IPA’s Most Admired Peers Discuss the Challenges of Leadership: Steve Tatone

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.

Steve Tatone 2014 IPA Most Admired Peers

Steve Tatone
2014 IPA Most Admired Peers

Our fourth of five IPA Most Admired Peers continues with Steve Tatone, MP of Salem, Ore.-based AKT LLP (FY13 net revenue of $38.2 million).

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

Tatone says the firm sets the conditions for professionals to grow and thrive, no matter what they end up doing, even if it’s outside public accounting. The committed, caring team approach at AKT is a magnet for talent and turnover is low.

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

Tatone points out that self-knowledge is important – understanding your own motivations and reactions – as well as having a good understanding of other people’s emotions.

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?

The Bible has helped Tatone learn to be a better leader. Over the last 30 years, he has embarked on three 8-year studies of the Bible, which covers “every leadership situation imaginable.” He also spends time with successful leaders, not just in business, but also in the public sector and nonprofits. In addition, he observes different styles of leadership in his volunteer activity and reads leadership books. Important influences in his life were his parents, who taught him the value of hard work, taking calculated risks and integrity. He also points to retired partner and former Salem, Ore., mayor Kent Aldrich, who gave Tatone the opportunity to lead at an early age, and his oldest son, who “challenges me to think about things differently.”

What would you advise an MP stepping into the top role for the first time?Best of Best 2013

Tatone says: Constantly remind the team of the firm’s mission, vision and values; set the conditions for people to grow and thrive; don’t over-react. “If I had four, I would say over-communicate, but don’t over-react. The leader sets the tone and constantly has to send it from a good space, not a reactive space.”

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

“All areas,” says Tatone, reflecting the desire of all the MPs to constantly improve. He foresees big data having a significant impact on the way accountants do their work, and while personnel costs are going up, fees aren’t keeping pace, so the profession will have to develop new ways to provide valuable services in a more efficient way. “I think with what we do is going to change pretty significantly in 5 to 10 years and what to make sure our leadership is innovative enough to stay with that change.”

What’s your philosophy about growth?

The entire purpose of owning an accounting firm is to improve the lives of clients, employees and people in the community, Tatone says, so growth is only partly about revenue. While firm leaders in 2002 set a goal of going from a $10 million to a $25 million firm in five years, and did it in four, AKT is looking at growing industry niches and improving processes and leadership abilities of professionals at the firm.

How important is culture in what you do every day, and how are you developing the right culture in your firm?

Leadership speaks with one voice at AKT, Tatone says, and partners are held accountable for living out the culture. “It’s not just words on a page, it’s a lifestyle.”