IPA Spotlight On … Eric Hansen, Chair, AICPA

Name: Eric Hansen

Title: Chair

Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen

Firm: AICPA

Accomplishments:

  • COO of BKD CPAs & Advisors, oversees firmwide operations and acts as liaison between BKD’s national office and its four regions.
  •  Became AICPA chair Feb. 1 and will serve in that capacity until May 2019.
  • An Eagle Scout, he extolled the virtues of preparation and anticipation in his acceptance speech following his election as chair.
  • Was part of the leadership team responsible for the launch the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (Association), which represents 650,000 members and students worldwide.

What are your top goals as chair?

The way I see it, there are three actions we must take today to be ready for tomorrow. First, we must harness technology to create more value for clients and businesses by elevating quality in existing services and taking the lead in emerging areas. This includes a focus on auditing in the future, and new and emerging attest services. Second, we must embrace our role in a hyper-connected, global society, extending our influence to protect the public interest amid increasing complexity. Creating the Association was a huge step toward a platform that helps us pursue this goal. And third, we must invest in our most important asset – our people – by evolving skills and competencies, advancing learning opportunities and cultivating future leaders.

What more should be done to advance CPAs’ understanding and implementation of AI, blockchain and data analytics?

One area of focus for the Association is integrating data analytics into the auditing process to enhance quality and maintain the relevance of this foundational CPA service. The AICPA and Rutgers Business School are partnering on a research initiative to demonstrate how this integration of data analytics can lead to auditing advancements. We also must focus on developing the higher-order competencies. To that end, we launched a new version of the Uniform CPA Exam last year that places a greater emphasis on cognitive skills such as critical thinking and analytical ability. My advice here is simple. Every member of our profession needs to take personal responsibility for the development of the skills they need to succeed in the future. Don’t wait for it to come your way.

As a former member of AICPA Task Force on the Future of Learning, what changes do you foresee in the AICPA’s educational offerings?

Through the Future of Learning initiative, we are transforming the way learning is delivered with innovative technologies that blend text, audio, graphics, video, 3-D animation and interactivity to enhance learning. Social learning, virtual group study and interactive exercises increase engagement with hands-on application. We’re also making use of new learning models, launching a new bite-sized learning series called Human Intelligence, which is focused on the skills and competencies needed for success in the future. And then there is our leadership development. The AICPA Leadership Academy was established to address succession planning and to increase diversity and inclusion in leadership. Beyond that, we are expanding access to competency-enhancing tools and resources through the Association. Our research on the future of finance will be used to update the competency framework and syllabus for CGMA.

How do you envision the scope and reach of professional accountancy expanding in an increasingly connected world?

It is essential for today’s leaders to look beyond definitions, demographics and geographic dimensions that once constrained the scope and reach of professional accountancy. I’m a CGMA, as well as a CPA, so I’m aware of the need to serve clients and the public interest with a holistic, global focus. Public accounting’s focus on auditing and taxes remains a critical part of the business world. And the value management accounting brings to the corporate finance function is equally important. Both disciplines are likely to grow in importance as our global society becomes both more immediate and more complex. Our new Association, formed with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, is all about meeting the challenges of our increasingly hyper-connected world.

Final thoughts?

You and I see the rapid pace of change – in the world of accounting and all around us. What’s needed to meet the challenge such change brings is a bias for action and the courage to be bold. As my fellow Missourian, and former U.S. President Harry Truman said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” At the AICPA, I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many skilled, courageous leaders who share that bias for action. Working together, we’ll make the CPA profession even more relevant in the future than it is today.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Michelle Thompson

Name: Michelle Thompson

Michelle Thompson

Michelle Thompson

Title: MP and CEO

Firm: Richmond, Va.-based Cherry Bekaert (FY17 net revenue of $173.8 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Election by my partners to be the fifth MP and CEO of our 70-year-old firm.
  • Selection as the managing partner of audit and assurance in 2011.
  • Admission to the Cherry Bekaert Partnership in 2001 after nine years of public accounting experience.
  • Establishing the firm’s risk advisory services group in 2001.

You’ve said your vision is to be successful “through transformation and innovation.” How is innovation encouraged at Cherry Bekaert?

Cherry Bekaert fosters a culture of innovation by supporting new ideas and projects proposed by our people – from receptionist to partner. Our goal is to harness the diverse talent, experiences and ideas that live in the culture of our firm. Through our funded innovation committee, we collect, evaluate and select projects for testing, execution and implementation.  We encourage solutions that deliver efficiency in our processes, growth in our product/service capabilities and loyalty in our clients

You’ve also spoken of forming a close partnership with technology to lead the firm into the future. How is the firm using the latest technologies, such as AI, blockchain etc., to improve services to clients?

Building the best toolbox for the future requires investment and a willingness to try new things, some of which might not work. We will test new technologies that apply artificial intelligence, data analytics or blockchain capabilities and put some of them into full production. These technologies allow us to change how we work and give us greater insights into our clients more quickly and frequently than ever before. They increase our horsepower. But in the end, people trust people. Our goal is to create a partnership with technology where our people are the interface and technology is the engine.

Do you face any special challenges as one of only three female MPs in the top 30 firms in the nation?

I face the same challenges that every other MP faces – how to care for your people, create value for your clients and rapidly and responsibly respond to external and internal forces to create a sustainable and thriving firm. However, I do realize that people are paying attention to that difference. Rather than seeing it as a challenge, I view it as an opportunity. More women enter this profession than men, yet very few women hold top leadership positions. So, I carry an additional responsibility of being a positive role model for other women in our firm and in the profession. I take that responsibility very seriously.

What are your growth plans for the firm over the next five years?

Our mission is to make a difference for our people and our clients. Growth creates opportunities for our people – whether it’s expansion into new markets or the addition of new service offerings. Growth in our service offerings and capabilities is driven by the needs of our clients in this fast-paced, ever-changing world. Through this lens we will continue to pursue our growth strategy of building critical mass in existing locations, strategically evaluating and entering new geographic locations and enhancing our stable of service offerings.

Final thoughts?

These are exciting times in our profession. Over the next five years, the profession is likely to change more than it did in the previous 20 (or more) years. Our CPA designation will continue to differentiate us from other professions but we will need to learn new skills, embrace new technologies and change in a way we never have before. I can’t wait!

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

IPA Spotlight On … Karen Love, PKF Texas

Name: Karen Love

Karen Love

Karen Love

Title: Director/Ambassador

Firm: PKF Texas (FY16 net revenue of $24.2 million) of Houston

Accomplishments:

  • Blazing the trail for marketers in and out of the accounting industry.
  • Succession on the Association for Accounting Marketing Board with two of my team members, Raissa Evans and Jen Lemanski, serving terms after me.
  • Set a model example in the industry, winning over 180 marketing awards including most recently the Leading Edge Alliance On the Edge Innovation award and Houston Business Journal’s C-Suite Award: Outstanding Chief Marketing Officer.
  • Using an inside out approach to integrate accounting firm culture with community culture, creating programs like FastTech 50 and Houston Young Professionals Endeavor.

As one of the first marketers (and a non-CPA) to be admitted as a partner in the country, can you give us your perspective on how the role of accounting marketing has changed over the years and where you see it going?

As one of the first non-CPA owners in the accounting industry, I consistently take pulses of the marketplace and strive to fill gaps. The accounting industry is becoming more consultative, therefore as marketers we have to match traditional needs with futuristic and digital technology support. Setting a stage for consultative thinking in a sea of compliance is a magical thing that has to be mastered. One trend, which will continue, is engaging younger team members earlier and embracing reverse mentoring. Also, corporate social responsibility that builds on the culture of the firm becomes a magnet for future clients. The use of data to make decisions is a happier journey with a lot less guesswork.

You’ve said one of your greatest professional joys is mentoring young professionals. Why?

Positioning others for success makes me happy and is always mutually beneficial. Lessons yielded from being a team leader are some of the most valuable to be had when mentoring young professionals. Who wouldn’t want to see someone they’ve mentored achieve great success?

I’d love to hear about your work with MAKERS, a storytelling platform for women, and your award. Why is it so important for women to tell their stories?

One quote I live by is, “One woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.” And it rings true for me. MAKERS is a platform out of New York City from a filmmaker named Dylan McGee. This woman is building a well-known brand that demands attention for all of us. MAKERS allows us to share stories that not only engage, but help other women in navigating their own path.

PKF Texas operates in the extremely competitive Houston market – how can your firm continue to differentiate itself in the marketplace and attract the best talent?

Culture is really the only thing that differentiates a professional services firm. In the fourth-largest city in the country, our culture is displayed as a differentiator through our internal university, 30+ languages spoken and our corporate social responsibility in our community, which helps us showcase our brand. Prospects and clients want to work with a firm with such a culture. Our early talent pipeline process of working with key universities to attract the right accounting/consulting professionals to our firm is key to the culture and differentiation.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Stacie Kwaiser

Name: Stacie Kwaiser

Stacie Kwaiser

Stacie Kwaiser

Title: Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Firm: Troy, Mich.-based Rehmann (FY16 net revenue of $115 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Oversees the firm’s client service operations and internal corporate services including finance, human resources, information technology and marketing teams as first female COO of Rehmann.
  • Received the Rehmann’s annual firm-wide award, recognizing her as an associate who has gone above and beyond in support of women’s career advocacy in the firm.
  • Named to DBusiness’s 2016 Powered by Women list, which recognized Detroit-area women who hold leading positions in their organizations.

You’ve said that it can be “incredibly frustrating” for women to work in a male-dominated field. How so?

Women are facing inflexible policies and unwritten expectations that were established many years ago when the workforce was male-dominated and work-life balance was not a priority. While women represent 50% of candidates entering the work force in accounting, only 25% make it to principals in the profession. Organizations that don’t make a concerted effort to provide equal opportunities for women are quickly pushing some of their most talented employees out the door. The accounting profession as a whole must actively work to combat this.

As Rehmann’s first female COO, how do you help empower women at the firm?

I am honored to be involved in helping women thrive in our firm, and, ultimately, see themselves here for the long haul. Empowering female employees means providing opportunities for their development at every point in their career. It also means ensuring employees are aware of unconscious biases that impact their interactions with the women they work with every day. I am proud to work for a company that recognizes its female leaders and makes a place for them at every table. At the same time, we won’t be fully satisfied until there is complete parity for women in our organization.

Can you tell our readers about Rehmann’s Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) Council?

The WIN, established 10 years ago, acts as an advisory council for our firm, is one of the primary ways in which we work to develop our female employees. WIN advocates for women and provides ideas on how to keep trending in the right direction. WIN also provides educational opportunities, including keynote speakers and networking events for female employees. We have also created what we call our STEP and Emerging Leaders initiatives – programs that focus on employees who are within reach of leadership positions to ensure they have the mentorship and tools needed to achieve those ranks.

Do you have any advice for firms looking to implement women’s initiatives?

A key to being successful in any profession is to build relationships and identify sponsors. Women in Rehmann’s programs receive additional coaching and a counselor helps them navigate their career path. The programs also provide time for both men and women to talk about issues that affect them, such as networking, professional development and work-life balance. Firms can build the confidence of women in their ranks by encouraging them to ask for help and pursue opportunities that may seem out of reach.

Final thoughts?

With programs and plans in place to help women thrive, the barrier to break into a male-dominated field slowly starts to fade away. To create these opportunities, all organizations should start with a clear understanding of the issue at hand and a willingness to work toward a better, equal opportunity future for all employees.

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

Spotlight On … Thomas Bonney, CBIZ CMF

Name: Thomas Bonney

Title: Senior Managing Director

Thomas Bonney

Thomas Bonney

Firm: CBIZ CMF

Accomplishments:

  • Started and grew private equity-focused consulting firm from $0 in 2002 to $19.2 million in annual sales in 2016. Sold to CBIZ in June 2017.
  • Winner of the 2016 M&A Advisor Financial and Professional Services Award for CMF’s post-transaction FORWARD™ Program.
  • Winner of the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2013 Outstanding Director Award for spirits company, Leblon, that Tom founded with two others in 2005 and sold to Bacardi in 2015.
  • While running CMF Associates, received master’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, the firm you founded – CMF Associates – sold itself to CBIZ. Can you talk about why you made that decision?

I started the firm in 2002, and around 2003 committed to growing an advisory firm dedicated to meeting the needs of national middle market private equity-backed companies. Three years ago, we saw the growth in private equity especially, but also in advisory services generally, and began looking for a platform to grow faster and develop a broader service offering. In 2017, clients are interested in one-stop shopping. We see this happening in professional services and have a shared vision with CBIZ in taking advantage of this market opportunity.

You are a recognized expert in working with middle-market private equity companies. What are the chief issues facing these companies nowadays?

In today’s world, technology is upending the business models of most industries. Leaders of these firms are challenged with understanding and reacting positively to the nature, timing and extent of these dynamics. They also need to plan for the impact on their near- and medium-term revenue and bottom line. Private equity is using their capital and expertise in helping middle market companies navigate through these issues. The shortage of “A” level talent within the middle market across all disciplines and functions further complicates the odds for success.

What is the biggest mistake accountants make when preparing for a public offering?

The biggest mistakes in this area are related to having the right people with public company experience at the helm in critical functions at the time of an initial offering. Second, companies consistently underestimate the rigor with which their finance and accounting operation needs to be upgraded from their current state of people, process and technology. Last, as a public company, leadership needs to up their game on the comprehensiveness, granularity and timeliness of its forecasting and FP&A capabilities.

Your firm does some executive recruiting. What are the qualities of an A+ CFO?

The bar for an A+ CFO is perpetually rising. Furthermore, there is a three-dimensional aspect to today’s best-in-class CFOs: 1. They need to have deep, broad experience that spans all aspects of finance, administration, technology and analytics. 2. The job requires one foot firmly placed in the company’s operations – CFOs can no longer hide out in their office, and 3. Macroeconomic trends, competition and overall business dynamics require CFOs to be deep thinkers and leaders, helping to set and course correct the company and its business model for the next five years.

Final thoughts?

To quote the famous quarterback Joe Namath, “When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.”

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

IPA Spotlight On … Chad Anschuetz, Doeren Mayhew

Name: Chad Anschuetz

Title: Managing shareholder and chair

Firm: Troy, Mich.-based Doeren Mayhew (FY16 net revenue of $73.7 million)

Accomplishments:

Chad Anschuetz

Chad Anschuetz

  • Recently elected as managing shareholder and chair of the firm, ranked No. 58 on the 2017 IPA 100 list.
  • Instrumental in developing the firm’s culture, infrastructure and growth strategies as a member of the firm’s management committee and chair of the human resources committee.
  • Guided more than 50 clients in successfully buying or selling their companies.
  • Assisted in the collaborative development of the firm’s community outreach program, “Difference,” which fosters giving back to our local communities through volunteering efforts.

You’ve just started your term as managing shareholder on Oct. 1, replacing Mark Crawford, who’s been in the top job since 1995. Are there any special challenges in replacing someone who has been with the firm for four decades?

As with any leadership change, overcoming employee and client uncertainty is always a big challenge. Yet, when you’re replacing someone who has been doing it for two-plus decades it’s much more intensified. Over the next year, a main agenda item will be reassuring our employees and clients that the firm’s founding principles, culture and service model won’t change, but by constantly improving, it will get better. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked closely with Mark throughout my 26-year career with Doeren Mayhew. As part of our firm’s succession plan, my active role in the firm’s management committee and continued mentorship from Mark will help create a smooth transition.

Doeren Mayhew has locations in four states and Zürich. Does the firm have plans to expand its footprint, either in the U.S. or internationally?

Doeren Mayhew’s long-term vision has always been to create a triangle effect linking our efforts in the Midwest, Southwest and the Southeast. Both acquisitive and organic growth is always in the plans for Doeren Mayhew, especially if the right opportunity presents itself, at the right time — like Zürich. Our international arm, Moore Stephens Doeren Mayhew, had been working diligently overseas to continue to find ways to better service our global clients. The merger with Emerson & Partner U.S. Tax GmbH allowed us to do just that by providing key leadership roles locally for our growing European client base. Our strategic plan includes expansion focused on service and industry resources in our existing markets, and less emphasis on geographic expansion.

You’ve said that the firm’s client service model has helped it become a great firm. Can you tell us what that looks like, and how can the firm work at developing innovative ways to add value for clients?

Doeren Mayhew’s most valuable asset – its clients – is the driving factor of our firm’s success. Our firm places an immense amount of focus on fostering their success. We go beyond what clients might expect, leveraging our entrepreneurial mindset to provide insightful solutions while introducing opportunities for growth. Delivering on our promise of providing insight, oversight and foresight requires the firm to continuously evaluate where we are able to add value to our clients. Whether that’s through the use of artificial intelligence in engagements or expanding service line expertise, I’m confident that our firm’s talented professionals have what it takes to bring about the change and continue to add value to our clients and thrive as a firm.

Firms named IPA ‘Best of the Best’ firms are successful, financially and operationally. How is the firm preparing to stay ahead of the technological changes (AI etc.) that may transform the profession?

Continued innovation will be key for Doeren Mayhew to stay ahead of the technology-induced paradigm shift happening in the accounting industry and remain a ‘Best of the Best’ firm. Doeren Mayhew has formed a committee dedicated to developing and implementing changes into our firm’s engagement processes. We are looking at the use of artificial intelligence in our audit, tax, forensic and litigation support engagements as an opportunity to increase efficiencies and drive new value to our clients, which is always our goal. More important, we are closely tracking how regulatory standards will modify current guidance and monitoring mechanisms for this new technology to allow us to continue delivering our service offerings with integrity.

Final thoughts?

Technology is dramatically reshaping our industry. Artificial intelligence is hardly a fad. A successful firm will embrace the opportunity to streamline operations and redeploy staff’s efforts on delivering creative, value-added client services. The firm I started with back in 1991 is not the same firm today. And, to continue this progression we will need to keep imagining what the firm will look like in five, 10 and even 15 years from now to prosper long term.

IPA Spotlight On … Annie Yoder

Name: Annie Yoder

Annie Yoder

Annie Yoder

Title: Principal, Director of Development

Firm: New Philadelphia, Ohio-based Rea & Associates (FY16 net revenue of $40.6 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Expert in risk assessment, occupational fraud and internal controls
  • Spotlight Awards Recipient, The Richard Rea Award for Service to the Client, 2013
  • National Academy of Public Accounting Professionals, Top 10 Rising Stars, 2015
  • Graduate of Rea’s NextGen Leadership Program, 2015

Why did the firm feel it was time to create a dedicated development director position?

Rea & Associates has always been and continues to be committed to the development of our people. The Rea Advantage, our firm’s strategic plan, consists of four primary cornerstones – people, clients, growth and firm. The first one, and arguably the most important one, is our “people” cornerstone. In creating these cornerstones, we really took the time to analyze our existing practices and refocus some of our priorities. The development director position is a direct result of this process. In creating this position, Rea is demonstrating its commitment to the ongoing professional success of our current and future employees. I hope to facilitate this continued success by streamlining the entire employee development cycle – recruiting, performance management, learning and development, and beyond.

IPA data shows that 59% of firms nationwide do not even have a written succession plan in place. How has Rea managed to overcome some of the common obstacles firms face in implementing succession plans?

Our shareholder group, and especially our CEO Don McIntosh, has made it a priority to have a written succession plan in place. Our business is centered on our people and the services our people provide to our clients. People change, they retire, they leave… we may not have a crystal ball but by having a written, up-to-date succession plan in place that addresses the need to develop and raise up the firm’s leaders, we can prepare the best we can for the future. After all, if we’re truly serious about growing and building a firm that will have a lasting impact our people, clients and community, then writing up and maintaining a succession plan must be an essential part of this strategy.

You will continue to serve clients as a CPA. How does being a practitioner help you in your new responsibilities developing leaders within the firm?

Continuing to service our clients and work directly with our teams gives me a unique perspective – one that will allow me to address some of the real challenges our practitioners face in the field every day. For our employee development program to work, our programs and initiatives must align with what is really happening in the field. What challenges are our clients facing and how can we best provide our team with the knowledge and skills they need to address those challenges? By providing our team with access to relevant resources and opportunities, they become more valuable to their clients and to the firm as a whole. As a practitioner, I will continue to see first-hand what those challenges are while gauging environmental changes and educational trends.

Talent wars are a reality for accounting firms today. How has Rea positioned itself not only to recruit top talent but to keep them happy and rewarded at the firm?

We’ve really tried to focus on the entire employee experience – from recruitment to retirement. Our internship program is a great example of this holistic approach. An internship at a CPA firm probably conjures up images of never-ending 1040 work. Not at Rea – we want them to be introduced to different elements of the industry. Then, when an employee joins the firm, they have opportunities to pursue practices or specialty services that truly excite them. I am committed to providing our team with the tools they need to be successful. In my experience, leadership and professional development programs coupled with self-accountability is truly the key to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Final thoughts?

Being able to align what I love and where I believe I have the most impact is extremely fulfilling. I’m thankful the firm has been willing to invest in this position and I am proud to have been entrusted with this vital responsibility.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott

Name: Mary Elliott

Title: Elliott is currently the firm’s Chief Operating Officer, but will transition to Chief Executive Officer in January 2018.

Firm: Birmingham, Ala.-based Warren Averett (FY16 net revenue of $124.4 million)

Accomplishments:

  • First female CEO in Warren Averett’s history.
  • Appointed as Warren Averett’s Chief Operations Officer in 2012.
  • Developed operations board for the firm, and served as chair for six years.
  • Started Warren Averett’s health care consulting division more than 30 years ago. Drove it from a startup to one of the top service areas in the firm.

The firm announced that you’ve been named CEO, but you don’t take over until the end of this year. How will you prepare over the next several months?

I will spend the next few months meeting with our leadership, reviewing new responsibilities that fall under the role of CEO and taking opportunities to engage with our employees to ensure that my transition is a smooth process.

You’ve served as both COO and the PIC of the health care consulting group – at the same time. Will partners continue to take on administrative functions like this, or do you envision a different structure in the future?

Our firm is built on opportunity, and our structure will continue in that mindset under my leadership. We will continue to look for ways provide A+ service to our clients, while providing employees the opportunity to grow, innovate and thrive.

You say you have a passion for women’s opportunities and issues in the work force. Do you feel any special responsibility as a woman in this role, considering you are one of only two women leaders within the Top 100, outside the Big 4?

I’ve never felt that being a female at Warren Averett has been a hindrance or a catalyst for my growth within the company. However, I am a woman, and I’m proud of who I am and the path that I’ve been able to take. I see this as an opportunity to reach out with and for other women – how can we make our workforce better? I’m not alone though. We have a strong group of talented females coming up within the firm today. In fact, our leadership team also includes a female CFO and firm administrator.

With the advent of artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies, Big Data and the rest, how can you help make Warren Averett future-ready?

Innovation is key. We will embrace change, continue to look for opportunities to stay ahead of the curve and make strides in these areas through our specialty groups and experts.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Dan Gardiner, P&N

Name: Dan Gardiner
Firm: Postlethwaite & Netterville (P&N)
Title: CEO and Managing Director-Elect

Accomplishments:

Dan Gardiner

Dan Gardiner

  • Selected as incoming Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of one of the largest CPA and consulting firms in the Gulf Coast and the only IPA 100 firm based in Louisiana
  • Leads P&N’s tax and consulting services groups to provide innovative business consulting services for clients throughout Louisiana
  • Serves as president of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Society of Louisiana CPAs.
  • Served as corporate controller for a regional consumer packaged goods and distributions company and as corporate controller and financial reporting manager for a publicly traded international leasing company

It will be one year until you take over the top role at the firm. How are you preparing now?

Our firm has a well-defined succession process, which began over a year ago. In this last year of the transition, I will continue to work alongside P&N’s current CEO, Bill Balhoff, and the executive team on the strategic initiatives of our firm. Our firm was founded on the principle of providing the highest quality client service and that principle has been the hallmark of our growth and success over the years. A good portion of my time this year will be spent ensuring that our team knows that our culture and our foundation will not change with this transition.

P&N is a fast-growing firm and the largest based in Louisiana. With one office outside the state, in Houston, is the firm planning to expand in that area?

While we’ve had a Houston office for just over two years, we have had a strong client base for much longer, and are continuing our plans for growth in that market. Our main focus is ensuring our clients receive the highest in quality service. We have very talented resources in Houston and expect to continue our expansion of all service areas, assurance, tax, consulting and technology, in the greater Houston area. While we have growth goals for each our markets, we are more focused as a practice on having the right talent in place to ensure healthy growth that will lead to long-term relationships. Fortunately, given the close ties between Louisiana and Houston, we already have strong brand recognition, which is helping attract great talent.

You took an eight-year hiatus from the firm to work in industry. What did that experience teach you that you brought back to the firm?

I’ve always enjoyed the accounting profession, but in industry I did not feel the same level of passion about my work as in public accounting and consulting. For me the relationships you build with clients, the diversity of the engagements, and the focus on continual improvement are what drew me back to professional services. P&N’s consulting practice was the perfect fit for me and my experience, as it allowed me to leverage many of the experiences I had in industry. Additionally, being on the client side of the equation has reinforced to me the client service values our firm lives. I have plenty of real world experiences to share with our team members as they learn how to become trusted advisors.

As tax leader for the firm, are you concerned about automation changing the way you do business? Excited? Both?

Cognitive computing is predicted to automate or eliminate up to 40% of basic accounting work by 2020, according to Accenture. I believe that technology is going to be one of our greatest opportunities in the years to come. Automation can benefit our teams and clients by providing efficient and consistent delivery of service. In our own practice, we focus on integrating technology into business and accounting processes, which has helped many of our clients overcome significant challenges. However, I am certain that now more than ever we must have more personal relationships with our clients. Clients still want someone who can sit across the table and give them confidence that they have the professional team that can solve their challenges.

Final thoughts?

Our industry is going through tremendous change. We are doing things differently than ever before and thinking of things in different ways. And it is going to take our talented professionals to bring about the change that we need to continue to thrive as a firm. With innovation and a focus on our clients’ needs, we will be able to compete now and into the future.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Rob Nixon

Name: Rob Nixon
Title: Founder, PANALITIX
Accomplishments:

Rob Nixon

Rob Nixon

  • Educated in excess of 170,000 accountants over 23 years.
  • Coached 800 accountants to success. Average profit increase in year one is 93%.
  • Authored three best-selling books on the accounting profession.
  • Built four successful businesses that serve the accounting profession.

Your new book is called, The Perfect Firm, Your Playbook for Building A Perfect Accounting Business. Is “perfection” even achievable?

There is no perfect firm. I’ve met 170,000 accountants and not one of them is perfect. There is no one-size-fits-all for the perfect firm. It has to be your version of your perfect firm. I wrote the book as a blueprint or playbook on what a perfect firm would look like if the reader did everything in the book. The book is full of strategies that have worked for thousands of firms around the world.

What’s the one area MPs should focus on to get started on the path to the perfect firm?

There are five sequential steps to creating your version of your perfect firm. It starts with a belief system that it is the owner’s business and no one else’s and should be designed your way. This is business by design, not by default. Step 1: What business life do the partners want to live? Step 2: What numbers do you want to achieve? Step 3: What services do you want to deliver? Step 4: What culture do you want to have? Step 5: Who are the ideal clients to fit steps 1-4? Business by design follows steps 1 to 5 in order. Business by default follows steps 5 to 1 in order.

How can accountants best get ahead of digital disruption to the profession?

Accountants need to brace digital disruption – not fear it. It is inevitable that machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain will fundamentally change the business model of accountants. It is an amazing opportunity to embrace the technology. The first step is to migrate all clients to cloud accounting. Then with real-time data they can offer predictive analytical services and proper numbers-based advice. Helping clients improve their systems dramatically reduces the time at the accountant’s office to do the client work.

You are an advocate for value pricing. Why?

The traditional model of time-based billing in arrears does not value the intellectual property (experience) of an accountant. Not only that, but it is highly unethical to bill in arrears. If you are adding value to the client’s condition then you should be rewarded based on your contribution, not on how much time it took to do the work. Accountants do not sell time – they sell what they know. What you know should be priced accordingly.  

Accountants like numbers, but you say some numbers are more important than others. Which numbers are firm leaders paying too much attention to?

There is a crazy culture of more billable time in the profession. I’ll give you more billable time says Johnny – I’ll just go slower and make mistakes – you’ve got your billable time. What a stupid focus. The focus on utilization hours promotes the wrong behavior. The other number accountants seem obsessed with is realization margin – we realized 88%, for example. Actually, no, you wrote off 12% and wasted $50,000 last month. When you price up front and drive time down by being more efficient you get positive realization and your average hourly rate increases dramatically. The magic number of an accounting firm is average hourly rate.

Final thoughts?

Accountants can change the world for the better if they are proactive and add value. Nearly every business in the world is connected to an accountant. Accountants can make a massive difference if they leverage off their trusted advisor status and help their clients with numbers-based advice.

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