IPA’s Most Admired Peers Discuss the Challenges of Leadership: Andy Armanino

phoneheaderlogoEvery year INSIDE Public Accounting asks accounting firm leaders to name peers they most admire in the profession. Five MPs were named most often by the more than 540 accounting firm participants in IPA’s Annual Survey and Analysis of Firms. Over the next few weeks, we will share some thoughts from the 2014 IPA Most Admired Peers.

Our first, of five IPA Most Admired Peers begins with a discussion with Andy Armanino, San Ramon, Calif.-based Armanino LLP (FY13 net revenue of $112.8 million) a three-time recipient of the “Most Admired Peer” honor.

Andy Armanino  2014 IPA Most Admired Peer

Andy Armanino
2014 IPA Most Admired Peer

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

Armanino says his leadership style has certainly evolved and grown over the years. In his 11th year as MP, he says he’s now a much better listener than he was at first. He believes leaders must have a “big-picture” vision for the future of the firm and big goals to get there. Communicating that vision often, and effectively, is key.

He updates firm members every quarter on Armanino’s financials and strategic plan implementation. To help move the firm forward and involve all levels of employees, Armanino started a staff advisory board and a management advisory board to help guide the firm. “I believe in communication, telling people what’s going on and from partner to intern having a sense of where it’s going.”

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

“I am a believer that you can do a lot to help people become better leaders, you can train people, you can encourage etc., but the best leaders I know have an innate ability to lead,” Armanino says. These people want to make a difference, don’t mind the spotlight and have the personality to lead others.

Besides “on the job training,” what have you done to help improve your leadership skills over the years? Who has helped shaped your approach to leadership?

Armanino points to his father, Andy Armanino Sr., as his No. 1 mentor. “He had a great deal of integrity. Wasn’t afraid to think outside the box, and he truly cared about clients and our people. And that’s where I’m rooted as well.” He’s also inspired by the young professionals at the firm. “I love being around our young people. They have ideas that I wouldn’t have.” Another source of inspiration is within reach in his office. An avid learner, Armamino reads leadership books often. Some favorites are Leadership Matters: Daily Insights to Inspire Extraordinary Results, Good to Great and Coaching Yourself to Leadership.

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

“Go in with your eyes open,” Armanino says.Make sure you balance your life. I did it all wrong at first. I worked constantly when I first became managing partner. The firm became so important that I was neglecting my family and wife and all kinds of things.” Other tips: Communicate constantly. Do what’s right. Don’t be afraid of confrontation.

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

Armanino says he is constantly trying to improve. “We always need to communicate more and listen more,” he says. He hopes to impart on firm professionals that the accounting profession has incredible opportunities, “and the most creative, brightest people don’t have to go somewhere else to accomplish those things. They can do it inside this firm.”

What’s your philosophy about growth? How important is culture in what you do every day, and how are you developing the right culture in your firm?

Growth is “super-important” because a stagnant firm slows professionals’ career development. Growth allows people to move up within the firm, it aids in recruitment and it allows for greater investment into the firm, Armanino says. The firm can dedicate money to technology, recruitment, partner development, coaching and more. “It’s harder to spend those dollars if you’re not growing.”

Culture is also hugely important, Armanino says. “It’s also really hard to create. You have to live it.”

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View part two with Gordon Krater