IPA has reached out to leaders across the profession to get their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing their firms, the profession, the lessons they’ve learned at the top and what the future might hold. We’ve pulled together some insightful answers we’ve received in these IPA Profile interviews but be sure to check out the full profiles on the IPA INSIDER blog.
IPA spoke with leaders of $50 million to $3.4 million firms, a few IPA Best of the Best firms and a few IPA Fastest-Growing firms.
AREAS OF FOCUS IN THE NEXT TWO TO THREE YEARS: Our focus will be on technology integration across the entire firm, and how to effectively bring more technology offerings to our clients.
The continued development and support of younger partners, as well as building out our staff development programs.
Purposeful growth – not just growth for the sake of growing, but growth in areas that are rewarding for both our clients and our employees, where they feel like they’re really making a difference in their work. This includes a move from compliance work to more advisory work, where we can be more to our clients than just an audit or a tax return or a set of financial statements. We want clients to truly see us as a trusted partner, so that’s a big focus in the coming years.
BEST ADVICE THEY RECEIVED FROM ANOTHER LEADER: Some of the best advice that I have taken from our ultra-high-net-worth clients comes back to three main points: (1) love what you do, and you will do it better than everyone else; (2) never give up; and (3) don’t expect to become the best at what you do by just working 40 hours a week.
Face the brutal facts but keep the faith that you will prevail in the end. This advice was especially helpful in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges we’ve encountered. It is basically the idea of recognizing and facing the issues and challenges we face head on, while believing that we can get through them and come out stronger on the other side.
Don’t be afraid to fail. The sheer quantity of decisions you need to make as an MP can be overwhelming at times, and you’re not always going to make the right ones. Acknowledge what was wrong, learn from it and move on.
ONE PIECE OF ADVICE THEY WISH THEY HAD BEFORE BECOMING MP: Done is better than perfect. The desire to wait for the perfect moment can get in the way of taking action. We have to understand that there is not always going to be a perfect time to get into a new line of business, acquire a firm, close a division or invest in new ideas. Preparation and planning can take you so far, but as a leader I have to take action, because otherwise we’ll miss out on some great opportunities.
Most CPAs are technicians, and even though we take on various leadership roles throughout our careers, to be responsible for the ultimate leadership of the firm involves a different skillset than most of us have been trained for. I knew coming in that there was a lot more working on the business than in the business as MP, but I probably didn’t truly understand it the way I do now.
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.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: How little I feel the need to be ‘in charge.’ I love having capable and talented people around me, and I don’t believe that leading always means being in front. Sometimes leading is watching from the background, being a cheerleader for successes and being there to commiserate over failures.
Honestly, I’m surprised at just how few female MPs there are in firms. That has prompted me to focus on developing women leaders in the profession and has led to our creation of a formal program to specifically focus on developing women leaders within the firm and beyond.
HOW THE PROFESSION WILL/SHOULD DEVELOP: Digital transformation has changed the way we work today, and it will continue to change the way we work in the future. New technology is replacing the mechanical part of our jobs because it can be done faster and more efficiently. This does not mean our jobs are at risk, however. I don’t believe that the relational part of our job can be replaced by computers. As some mechanical tasks are replaced, we’ll simply have more time to do consulting for our clients and add value to the relationship.
I would like to see our profession provide more ownership opportunities to women and people of color and attract more minorities into our profession. I believe our profession has begun to recognize the inequities that women and minorities have faced in public accounting and I want our firm and profession to not just talk about it but have results to back up our good intentions.
I think one thing that’s going to change is that we’re starting to see recruiting that goes beyond our geographic footprint. We used to think about looking for people within an hour of our offices, and we tended to see our competition as firms right around us, but those limitations have kind of been removed at this point. And this goes for clients as well. Over the next five years, the way we deliver services through technology is going to reshape our profession dramatically. We have to rethink our whole service delivery model – from recruiting to client service.
Compliance services will still be needed over the next five years, but with developments in automation and AI I think the advisory role and value-added services are going to become much more important going forward.
ADVICE TO THOSE ENTERING THE PROFESSION: It’s a very exciting time to be in accounting. Be extremely open-minded as to how the accounting profession might evolve. Master the foundational skills but allow yourself to be extremely curious and receptive to many different ideas.
There’s great value in being a ‘multi-sport athlete.’ Make a point to develop a range of skills – accounting, business acumen, emotional intelligence, communication, tech savvy and more.