benay and its president are riding a wave of momentum, having recently won the U.S. Small Business Administration’s award for best minority-owned small business in Connecticut. That honor followed the company’s award from the Connecticut Law Tribune for best general and administrative outsourcing for 2015.

“Anything the client needs, we handle remotely,” said Reshen-Doty, noting that clients are based in Newtown, New Canaan, New York, New Jersey — even Chicago, Los Angeles and London. “It doesn’t matter where you are — if you don’t want to ramp up with a huge office and deal with taxes, different laws in each state, we handle that for you. We figure out the rules and regulations and make sure that our clients are fully compliant.”

At Rucci Law Firm in Darien, “We retained them when we first started the firm in December 2011,” Amy S. Zabetakis, a founding member of the firm, said of Benay Enterprises. “They’ve been extremely helpful in terms of setting up our bookkeeping, business management and other services that otherwise we would have had to hire multiple different people to handle.”

Initially aiming to be a diplomat, Reshen-Doty spent several years in Japan, working for that country’s government and at IT services behemoth Fujitsu before returning stateside, where she worked with New York City real estate titan Julien Studley at what is now Savills Studley and at GE Capital.

Of African-American descent, Reshen-Doty said she has never been aware of bias directed at her in a professional setting, although her time in Japan posed some challenges. “There were very few women, never mind women of color, in senior positions in the Asian countries then. But times change,” she said.

In her professional life, the clarion call of her father ultimately proved too much to ignore. A colorful figure in the entertainment business, he started Benay in 1986, taking Reshen-Doty’s sister’s middle name as the company’s name. Reshen, who died in December 2014, had served as business manager for a diverse mix of artists and entertainers, including Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground and Peter Max. Perhaps most famously, he helped Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson segue into their “outlaw country” phase and multiplatinum record sales in the 1970s.

Though he was “like a mad dog on a leash,” as Jennings recalled his business manager from Connecticut, Reshen was pretty easily swayed by his daughter to shift Benay’s focus to back-office services when she joined in 1989. “We were partners from the start,” she said, noting that one client who insisted upon calling her Neil’s daughter rather than co-equal was soon gone from Benay’s roster.

Initially operating out of Reshen’s seven-bedroom, five-bathroom home, Benay’s business soon grew so large that it moved out. Now headquartered at 155 Main St. in Danbury, the company expects to relocate to an even larger space in downtown Danbury later this year.

Benay has also hired interns for the past 17 years, mostly through Western Connecticut and other universities in the tristate area; current interns are residents of Ghana and Uzbekistan.

“I like to give people their first experience in business, to learn the etiquette,” said Reshen-Doty. “It’s a little like boot camp. They learn how to dress and act and are always encouraged to ask questions.” All interns are required to compose an email at day’s end listing what they completed, what they didn’t complete and why.

“You can’t afford to not give people chances,” she said. “Interns and new hires bring in new ideas and methodologies” — one turned them on to Periscope, the live-streaming app — “which makes it a win-win.”

One former intern, Merrilee Warholak, was hired by Benay 18 years ago and is now editorial director and managing editor of For Beginners, a book publisher that Benay acquired and re-launched in 2007. For Beginners publishes a documentary, graphic nonfiction book series aimed at young readers and others looking to learn about challenging, complicated subjects — as evidenced by titles like “Proust For Beginners,” “Arabs and Israel For Beginners” and “Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners.”

Meanwhile, Benay opened a satellite office in Portland, Maine, last year, where it works with Opticliff Law, a startup law firm. Reshen-Doty visits that office every 10 days or so to learn the local business environment and make connections.

Why Portland?

“It’s such a beautiful place. I’m going to retire there.”

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