IPA Profile: John Norman, GreerWalker

Years in Business: 37

Main Office: Charlotte, N.C.

Staff Size: 115


What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now?

I know most other firms have the same issue, but it’s definitely finding quality people – I think this is probably the No. 1 issue facing everyone in the profession. It’s really increased over the past couple of years for us. The numbers prove it – there are simply fewer accounting graduates now than there ever have been. I feel like we’ve been able to attract and retain our fair share of quality people, but if we’re pulling that same share from a smaller and smaller pie, we’re still getting fewer people.

Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years?

Talent acquisition will definitely be a big focus. We have a three-legged stool here called RDR – recruit, develop and retain – that we’re really working to implement and strengthen. The important thing at first of course is to get people in the door, but once they’re here it’s critical to develop them and prepare them for a meaningful career.

We’re also developing what I would call our complementary services, including our CAS group, corporate finance, wealth management, litigation/valuation and our IT risk practice. These services complement our core services of assurance and tax and we’re really focused on growing these areas in the coming years.

What is the biggest and sometimes missed opportunity for your firm and/or the profession?

I think it’s the ability to communicate to our clients that we can really be their most trusted business advisor. In a firm of our size, a lot of our interaction with clients is based on compliance, whether it’s assurance with financial statements or tax returns. But sometimes we miss the opportunity to convey to them that we can be business advisors as well. We spend a lot of time in the development portion of our RDR plan showing our folks how to be advisors. Does every single person in the firm have the skillset to do that right now? No. Are we trying to ensure that they’re all on their way to having it? Absolutely. It’s not about just getting to the numbers on the tax returns, it’s how we can help our clients control the numbers that end up in those returns. We have a great opportunity to help these owner-managed businesses in a variety of different ways, but we have to make sure they understand that.

What’s the best advice you have ever received from another leader?

Be yourself. When you go from partner to managing partner, you don’t have to change. Take what got you there and make the most of it.

What was the best advice you received as a young up-and-comer in the profession?

We still pass this along to a lot of our younger folks here – act like you’re a partner. Act like an owner right from the start.

What motivates you most as a leader?

It serves as both motivation and satisfaction to me to see the people that I’ve been able to coach and mentor develop and come into leadership here.

How has your role as MP changed over the past five years?

Prior to 2020, we did not have the managing partner title – we had an executive committee, and I was the chair for about five years. In 2020, we shifted our structure sightly to create the managing partner position and give us the ability to make decisions a little more quickly. And it’s great that we did, because I can’t imagine trying to get through the pandemic without having the ability to quickly react as things changed.

That said, five years ago I was spending a lot more time thinking about growth and what service offerings we could take to the marketplace. Now it’s much more about the people, and I believe our ability to grow is confined only by the number of quality people we have. There’s a lot of opportunity out there but we have to have the people to take advantage of it – and to continue providing the high level of service that we’re known for.

What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today?

I try to preach tenacity. If a young person coming in can stick it out over the first few years and not get frustrated, the profession creates all kinds of opportunities. Too many people think they’ll just do this for a few years and then go into industry. I would argue that if you stay with public accounting, the opportunities and rewards and fulfillment are unparalleled.

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?

As the demand for talent continues to increase, everyone is chasing the same pieces of the pie and the pie is only so big. I think we need to change the pie by bringing more business and economic majors – people with complementary skillsets – into the profession. I think we’ll evolve more toward advisory, which will require all kinds of different skills.

What is a book you’d recommend to other leaders?

It’s an old one, but we use it constantly here and I’d tell everyone to go dust it off – Good to Great. There are a lot of good accounting firms out there and we’re trying to be a great one. One of the principles in the book is that good is the enemy of great and it’s so true. We’re really trying to be a strength-based organization, where everyone is in a position where they can do their best work. If we can build a firm where everyone is maximizing their greatest strength, we’re going to be in terrific shape.

What is your proudest achievement?

It goes back to the motivation question – the notion of seeing people who I’ve recruited to the firm become partners and members of the management team. To me, that’s really the best part of this job.


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