IPA Spotlight On … Tom Hood

Tom Hood

Tom Hood

Name: Tom Hood
Organization: Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA)
Title: President and CEO, MACPA and CEO and founder of Business Learning Institute, the learning and innovation center of the MACPA

Accomplishments:

  • LinkedIn Top 150 Influencer
  • Accounting Today Second Most Influential Person in Accounting (2015, 2013)
  • CPA Practice Advisor Hall of Fame and Top 25 Thought Leader
  • HR Advisor Top 25 Thought Leaders in Talent Management
  • AICPA Special Recognition Award for CPA Vision Project

You say you’re passionate about four things: technology, collaboration, learning and leadership. Why?

We have been tracking the future of the profession for the past 15 years and find that these four things will be accelerators of success in this rapidly changing world. Technology continues to be the biggest “hard trend” driving change in the CPA profession and the business environment. Collaboration is quickly replacing the “experience curve” and a critical competency for working with clients and internal teams. Learning will be the only competitive advantage (L>C2) for individuals and organizations in the future. Leadership is the catalyst to make all of that happen faster.

You’re a well-known “early adopter” of social media and an advocate for using technology to streamline accounting firm processes and procedures. What’s one area of technology that is under-utilized by accounting firms today?

Social media and cloud technologies in general are the two biggest and underutilized opportunities for firms. Social media is the single best thing I have done. Period. Social media can be a powerful tool for marketing, connecting to customers and most importantly, learning and keeping up with change. Cloud technologies supporting practice management and client access allow firms to create higher levels of engagement with both clients and staff and support flexible work environments, which are critical to supporting today’s overwhelmed employees.
MACPA_Logo_2016
There are so many opportunities, changes, challenges, innovations and disruptions happening in the profession, that it’s easy for managing partners to get distracted and not know where to focus their energy. In your opinion, when considering all the “noise” out there, what are the top three things that MPs need to focus their attention on?

The three biggest areas MPs should be focusing on are culture, people and technology. Culture is about engaging your people in your vision, purpose and values and making that your firm’s operating system. This continues to be one of the top ways to create a happy and engaged workforce. The focus on our people falls into two areas – succession planning and talent development. Succession planning is about creating a planned, sustainable future with the retiring boomer partners. Talent development is about creating a strategic and systematic career development process that includes “success skills” like leadership, strategic thinking, anticipation and other critical competencies. Technology is about creating capacity by implementing smart technology applications, including workflow and other cloud applications.

You’ve led strategic planning sessions for CPA firms all over the U.S. What have you taken away from that experience about the future-readiness of accounting firms?

We are seeing an increased readiness and elevation of firm strategies in the last few years. We define future-readiness as the capacity to be anticipatory (aware, predictive and adaptive) of emerging trends in business, technology, demographics and the social environment impacting your organization and industry. Leading firms are developing strategic plans to leverage the opportunities and minimize predictable problems by carefully looking at these future trends and co-creating the future with their partners and staff.

Final thoughts?

We are living in “exponential times” where the size, scale and scope of change is incredible. That means there are incredible opportunities for those who can see through the fog of uncertainty and anticipate what’s next. The biggest opportunity is to harness the wisdom of our older generations with the fresh perspectives of the tech-savvy younger generations. The next generation of leaders is enthusiastically ready to have a seat at the table. The future is not created; the future is co-created. Let’s get to work!

IPA Spotlight On … Alan Whitman

Whitman_Alan_BakerTilly_2016

Alan Whitman

Name: Alan Whitman

Firm: Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP (Baker Tilly)

Title: CEO and Chairman

Accomplishments:

  • Founded Baker Tilly’s international services platform and is chair of its International Steering Committee
  • Founding member of the Baker Tilly International network’s Knowledge Sharing Group
  • Executive sponsor of the firm’s GROW (Growth and Retention of Women) and SOAR (Supporting Opportunity, Advancement and Recognition for All) initiatives, which institutionalize diversity and inclusiveness
  • Instrumental in Baker Tilly’s recognition as a best-in-class workplace, guiding the firm to winning numerous workplace excellence awards
  • Active member of the AICPA and the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA)

As the newly appointed CEO, you’ve said you plan to focus on “managing for continued growth.” What are your plans in this area?

Both acquisitive and organic growth will be the focus of my plans for Baker Tilly’s growth. We have created a strategic growth function to drive growth in several areas – including health care and consulting services – in which we feel we have a performance and market advantage. We will also continue to look for strategic mergers to build our national geographic presence. Whether we are reviewing a traditional accounting firm or a boutique specialty firm, culture is a paramount consideration as well as a “capabilities” fit. We look for alignment to our values of integrity, passion and stewardship, and we expect our merger partners to provide shared leadership and a diversity of perspective and experience.

What does the CEO transition mean for Baker Tilly?

Baker Tilly’s vision is to become America’s finest professional services Firm. We will continue providing exceptional client service and achieving recognition as a leading firm within our chosen specialties. I’m going to emphasize execution and work to accelerate our strategy to produce measureable results. My focus as CEO is building Baker Tilly for the future. That includes driving strategy, growing our national presence and leveraging our international experience. Our growth – including our work in developing our international platform – has enabled us to pursue client relationships we’ve never been able to go after and have conversations we were never able to have, until now. Over the next several years, I see our international platform as another major component of our firm’s growth.

You are being intentional about creating a more Millennial-friendly firm. What do you have in mind?

So much of the so-called “Millennial-friendly” workplace benefits are now employment table stakes. Baker Tilly is working to create an environment in which our associates can be challenged and enriched and enabled to pursue the career path that is uniquely fulfilling to them. Our growth, which creates all kinds of opportunities, is central in those efforts. That includes allowing our team members to have meaningful client interaction, to grow with their clients and to be rewarded at every stage of their career. We also have our GROW and SOAR diversity initiatives and policies such as Dress for Your Day that are intended to make Baker Tilly a richer and more rewarding place to work.

What will it take to succeed in the complex, fast-changing professional services market?

We need to always be creating value for our clients, which will mean focusing on those services that are not sensitized to commoditization, delivered by a workforce that is performing at the top consultative levels. My leadership strategy combines three elements – collaborating for innovation, celebrating our people and building a revered brand – designed to energize our talent base to deliver better, faster, more strategic services and to become deeply embedded, trusted advisors to our clients.

Final thoughts?

The professional services market is one of the most dynamic, change-sensitive industries in the world today. The successful firm will be measured by its ability to harness new business science and technologies in the service of a highly intelligent, agile and motivated team of accounting and advisory professionals who can build a globally respected brand.

IPA Spotlight On . . . Sandra Wiley

Sandra Wiley

Sandra Wiley

Name: Sandra Wiley

Firm: Boomer Consulting

Title: President

Accomplishments:

  • Accounting Today top 100 Most Influential People
  • CPA Practice Advisor Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting
  • CPA Practice Advisor Top 25 Thought Leaders
  • Leading Edge Alliance “On the Edge” Innovation Award

As host of regional trainings around the country, what are emerging leaders telling you about what they need to learn to be effective managers?

I see next generation leaders every day that are smart, motivated and truly care about the future of their firm and the profession.  They are excited about what they are hearing about, including Advisory Services, deeper relationships with their clients and team, and less compliance work.  However, a reverse effect is happening that makes them very frustrated.  The lack of change they are seeing in their firm in all of these areas is demotivating.  They want to move forward, but they feel stuck.

You’ve said Boomer Consulting’s client base is “future-focused.” Can you give us an example of a firm that’s implemented a future-focused initiative and seen positive ROI?

We have been working with the firm of Bold Carlisle and Smith for the past 4 years.  They started as a foundationally good firm with challenges in leadership, process development, technology struggles and a lack of overall direction.  Today, they are seeing positive change in all of these areas.  Through the process of strategic planning, coaching, the Boomer Technology Circles Community and a new focus on process improvement they are a new and improved firm – and are certainly future focused!  Oh, and they reduced the number of hours spent on business entity tax clients significantly this year.

You’ve done quite a bit of work around employee engagement as an HR expert in the profession. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one thing accounting firms should do to better engage their employees?

Make time to truly manage their team.  Continuous and ongoing feedback, mentoring and reverse mentoring and including them in the strategic planning process are just a few ways to truly engage the team that surrounds you.  This is less generational than it is relational.  People will engage when they feel valued, and you can’t feel valued if you don’t really know the people that you are working with.  It sounds simple, but it is hard work.  Hard work does lead to amazing results in the area of retention, attraction and motivation!

You were recently named president of Boomer Consulting, Inc. as part of its long-term growth and succession plan. What do you hope the firm will look like in five years?

In 5 years Boomer Consulting, Inc. will continue to be a leader in the profession transforming firms in the areas of Leadership, Talent, Technology, Process and Growth initiatives.  We will use The Boomer AdvantageTM to ensure that our clients are growing in each of these areas and are connecting the dots between each of them. This will enable firms to be future ready.  We will continue to build a unique team of professionals that are consistently innovating and creating new services and new successes for our clients.

Final thoughts?

I am excited about the change that is occurring in the profession today.  It’s truly an exciting time. The firms that are ready to face the future with innovation and a positive attitude will be winners.  Helping firms transform and actually create a practice that will sustain them for the future is what gets me excited.  My passion – helping firms that are feeling stuck and even a little demotivated get excited about their future!

IPA Spotlight On . . . Ed Bysiek

Ed Bysiek

Ed Bysiek

Name: Ed Bysiek

Firm: Bysiek CPA

Title: Founder of Bysiek CPA, Adjunct Accounting Professor, St. Bonaventure University

How has the profession changed during your tenure as a CPA, if at all? In my 13 years as a CPA, work has become much more e-based. I remember spending hours just making copies of checklists and setting up bulky workpaper files, not to mention carrying large portable printers with us to client locations. Now all I carry is a laptop.

What was the biggest professional challenge you faced? By far my biggest professional challenge was exiting the firm I began my career with and starting my own practice. All of us place a certain amount of value on the economic stability that a regular paycheck provides in our lives. To give that up, and suddenly be faced with a prospect that looked exciting on paper, but promised nothing, was daunting. I succeeded with a well-developed and unique business model that has capitalized on up-and-coming technologies, fixed-fee billing arrangements, and by developing real expertise in a limited number of service offerings.

What advice can you give up-and-coming staff? To soak up as much as you can. Understand how your task fits in the bigger picture of any job you’re working on. When you are able to take ownership of your work, it is much easier to stay motivated and do your very best, even when the hours begin to add up.

What’s the biggest misconception that you believe older partners across the profession have about younger staff that you wish could be better understood? The biggest misconception is just how capable young staff can be. Since we are a service profession, maintaining good client relations plays a huge role. The downside of this can be a fear that giving younger staff too much responsibility and too much access to the client has too much risk associated with it. Young people who have put in to the time to earn a degree, are working toward a CPA, and have been vetted through an interview process have the capability of handling themselves in a professional manner and I believe, are ready for significant responsibility very early on in their careers.

Comments like these can be found in a new report, “The Road to Retention: Motivators and Drivers for Young Accounting Professionals. INSIDE Public Accounting, in partnership with ConvergenceCoaching, gathered survey responses from 722 young professionals aged 21-40. Order your copy today.

IPA Vendor Spotlight On … Heidi Henderson, Engineered Tax Services

Name: Heidi Henderson

Heidi Henderson

Heidi Henderson

Firm: Engineered Tax Services

Title: Executive Vice President

Accomplishments:

  • Published author in Accounting Today
  • Public speaker at national events
  • Rapid rise from director to executive vice president of Engineered Tax Services

Your firm’s tagline is, “Where engineering and accounting come together.” What does that mean?”

We are often asked if we are an accounting firm or an engineering firm. For practical purposes, we are a licensed engineering firm with a very heavy tax background. We do not prepare tax returns, but rather perform very specialized engineering analysis to capture federal tax incentives and apply complex tax methodologies as recognized and accepted by the IRS. Our engineers perform detailed studies relating to real property or activities relating to the development of new products and processes. These studies are then reviewed by our internal CPAs and our tax attorney for accuracy and compliance with IRS guidance before being utilized by the taxpayer.Engineered Tax Services

Your role is executive vice president, but you came up through the ranks from marketing. Can you tell us about your rise through the company?

My education and work history are in private accounting and entrepreneurship. After 12 years in accounting for numerous real estate development companies, I chose an alternate path in search of something more satisfying and collaborative, and settled on marketing. In 2011, I was approached by ETS and was offered a position in sales and project management. After a short time, I identified the need for marketing improvements and was given the responsibility of growing and managing the marketing team, which included rebranding, logo design, website creation, content and publishing. I was then promoted to the executive team in early 2014. Now I’m responsible for account management, corporate marketing and events, and the collective management of ETS’ growing sales staff alongside our other two executive team members.

How would you like Engineered Tax Services to grow and change?

Engineered Tax Services has grown significantly over the past three years, and has invested greatly in growing our team to be the most knowledgeable, service-oriented company in the industry. We strive to set ourselves apart as a resource, and valuable asset to our clients and partners through education, consulting, published guidance and resources to aid CPAs and businesses to capture valuable incentives to insuring full tax efficiency for optimized profitability.

What’s the biggest opportunity for CPA firms that Engineered Tax Services can help them with?

The recently passed PATH Act and continuing guidance for Tangible Property Regulation compliance are complex and tedious issues for the CPA community. We provide monthly webinars to review the most recent changes, and how these changes will impact CPAs and their clients.

We have also developed software to aid in capturing annual deductions that we provide free of charge to our clients. By understanding the services and resources we offer, CPAs and their teams can rest assured that they can advise taxpayers of every opportunity available to them, increase client retention and hold on to their competitive advantage. These services are all complementary additions to our core services such as cost segregation, repair evaluations, energy-efficient building incentives and R&D tax credits.

Final thoughts?

Our greatest focus is in serving our clients and providing the best service and expertise available on complex issues. We shy away from commonly used sales tactics, and believe that if we bring value and offer tools for the success of all, our efforts will, and have, set the bar for specialty tax services.

Know someone else who’d make a good spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

IPA Spotlight On … Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk

Name: Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk

Firm: bbr marketing

Title: President

Accomplishments:

  • One of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People in 2012 and 2013
  • Received prestigious Volunteer of the Year from the Association for Accounting Marketing in 2014
  • One of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting in 2015
  • Created and grew bbr marketing from an idea with no clients in 2009 to a firm with clients in over 25 states and two Canadian provinces, double-digit revenue growth year over year and a pretty great place to work.

You’ve owned a sauce company, worked for a health and fitness startup and helped launch the Cartoon Network in Asia. How did you get into professional services marketing? 

I sort of stumbled into it. I was working for a manufacturing software company that was bought out by a larger one located in Santa Barbara. When it looked like my job was going to move to California, I started looking for a new one in Atlanta since I was about to get married and had no desire to move. My dear friend Betsy mentioned that her accounting firm was looking for their first marketing director (after 50 years in business) and thus began my journey in professional services marketing.

You’re known as a giver in the profession – someone who’s very willing to donate time to fellow marketers and to the community. What’s your ROI?

First of all, I’m touched that I have that reputation. I’m a big believer in creating a culture of giving in both my personal and professional life. I have been fortunate to have received so much help and advice over the years, and I want to pay that forward as much as I can. I get true joy from helping others and sincerely believe that the more we do it the better place we create. I guess I could be charging for some of the help I give away, but instead I create relationships with others that may eventually lead to business down the road. And even if it doesn’t, hopefully those I help will help others one day and so the cycle continues.

After seven years in business, what’s the best business advice you ever received?BBR_logo_2016

“Do what you do best and outsource the rest,” is definitely one of the best pieces of advice. Like most startups, I tried to do everything myself to “save money” in the beginning, including bookkeeping and tax prep. While I understand how both work, it takes me so much more time to do it myself than to pay someone to do it for me. When I was able to offload some of these tasks that aren’t my highest and best use, I had a lot more time to focus on client work and business development.

Can you offer one tip for how accounting firms, in an increasingly commoditized profession, can differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace?

At bbr marketing, we spend a great deal of time helping clients differentiate themselves in the market. If you’ve ever heard me speak, I’m sure you heard it at least once, regardless of the topic. It is absolutely vital! It’s also quite frequently difficult too. We recommend firms ask everyone at the firm, and clients as well, what sets them apart. And it is not client service or good people – everyone says that and it is simply the price of entry. It can be your industry focus, your way of delivering work, your pricing structure, any number of things, but make sure it is truly unique from the firm down the street. Finally, it often helps to have an outsider who knows the industry come in and help with this process and offer guidance.

What marketing innovations are you seeing that are under-utilized by accounting firms?

The marketing tactics you should use depend greatly on the market you are trying to reach. Once you have a firm grasp on that, the world is your oyster. More firms are starting to embrace social media as a brand awareness tool, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter. Video is becoming more popular and a great way to communicate a message to potential clients. I’d like to see firms spend more time updating their websites from online brochures to interactive tools and include more case studies and testimonials where their clients sing their praises. And don’t forget about direct mail either. When we are all inundated with emails, a clever piece of mail gets much more attention.

Final thoughts?

My biggest piece of advice for firms is to find a niche, identify your differentiators and stick to both. You can never be all things to all people, and those that try wind up competing on price. Those that are truly unique have a smaller market to reach yet much more value to share. And once you’ve figured this out, take advantage of all the great ways to market your firm. You can be the best firm out there, but if no one knows about it, you will quickly run out of referrals and wonder why your revenues are flat. And remember, different people like to receive their information in different ways. Just because you automatically delete e-newsletters doesn’t mean that your next best client won’t see yours and decide to make a call.

IPA Spotlight On … Kathy Sautters, AGN International

Kathy Sautters

Kathy Sautters

Name: Kathy Sautters

Association Name: AGN International

Title: Regional Director, North America

Accomplishments: I was fortunate to find a great amount of opportunity early in my career. As director of marketing at SS&G, my team won many awards both inside and outside the profession for creativity, growth and innovation. I worked with some of the top firms in the country as part of The Leading Edge Alliance, and contributed to one of the most progressive CPA firm cultures in the profession under the leadership of Gary Shamis. As executive director of The Advisory Board, which included Gary as well as other top consultants and thought leaders, we created and built many educational programs, including the flagship Winning Is Everything Conference. I later transitioned to a not-for-profit association environment at PrimeGlobal, where I used technology to create forums and tools for members to share information and connect with one another, and played a major role in building systems that became the backbone of the North America member service and recruitment platform.

While I have only just started with AGN, the new initiatives that we are already putting in place are very exciting. We are rebranding our organization from the inside out – not just a logo, but embracing an avant-garde perspective and creating the “next generation” of CPA firm associations. In just two and a half months, the progress we have made has been outstanding. It’s been a lot of fun!

You will be filling Rita Hood’s shoes when she retires this spring. Where do you plan to focus your attention as you work together over the next five months?

The overlap is one of the major advantages of this position. Rita has been at the helm for 16 years, and has been on the team for a total of 30, so her insight and knowledge are absolutely invaluable. But the world isn’t standing still, so during this transition we’re still working on some key priorities:

  • Moving to a virtual work environment for better service, flexibility and access. (We’re closing our brick and mortar office in the fourth quarter of this year.)
  • Growing AGN’s international programs and connecting firms across oceans and borders.
  • Broadening our reach in North America by meeting with prospects and determining potential new members.
  • Rebranding the organization for the next generation of accounting firms, which includes fostering an internationally collaborative culture, developing innovative member tools and implementing cutting-edge technology.
  • Finding new resources and concepts to improve existing member programs.

What attracted you to AGN International?AGNlogo

This is a unique opportunity to meld the strength and equity of the past with a new direction for the future. AGN’s investment in the long leadership transition demonstrates a commitment to keeping the organization strong and stable  – I’ve never seen a group so personally invested in the success and health of an association.

At the same time, with a fresh leadership team across the world, AGN is going through a major revitalization with a new brand, a new perspective on globalization and a cutting-edge approach to member service. Thanks to the foresight of the current boards and the innovative perspective of our new international CEO Malcolm Ward, plenty of creativity and opportunity is on the horizon for AGN.

You have a strong accounting marketing background. How did that work prepare you to take on the regional director role?

It is funny how you look back and everything that you’ve done seems to come together, even though you never planned it that way. Everything that I have done has been about creating an image, a personality, a feeling of community and belonging. At SS&G, it was about gaining the trust and confidence of the partner group and eventually bringing them together for a focused plan. We developed tools to help them promote both themselves as individuals and the firm as a whole. Working with association members is very similar. We support them in developing their own brands and also help them to represent AGN standards and ideals. Working inside a public accounting firm in an operational leadership capacity also taught me how things work – not just ideally, but politically, emotionally, etc. I understand how our members think, what happens internally and – most important – what they want from outside resources like an association.

At The Advisory Board I also had the incredible luck to work with some of the most innovative leaders in the profession – people who set trends and act as ambassadors to the future. While much of what I did daily revolved around marketing, programming, client service and sales, I learned so much about leading and running an accounting practice. This has been incredibly helpful in defining and predicting our members needs and areas of opportunity.

What is the role of accounting associations today in an increasingly global economy?

Over a decade ago, developing international reach become vital to the growth of mid-size and regional firms in North America. Often these global connections were gained from membership in an association, but as referrals have multiplied, it has become clear that providing a map with locations just wasn’t enough. True international associations are now working to:

  • -Develop platforms that enhance communications and understanding between multi-lingual members.]
  • Ensure quality standards and timely response in all firms across all regions.
  • Approach firm growth, operational and technical education on an international level, with frequent collaboration and interaction.
  • Provide resources not only in a broad geographic pattern, but also with deep service and sector expertise.
  • Demonstrate cultural understanding and work to eliminate organizational bias.

Everything we do as an association stems from our primary goal of making our firms stronger: to help them serve their clients better, to operate more efficiently and to be more competitive.

What’s the biggest challenge AGN member firms are facing, and how are they working together to address it?

Recruiting, developing and retaining quality talent is the No. 1 priority. However, there is strength in numbers, and collectively our membership has created a package to enhance their local compensation packages and internal offerings.

Statistically, education and development opportunities are more important than financial compensation to younger generations. AGN offers five levels of highly customized audit and tax training in a small, closed peer group. This starts as early as their first day, and helps develop networking skills and bonds with other AGN colleagues. Plus, while many smaller firms struggle to offer candidates the international intrigue of the Big 4, AGN’s Staff Exchange Program allows members to travel and work in other parts of the world, fulfilling their desire to learn about other cultures.

As these staff members grow, they can also develop leadership skills both formally and informally through AGN. Our Partner Development Academy goes far beyond other programs, with multiple levels of engagement and education on a national level for the emerging leader through the managing partner. Additionally, members can sharpen both technical and leadership skills by actively participating in or leading AGN’s national or international sharegroups and committees.

Finally, firms need a strong recruiting process and plan. Our Human Resources Sharegroup is a key component to benchmarking, idea sharing and generally ensuring that a member is competitive in the marketplace. Professionals openly share information to help them win candidates and develop strong firm cultures.

Any long-term plans or goals for AGN that you’d like to share?

Your question is perfectly timed! We actually just returned from our first international retreat for all staff members outside London. It was an incredible week of collaboration, but the most valuable outcome was the focus on creating the next generation of AGN.

Major components include:

  • Anticipating what our firms need and creating it to help them thrive not just next year, but in the next 10 years.
  • Celebrating the unique, individual persona of each firm and helping them to develop and promote their own brands.
  • Thinking differently, and acting unexpectedly. We are developing diagnostics that will provide immediate practice management guidance and using technology to deliver valuable member tools globally.
  • Ensuring quality among our members worldwide, and implementing standards to measure and quantify the results.
  • Finding more forward-thinking, progressive firms to build our reach and our growing list of social communities.

Final thoughts?

This is an incredible period of change and consolidation for not only firms, but for their associations as well. More organizations like ours are joining together in unique and different ways. We’ve recently seen association mergers (and separations) and there will undoubtedly be more to come. With this shifting landscape, I’ll admit that it is an uneasy time to be taking on a leadership role. However, AGN is quietly confident of its ground. Our strategy is to maintain a constant, unrelenting focus on increasing the value that we provide to our members around the world, and with the diagnostics, tools and strategies that we are introducing I am confident not only that we’ll succeed, but thrive.

IPA Spotlight On … Heidi LaMarca, Windham Brannon

Heidi LaMarca

Heidi LaMarca

Name: Heidi LaMarca

Firm: Windham Brannon

Title: Managing Partner

Accomplishments:

  • Being elected MP at Windham Brannon of Atlanta (FY14 net revenue of $21.3 million), one of the leading tax, audit and advisory firms.
  • Being a member of the Executive Committee of the AICPA Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center.
  • Chairing the AICPA Employee Benefit Plan Conference.

Just after you were elected MP of Windham Brannon in October, your firm announced record revenue growth in two key practice areas: restaurant and franchise, and strategic growth advisory services, which launched in 2014. What’s driving growth in these areas?

While we continue to see a trend of growth firmwide, these two segments in particular have evolved over the last year.

Our restaurant and franchise segment saw phenomenal growth at the end of our fiscal year last year, which can be attributed to increasing our client base with national restaurant concepts, as well as offering expanded services, including virtual accounting.

Strategic Growth Advisory Services is fairly new to our firm, but since its addition in late 2014, growth and client acquisition has accelerated exponentially. It’s an area that’s unique in the accounting industry and offers businesses at the crossroads of large business decisions – such as mergers and acquisitions, international expansion and explosive growth – the strategic insights and counsel needed to maneuver quickly and efficiently during critical time periods.

Previously, you serWB Logoved as the firm’s audit practice leader for the firm’s employee benefit plan services. Where do you foresee growth occurring in that particular segment?

The Department of Labor (DOL) Audit Quality Study released last year showed CPA firms that conduct fewer than 100 plan audits annually have a high deficiency rate. There has also been a significant effort by the DOL to educate plan sponsors about their fiduciary duty to hire service providers that specialize in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  I expect to see the ERISA segment growing as firms get out of the business and plan sponsors look for specialists.

How is Windham Brannon guiding the next generation of accountants?

We place great value in fostering, educating and training our employees so that they can grow and we can promote from within. And, we have a high retention rate to reflect just this.

Every employee at the firm has his or her own personal Windham Brannon coach to help in developing their individualized career path. In addition, we offer an internship program for graduates and current students. Each intern is paired up with an orientation partner to guide them through their first few months at the firm.

We also offer paid continuing professional education and training for our teams at all levels, tuition reimbursement for approved graduate level courses, paid participation in the Becker Review program and reimbursement for CPA exams after they pass.

Finally, the firm supports various scholarships through the Windham Brannon Foundation and the Georgia Society of CPAs.

What’s the biggest challenge women in the profession face, and how did you overcome those challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is balancing the required workload in public accounting “busy season” with home life and raising a family.  I have been with Windham Brannon for 21 years, and the firm is very flexible on how and where employees work. If a woman needs to take time off for family reasons, we find a way to make whatever alternative schedule works for the firm and for her. I took three months off for the birth of each of my children.  I make a point to be home for dinner every night.  If I have more work to do, I get to it after putting the kids down to bed.

Any long-term plans or goals for the firm that you’d like to share?

Certainly, our biggest goal is to grow our practice areas and services to better serve and meet our clients’ expanding needs.

Know someone else who’d make a good spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

IPA Spotlight On … Kim Fantaci, CPA Firm Management Association

Name: Kim Fantaci

Association Name: CPA Firm Management Association

Title: President

Association Accomplishments:

  • Transitioning to a firm membership base with more than 1,100 individuals strategically involved in the day-to-day operations and management of CPA firms in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Partnering with the AICPA’s PCPS to provide firms throughout the U.S. and Canada with additional resources and collaboration opportunities.
  • Providing educational opportunities and best practices for firms to share and utilize.
  • Connecting those involved in CPA firm management.

CPAFMA_Name_Pantone_HorThe Association for Accounting Administration (AAA) has changed its name to the CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA). How does the new name better reflect what your members do?

The new name allows us to better reflect the work our members do and will do. There are many involved with the successful management of an accounting firm with the firm manager at the core. Our members are responsible for the day-to-day operations of accounting firms, not just the administrative tasks as was often interpreted with the name of our association.  The new name allows us to become even more inclusive for everyone managing the firm.

Can you talk about the scope of what your members do? How does it exceed the original vision of the association founders over 30 years ago?

Our members are responsible for firm management, whether it’s financial, human capital, strategic initiatives, marketing, learning, administrative, technology or operational. CPAFMA members are thought leaders. The Association’s core mission has not changed, although the profession is continually changing. CPAFMA is a strategic enabler of relationships and provider of valuable connections, resources and education to support holistic CPA firm management in the areas of strategy/partner issues, human resources, technology, finance, marketing and business development, in-firm communications, client service and operations and facilities. We are there to lead our members through constant change. The CPA Firm Management Association, its leaders and members are committed to expertise and learning, professionalism and lasting relationships and collaboration.

What is the role of CPAFMA today in an increasingly global economy?

Firms, regardless of size, need to be aware of the changes and growth of the global economy from a management, technical and client-focus perspective. The Association needs to provide information, best practices, data and benchmarking to our members to build an awareness of the increasingly global economy and what this means to their success. Our firm manager members can then lead their firms to be strategic players in the profession. By developing alliances with key organizations, we are able to develop and share content and resources.

What’s the biggest challenge CPAFMA member firms are facing, and how are they working together to address it?

Staying ahead of change to realize growth through successful initiatives. Accounting firm management is absolutely at the core of our new identity. It’s the foundation of the profession and the basis of our organization. We recognize the scope of our members’ roles within their firms and its impact is so much broader than what our founding fathers imagined for the association. By remaining committed to providing our members with the services and benefits expected, we will work with each member to customize their experience.

Any long-term plans or goals for CPAFMA that you’d like to share?

We would like to develop educational programs to contribute to the success of every segment of firm management and include those at the firm committed to the success. The distribution method of education and sharing is something we are working to improve, as we’d like a limitless reach.

Final thoughts?

CPAFMA is a recognized leader in CPA firm practice management delivering valuable education and collaboration opportunities to those interested in elevating their practice and strategically growing their firms. By providing our members with expert thinking, support, education, inspiration and advocacy, we will provide the leadership to take firms to the next level, regardless of size or structure.

IPA Spotlight On … Tamera Loerzel, ConvergenceCoaching

TJL-Black-Arms-Crossed-2015v3Name: Tamera Loerzel

Title: Partner

Firm: ConvergenceCoaching

Accomplishments:

  • Frequent facilitator, speaker, writer, teacher and coach on the topics of employee engagement, sales and marketing, leadership and succession planning.
  • Founding member of The CPA Consultants’ Alliance and past president.
  • Senior manager of BDO’s Minneapolis consulting group who implemented middle market financial software service methodology and customer relationship management software. Also directed the national sales and marketing efforts of the package solutions group at BDO.
  • National sales manager for State of the Art Inc., now known as Sage Software Inc.

ConvergenceCoaching is known for its work on “generational competence” and working “anytime, anywhere.” Why is it important for CPA firms to better understand these issues?

Our mission is to help leaders within the public accounting profession to achieve success. Part of the challenge firms are grappling with today is how to transition firms from one generation of leaders to a new generation while considering the different work styles, mindsets and values that these generations have.

Baby Boomers value face time, and Millennials and even Gen-Xers value flexibility and control of their schedule, including when and where and how they get their work done. For Gen-Xers and Millennials it’s more about results than it is about time and place.

To retain and engage future leaders, current firm leaders need to make adaptations that support future leaders’ values and the way they want to work, while meeting firm requirements at the same time. It’s completely possible.

Millennials want to make a difference with their clients, too, and yet that’s what we withhold from the younger people. We all actually really want similar things, so we work with firms on bridging that gap. We do that through individual coaching, and through strategic planning, leadership development and succession planning with partners to create a common vison and enable communication to close generational gaps that exist within firms.

logoCan you provide an example of how one of your accounting firm clients solved a complex problem in an innovative way with limited resources?

Anytime, anywhere work can be a complex problem, but one firm worked out a virtual work structure for a half-time audit manager whose spouse took a position as a missionary in El Salvador. The firm was worried about the clients, and the clients were given the option of keeping their manager or switching to a new one. The clients said they didn’t want their manager to change, so the firm put communications structures in place so she could continue to manage clients. The combination of technology – Zoom/Skype/GoToMeeting, cloud-based applications, iPads and cell phones – and being completely transparent with clients and team members made it work. I think that story is fascinating.

What’s the best thing you ever did to improve your leadership skills?

Developing my leadership skills is an ongoing process. The best thing I’ve done is to acknowledge I haven’t arrived. I participated in a leadership program about 10 years ago and it was a great kick-starter for me. It involved workshops and coaching and learning what it’s going to take to elevate my confidence being with all kinds of people and personalities.

At ConvergenceCoaching, we do a SWOT analysis on ourselves as leaders every year. I solicit input from my team members on that, and then I try to work on at least one weakness. I’m working on trusting my gut. My personality style is I want data and evidence before making a change (as do many of my CPA clients!), but I tend not to back up and listen to what my gut is telling me first. When I do so, I usually find it is right.

What would you like INSIDE Public Accounting blog readers to know about you?

I think this is a great time to be in public accounting. I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with firm leaders and see the transformations in them personally and in their firms. I’m deeply passionate about people being the best that they can be and accomplishing and fulfilling their dreams. It’s what gives me juice. I have one of the most rewarding careers because of that.

People should also know that flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean part time. People think I travel so much, but that allows me to have the kind of lifestyle I have. I can go be with clients, make a huge difference and then go be with my son’s third grade class. Because of technology – we’ve been on the cloud since we started our company over 15 years ago – I can do what I do and make the difference I make and have a life that just looks different, and I think that’s awesome. Now firms are starting to embrace that flexibility – and opportunity – too.

Final thoughts?

I am thankful for a fabulous team and great clients!

Know anyone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.