President and MP, GRF CPAs and Advisors
Years in Business: 39
Location: Bethesda, Md.
Staff Size: 110
What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now? We’re trying to anticipate the needs of our clients during the economic crisis that’s resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, because our clients count on us to be ready to help them with whatever they need from a financial and operational standpoint. And in this ‘new normal’ environment, those needs are ever-changing.
Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years? In addition to anticipating our clients’ needs, our focus in the coming years will be to continue to offer a workplace culture that includes education and training for our people. We also want to continue to offer a compensation package that attracts the best and brightest talent to the firm.
My hope is to continue to attract and develop top talent so we can continue to meet the needs of our clients. Competition for new graduates with accounting degrees is fierce right now, so we often find ourselves in the position of offering an alternative to working in a larger firm. I feel like we provide a more personal family atmosphere here, emphasizing equal opportunity for all.
For decades, the profession has encouraged a move toward partners delivering advisory services beyond compliance. What has been your biggest success in this endeavor? GRF is already providing advisory services to our clients by way of the partners and principals offering more in-depth industry consulting. We’re very specialized, and we’ve always provided consulting on risk and operational and governance matters. But as that demand has grown and as there has become more of an expectation for the CPA to be an advisor, in 2017 we formally added a dedicated risk and advisory services practice focused on internal audit, enterprise risk management, cybersecurity and privacy risk, among other things. Since we added this as a separate practice in the firm, it has been vibrant and growing.
What’s the best advice you have ever received from another leader? The best advice is that I should expect to make mistakes. Every good leader makes mistakes and experiences failure, and that can be hard to accept. But you have to learn to view those mistakes and failures as learning opportunities and move on.
What one piece of advice do you wish someone told you before you stepped into your current leadership role? There’s no easy way to make difficult decisions. With every decision I make, some people will be happy and some will be upset. There is just no way to please everyone, and you have to learn to accept that.
What has been the biggest surprise in your role as a leader? Honestly, I’m surprised at just how few female managing partners there are in CPA firms. That has prompted me to focus on developing women leaders in the profession and has led to the formation of our firm’s Women on the Move initiative. This is a formal program that we started a little over a year ago to specifically focus on developing women leaders within the firm and beyond.
How has your role changed over the past five years? There’s much more of a focus on workplace culture now. When I first took the role, there was much more emphasis on the operations of the firm. That has evolved into me being more focused on culture and creating an environment where people are passionate about what they do. That’s the kind of culture that I believe will help attract and retain top talent.
What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today? Focus on becoming well-rounded. It’s no longer enough to be technically proficient or to be a rainmaker. You really need to have emotional intelligence and good communication skills and flexibility/adaptability to deal with rapid changes. You also need to be on top of technology.
This is a wonderful profession if you’re interested in people and learning about different industries. And with advisory services taking off, the sky is really the limit.
How do you stay on top of the profession? I stay involved. I’ve been on various boards with industry groups over the years, and now I’m serving on the board of directors with CPAmerica, which is the association we belong to. I’ve learned a great deal by talking with leaders of firms similar to ours and participating on industry boards. These activities have provided the kind of information and insight that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else.
Where do you see the accounting profession in five years? How do you see it changing/developing and/or how would you like it to change? I think compliance services will still be needed over the next five years, but with developments in automation and artificial intelligence I think the advisory role and value-added services are going to become much more important going forward.
What is your proudest achievement? I would say the work this firm is doing in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. I feel that among firms our size we’ve been a pioneer in these areas. We formally launched a diversity and inclusion committee – which is now the diversity, equity and inclusion committee – in June of 2019, and with that we have implemented training, discussion forums and new recruiting efforts that serve to foster a diverse and inclusive environment. Not only do we strive for diversity, we also work very hard to make sure everyone feels equal and included. I firmly believe that the workforce and the culture that we’ve built here really reflect these values.