CEO, Squire & Company
Years in Business: 47
Main Office: Orem, Utah
Staff Size: 164
FY19 Net Revenue: $26 million
What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now? The biggest challenge facing our firm right now is managing the changes and opportunities that have come with the rapid growth that we have experienced the last few years. Constant change is inevitable when you experience growth. We have grown from being an $18-million firm to a more than $30-million firm in less than three years. This has required significant changes to our governance, management and administrative structures, hiring, training and systems. It is important to find the balance between growing quickly but also growing responsibly, and to be able to handle all the staffing and leadership challenges that come during growth.
Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years? As CEO, the most important focus for me is two-fold: implementing firm strategy and mentoring the partners and future leaders of the firm. My goal is to help each leader in the firm create strategic goals for their personal growth and then help align those goals with the strategic direction and goals of the firm. As part of my focus on firm strategy, I also focus on staying aware of developments in the industry and helping the firm to innovate and adapt as the industry and business environment change.
For the firm specifically, innovation will be a major focus over the next few years. We are constantly watching for new service opportunities in growth areas and innovating internal processes and training to help our entire team proactively reach their personal goals while also helping our clients set and achieve their goals.
For decades, the profession has encouraged a move toward partners delivering advisory services beyond compliance. What has been your biggest success in this endeavor? The firm’s entrepreneurial culture helped us recognize early that we needed to be providing much more than traditional accounting and tax compliance services. About 20 years ago, the firm launched several new service lines, two of the most significant being teams that we called ‘technology’ and ‘consulting.’ We initially viewed these as completely separate teams and set them up with different leadership, different team members and different strategies. But what we found over time was that our consulting team was often asked to consult about accounting technology solutions and our technology team was actually providing consulting services in the form of helping clients with accounting issues that initially seemed like technology issues. These services evolved into ongoing outsourced accounting work. Ten years ago, we realized that the sum of the parts in this case really was greater than the whole and we officially combined these two teams and created what is now known as our advisory department.
Eventually, almost any service that does not fit into a traditional audit, tax or wealth management engaged has found a home on our advisory team. This team excels at providing any financial service that supports the office of a controller or CFO, including business consulting services, accounting technology implementation, business valuations and outsourced client accounting. This area has grown significantly over the past decade both in revenues and staff, and now accounts for more than one-third of the firm.
What’s the best advice you have ever received from another leader? The best advice that I ever received was from a mentor very early in my career when I was doubting my ability to do something I had never done before. He told me that anytime someone asks if you’re able to help them with something, always tell them yes, even if you have never done it before. Your greatest skills are not in already knowing how to do something, but in knowing how to figure out how to do it. Once you’ve said yes, you can come back and figure it out behind the scenes – but always say yes! Make sure to never hesitate, have confidence and then just go and figure it out!
He helped me to see that I can have confidence in myself and that I can figure out amazing solutions for almost any problem that may be placed before me. He also helped me learn that if it turned out I couldn’t actually complete the task alone I could at least be the ‘quarterback’ for it. By saying yes, I could figure out how to do it or find someone who could do it with me.
What one piece of advice do you wish someone told you before you stepped into your current leadership role? One thing I wish I had known is that it’s impossible to make everyone happy and that it will only cause frustration for everyone to try. I’ve learned that there is an important difference between consensus and collaboration. I strive to achieve collaboration by working on solutions together and utilizing the talents and ideas of our entire leadership group, but I’ve learned that we will never reach consensus as we grow as a firm. I’ve also learned that consensus is not only impossible, but rarely desirable.
What has been the biggest surprise in your role as CEO? The biggest surprise to me since becoming CEO has been the many external issues that happened seemingly all at once in 2020, and the variety of roles I would need to play in managing those impacts on the firm.
When I took on this role in 2018, I contemplated the risks facing the firm and prepared myself for the obvious ones, such as changing regulations, loss of key staff, risk management and an economic downturn. If someone would have told me that in just two years, over the span of just three months, I would be managing an emergency response plan for a global pandemic that sent my workforce home in a matter of days, pulling staff off of traditional services in April to assist with numerous pieces of emergency financial legislation, responding to a large earthquake and multiple aftershocks here in Utah, and evacuating our downtown office due riots one street over from our building – all while simultaneously monitoring an active protest being held one block from our home office – I would have never believed them.
But even more important than the surprise of these pressures from external, non-accounting factors has been the lessons we have learned – namely, the blessing of seeing our entire company and community come together and rise above these challenges. I have learned the power of perseverance and have seen the many faces of resilience. I have seen what can happen when a team comes together to accomplish amazing things. I have watched as my entire firm has embraced disruption, served small businesses, educated their children, cared for their parents and still shown up every day to do what needs to be done. We have been able to help numerous businesses not only to stay in business through the pandemic, but also to achieve many of their original goals for the year. Through everything, our team has been able to innovate and adapt. The ability of employees to adapt from working at the office to home and then back has been amazing. Being prepared to change on a moment’s notice because we have had so many different things come at us this year has been a challenge I certainly never saw coming.
How has your leadership role changed over the past five years? I have actually only been in this role since January of 2018. When I first accepted the position, it was still titled managing partner and we were a little over half of our current size at that time. Six months after taking on this position, we merged with a sizeable firm in downtown Salt Lake City that had a substantial revenue base and brought in five new partners, which was considerable growth. With a second large office we decided to create the role of office managing partner, but it quickly became evident that it was confusing to have the similar titles of MP and OMP. We also found that in the general business community many people didn’t understand what the role of MP was, and that CEO seemed to be more traditionally used.
So one of the biggest changes is simply that my title changed, which alone doesn’t seem very big, but it has actually been a substantial change in the eyes of the public – there was an immediate change in perception of those in our community outside the public accounting profession. People more readily recognized what this role is, which has allowed me to get more involved in leadership positions in the business community. Internally, it redirected my focus from the day-to-day management of the firm to a greater focus on strategy and partner and manager growth. Additionally, since I have been named CEO, we have solidified roles in the firm that were almost always performed by the previous MP. For instance, MP used to handle most HR functions himself and was very hands-on with the IT department. He also handled all of the controller/CFO, firm administration/COO and building management responsibilities. Since the transition, we have brought in an HR director, we have an IT team, we hired a firm administrator and we now utilize an internal team member as our controller. Making these changes to management of the firm’s day-to-day operations has allowed me to focus on the growth aspects of the firm.
What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today? Realize that you can be more than just a compliance advisor and trusted historian. Don’t limit yourself by what you have always done in the past – always be open to say yes to new opportunities. It is by saying yes to these new opportunities that we grow, expand and succeed.
How do you stay on top of the profession? I monitor information in accounting profession publications and on applicable social media postings every day, and I use this to stay current on the events and topics and to help determine what new training I should be doing. I attend several accounting industry conferences each year, and I participate in several peer groups where we meet periodically and discuss issues in the accounting industry. I have also found it very helpful to volunteer with both the AICPA and my state CPA association. These opportunities provide some of the best ways to learn about important changes, trends and best practices for the profession.
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 the accounting profession has been on an amazing path toward the ‘trusted advisor’ concept and moving away from a sole focus on compliance, and this is only going to continue. Compliance work has already become automated to a great extent and this will require our professionals to be innovative, adaptable and willing to change.
I see us as a profession offering assurance and trusted advice on a lot more than just numbers, including areas such as cybersecurity and SOC work. These types of opportunities are going to help us expand and grow – I can see accountants starting to offer services related to items like disaster planning. Now that we’ve all had the opportunity to jump in and go through this, we should be able to audit a client’s disaster plan and help with their business and system continuance plans. We should be able to take the knowledge that we have and our ability to follow systems and processes and apply that to any business system or process.
What is your proudest achievement? My proudest achievement is the development of our firm’s women’s professional development program. I first began working on this several years ago when I was a manager in the firm. At that time, we had no female partners, and the number of female managers was very small. I felt strongly that we needed to proactively work to provide targeted opportunities and support to help change this dynamic in the firm.
We formed a steering committee and worked really hard to create our current women’s leadership group. It has been very rewarding to see our efforts pay off, both in changing the firm’s demographics but, more importantly, in helping make a difference for our female professionals. The number of women in the firm as professionals, managers and partners has grown since this program was implemented. We have both men and women involved in the leadership of this program, and we have been able to participate in several leadership development efforts in the business community around us by sharing our experiences with others.
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