MP, Smith & Howard PC
(one of IPA’s top-scoring Best of the Best firms for 2020)
Years in Business: 49
Main Office: Atlanta
Staff Size: 130
FY19 Net Revenue: $31.4 million
What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now? Our single biggest challenge is maintaining the wonderful culture that has allowed us to attract and keep great people throughout our history. This has been a competitive advantage for us for many years. Remote work will be with us long after COVID-19 has been overcome, so we will continue to find ways to nurture and maintain our culture in this new environment.
Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years? Attracting, hiring, developing and retaining the best people. Our 10-year vision (Vision 2030) is a bold plan that includes significant growth and expansion into new geographic areas and new service lines. To achieve this, we will need many additional people who mirror the same great employees who already make our firm special.
For decades, the profession has encouraged a move toward partners delivering advisory services beyond compliance. What has been your biggest success in this endeavor? One of the fastest growing pieces of our business is our advisory practice. The ability to recognize and establish new in-demand service lines led by new and highly skilled professionals has proven to be one key to this success. We have integrated both the new service lines and the new professionals into the firm in a nearly seamless way, which has allowed us to add more value to our clients than ever before.
What’s the best advice you have ever received from another leader? First, be yourself. Second, focus on providing people the support they need to grow and develop. If you do these things, you help others reach their potential. That is the job of any leader, no matter what other goals are set.
What one piece of advice do you wish someone told you before you stepped into your current leadership role? Don’t assume that your partners know everything you’re doing to move the firm forward. Communicate with them frequently about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and observations you have from your unique perspective as a managing partner.
What has been the biggest surprise in your role as MP? I was surprised how quickly managing partners from other well-respected firms have accepted me as a peer in the leadership roundtables and other managing partner networks I have encountered. The camaraderie amongst the managing partners of some of the strongest firms in the nation has been both fun and a privilege to experience.
How has your role as MP changed over the past five years? This is only my second year as MP, so I’ve experienced a lot of change in my role from five years ago. At that time, I was an assurance partner overseeing a very large client base. We started the planned, gradual transition to my role as MP two years out. This required our partner group to work closely and diligently to communicate with clients, employees, prospects and the general community in a thoughtful way.
How do you stay on top of the profession? There are some excellent resources out there to help managing partners (and other firm leaders) stay on top of the profession, but nothing can compare to personal, peer-to-peer connections. For me, the most valuable thing in this regard is my participation in a weekly call with seven other managing partners from firms across the nation. We discuss a wide range of topics in these one-hour calls, all aimed at sharing information that we can mutually benefit from as we seek to improve and grow our firms.
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 see our profession becoming more and more diverse in the services it provides and in the employees it hires, retains and promotes. For the service aspect, clients need more value than simply compliance products – this has become widely accepted and is becoming more of the norm at most every firm we encounter. This means being trusted advisors in the deepest sense of the term and means that we must reach beyond our clients to make sure we are valuable resources for the entire business community. From the employee perspective, our profession must have a heightened focus on promoting accounting as a career to a diverse population to ensure we are truly representative of our cities and states. These two things can elevate the perception of the profession.
What is your proudest achievement? Earlier this year, I was honored as the recipient of the Georgia Society of Public Accountants’ 2020 Public Service Award. I am proud of this because it recognizes what I do to serve the public, something that has been a passion of mine for many, many years. If I am going to be remembered for something, I’d much rather it be my service to others than anything I might accomplish for myself.
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