Years in Business: 61
Main Office: Hartford, Conn.
Staff Size: 160
What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now?
It’s what everyone would tell you right now – talent. I’ve seen in our little microcosm of the world that people are retiring from the profession and there just aren’t a lot of young folks coming in to replace them. So it’s going to be an ongoing challenge and it’s going to make us approach things a little bit differently. I always like to look for the positives in bad situations, and COVID taught us that we don’t have to necessarily hire people that can drive to our offices. We’ve embraced that more and now we probably have 10 to 12 people who work outside of the areas where our offices are. It started with existing employees who had to move for one reason or another during the pandemic and we didn’t want to lose them. But once we saw how well it could work, we thought we could start looking for new people outside of our geography as well. And it has positives and negatives, but we’re working it out.
Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years?
We’ll be focusing on automation and the use of artificial intelligence. I think that’s what younger people coming in are going to want to see and I think that’s what’s going to attract them to the profession and make them want to stay. As much as I hear people of my generation complain about this generation, I think of it as a cycle – the older generation was complaining about us when we came in back then too. I think young people these days are just talented in different ways and motivated by different things than we were, so we need to make sure we’re not just trying to make them us – that would be a failure. We have to adapt to where they are. That’s why automation is going to be huge, and firms are going to have to keep growing to be able to spread those technology costs around. The firms that aren’t on top of this are going to fall behind.
What is the biggest and sometimes missed opportunity for your firm and/or the profession?
I think we don’t play up our role as advisors as much as we should. We still have that stereotypical image of the boring accountant, which doesn’t play well with people you might want to attract to the firm. Our firm has definitely morphed into more of that advisory role, and back when I was doing more partner work that’s what I was doing and it was very exciting. It’s about helping clients to succeed.
When I get together with friends in the profession who have been in it as long as I have, a lot of them don’t have any kind of succession plan in place. They haven’t changed or adapted over the years, and now they don’t really have anyone to take over for them. We have to play up that advisory aspect so that more talented people see this as a place they want to be.
What was the best advice you received as a young up-and-comer in the profession?
I was told to set goals, which back in 1984 wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. One of the partners back then had two lists – one for short-term goals and one for long-term goals – and I thought that if he’s doing it, I should probably try it as well. I still do it today, and I think it really helps keep me focused.
Another thing I learned early on was to be patient. We’ve lost a little bit of that in this age of instant gratification.
What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today?
I think it’s important to not give up. I read a lot of biographies of all different kinds of people – sports figures, politicians, businesspeople – and the one thing you notice in all these success stories is that there was always failure at some point along the journey. It’s easy to give up when you stumble a little bit, but getting back to work and grinding is how you persevere and how you ultimately reach your goals.
What motivates you most as a leader?
Helping others, which means helping people here in the firm and mentoring them and seeing them become more successful. And in doing so, we ultimately help our clients. The teamwork here is really exciting to be a part of and I’m motivated by helping to create that atmosphere and to push us in that direction every day.
How has your role a leader at the firm changed since you first stepped into the position?
I’ve been doing this since 2008 – that’s a long time. We were a smaller firm back then, about half the size that we are today. My vision was to keep growing and we’ve done that. But that growth has complicated things for me as a leader, so we just keep tackling new and greater challenges – the pandemic just being the most recent one. But the opportunities are greater too.
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 see the world getting smaller, which means a lot of different things. What I think it means most is that we’re going to have to embrace permanent remote work, but also take advantage of the opportunity to have clients that may not be local either. There’s no reason we can’t have a client in California just because we don’t have an office there. And that opportunity is just going to accelerate over the next five years.
We’re also going to see more diverse talent coming into the profession – not only in terms of their makeup, but their skillset as well, which goes back to automation and technology and some of those other things. And the firms that don’t embrace that kind of change are probably going to become dinosaurs. Here in Hartford, there were probably 30 firms that were a lot like Whittlesey, and now we’re the only one left – the rest have either merged up or disappeared. And I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s because we were better than the others, but we changed when we needed to change, and that allowed us to keep growing and thriving. And I think we’re going to see more change in the profession in the next five years than we did in the last 40.
What is a book you’d recommend to other leaders?
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I can’t remember the first time I read it, but I always find myself going back to it to remind myself that keeping a routine can be really helpful for maintaining focus. It’s not only a great book for leadership and business, but also just everyday life.
What is your proudest achievement?
I think the firm is my proudest achievement. We’ve won a lot of local and national accolades – including IPA Best of the Best – and those are great. But they’re really a testament to the people on our team – they’re certainly not MY achievements, they’re OUR achievements. I really believe in our people and the level of service they provide, and that just makes me incredibly proud.
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