IPA Profile: Joseph Saka, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs

Years in Business: 41

Main Office: Miami

Staff Size: 300+

What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now? Recruiting. There are not enough accountants with the combination of technical skills and consulting abilities to meet the growing needs of our clients. We recruit on campus, but it takes time to nurture, train and grow consultants. Our clients expect creative solutions that only come with years of experience combined with a high level of technical acumen.

Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years? There are several areas that will have my attention:

Training and developing talent in a hybrid environment. We owe it to our team members who work very hard to find a way to effectively train and develop them, just as we did pre-COVID when we worked shoulder to shoulder with junior staff.

Recruiting laterals and experienced hires. Since we are now comfortable with remote work, we’re able to recruit outside of Florida and New York. However, we don’t want remote firm members to feel disconnected or to be at a disadvantage, so we are developing an integration plan to ensure inclusivity.

Identifying opportunities with technology. We will continue to leverage technology to run our firm more efficiently. We’ve made a substantial investment in an ERP system and added talented firm members to better understand the business behind our business. We have also hired a handful of technology experts who are identifying opportunities to streamline processes, which will allow for greater capacity. For example, we created a bot to handle a specific tax process that saved about 1,000 administrative hours for the firm.

Continuing to support my partners. I meet with each partner on a quarterly basis to help them accomplish their goals and objectives, and I provide proactive feedback and coach them through obstacles or situations. Our partner group is busy and they carry the stress of the world, so I try and help them alleviate some of that load any way I can.

Figuring out how all firm members can remain in this great profession and have a work/life balance that works for their personal situation.

Finally, adding new business lines as we react to the changing environment and needs of our clients.

For decades, the profession has encouraged a move toward partners delivering advisory services beyond compliance. What has been your biggest success in this endeavor? We’ve had a consulting focus all along. A substantial part of our practice is international tax, which requires a lot of big-picture thinking and strategic advising. We focus on relationships with clients and becoming indispensable members of their team. We have also conducted internal training about how to create consulting opportunities via compliance. We are fortunate to be bearing the fruits of this labor by having a roster of professionals who can now consult at a high level.

What one piece of advice do you wish someone told you before you stepped into the CEO role? No matter how groomed for the job you may be, there are always new issues. My role was announced two years before it took place and (founding and executive chairman) Richard Berkowitz was incredibly open and generous with his time during those years. However, today we laugh because COVID changed everything…technology changed everything…generational attitudes and work styles changed…major tax reform happened twice. Every day it’s something new.

What has been the biggest surprise in the role? I was shocked how much more this role is about people than about the actual business. Our success is not because of anything other than the great people at this firm. Their desire to advance our purpose of providing impactful and holistic advice to help our clients accomplish their personal and business goals and objectives can only happen if they make it happen. I’m here to support them.

How has your role as leader changed over the past five years? I led our tax department before moving into this role (in 2017), so I feel like it’s been more of an expansion than a role change. But starting with COVID, my role as a communicator has taken on a new life. From March 2020, when we announced that everyone will remain employed and at their full salaries, the communication hasn’t waned. From town halls and short videos via Zoom to emails and virtual CEO roundtable lunches, it has been the one constant in this ever-changing profession.

What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today? Do it! I can’t think of many other professions where you get to help people make sense of complicated scenarios. The impact that we have on our clients and their families and, in some instances, their future descendants, is enormous and extremely rewarding and fulfilling. At the same time, the relationships we are creating with these families are everlasting. We are truly blessed to be in a profession such as ours.

How do you stay on top of the profession? In my role this is tricky. As someone who continues to advise clients on tax matters, I need to stay up to date and be familiar with all pending legislation, so I attend internal/external tax trainings and read a lot.

For the management side of my role, I read even more and continue to learn new ways to lead people and streamline processes. Currently I am in year three of a nine-year, one-week-a-year program as part of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) program at Harvard Business School. My commitment is full dedication during that week (no work) and completing my homework assignments, which include reading about 15 case studies and providing a full write-up on each and an oral presentation on two of them.

The last part of my role is our profession. It is my responsibility to strategize where the profession is heading and where we are going so we remain relevant and successful. I read INSIDE Public Accounting, the Journal of Accountancy and anything else I can find in order to stay ahead of what may be coming.

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? Five years is a long time – we’ve started looking three years out because everything is moving so fast. Our next strategic plan will be three years instead of five.

Technology will continue to disrupt our profession. Compliance will continue to trend toward a commodity and the advisory work that will be demanded by clients will be even more complicated than what it is today. Knowing how to gather and analyze critical information from existing data will give someone a competitive edge. Doing all of this with fewer people is the challenge.

We need to provide a better balance between work and life to keep the best and brightest professionals in the profession. The secret is the better use of technology, which will eliminate the non-value-add work that we do, coupled with new approaches to training. I expect more use of on-demand videos featuring real-life case simulations and more targeted trainings that focus on ways to identify clients’ real problems. Following this with learning where to go to solve problems rather than learning specific solutions to specific problems will help people provide multiple solutions for any set of facts.

What is your proudest achievement? During my first year on the job as a tax associate, I knew that if I was going to stay with the firm, I needed to run the firm. After year three, everyone else knew it too. Being able to work my way up through the firm over a 20-year period and make it to CEO while successfully managing the home front with multiple children and grandchildren along the way, and by getting along with my partners and nurturing a great firm culture, has been my proudest achievement.



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