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 Vendor Spotlight On … Chandra Bhansali, AccountantsWorld

Name: Chandra Bhansali
Company: AccountantsWorld
Title: Co-founder (with wife Sharada) and CEO

Accomplishments:

Chandra Bhansali

Chandra Bhansali

  • Introduced the first Windows-based based professional tax system in the 1990s.
  • Created the first payroll processing solution exclusively for accountants.
  • Used cloud technology to create Accounting Power for firms to offer client accounting services, countering the impact of do-it-yourself accounting systems on accounting practices.
  • Named one of the “100 Most influential People in Accounting” by Accounting Today for over 10 years.

You’ve been “in the cloud” for much longer than most and seem to have a knack for identifying emerging technologies. Can you offer any practical advice on how accounting firms can be more ‘future-ready’?

I’d tell them, “You are your clients’ most trusted advisor. What makes you their most trusted advisor? Your ability to analyze all the facts and help your clients make informed decisions based on those facts. To be future-ready, you need to use this important trait. It’s a fact that migration to the cloud is inevitable. Given that fact, when will you benefit the most from the migration? Should you wait until you are pushed to the wall, or move to the cloud sooner, in a more strategic way, to make the most of the migration?” It’s ironic that many of the same accountants who are their clients’ best advisors falter when making some of the most important decisions about their own practices.

Client accounting services seems to be a growing niche. Are accountants taking better advantage of the power of technology to help their clients?

Very few accountants are taking full advantage of technology to help their clients. Part of the problem is that most accountants don’t realize the capabilities of professional cloud solutions like Accounting Power. Given the choice, a large percentage of small businesses would not want to do their accounting in-house. They consider accounting to be a hassle and would love to offload it to their accountants, but most accountants don’t offer client accounting services (CAS), because functions like bill payment have traditionally been low-margin services. But with programs like Accounting Power, an accountant’s staff can now do everything their client’s staff did, only much faster and more accurately – all without leaving the office. Because of advances like this, many accountants are currently offering highly profitable CAS, which will ultimately become a major growth area.

What’s the biggest mistake firms typically make when making the move to the cloud?

The biggest mistake firms typically make when migrating to the cloud is to make a lateral move in which they move from desktop to cloud, yet their practices realize only marginal gains. That happens primarily for two reasons. First, these accountants don’t do their homework and learn about all the available solutions. Second, they are stuck in their current processes. To take full advantage of the cloud, you need to change your processes. If you keep an open mind and align your processes for optimal performance, then you will be able to take your practice to new heights that were never before possible.

There’s been lots of talk about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on the accounting profession. What’s your view?

My view about Artificial Intelligence is very simple – accountants with “Predictive Intelligence” will actually benefit a lot from AI. I’ll give you a simple example. AI will certainly minimize mundane tasks like data entry. If you let your clients offload their accounting work to you today, your fees will be based on what they currently spend on their bookkeeper or in-house accountant. When some of the capabilities of AI kick in to virtually eliminate data entry, that will greatly reduce your staff’s work and you will reap the benefits of that productivity gain. That’s “Predictive Intelligence.”

Final thoughts?

You know you have tremendous influence with your clients. Until now, accounting software vendors and payroll service providers have used your client relationships to make themselves billions of dollars. Would you like to continue doing that, or would you rather use your client relationships do what is in your, and your clients’, best interest? If you prefer the latter option, then download and read my whitepaper, “Forget Value Billing. Think Value Building.”  It will show you how you can use the cloud to greatly raise your bottom line, better serve your clients and feel the pride of being an accountant. Please visit www.AccountantsWorld.com/value to download the whitepaper.

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

IPA Vendor Spotlight On … Allan Fisher, Premier Financial Search

Name: Allan Fisher

Allan Fisher

Allan Fisher

Company: Premier Financial Search

Title: President and Founder

Accomplishments:

  • 20 years of recruiting specifically for public accounting firms
  • Works with 25 of the IPA 100 firms, 42 of the IPA 200 firms and 64 of the IPA 300 firms.
  • Placed 1200+ candidates within CPA firms
  • Actively involved in CPAFMA
  • Acted as ‘matchmaker’ on multiple firm mergers

Many accounting firms have their own recruiters on staff, but what extra value can an outside recruiting service bring to the table?

Internal firm recruiters are a key part of the HR and talent acquisition process, and that is why we partner with them to fill their staffing needs. They do an outstanding job of promoting the benefits of their firm, and we do an outstanding job of identifying candidates they might not reach. Our team has created a strong national network. This enables us to target specific candidates by job, geography and industry specialization. We have built our success on relationships, and see this again and again in referrals. We see the big picture, and come at recruiting from a different vantage point. When combined with what CPA firms have in place for staffing, the value we add is tremendous.

What’s the biggest opportunity for CPA firms that Premier Financial Search can help them with?

Two of the biggest challenges facing CPA firms are staffing and succession planning. These are two of our largest areas of focus. As we work solely with public accounting firms, our entire inventory consists of candidates coming from local, regional and national firms. Our candidate interview process is in-depth and allows us to determine a candidate’s ultimate career goal. We can then make ideal matches based on the needs of the hiring firms.

How has the staffing industry changed with the rise of social media, specifically LinkedIn, in your years as an executive recruiter?

Much has changed in the industry since I started recruiting in 1998. LinkedIn has leveled the playing field when it comes to identifying talent. Recruiters and HR professionals alike can easily determine a talent pool at a particular level within a geographic area. Candidates tell me that they receive five to 10 emails via LinkedIn from recruiters and firms per week. This has created a Tinder-like atmosphere in which candidates feel they can be selective, swiping past opportunities until they find their perfect match. Recruiting is, and has always been, about relationships. For us, Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn open the doors to relationships. A positive for us is that LinkedIn allows us to reach more candidates on a national level. Interestingly, 30% of the candidates we place are relocating from one geographic area to another.

What makes Premier Financial Search different than other staffing companies?

We recruit and place nationally. We have placed candidates from almost every state into Top 100, 200 and 300 firms. We know what differentiates one firm from another. When a candidate considers making a move, their knowledge of firms is often focused on the very recognizable national firms. We assist by educating candidates on many things: the differences among national, regional and local firms; which firms offer industry specialty services; how one firm’s succession plan may be vastly different than another’s; how one firm’s culture compares to others. We know the market. With 20 years of expertise focused on one area, we know the trends, firms to watch, M&A rumors and important details not included on firm websites.

Final thoughts?

Our passion is placement within public accounting. In an overheated market for talent, we provide top candidates, allowing our clients to grow and properly plan for partner succession.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Dan Schroeder, Aprio

Name: Dan Schroeder

Dan Schroeder

Dan Schroeder

Firm: Atlanta-based Aprio, formerly known as Habif Arogeti & Wynne (FY15 net revenue of $73.5 million)

Title: PIC, Information Assurance Services

Accomplishments:

  • Served as chairperson of the AICPA’s Information Management and Technology Assurance (IMTA) committee, and helped lead the rollout of Service Organization Control (SOC) reporting to the profession.
  • Founder of Aprio’s Information Assurance Services practice, which serves leading national and international tech-based businesses.
  • Leads cybersecurity and privacy risk assessments, SOC reporting, ISO 27001 (an internationally recognized information security standard) assessments and certification reporting, and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Reports on Compliance (ROC) assessments and certification.
  • Frequent speaker and author on IT risk management subjects, including cybersecurity, audit and compliance reporting, privacy and cloud computing.

As the “Internet of Things” evolves, will the nature of risk increase?

Absolutely. In some settings, IoT can represent an order of magnitude increase in the number of endpoints that can be exploited where exploitation could represent some compromise of the function being performed. In a recent case, a large number of consumer-deployed IoT devices were compromised and employed en masse to conduct a denial of service attack against an Internet service provider.

What does it mean when businesses are advised to become “cyber resilient”?

Generally speaking, resilience is the ability to adapt and function effectively in the face of adverse events. With respect to cyber, this means deploying not just effective approaches to reduce the potential for cyber events, but also measures and capabilities to respond and recover if a cyber event does occur. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cyber Security Framework (CSF) is an example of a robust framework for the entire spectrum of cyber risk management. The CERT Resilience Management Model (RMM) is a very detailed, if not comprehensive, framework for building resilience and can serve to supplement cyber frameworks such as NIST CSF.

Is this a growing service line for the profession? If yes, what other roles / services will come out of this demand?

Yes, undoubtedly. There are a range of services across both advisory and assurance. Businesses will continue to need assurance reporting such as SOC to gain comfort with their trading partners. A few firms like ours focus on assurance reporting, and have extended their capabilities to include PCI DSS Compliance and ISO 27001 certification. Advisory service opportunities are also very significant – these include consulting related to cyber risk program definition, deployment and oversight.How can accounting firms best assess the cyber security risks they face?

Just like any other business it has to start with a proper risk assessment (e.g., ISO 27005, NIST 800-30). This includes understanding the flow of any potentially sensitive data, assets that enable the data flow, vulnerabilities inherent in the data flow, threats to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of that data, and the resultant business risks. When done properly, this will provide the firm with a clear rationale for their cyber risk management objectives and associated risk management activities.

How do traditional IT security approaches fall short?

Traditional IT security approaches focus on technology and not the business, address only part of the problem, and do not elicit the involvement and support of management needed to make risk management effective and sustainable. Cyber is a business risk and can only be effectively managed with clear support from senior management for policies, procedures and investment deemed necessary to fulfill the company cyber risk management objectives.

What is the next big thing in this area?

We expect that IoT-leveraged attacks will become more common (such as when IoT was recently leveraged to disrupt a significant ISP). Historically, cyber-attacks have been about data loss. Increasingly, because of IoT, they will become about loss of data integrity and availability. It is possible that IoT attacks will be used to compromise critical infrastructure, manufacturing operations, health care delivery, etc., or at least monetize the ability for such disruption through ransomware. This, in turn, will lead to marked increase in compliance requirements, likely from industry groups and potentially from the federal government.

Final thoughts?

It sounds trite, but this is an exciting and rewarding time to be providing information assurance services. When done properly, what we do helps our clients manage critical dimensions of risk and strengthen their business relationships, and they in turn consider us to be trusted business partners.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Jodi Ann Ray, Texas Society of CPAs

Name: Jodi Ann Ray

Jodi Ann Ray

Jodi Ann Ray

Association: Texas Society of CPAs (TSCPA)

Title: Executive Director/CEO

Accomplishments:

  • Took over the top job Jan. 1 from John Sharbaugh, who ended a 17-year run as CEO and now serves as managing director of governmental affairs.
  • Leads one of the nation’s largest state accounting organizations, representing 28,000 CPAs in 20 chapters across the state.
  • Previously served as vice president of membership and volunteer experience with Meeting Professionals International, where she was the responsible for governance and community development, which encompassed membership and more than 90 chapters and clubs in 24 countries.
  • She also served as the CEO for chambers of commerce in Connecticut, North Carolina and Texas, where she oversaw all operations including membership, government affairs, economic development and finance.

Progressive firm leaders are focused on re-imagining their future to ensure they remain relevant to their clients. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your strategic planning, and what are some examples from the past 12 months of new services/programs/approaches that you have instituted that addresses how the State Society will remain relevant to its members?

The Society is taking a hard look at its strategic plan now, with plans to launch an updated plan to the membership in the fall. We’re looking at our vision for the organization, how it should look five to 10 years from now, and how to inspire our members and future CPAs about the organization and their practice in the field. We’re asking members what keeps them up at night, and which areas the organization should focus on. We’re upgrading our website to help members cut through the clutter to get accurate, timely and relevant information. The society is also very active in advocacy at the federal and state level.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the profession?

We are in such a period of change, not simply in our profession but in all industries, and I think the transformation affecting so many companies will impact the role of CPAs. What we consider the core services of CPAs is going to expand and evolve. For example, for some of the larger firms we’ve seen a very clear trend toward more advisory services.How do you see the role of the accountant changing over the next few years?

CPAs will become more of a strategic business advisor in addition to reporting financial performance. In the association world where I come from, the business decision-making models have changed and companies are relying on better, faster data and that’s changing the emphasis on what’s being produced. CPAs will be producing trend information, dashboards and projections to provide information that can be used in new and valuable ways.

Which aspect of technology should firms be paying closer attention to?

We’ve added new programs into our spring lineup of CPE offerings on risk management and cybersecurity. Firms are concerned about ensuring that the transfer of client data is secure and that their liability is adequately addressed.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are big topics in the profession. Can you give me some examples of member firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

Firms are reinventing themselves and doing it quickly to help their clients think ahead and adapt to coming changes. While the core services won’t go away, they may be delivered differently. The same is true for the Texas Society of CPAs – the services we provide to support our members will evolve and adapt.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Loretta Doon, California Society of CPAs

Name: Loretta Doon

Loretta Doon

Loretta Doon

Association: California Society of CPAs (CalCPA)

Title: CEO of CalCPA and California CPA Education Foundation

Accomplishments:

  • Leads the nation’s largest state accounting organization, representing 40,000 CPAs in 14 chapters across the state. Immediately prior to becoming CEO in 2006, she was the COO for both organizations.
  • Served for 25 years as associate executive director for the California Teachers Association, one of the most well-known and influential unions in the country with a budget of $130 million. Doon is a former teacher.
  • Named one of Accounting Today’s 2016 Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, and has been named by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the most influential women in business.
  • Served as the AICPA’s CPA State Executives Association chair 2014-2015.

Progressive firm leaders are focused on re-imagining their future to ensure they remain relevant to their clients. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your strategic planning, and what are some examples from the past 12 months of new services / programs / approaches that you have instituted that addresses how the State Society will remain relevant to its members?

Remaining relevant means providing services to members that help them advance their careers, improve their skill sets and find new markets for their services. It is essential to help accounting students learn about various career paths, and help them improve their chances of landing good jobs when they graduate. Our Campus Ambassador Program is active in more than 30 California universities and colleges, and we are starting a pilot program in high schools. For members, we are undertaking a communities initiative pilot program to provide resources, including white papers and information banks, to help them improve client services. We also have instituted a managing partner forum to share best practices. Our Education Foundation is exploring new ways to deliver content and become more mobile friendly, including nano courses and developing event apps for conferences. You’ll also find that we are increasingly incorporating social media into our programs and events.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the profession?

Increasingly, firms – even small ones – need to simultaneously generalize and specialize, including in such niche areas as valuation, wealth management and financial planning. Software and artificial intelligence are entering many accounting and auditing tasks. Most CPAs in the future will focus on consulting and advising rather than processing numbers. I believe that at some point in the future, the attest function will be broadened to include sustainability factors, including ethics, environmental conscientiousness and community contributions.

How do you see the role of the accountant changing over the next few years?

CPAs and firms will become more specialized, while at the same time expand their services and presence. They will focus more on particular kinds of services. As society becomes more complicated, accountants are going to have to focus on a particular segment, while being an overall business adviser, to be successful. Sounds like a dichotomy and it is. The professional needs to meet the needs of clients and the public –and these needs are not always one-dimensional.

Which aspect of technology should firms be paying closer attention to?

Mobile devices to capture and transmit information. Everything a firm does should be available on an app or two that clients can access on their phones. If a client has a question or needs some service immediately, the firm that can provide that service over a mobile phone within seconds. That added value will keep that client as a customer. If a firm can’t do that, then it likely won’t be around for long. Convenience and immediacy will be keys to success.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are big topics in the profession. Can you give me some examples of member firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

CalCPA represents many firms throughout California. An observation that I have is that major firms are creating community beyond their client base. These firms are using technology, as well as in-person events, to create community and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and information to include more than just their clients. CalCPA, through its Education Foundation, provides its members and member firms with information and tools to also assist with improving business skills. The idea is to innovate and grow business by addressing and helping a broader community.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Jim Proppe, Plante Moran

Name: Jim Proppe
Firm: Southfield, Mich.-based Plante Moran (FY16 net revenue of $480.7 million)
Title: Managing Partner-elect
Accomplishments:

  • Beginning July 1, will serve as the seventh MP in the firm’s 93-year history.
  • Served 13 years as Plante Moran Group MP, coordinating client service, growth, people development and risk management.
  • Assisted with the development and launch of several firm services, including Plante Moran Group Benefit Advisors, Enterprise Risk Management, Tax Solutions Group and ERP implementation services.
  • Helped launch firm offices in Shanghai, China, Monterrey, Mexico, and Mumbai, India.
  • Led the design of Plante Moran’s partner performance management process.

Your term starts July 1 – what work are you doing now to transition into the role?

Jim Proppe

Jim Proppe

After being elected as managing partner, my focus was on selecting our next management team. I wanted to surround myself with people who have a skill set that is complementary to mine and will bring strong diversity of thought. The six partners selected will begin their appointments July 1 when my term begins. A big part of preparing for my role is to help the new management team transition into theirs: preparing them to take on new responsibilities and transitioning their previous roles to their successors. This transition has created a lot of great opportunities for people across the firm – it’s a really exciting time.

You’ve said that you plan to place a strong focus on anticipating client needs – how can Plante Moran solve clients’ problems before they even know they have them?

We have deep knowledge in a variety of industries and services. Our staff can leverage that knowledge by collaborating and identifying disruptors in one industry that will eventually impact others. For example, the driverless car will impact more than the automotive industry. It will also impact retail auto dealers (what is the impact on vehicle sales?), design and construction of real estate (how much parking will you need?), insurance companies (will they have fewer claims?), local government (what changes in infrastructure will be required?) and the list goes on. Many times business owners aren’t aware of disruptors in other industries that could significantly impact their business. We help our clients stay in front of these issues.

What kinds of opportunities are available to the firm through technology?

Advancement in technology –  things like machine learning and data analytics – will significantly change our profession and create new opportunities to serve clients. We’re already working with clients to find better ways to analyze and use their data to develop strategies around creating new products, services and/or business models. Plante Moran is built for change, and we feel we’re well positioned to lead in this area.

Which practice areas at Plante Moran are ripe for growth?

While I think the changing economy creates opportunities for growth in all the industries we serve, as the world becomes more technology-dependent, we’re seeing a lot of growth in our technology consulting practice, particularly in cybersecurity. Plante Moran Wealth Management also continues to experience significant growth as we have uniquely integrated investment advisory, trust, life insurance, estate planning, tax and family office services. Also, with a new administration, there could be significant changes in tax reform, regulations and how organizations do business internationally. We’re prepared to help clients navigate those changes and adjust their business strategies accordingly.

Gordon Krater called you a “natural leader,” do you agree? Which aspects of leadership don’t come so naturally to you?

I’ve had the good fortune to spend my entire career at Plante Moran. From training opportunities to formal mentoring initiatives to a robust career development program, the firm’s first priority has always been developing staff to become incredible client servers – and it’s hard not to develop some pretty strong leadership skills along the way. For me, I am a compulsive helper and one of the most challenging parts of leadership is realizing you can’t do it all by yourself – especially at a firm with the breadth and depth of Plante Moran. Fortunately, there’s always a pool of qualified partners and staff ready to lead.

Final thoughts?

As Plante Moran’s seventh managing partner, I look forward to guiding the firm’s client service, growth, people development, risk management and strategic direction – all with the goal of being a good steward and working to leave the firm better than I found it, just as Gordon did.

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

IPA Spotlight On … James Hickey, Alliott Group

Name: James Hickey
Association: Alliott Group
Title: Chief Executive Officer

Accomplishments:

James Hickey

James Hickey

  • CEO of Alliott Group since 2010 (joined Alliott Group 2008)
  • 20 years’ experience in the management of international associations/alliances of independent, owner-managed professional firms
  • Specialist in advising owner-managed accounting and law firms on how to grow their client business organically into new markets through developing reputation and visibility
  • Recruited 100+ professional services firms into two leading international associations over the last two decades

Alliott Group is an international association of law and accounting firms. What are some commonalities among member firms, even though they do different things?

Member firms share similar goals and challenges. As independent, mid-market firms, they are focused on growth and reaching their next level – this requires the knowledge to effectively develop and retain their business. Another common denominator is culture, specifically the emphasis on high levels of service, flexible, tailored solutions and entrepreneurial creativity. It is incredible to see how many partners within our member firms have big firm training and backgrounds. They exited those environments to set up or work at mid-market firms where they can be more involved in and accountable for their clients’ business success – they are all genuine “business owners” not “branch managers,” who are unable to have any real influence on their business.

Alliott Group was one of the first international groups to adopt an interdisciplinary approach – what advantages does that scope provide?

Having both sets of professionals available in key commercial hubs around the world is viewed as strategically important because tax, accountancy and legal services are the key services needed by organizations (or high-net-worth individuals) entering or operating in locations where the rules and requirements are different.  Although independent, Alliott Group members work together to provide an integrated service approach for the client. A multidisciplinary offering also makes our ‘product’ attractive to any firm considering membership. Firms are restricted to providing either legal or accountancy-related services in the majority of counties, so there is a need to refer work to a professional with a complementary skillset. Members of one profession also benefit from exchanging information and perspectives with the other – tax is one big area where the professions intersect, as are challenges inherent in firm management, staffing and marketing.   What are some of the most pressing needs of Alliott Group member firms?

Probably the biggest need of Alliott Group member firms is differentiation – it is often difficult to tell one mid-market firm from another as it is a hugely competitive market and firms often lack the “(wo)men, money and minutes” that are available to the larger firms to build brand awareness and communicate their competitive advantage to clients and professional talent. On reaching a certain stage in their development, mid-market firms can hit a wall – they need a greater depth of resources to reach their next level – that’s where we can help.

One of Alliott Group’s goals is to cultivate greater creativity and innovation among member firms. How does Alliott Group assist in that effort?

A combination of technology and personal meeting opportunities give our members a high degree of access to each other. The association includes a large number of inspiring leaders, including some who are firm founders. We facilitate the discussions that result in ideas being shared, problems being solved and creativity and innovation being sparked. We also have a growing ecosystem of strategic partners that includes consulting businesses, technology companies, publishers and niche service providers who all contribute insights that will help a firm to think and act differently and to be mindful of trends that are impacting the macro environment and in some cases disrupting the way business is done.

Any long-term growth goals for the association that you can share?

  • To ensure Alliott Group is among the ‘evoked set’ for mid-market professional services firms looking to remain independent but develop the enhanced reputation and visibility that will enable them retain, win and service clients in different geographic markets
  • To ensure Alliott Group’s membership is a viable, alternative option to Big 4 / Magic Circle type firms for companies and high net worth individuals involved in multi-market business
  • To increase the credibility of the worldwide alliance and the scope of member to member referral opportunities by closing all major geographic gaps by 2025

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

IPA Spotlight On … Bruce Zicari

Name: Bruce Zicari

Firm: The Bonadio Group

Title: OMP, Rochester, N.Y., Small Business Advisory Practice Leader, Management Committee Member, Board of Directors Member, CEO-Elect

Accomplishments:

Bruce Zicari

Bruce Zicari

  • Specialist in special project consulting, strategic planning, financing, mergers and acquisitions, and business valuations
  • Past Chair, Wilmot Cancer Institute; Past President, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council; President, Nancy & Friends Fighting Cancer Inc.; Board Member, Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
  • Rochester Business Journal Forty Under 40 Honoree
  • Bachelor of Science in accounting, Syracuse University
  • Harvard University Executive Education Program—Leading Professional Service Firms

You’ve been elected to serve as CEO, but not until 2019. Why was the leadership transition announced so far in advance, and what role will you be playing over the next few years?

Advance planning is one of the hallmarks of our firm. Preparation is critical in a transition such as this one – especially when we’re talking about replacing a founding partner of 40 years. We know that people inside and outside the firm take comfort in knowing that we have a well thought-out plan. My role until May 2019 will be to maintain my leadership roles in the firm while Tom continues to transition more of his responsibilities to me.

What goals have you set for yourself during the transition, and what is the biggest challenge you think you might face during this period?

It’s a balancing act of three challenges. While I will continue to maintain several key client relationships, I need to continue to move the majority of my client relationships to others in the firm, and that’s difficult at times because some clients I’ve had my whole career, and they’ve become close friends. I need to spend time with my partners across the firm to understand their goals, challenges and opportunities, while our CEO Tom Bonadio and I work together with our management committee to run the firm and ease the transition along. It’s also important that I put in some time to think strategically about the three- to five-year horizon for our firm and the profession.

Taking over for a founding partner is no easy task, especially since Tom Bonadio will not be retiring. How do your leadership styles differ?

Tom has done a masterful job building this firm, and he is extremely well respected here and throughout the profession. He is very outgoing and gregarious, and I’m a bit more reserved, but even though our personalities may differ, our leadership styles and views of the future are similar. We both believe that we must continue to grow, innovate and provide opportunities for the many great people that make up the Bonadio team.

Tom Bonadio has already said he envisions you remaining as CEO for 15 or 20 years. Can you make any predictions on what the accounting profession will look like at that time?

The accounting profession will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the past 30. It’s all about how technology will be applied to what we do – from tax and audit to consulting. How we and our clients use big data will change our capabilities, and a wide range of technology advancements will alter how we deliver services to clients. It’s definitely an exciting time to be in this business, no matter where you are in your career.

Final thoughts?

I look at the situation that I’m inheriting over the next couple of years, and I realize that I need to work hard every day to earn the trust of our partners, employees and clients. There is constant change and innovation that is required in our business, which makes things very challenging and exciting. I love this business and our firm and wouldn’t have it any other way. I suppose for a while I will be the new CEO, but I want to quickly get to be the leader who productively builds on the great firm and foundation that Tom Bonadio started, and along with so many people, worked so hard to build.

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

Spotlight On … Mark Duren

Name: Mark Duren
Firm Name: Lutz
Title: Managing Shareholder
Accomplishments: 

Mark Duren

Mark Duren

  • Elected in 2015 as managing shareholder of Lutz of Omaha, Neb., (FY16 net revenue of $32.6 million).
  • Served as department head for audit and tax departments over the course of 25 years with the firm.
  • Active in faith-based organizations in a variety of capacities.

As an IPA 2016 Best of the Best firm, Lutz has demonstrated exemplary financial and operational success. What’s the most important differentiator that ensures success for the firm?

We have been able to assemble an outstanding ownership group that continually strives for improvement. At Lutz our professionals demonstrate “Mind What Matters” through expert accounting and business solutions offered to our clients. We manage to everyone’s strengths to allow us to serve our clients and provide opportunities for personal growth and in turn a rewarding career. Lutz relies on our leadership team as they set the tone for the rest of the firm. Management’s attention to detail and desire for unique and efficient service offerings as well as process improvements has resulted in a competitive advantage for Lutz. We continue to hold weekly meetings with the partner, director and manager group to discuss firm matters as well as business development. Our size has made this challenging, but worth the effort.

Your firm recently expanded to Lincoln. What potential do you see in that marketplace for clients and staff?

Although Lincoln is relatively close to Omaha, the culture and business environment is significantly different. To be successful we believe the firm must invest in Lincoln with Lutz members residing there and giving back to the Lincoln community. The business community, city of Lincoln and the University of Nebraska continue to invest in infrastructure to attract and retain entrepreneurs and professionals. We felt Lutz needed to be part of the investment to assist in Lincoln’s future growth. In addition, we consider Lincoln as a gateway to central Nebraska, which gives us the opportunity to expand our market as well as provide local service to our clients in many communities throughout Nebraska.

lutz_tag_vert_rgb-2016With services such as Lutz Financial, Lutz Tech, Lutz Talent and Lutz M&A, the firm has greatly expanded its offerings. Do you still consider Lutz a traditional CPA firm? 

Absolutely. Lutz has and will continue to be a traditional CPA firm. Over the years we have developed complementary services to meet the demands of our clients. We strive to be a business-solution firm with offerings beyond customary tax and financial statement services. We will continue to innovate new products and services based on the needs of our client base, but we also understand the importance of a growing our core accounting and tax services.

Lutz has been named a Best Place to Work for Millennials. You’ve been quoted as saying that Millennial employees challenge your processes there to gain efficiency. Can you tell us how Millennials are encouraged to offer ideas to improve the firm?

Lutz has developed our own customized leadership program for senior- and manager-level firm members. Program participants are selected from applications and each class consists of a cross-section of our firm, including members from Talent, Tech, Financial, Admin and the CPA firm. A major requirement of the leadership class includes group projects addressing current firm processes or the development of a solution to a problem. The creativity and practicality of many of the projects has been amazing and many have been immediately implemented. We have been thrilled with the enthusiasm of our younger professionals and their desire to make a difference.

You were elected managing shareholder in May 2015. What was your biggest surprise in taking over the top job?

Two words – challenge and change. Lutz has assembled a terrific group of team members with a goal of offering business solutions to our clients. Managing the process has been a challenge, as we are constantly reviewing and refining our offerings to ensure successful implementation for our clients. A traditional CPA service model varies significantly from wealth management, recruitment and delivery of technology services. Managing the various business lines is a challenge as the sales cycle, delivery model and employee management differ from one another. Simultaneously, our culture must be nurtured and protected as we strive to meet individual and firm goals. I have learned to rely on my board and key members of management, as a collective effort is needed to manage all of our business lines.

Final thoughts?

Despite our growth over the years, Lutz continues to be known for our flexible and family-oriented culture and our ability to infuse fun into work. Whether meeting to play cards on Friday afternoons during busy season, competing in our bi-annual Lutz Olympics or hanging out in our game room, we believe in keeping things lighthearted. Culture is something Lutz has never lost sight of over the years and it will continue to be a top priority for us.

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