New Role, New Perspective: IPA Spotlight on … Mary Elliot

INSIDE Public Accounting has reached out to Warren Averett’s new CEO Mary Elliott, subject of an IPA Spotlight last year, to discuss the rise of advisory services, firm threats and challenges, and the future of the profession.

Name: Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott

Title: CEO

Firm: Birmingham, Ala.-based Warren Averett (FY17 net revenue of $133.3 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Became CEO in January 2018 as the first female CEO in Warren Averett’s history.
  • Worked her entire career at Warren Averett, serving clients in the firm’s health care consuling division for 33 years.
  • Appointed as Warren Averett’s Chief Operations Officer in 2012.
  • Developed operations board for the firm, and served as chair for six years.

Among the IPA 100, accounting and audit revenue is declining, and non-traditional services are on the rise. Which practice area is growing fastest at your firm and how do you plan to continue expanding this niche?

Warren Averett embraces a holistic view of client relationships, with the focus on WA360 – a client-centered approach to understanding and addressing client needs. With this focus, all areas of consulting are continuing to grow, especially in specific industries like health care and government contracting. We have sought to hire more specialists outside the accounting field in areas such as IT consulting, HR consulting, staffing services, M&A, and transaction advisory services. Simultaneously, we make it a priority to hire accountants to work in traditional roles, and then develop their strengths and passions to later transition into our niches and consulting roles.

What’s the biggest threat facing your firm today?

The accounting industry is facing a situation where you must be innovative and evolve with the market in order to grow and be successful. Our clients are becoming more complex and savvy, our competition is progressing, and technology is going to replace some of the compliance work that our firms are executing.

How do you intend to overcome threats the firm is facing?

Successful firms are the ones who will see these trends, and adjust their approach, technology and talent to meet these changes. Warren Averett focuses on innovation. Our communications and programs within the firm encourage and reward team members who show an entrepreneurial mindset when working with a client, improving a process or developing an out-of-the-box solution or service.

How do you envision CPA firm services evolving over the next 10 years?

As technology evolves with the introduction of blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, the entire business ecosystem will change. Technology will provide us with nontraditional ways to serve our clients, and that is always the goal – to focus on the client and put them at the center of everything we do. With clients having more accessibility to their data, we believe that our focus will evolve into interpreting the data, solving problems and creating solutions to help clients succeed.

Do you know someone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

IPA Spotlight On … Gary Wallace

Name: Gary Wallace

Gary Wallace

Title: MP-Elect

Firm: Glen Allen, Va.-based Keiter (FY17 net revenue of $27 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Elected MP to start in new role in January 2019.
  • Joined Keiter as partner in 2010 and currently leads tax practice and is member of executive committee.
  • Worked in public accounting for 30 years at KPMG and now Keiter. Has also served as CFO for a prominent family office.
  • Specializes in taxation, including transaction structuring and consulting with business owners.

You will take over as MP on January 1st. How are you preparing for the transition from Mike Gracik?

Our firm has taken a systematic approach to succession including my new role as managing partner. Our process began over a year ago and Mike has done a great job in preparing me with everything from “shadowing” to participating in key firm decisions. His approach has been very effective for me personally as well as with our team, clients and our community.

You haven’t ‘grown up’ professionally in accounting firms alone. Do you believe your private sector experience will aid you in guiding the future of Keiter? If so, why? What do you feel you need to learn about the profession?

My career in public accounting will be very valuable in leading our firm. I learned from many great leaders and role models as well as from working through my own situations. On-the-job experiences will significantly benefit me because I have gone through many of the decisions and life lessons that I may potentially face. However, my private sector experience as a CFO broadened my breadth of business understanding and was a great learning experience on how to operate a business. As a past CFO, I participated in business decisions, which will assist me with firm decisions at Keiter and will also give me a better understanding of our clients’ decision-making. The combination of public accounting and private industry experience provides a unique perspective for leading our firm.

What are your growth goals for Keiter?

Growth is important for our firm, primarily because it allows and provides rewarding opportunities for our current partners as well as our future leaders. I am enthusiastic about growing our practice areas and seeking new service opportunities to support our clients, as well as our people and community. Accounting firms are experiencing many changes, from technology to client needs. Embracing new opportunities comes with our entrepreneurial spirit and will guide us for our growth goals going forward.

You’ve said that one of your priorities as MP is to expand support to the Richmond, Va., community. What do you have in mind?

Keiter has a great reputation in our community. I hear the appreciation that our clients and community leaders have for us every day. I want us to be more focused on how our services and support makes a difference. Our community deserves our effort and our team feels the rewards from such support. There is no master plan to expanding our support. It’s simply to keep our clients and community top of mind as we conduct our business and volunteer our time.

Final thoughts?

Why do I look forward to this new opportunity? It’s simple. I am excited to be making a difference for our team, clients and community.

IPA Spotlight On … Chris Geier, Sikich

Name: Christopher Geier

Christopher Geier

Christopher Geier

Title: CEO and MP

Firm: Naperville, Ill.-based Sikich (FY17 net revenue of $152.1 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Became CEO and MP on Jan. 1, 2017.
  • Former PIC of the firm’s advisory services and investment banking practice and a member of the executive board
  • More than 20 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions and capital raising transactions across multiple industries

Among the IPA 100, accounting and audit revenue is declining and non-traditional services are on the rise. Which practice area is growing fastest at your firm and how do you plan to continue expanding this niche?

With a wide mix of practice areas, Sikich is uniquely positioned to help businesses improve productivity and performance. And as technology changes the way accounting services are delivered, we are well-prepared to adapt. We have a robust technology practice that offers innovative digital strategies and technology solutions. We’re a leader in cloud and emerging technologies, and our solutions include everything from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence to blockchain. We are leveraging this expertise to place technology at the center of all the services we offer clients.

What’s the biggest threat facing your firm today and how do you intend to overcome it?

The competition for talent is increasing. We know we must continue to attract talented, innovative professionals to remain a competitive firm that offers impactful business solutions to clients. As a driver of innovation in the professional services industry, we are well positioned to attract ambitious and creative employees who question the status quo and seek to transform business processes. We continue to embrace an entrepreneurial company culture that rewards risk-taking and creative solutions. As a result, talented professionals who are looking to chart a unique, unencumbered career path will thrive at Sikich.

How do you envision CPA firm services evolving over the next 10 years?

Disruption is coming to the industry. Propelled by technological innovation, firms will need to change how they deliver services. Some will, and some won’t. As a result, I expect there will be significant consolidation in the industry over the next several years. The firms that adopt technology-enabled solutions will enhance client service and position themselves for long-term success.

Final thoughts?

My motto for our firm is, “Embrace change and learn to adapt. It’s inevitable in business that you will need to do both well.” That’s a good motto for the rest of the industry, as well.

IPA Spotlight On … William C. Taylor, Fast Company

Name: William C. Taylor

William C. Taylor

William C. Taylor

Title: Founding Editor

Company: Fast Company magazine

Accomplishments:

  • Cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company Amazingly, 2018 is the 25th anniversary of the start of our Fast Company adventure
  • Author of three best-selling books on strategy, leadership and innovation. Most recent is Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways
  • Popular management blogger at Harvard Business Review online
  • Created and wrote the “Under New Management” column for the New York Times 

You’re known for sparking change in even the most traditional fields. Why is change so difficult?

Change is hard because originality is hard. You can’t do big things anymore if you’re content with doing things a little better than everybody else or a little differently from how you did them in the past. The goal is no longer to be the best at what lots of others already do. It’s to be the only one who does what you do. What do you promise that no one else can promise? What do you deliver that only you can deliver? What are you prepared to do for the clients you serve that other organizations simply can’t or won’t do? Those are the questions that drive change, and they are hard questions to answer.

Why do so many change initiatives fail?

I’ve always been struck by this quote from the legendary management guru Jim Collins. “The signature of mediocrity,” he says, “is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” That’s what I find at so many long-established organizations. Leaders shop for ideas about change the way they shop for groceries. What I’ve found is that the work of making deep-seated, long-lasting change succeeds when it comes from the inside rather than the outside, from the bottom up rather than the top down, and when leaders understand that slow and steady wins the race. That may sound odd coming from the cofounder of Fast Company, but there is no quick road to transformation.

If you were to give a slow-to-change business leader, such as a CPA firm managing partner, one piece of advice on how to create a more innovative culture, what would it be?

Change your colleagues’ mindsets about the definition of risk. What I’ve seen over the years is that the more things change, the more the objections to change remain the same. So the first job of leadership is convincing your colleagues, and perhaps themselves, that playing it safe may be the most dangerous course of all. Change begins when individuals and organizations conclude that the risk of trying something new is less than the cost of clinging to what’s worked in the past. That’s a big shift in mindset in most organizations – but it’s the mindset that makes a difference.

What is the central theme you hope readers take away from Simply Brilliant?

That there is no such thing as an average or old-fashioned business, just average or old-fashioned ways to do business. I am trying to convince leaders in fields that are nothing like virtual reality or self-driving cars or social media that the thrill of breakthrough creativity can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life – if executives and entrepreneurs are prepared to reimagine what’s possible in their fields. In fact, the opportunity to reach for extraordinary may be most pronounced in settings that have been far too ordinary for far too long.

Final Thoughts?

I’m looking forward to sharing a set of ideas and a collection of case studies about the future of professional services in general and the accounting profession in particular. One particular challenge I hope to highlight is what I call the “paradox of expertise.” Often, the more successful we are as leaders, the more accomplished we are in our careers, the harder it can be to open our minds to the changes swirling around us. Without ever intending it, we let what we know limit what we can imagine. I’d like to help these accomplished leaders overcome the paradox of expertise.

Bill Taylor will be a speaker at INSIDE Public Accounting’s 2018 PRIME Symposium conference. For more information contact prime@plattgroupllc.com.

IPA Spotlight On … Andi Simon

Name: Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D.

Andi Simon

Andi Simon

Title: Corporate Anthropologist, President and CEO

Firm: Simon Associates Management Consultants

Accomplishments

  • A corporate anthropologist whose consulting firm, Simon Associates Management Consultants, specializes in working with organizations that need or want to change.
  • Award-winning author of the book “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights.” Creator and host of the podcast “On the Brink with Andi Simon.”
  • Prolific speaker, with over 390 workshops and keynote speeches on the topics of Blue Ocean Strategy, culture change and change management.
  • Developer of proprietary ChangeMap™ process to enable businesses to achieve desired transformations.

Unlike popular images of anthropologists, they are more often found in corporate offices than in remote villages. Why?

Businesses can be viewed as small-scale societies. They create their own, unique ways of doing things. Their beliefs, values and behaviors become rather sacred to them, protected even when they cease to be useful in a changing business environment. Anthropology trains people how and why observational research is essential to better understand why some things are happening in particular ways. By observing behaviors, you see things people do not really know they are doing to each other or in their business processes. That’s why Intel has over 100 anthropologists studying how people in different cultures work with, or avoid, technologies, for example.

You’ve said companies need both ‘discoverers’ and ‘deliverers.’ What do you mean?

People have different ways of “seeing” things. Neuroscience tells us that people organize realities that create and then conform to their “stories” of how things should work. The challenge for businesses is that they tend to bring together people who are very similar, know how to run a task and deliver desired results. This works great in stable environments, but the fast pace of change means businesses need not only deliverers but discoverers – people who can observe how customers are “really” solving their problems. Discoverers are able to set aside long-standing “truths” and better anticipate the future unmet needs of clients and the potential value of new ways of getting things done.

What’s so great about systematic observation?

Ethnographic research or observational research offers a process to look or listen to what is actually happening. Observational research offers a very different perspective than surveys and statistical data. Whether you are watching people using a website to better understand how they are finding the answers they need, or how they interact with a client, what they tell you and what they do are not the same. For example, during the early period of e-commerce, we installed cameras to see how people bought products online. They would tell you what they think you want to hear and typically establish themselves as the “heroes” in their stories. What they did was very different.

What’s the biggest stumbling block to innovation in professional services firms?

Professional services firms face four big hurdles when trying to bring innovations into their organizations. They come from people’s resistance to change. As the well-known quote goes, “People are not against change; they just don’t want to be changed.” The four hurdles are:

  • Cognitive hurdle when people say they don’t understand what you want them to do.
  • Motivational hurdle – when people are simply not willing or interested in changing.
  • Resources hurdle – when people say they have no time, no budget, no resources, no interest in change.
  • Political hurdle when people are more afraid of who they will irritate than they are willing to embrace the changes and stand apart from others.

Do you believe that when people have been working in a business for a long time they’re operating out of habit and stop seeing things that don’t fit their expectations? 

People survive with other groups of people in cultures with shared habits, values, expectations, beliefs and behaviors. Our brains use 25% of the body’s energy. It is much more efficient when it allows the habits to control our thinking and behaviors. At times, those habits are extremely valuable, but those same habits are not very useful when things are changing. Our biases are so strong that we tend to delete or discount things that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable or just irritating to our normal way of doing our jobs. Customers that leave must be the problem. Products that are not selling must reflect bad clients. If we don’t better understand those clients and their unmet needs we may not have clients in the near future.

Final thoughts

The tremendous value of anthropology comes from how it helps people see things with fresh eyes. Three actions from our tool kit that are easy for business leaders to try:

  • Sit in on the inbound customer service phone and listen to what people are asking for. You will learn a great deal about those customers’ needs and how aligned you are or are not with them.
  • Spend a couple of hours or a “day in the life” of a client and observe ways you might be able to help them differently.
  • Schedule a lunch with a prospective client. Don’t sell them anything. Ask them to talk about their challenges and pain points. You will hear lots of potential ways you could rethink your own business and grow innovatively.

Andi Simon will be a speaker at INSIDE Public Accounting’s 2018 PRIME Symposium conference. For more information contact prime@plattgroupllc.com.

IPA Spotlight On … Sheila Enriquez

Sheila Enriquez

Sheila Enriquez

Name: Sheila Enriquez

Title: Managing Shareholder-Elect

Firm: Houston-based Briggs & Veselka Co. (FY17 net revenue of $36.2 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Elected managing shareholder of Houston’s largest independent CPA firm and will assume the role from John Flatowicz on July 1.
  • Leads the firm’s forensic, valuation and litigation support services, and its consulting practices.
  • Named one of the “Women Who Mean Business 2017: Outstanding Leaders in Banking and Finance” by the Houston Business Journal. 
  • Serves on AICPA Governing Council and the Texas Society of CPAs Board of Directors.

The AICPA says that in 2016, only 2% of CPA partners were Asian/Pacific Islander. Also, according to IPA’s data from 2017, of all IPA 100 firms, no Asian/Pacific Islander was MP and only one held the top job outside the Big 4. Do you feel any special responsibility, as a first-generation American, to increase diversity within the profession?

In our firm, over 20% of shareholders are of Asian descent and we have professionals who speak 17 different languages. I am a first-generation immigrant, who came to the U.S. on a scholarship to pursue a college education, and have now lived in Houston for over a decade. According to census data, it is the most diverse city in America. The 2017 AICPA trends report says the pipeline of CPAs in 2016 reflect a greater percentage of non-whites, with 37% graduates and 41% enrollees in undergraduate programs. This increasing pipeline is encouraging, and I am very passionate about promoting the CPA profession and increasing its visibility to students below college. I believe this will naturally increase the diversity within the profession.

You said you’d like Briggs & Veselka to become a top 50 firm in the nation. How do you plan to achieve this goal, through acquisitions, organic growth or both?

The short answer is “all of the above.” We are committed to remaining a legacy firm, which means we will remain independent. We understand that this requires investment in people, processes and technology, which we are ready, willing and able to do. Our organic growth will be focused in strengthening our core services of tax and audit, while thoughtfully expanding into related advisory services to provide better value to our clients and opportunities for our staff. Acquisitions are also part of our growth strategy, and we will continue to look for the right fit for acquisitions in new or expanded niche services and/or geographic markets in the region.

How do you envision the audit of the future at your firm?

One thing my firm is good at is embracing innovation. In fact, we have a firm-wide Technology and Innovation Committee made up of partners, managers and administrative staff that keeps a pulse on new technology and innovation, and makes recommendations and implements new solutions. In audit, we are transforming how we deliver our services, supported by the adoption of new software to better access client data, and building data analytics into our work programs. The buzzwords in the profession are AI, robotics and RPA, and we are actively exploring the best ways to implement these to make our audits more efficient and effective, and allow our audit staff to focus on more value-added activities for our clients.

Which areas of advisory services at the firm are ripe for expansion?

We’re basically integrating consulting in all aspects of our traditional core services, such as SALT, international tax and tax provision services in our tax group, and internal audit, outsourced accounting, pre-audit and technical implementation of new accounting standards consulting in our audit group. We are also building specific consulting niches, such as forensics, valuation, litigation support, transaction advisory services and IT consulting. IT consulting is an area of growth given the cybersecurity risks our clients are facing, and the opportunities for process improvement. While the skills to deliver these advisory services emanate from our core competencies, we believe that pivoting these skills to the new economy are vital to creating value and relevancy with our clients. At the same time, we are creating new opportunities for our people to expand their scope and career trajectories.

Final thoughts?

I’m honored to assume the leadership of a firm that has created such a market presence in Texas, and I am committed to being a good steward to continue its success. Our firm has grown throughout our 45-year history, thanks to the leadership of Johnny Veselka, our founding shareholder, who led the firm in its first 37 years, and followed by John Flatowicz, who grew the firm three-fold during his tenure. Both of them epitomize our core values of excellence, dedication and compassion. I have been blessed to have John as a mentor during my 11+ years at the firm, and I’m blessed that he will help guide and shape our future.

IPA Spotlight On … Jennifer Briggs, Indiana CPA Society

Name: Jennifer B. Briggs

Jennifer B. Briggs

Jennifer B. Briggs

Title: President and CEO

Association: Indiana CPA Society

Accomplishments:

  • 25 years of association management experience, with state and national organizations and at an association management and lobbying firm
  • Chair of Interchange 2018, a conference for the AICPA and State CPA Societies and one of my all-time favorite educational events
  • Not my accomplishment, but a team accomplishment this year was managing the launch of a new logo and improved website, all while preparing to move our office this summer and developing two new leadership programs.

As only the fifth CEO in the Indiana CPA Society’s 103-year history who replaced a 33-year veteran, do you feel a special responsibility in taking on the top job?

Absolutely! It’s a great privilege to work in an organization with a long history, and it involves a balancing act of honoring the past, delivering value in the present and leading the organization to the best possible future. My predecessors were all with the Society for a long time and developed extensive relationships. Having already been here for 16 years I feel fortunate to continue that tradition and am grateful for the many members I’ve known who have helped inspire my work over the years.

You’ve held numerous positions at the society, beginning in 2002 as a special projects manager. Has the variety of experiences within the society helped you in preparing for your new role as CEO?

No question. Having served in membership, communications and professional development positions here, I have a broad view of the Society and a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges the leaders in those areas face. Having said that, I tend to be the type of person who is very open to new things, so I try not to rely on past experience – even here at the Society – as a gauge for what will work in the future, it’s simply nice to have reference points.

Progressive leaders are focused on re-imagining and challenging the status quo. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your planning for your 8,000+ members of the Indiana CPA Society?

We think about it every day. With INCPAS 2025 we have set “4 Bold Challenges” to ensure our relevance and to maintain the CPA brand. Our bold challenges encompass diversity, both in the profession and among our members, and ensuring our members are trusted business resources and advocates. We also are focusing on competency-based education through the Society and our subsidiary organization the CPA Center of Excellence®. Bringing the latest information to our members and engaging them in meaningful ways related to innovation and technology is paramount to our continued relevance. The changes coming to the profession due to AI, robotics and machine learning are real – it’s an exciting time.

Can you give me some examples of firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

Kruggel Lawton has done incredible work on their internal teams using CPA Center of Excellence® courses on core skills like communication and leadership and our insight assessment tool. This has translated into better internal relationships, improved goal-setting and stronger client relationships. Summit CPA Group is changing the traditional business model with an entirely virtual team offering outsourced CFO services. We recently created an INCPAS Innovation Award so we can recognize those firms and companies that are doing great things – Summit CPA Group won the award last year.

Final thoughts?

As automation advances, CPAs will need to consider next-level services they can provide. There is a huge opportunity here. People skills will never be obsolete (in conjunction with understanding the technical issues behind the automation) and I’m a firm believer that core competencies can be taught and improved upon. Not everyone will have the same strengths, but we also can’t wait to find the ‘born leaders’ – the profession can do a better job developing them.

IPA Spotlight On … Jill Boyle, Sikich

Name: Jill Boyle

Title: Senior manager, not-for-profit tax

Firm: Sikich

Accomplishments:

Jill Boyle

Jill Boyle

  • Named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 2018 “40 Under 40” list.
  • Serves as a leader in Sikich’s not-for-profit tax practice.
  • Co-founded Momentum Milwaukee, a networking community for emerging women leaders.
  • Named a finalist for BizTimes Milwaukee’s 2016 Nonprofit Excellence Awards.

You’ve said you believe in blending your passion for volunteering around Milwaukee with your career specializing in nonprofits. Why is that so important to you and how does this weave into your practice and leadership?

Volunteering has always been an important part of my life, and when I moved to Milwaukee, I wanted to dive right in and do my part to make the city a better place. I did that by joining organizations such as Running Rebels, the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin Family Services and Momentum Milwaukee. At the same time, I have a passion for helping not-for-profit organizations with tax planning and compliance. My volunteer work provides me valuable exposure to the operations of not-for-profit organizations that allows me to bring added insight to my client engagements.

What are you most proud of relating to how you’ve served as a resource to client(s)? Share an example.

I am passionate about educating my not-for-profit clients on important accounting rules and regulations that may seem arcane and overwhelming to them. For example, I frequently guide clients on how to not only properly complete their Form 990s, but how to do it in a way that tells a positive story about their organizations. It is rewarding when I educate one board member, and that leads to additional follow-up meetings with other board members and committees. There’s a desire for financial knowledge at these organizations, and I’m happy to draw on my experience to meet that need.

Can you offer any solid advice for young professionals on ways to develop leadership skills early on in their career? What can they do?

Meet people by being proactive. It’s important to build a professional network so you can learn from others, and grow personally and professionally. Volunteering with local not-for-profit organizations is a great way to not only give back to the community but also expand your network and build additional leadership skills. Also, seek opportunities to join senior members of your organization at professional development and networking events. Often, senior managers don’t invite younger members of their teams to these events because they simply don’t think about it. So, young professionals should be assertive and ask to attend these events, when appropriate.

When you look ahead 10 years from now, how do you see the profession changing / morphing?

Technology is rapidly transforming the accounting profession. As it does, much of the compliance work we do today will likely be automated. This presents a challenge and opportunity for CPAs. We will need to become even better consultants as we guide clients on tax planning and strategy. And as the behind-the-scenes compliance work goes away, younger accountants will need to step into these client-facing consulting roles earlier than they do today. This will present a great opportunity for ambitious CPAs to become innovative, forward-looking consultants for organizations.

Final thoughts?

Not-for-profit accounting is an exciting and challenging field, and CPAs offer great value to these vital organizations. Sikich has a robust not-for-profit practice, and I’m proud to come to work each day and help not-for-profit organizations overcome challenges and improve their tax strategies.

Do you know someone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

IPA Spotlight On … Daniel Young, Schenck

Name: Daniel Young

Title: President

Firm: Appleton, Wis.-based Schenck (FY16 net revenue of $80.5 million)

Daniel Young

Accomplishments:

  • Managing shareholder of the Green Bay, Wis., office for 10 years before being elected president in 2018
  • Completed four three-year terms on Schenck’s board of directors and was named vice chair in 2015
  • Named director of industry teams in 2013, providing leadership and strategic direction for the firm’s nine industry teams
  • 2016 recipient of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Distinguished Alumni Award

With a few months under your belt as president, what’s the one thing that’s surprised you the most about the role? 

As a longtime Schenck board member, and with experience as board vice chair and partner-in-charge in the Green Bay office, I was aware of most opportunities within the firm and the direction we were going. I also knew the people in the firm, which is an advantage an external candidate wouldn’t have had. However, what I hadn’t given much thought to was how my day-to-day relationships would change as I transitioned most of the clients for which I had lead responsibility to other Schenck team members. While I miss the client interaction, I am finding it really rewarding to further grow relationships with our internal team. I look forward to meeting more clients in all our markets and hearing how we can continue to support their growth and success and deliver on our Schenck Way for client service.

You’ve said one of your goals is to work on people initiatives. How does the firm work to prepare the next generation of leaders?

Our firm has wildly important goals (WIGs) and one is to build team member expertise using the 70:20:10 model. This guides how people learn: 70% percent on the job, 20% in structured coaching and 10% in formal training. Each WIG contains leading activities that we measure to ensure we are achieving the goal. In addition, we listen to our people. We survey our team members to monitor internal engagement and identify areas of opportunity. We share what we’ve learned in local meetings and communicate action plans.

We also offer programs that support our team members. Our Total Rewards Guiding Principles help us make consistent decisions related to compensation, benefits and creating a life-friendly work environment. Schenck’s Growth & Development program helps team members create a career plan that allows them opportunities to build their skills.

What are your growth goals for Schenck, and do those goals involve organic growth, merging in smaller firms, or both? Any plans to expand beyond Wisconsin?

Our first WIG is about firm growth, and we’re looking to increase our organic growth by a certain percentage by Sept. 30, 2019. As with our other WIGs, we have battles and leading activities that are monitored using scorecards. Under our growth WIG, we have a goal related to targeted acquisitions, which helps us identify and pursue good targets. As far as plans, we’ve always intended to expand our reach, possibly in the Madison market within Wisconsin and the northern Illinois and Twin Cities markets outside the state.

When your first year is over, how will you measure your own success?

One of the things I was asked to do as president was to execute our firm-wide strategies. I will first look to the scorecards to see how well we’ve done. In addition, I have a detailed accountability plan that was created in conjunction with our board of directors. It provides a framework of support that allows me to focus on certain activities that help uphold the vision and strategy of the firm, and I will measure my success against that. When these are done well, success will be found in the value we bring our clients and the growth of team members that builds the future of the firm.

Final thoughts?

At Schenck, we’re committed to making a difference for our clients, people and communities. Our own growth has better positioned us to support our clients. We believe that doing things right and doing them well is what will create opportunities that drive success for our people, our clients, our communities and ultimately our firm. I’m excited to be on this journey and look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Do you know someone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

IPA Spotlight On … Leah Gonzales, MaloneBailey

Name: Leah Gonzales

Firm: Houston-based MaloneBailey

Title: Audit Partner

Accomplishments:

Leah Gonzales

Leah Gonzales

  • Over 20 years of public accounting experience
  • Member of MaloneBailey’s management team for almost 10 years
  • Promoted to audit partner in April 2017
  • Key leader in MaloneBailey’s quality control initiatives as well as its in-house training and mentor programs

I understand that you came to MaloneBailey in 2008 from a Big 4 firm. Was a better work-life balance part of the reason for the move?

Work-life balance was a factor. I spent years at PwC, but managing family and work became tough because of my constant traveling and working late hours. I thought about leaving public accounting for industry and its better hours, but knew public accounting was my passion. A friend of mine introduced me to MaloneBailey and its unique opportunity intrigued me. MaloneBailey’s challenging work environment is complemented by initiatives like flexible workplace options and a business casual environment, as well as providing support (i.e. training and mentorship) its employees need to reach their full potential.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that females make up more than half of all accountants and auditors in the U.S., but only 22% of partners. At MaloneBailey, 33.3% of partners are female. Why the difference?

I believe our higher than average female partner percentage can be attributed in part to work-life balance initiatives. Flexibility and public accounting are two things that don’t always go hand in hand. Joining the two in a thoughtful, constructive and effective way is advantageous to women. Having the option to work from home once a week or not travel as much is something that I truly appreciate. MaloneBailey has had a women’s initiative in the past, but we are working on reinvigorating it in a new way. More to come on this initiative so stay tuned.

What’s the best way to retain female accounting/auditing professionals at mid-career – a time when many seem to leave the workforce?

It’s important that we show the women and mothers in the workforce that they are valued and important. Often times, women with young children feel a draw to be home with their children instead of returning to work. However, if we create understanding and flexible workplace options, I believe women will have the opportunity to spend more time with their families and do the work they love. Finding that middle ground where women feel like they can have both a family and career at MaloneBailey is critical to retention and something we strive to do and improve each year.

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence, professional observers are predicting that the audit process may undergo radical change in the near future. What’s your view?

I believe AI can help auditors work through and process greater volumes of information at a much faster pace. While the use of AI will likely streamline the audit process, the auditor’s judgment and evaluation of the resulting data is still a critical aspect of the audit. MaloneBailey has always embraced the use of technology where it makes sense and we are excited to see how AI will impact the profession in the near future.

Final thoughts?

My advice to young women entering into the accounting field would be to have passion for the work you do. Once you have that and truly enjoy what you do, the long hours and challenging times will be a little easier. It may not necessarily feel like work. I’ve stayed so long in my career because I truly love what I do. What I’ve found in MaloneBailey is a firm that understands the importance of my family time and one that has worked hard to implement initiatives that allow me to do the work I love while having a family.

Do you know someone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.