IPA Profile: Steve Ritchie, Kernutt Stokes

Years in Business: 77

Main Office: Eugene, Ore.

Staff Size: 90

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

This is a really difficult question since there are so many challenges right now. But I suppose I’d have to say managing our growth. This touches multiple facets of our business, from governance to administrative support to – the most obvious – professional staffing.

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

We have created several opportunities for growth in new geographic regions (the result of a 2018 acquisition) and new practice areas, specifically CAS. Our focus will be on ensuring that we take full advantage of those opportunities.

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

Getting back to basics by protecting and building capacity.

In terms of protecting, I have never met a CPA who wasn’t busy enough and we all complain about not being able to find staff; however, as a profession we continue to accept and retain low-realization work. Our most important asset is our people, but we often try to squeeze more from the people we have without being accountable for using them appropriately. Staff and partners can and should strive for a great work/life balance.

Many firms also don’t do a great job of building excess capacity for future growth. Staffing to capacity is the best way to limit growth, risk poor quality work and burn people out. Building a firm that has excess capacity isn’t easy, but it makes for a solid long-term player with much happier partners and staff. I believe it is also more profitable over the long run.

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

We are all on a journey of learning and mistakes are part of the learning process. Own your mistakes and learn from them to grow to your maximum potential.

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

Be driven and patient. These may seem like mutually exclusive concepts, but people aren’t born to be great advisors; they develop into great advisors through experience and time.

What motivates you most as a leader?

I love teaching people and learning from them. If I can have a lightbulb moment or inspire that in someone else, I consider that a great success. I also love to build things and have enjoyed watching our investments mature into viable business lines.

How has your role a leader at the firm changed since you first stepped into the position?

Everything! I took over as MP in 2017 and in 2018, we acquired a firm that took us from one office to three. We embarked on a one-firm approach that required us to change most of the way we communicate, most of our software and many of our procedures. In 2020, the pandemic hit, and we grew to 90 offices overnight. We made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of successes, but my job was changed forever.

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 have been in the profession for 26 years and have been told every year that technology will disrupt our way of doing business. That has been true in part in the past and the changes have had positive effects on our profession. I am certain that technology will continue to change our profession for the better, but I don’t know when, what or how.

I do think the extreme staffing shortages we are experiencing will soften. I also expect most firms to either fully return to the office or go with a hybrid work model as they try to rebuild their culture.

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

I’m not a voracious reader of leadership books. I have had the luxury of having several great mentors in my professional and personal life and I learn best by observing and doing. But if I had to pick one, I’d probably say Good to Great by Jim Collins.

What is your proudest achievement?

We were named a Top 100 employer in the state of Oregon in 2021 and an IPA Best of the Best firm in 2022. These awards were both firsts for our firm. We don’t do what we do for recognition, but it’s nice to get confirmation from the outside world that we’re on the right track.

 

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 [email protected].  

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