Archives for May 2013

Platt’s Perspective: March Madness Strategy

As we settle into March Madness mode and cozy into our recliners to watch college basketball, I wondered how odd it would be to change the rules: no time-outs during the game.

Imagine each team member showing up for the game and setting his own strategy, without checking in with his teammates as the game progressed.

What would be the result if there were no opportunities to review plans, respond to challenges, injuries or changes in the lineup? What if there were no timeouts to decide as a group how to adjust when the opponent changes strategy?

After the opening tip-off, it would be up to the individual players to figure out what the team approach should be and what they should do to win the game.

You can easily see that the coordinated effort that defines the game of basketball could quickly descend into chaos as the team approach becomes a group of individualized efforts with no coordination. No matter how good or how experienced the players, the cohesive team would devolve into anarchy.

Many firms unwittingly operate under this “No Time-Outs” rule. They set the direction, announce it (maybe), hit the court, and as time goes on, it is up to each team member to assess and change course when necessary.

When individual efforts are valued over team strategy, everyone is busy running, blocking and pivoting according to their own interpretations

What if we could re-introduce the original rules of basketball time-outs to firm managers, and set it up so that the team uses the time to reassess and re-strategize as conditions change? What if the leaders of the firm could execute the strategy of the firm, huddle together, make corrections and execute the updated plan again with the benefit of these pauses in play? How much energy could be saved if they stop the day-to-day activities – “making the doughnuts” as consultant David Maister says – and pull back momentarily to course-correct? How much more progress could be made if firms could harness the benefits of a “huddle” and apply it to the ultimate success of their firm?

Thankfully, mechanisms are available that provide the same benefits that coaches receive from pre-game strategy, huddles during time-outs and after each quarter, and post-game film reviews. Partner retreats offer firm leaders the structure to assess, evaluate and make changes. It’s as important to huddle throughout the year as it is for a basketball team to huddle during breaks.

Business conditions change too quickly to allow the team strategy to descend into anarchy. Firms that regularly work on their business ultimately have a strong advantage over the competition and will be better able to capitalize on opportunities.

So let’s ask for a time-out. Let’s plan how we’re going to make significant forward progress – and take advantage of a firm retreat. Now back to the brackets. . .

Mike Platt is a principal with the Platt Group and can be reached at editor@plattgroupllc.com

Platt’s Perspective: “Trust” And “Control” Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Kelly and I were traveling through the San Francisco airport at the end of March for a business meeting, and encountered two people in a long line at the car rental counter. We struck up a conversation and found out that they are CPAs [senior managers] at a midsize firm who were on their way to a ski trip in Lake Tahoe.

“Wow, you don’t find many CPAs taking vacation this time of year,” we both said. “How can you afford to leave the firm in the middle of tax season?” They proceeded to tell us about the team that they left behind, the trust they had in the team, and the comfort level they had with the systems and processes to ensure that everything kept working while they were gone.

“Trust” and “control” are two sides of the same coin that need to be properly balanced for a firm to operate efficiently. At the extremes, too much trust without systems can result in anarchy and productivity will suffer. Too much control without reliance on the professional judgment of your staff leads to blind compliance and a slow, gradual disintegration of enthusiasm and engagement in the firm.

In recent weeks, several big corporations have canceled work-from-home arrangements and shut down “results only” work environments because trust and control were out of balance. Throughout this month’s issue, several stories highlight CPA firm issues that stem from the same problem.

As you begin to wind up tax season and proceed into the planning stages, be sure you take the time internally to address the right balance between trust and control. Is it out of whack in your firm? What are some of the symptoms that things are not properly balanced? What policies are in place that are either too light or too heavy on either trust or control that stop you from achieving the ideal situation? Have you ever asked your partners to think about this? Have you ever asked your staff what their perceptions are?

Now is a great time of year to get engaged in the discussion in your office. Communication is always the key to better understanding and better execution of the firm’s goals, and identifying obstacles and solutions to achieving those goals is actually much easier once they see the light of day. We encourage all IPA readers to consider what the proper balance of trust and control should be within your firm, and act now to fine-tune your environment. That is, of course, unless you are heading out for a ski trip in the next few days.

Mike Platt is a principal with the Platt Group and can be reached at editor@plattgroupllc.com

NYC CPA Kidnapped, Burned and Beaten; Three Arrested

A New York City CPA was found May 20 after being held captive, burned with acid, beaten and threatened with death, for more than a month while his kidnappers held him for ransom, the Associated Press reported.

Pedro Portugal, 52, a father of six with a small accounting firm, was snatched on April 18 by three captors, who forced him into a sports utility vehicle and taken to a warehouse. He spent the better part of the month with his head cloaked. His mother in Quito, Ecuador, got a call from a man who demanded a $3 million ransom, police said, but the family had nowhere near enough cash to meet the demands. Portugal was found after police saw light in a warehouse that is usually dark.

Three men were arrested and charged with kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment.

Peterson Sullivan and Clothier & Head to Merge

Peterson Sullivan (FY12 net revenue of $15.8 million) and Clothier & Head PS (FY11 net revenue of $8 million), both located in Seattle, announced May 28 that the two firms are merging effective July 1. The combined firms will operate under the Peterson Sullivan name.

“We’ve long respected Clothier & Head as a competitor and have been in discussions with them for the past few years. We are excited to finally join forces with them at this time,” said Chris Russell, Peterson Sullivan Partner and Executive Committee member. “We are adding deep niche expertise in hospitality, professional services, and construction, along with valuations and trust and estate service areas. Our expanded resources will allow us to continue to grow with our clients and attract specialized talent.”

The combination is expected to create a firm with over 150 staff and $25 million in revenue. Peterson Sullivan, with a single office in Seattle, ranked No. 8 in the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2013 list of top accounting firms with 104 employees. Clothier & Head, also with an office in Seattle, ranked No. 16 with 51 employees.

Chris Russell and Gerry Adams, Partner and Shareholder at Clothier & Head, will lead the integration of the two firms.

Gerry Adams has long admired Peterson Sullivan commenting, “This combination really is an incredible fit. Rarely are you able to find another firm that so deeply shares similar philosophies in terms of serving clients, valuing employees, and participating in the community through volunteer service. Our stakeholders are going to benefit tremendously from the larger platform this new firm produces.”

Allan D. Koltin, CEO of Koltin Consulting Group, who advised both firms on the transaction commented, “There were common values as well as a similar culture from Day 1 of the discussions. Both firms saw the synergy of combining their talents and skills and how they could deliver an even greater level of service to their clients. As a soon to be ‘Top 100’ firm nationally, they will continue to be a major force in the greater Seattle market, attracting exceptional talent and larger clients.”

Mauldin & Jenkins Acquires Chattanooga Firm

Atlanta, Ga.-based Mauldin & Jenkins (M&J) (FY12 net revenue $38.5 million) announces the addition of Hazlett, Lewis & Bieter of Chattanooga, Tenn. Hazlett, Lewis, & Bieter has a strong financial institution and entrepreneurial services practices. All partners of H L&B will join M&J. Firm MP Warren McEwen will serve as PIC of M&J’s Chattanooga operations. M&J will relocate several partners and staff, who specialize in governmental and banking services, to the Chattanooga area.

M&J MP Donny Luker says, “Together, we have a stronger and broader resource base from which to draw in order to provide services to our clients, and through the market expansion to offer more opportunities for our people and partners.”

As a result of the combination, expected to close by June 1, M&J will have approximately $46 million in net fees, 45 partners and approximately 280 people.

Vignone Joins Prager Metis International As Partner

Christopher Vignone joins New York-based Prager Metis International LLC – a newly combined mid-sized accounting firm with offices in the U.S. and London – as its newest partner. Vignone will create a new division, Prager Metis Advisory Services, which will provide corporate recovery and forensic accounting services. He joins in connection with Prager Metis’ acquisition of a segment of Geller & Company’s state and local tax business. Vignone, with more than 15 years of corporate and consulting tax experience, will be based in New York City. Prager Metis International was formed in January 2013 by the combination of Prager and Fenton LLP and Metis Group LLC.

Virginia Firm Makes Acquisition

James Ayers & Associates of Chesterfield, Va., has acquired the accounting firm of Sandra Claytor CPA, also in Chesterfield.

The firm will offer a full range of accounting services to Sandra Claytor CPA’s existing client base, and plans to increase its clients in the transportation and contracting /building industry. Claytor is retiring from active practice but will consult with Ayers during a three-month transition period.

CBIZ Acquires AIA of Minneapolis

Cleveland-based CBIZ has acquired Associated Insurance Agents (AIA) of Minneapolis effective May 1. Jeff Maas of AIA stated, “We have been searching for a partner with an excellent reputation and strong focus on client service that could bring us national capabilities. CBIZ looks to be the perfect match for AIA clients and our associates.” Steven L. Gerard, CBIZ chairman and CEO said the purchase is part of a plan to expand the CBIZ property and casualty business in key locations. AIA is an insurance brokerage agency specializing in property and casualty insurance, personal lines, and health and benefit insurance for clients primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Grassi & Co. Gets New COO/CFO

Mike Caggiano is the newest addition to Grassi & Co. as COO and CFO. He will oversee all aspects of the firm’s operations and assist the firm’s partners and managers with business development initiatives. He will also work with MP and CEO Lou Grassi in coordinating due diligence for, and integration of, mergers and acquisitions.

“We are proud to have experienced significant growth over the last few years, and are looking forward to leveraging Mike’s extensive knowledge and expertise to help enable the firm to continue to grow and offer increased resources to our clients and the community and we are excited to have him on board,” Grassi said in a statement.

Prior to joining Grassi & Co., he served as the CEO at Interim1 LLC, a management consulting firm. Prior to Interim1, he was COO of RAFFA, P.C., which more than doubled in size from $15 million to more than $35 million during his tenure.

Abdo, Eick & Meyers Acquires Francis and Associates

Edina, Minn.-based Abdo, Eick & Meyers (FY11 net revenue of $12 million) announced that it has acquired Francis and Associates of Minnetonka, Minn. The deal will take effect Nov. 1, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Abdo said it will now have more than 70 accounting professionals and 100 total staff in its Edina and Mankato locations. The merger allows the firm to offer a wider range of services, MP Steve McDonald said in a statement. “It will also broaden our presence in the Twin Cities metro area and allow us to better serve our rapidly growing business.”