IPA’s Most Admired Peers Discuss the Challenges of Leadership: Gordon Krater

phoneheaderlogo

Every year INSIDE Public Accounting asks accounting firm leaders to name peers they most admire in the profession. Five MPs were named most often by the more than 540 accounting firm participants in IPA’s Annual Survey and Analysis of Firms. Over the next few weeks, we will share some thoughts from the 2014 IPA Most Admired Peers.

Our second of five IPA Most Admired Peers continues with Gordon Krater, Southfield, Mich.-based Plante Moran (FY14 net revenue of $432.6 million).

Gordon Krater

Gordon Krater
2014 IPA Most Admired Peer

How would you describe your leadership style? How does that manifest itself inside the firm?

Krater considers himself a servant leader. “I really believe that I serve the partners and the staff, they don’t serve me.” Krater says leaders must establish a deep level of trust, and one important way to do that is through transparency. He tries to gain input from a wide cross-section of people within the firm, to listen, to let people know they have been heard, to keep confidences and to communicate often and openly.

“In good times or in bad, you had better communicate because in the absence of information, people tend to assume the worst. It’s just human nature.” Communication includes explaining the reasons behind the decisions, no matter how those decisions will be received. “When it’s time to make a decision you’ve got to do what you think is right versus what you think is popular.”

Do you believe leadership is a skill that can be learned or is it something you are born with?

Krater says even introverts can be good leaders, and while there are many leadership styles, one common characteristic is that good leaders project optimism. He adds, though, “You can’t be someone you’re not. Everyone can smell a phony.”

Besides “on the job training,” what have you done to help improve your leadership skills over the years? Who has helped shaped your approach to leadership?

Krater points to the inspiration of firm co-founder Frank Moran and supervisor Ken Kunkel, who had a 29-year career at the firm. These men supported Krater, challenged him and taught him great lessons. He also recommends a weeklong course at Harvard University’s Business School on leading professional services firms, reading leadership books, talking to peers in the profession and mentoring others. “You get by giving.”

What would you advise an MP stepping into the top role for the first time?

Krater says ask other MPs for guidance, establish a vision quickly and communicate it well, and pick team members that complement you. No leader is good at everything, he says. The five members of his management team are strong in areas where he is not, and they’re not shy about telling him what he needs to hear; not what he wants to hear. “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t believe your press clippings. You’re only as good as your team, so choose your team wisely.”

What areas of management and leadership are you looking to improve?Best of Best 2013

Krater says he would love to be able to prognosticate a little better; he’s reaching out to more partners and staff (no easy feat in a 2,200-person firm); and trying to shed that “24-7” feeling of being MP. Krater took a one-month sabbatical over the summer at his cabin in northern Michigan, hiked, ran, kayaked, went paddle boarding and came back refreshed.

What’s your philosophy about growth? How important is culture in what you do every day, and how are you developing the right culture in your firm?

For 16 years, Plante Moran has been named to FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Krater says he is often asked whether growth will hurt the firm’s much-celebrated culture, but he believes lack of growth is a bigger threat because talented people need new opportunities. “Every organization has a culture – it’s whether it’s good or bad. A good culture is constant in good times and bad.”

View Part One with Andy Armanino