IPA Profile: Beth Kieffer Leonard, Lurie LLP

IPA Profile: Beth Kieffer Leonard, Lurie LLP

Years in Business: 86

Main Office: Minneapolis

Staff Size: 200

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

It seems like the answer should be people, but I actually don’t think it’s people. I think the actual answer has more to do with how we stay ahead of the game when it comes to integrating people and technology. As you look forward at the pipeline of candidates and what the accounting profession is going to look like, it’s the combination of how we use technology and right-shoring and our people that matters – it’s the intersection of all those things, not just one of them.

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

Growth – that’s it. We have had a plan for the last four or five years of adding service lines and people. We have a tremendous group of young partners that are hungry for growth and opportunity, and we’re really focusing on those other services that feed the core business of our firm.

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

I’m not sure our profession does a great job of anticipating and affecting the areas we want to be in. For example, we know we want to own ESG – that we want to be the people who are doing that work. How do we get there fast enough? How do we ensure that other organizations or providers don’t step on our toes? I think we tend to be slower to move because of the partnership model.

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

Put yourself out there. Don’t be the stereotypical accountant and just put your head down and do your compliance work. Put yourself out there in places where you might not be comfortable and see how that feels. That was great advice, because it really propelled me out into the community and out into places I wouldn’t normally have chosen to go. It helped me grow.

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

First, the truth is always the best answer. Second, it’s all about choices. Your whole life is about choices, and sometimes not making a choice is a choice too. We can control our destiny in this profession – I really believe that.

What motivates you most as a leader?

The opportunity to impact our people, our clients and our community. This firm has a deep history of giving back – it’s something that has been a hallmark of our firm in this community and it’s part of our DNA. It’s made a huge difference in how we’re seen. We believe that economic opportunity is the way for everyone to be lifted up, so we’ve been huge proponents – both in our time and in our resources – of supporting minority communities and opportunities for entrepreneurship. And the same goes for our people – we just want to provide as many opportunities for them as we can.

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

With age comes wisdom. The pandemic probably would have knocked us off our feet if it had happened at the beginning of my career as managing partner. But having lived through the 2008 financial crisis, we were able to respond immediately. We continued to grow significantly over the last five years, regardless of the pandemic or any other challenges. It’s really been about finding opportunities. The acceleration of our firm over the last five years has been completely different than the 10 years before that.

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 arrival of private equity has been a big change, but I would rather call it growth capital – that’s a big difference and it’s something of a mind-shift for our profession. The medical profession has been going through this change for the past 30 years – practices have been sold to bigger practices and bigger systems and so on and so forth. That’s been going for a long time. The legal profession changed during the financial crisis with lots of mergers that completely changed the landscape there. The accounting profession is the last one now to actually change from a partnership model to some other kind of ownership model. The influx of growth capital is going to make our profession completely different. The growth of CAS practices is also going to change things, as is the dynamic of what the next generation is going to want from their service provider. So over the next five years, we’re going to see an acceleration of change on several different fronts.

In terms of what I’d like to see change – which is a different thing – I’d like to see us be far more effective in providing information at the high school level across the country about the benefits of a job in the accounting profession. I believe that by the time someone is in high school and they’re applying to colleges or trade schools, it’s too late if we haven’t already talked to them. We need to have a robust plan to get to the high schools, because there are plenty of people who would choose this profession if they knew what the opportunities are. We’re trying, but we have to double down – everyone from firms to state societies to the AICPA. This has to be a front-and-center effort that takes place at every level.

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

It’s actually a very short and simple book called How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership by Marilyn Carlson Nelson. She wrote this many years ago, but it has so many beautiful anecdotes. She’s an incredible and inspiring leader.

What is your proudest achievement?

It’s not so much about the recognition for the firm, it’s about standing out as a destination for our people and clients. We’re a firm that lives our values every day. Building an organization that is values-driven is my proudest achievement.

 

The IPA community wants to get to know you better! If you’d like to share your thoughts and insights in a future edition of the IPA Profile, let us know at mloehrke@ipainsider.com.  

 

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