Name: Michelle Thompson
Title: MP and CEO
Firm: Richmond, Va.-based Cherry Bekaert (FY17 net revenue of $173.8 million)
- Election by my partners to be the fifth MP and CEO of our 70-year-old firm.
- Selection as the managing partner of audit and assurance in 2011.
- Admission to the Cherry Bekaert Partnership in 2001 after nine years of public accounting experience.
- Establishing the firm’s risk advisory services group in 2001.
You’ve said your vision is to be successful “through transformation and innovation.” How is innovation encouraged at Cherry Bekaert?
Cherry Bekaert fosters a culture of innovation by supporting new ideas and projects proposed by our people – from receptionist to partner. Our goal is to harness the diverse talent, experiences and ideas that live in the culture of our firm. Through our funded innovation committee, we collect, evaluate and select projects for testing, execution and implementation. We encourage solutions that deliver efficiency in our processes, growth in our product/service capabilities and loyalty in our clients
You’ve also spoken of forming a close partnership with technology to lead the firm into the future. How is the firm using the latest technologies, such as AI, blockchain etc., to improve services to clients?
Building the best toolbox for the future requires investment and a willingness to try new things, some of which might not work. We will test new technologies that apply artificial intelligence, data analytics or blockchain capabilities and put some of them into full production. These technologies allow us to change how we work and give us greater insights into our clients more quickly and frequently than ever before. They increase our horsepower. But in the end, people trust people. Our goal is to create a partnership with technology where our people are the interface and technology is the engine.
Do you face any special challenges as one of only three female MPs in the top 30 firms in the nation?
I face the same challenges that every other MP faces – how to care for your people, create value for your clients and rapidly and responsibly respond to external and internal forces to create a sustainable and thriving firm. However, I do realize that people are paying attention to that difference. Rather than seeing it as a challenge, I view it as an opportunity. More women enter this profession than men, yet very few women hold top leadership positions. So, I carry an additional responsibility of being a positive role model for other women in our firm and in the profession. I take that responsibility very seriously.
What are your growth plans for the firm over the next five years?
Our mission is to make a difference for our people and our clients. Growth creates opportunities for our people – whether it’s expansion into new markets or the addition of new service offerings. Growth in our service offerings and capabilities is driven by the needs of our clients in this fast-paced, ever-changing world. Through this lens we will continue to pursue our growth strategy of building critical mass in existing locations, strategically evaluating and entering new geographic locations and enhancing our stable of service offerings.
These are exciting times in our profession. Over the next five years, the profession is likely to change more than it did in the previous 20 (or more) years. Our CPA designation will continue to differentiate us from other professions but we will need to learn new skills, embrace new technologies and change in a way we never have before. I can’t wait!
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