People at the Center of CPA Firm 2015 Top Issues

The CPA Consultants’ Alliance (CPACA), a group of thought leaders working together to further leadership within the CPA profession, recently held its annual meeting to discuss the most pressing leadership challenges facing the CPA profession and identify solutions to address these challenges.  Following the meeting, CPACA members were asked to comment on the single most important insight and its effect on firms in 2015. Their answers follow:

Angie Grissom, The Rainmaker Companies,

Firms are moving into dangerous territory when it comes to retaining and recruiting talented team members. If an effort is made to re-examine the way to train, develop and nurture the talent, firms will profit. If this is not a priority, firms could lose team members and lose out on big opportunities. The messaging and tone for the culture comes from the top, and it is increasingly important that firm leaders invest in future leaders and let them know that their opinions matter. It is also important that firm leaders work to create an attractive opportunity for them that rivals industry and competing firms.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, bbr marketing,

It seems that the CPA profession is at a tipping point. More and more firms are faced with the challenge of making difficult decisions about their future – do we merge with another firm, do we identify and train the next generation of leaders or do we simply continue doing what we have all along? Those that go with the third option are discovering that it’s not a plan for long-term survival, let along growth. Many firms are seeing their best and brightest move on to other firms or to corporate positions since they have grown tired of waiting to be tapped for a partner track. Others that are staying are often less invested in the firm and simply doing a job and collecting a paycheck. I expect that in 2015 we will see even more mergers, but we will also see some decide that it is time to make some changes and focus on succession planning and strategic growth to ensure that the firm survives and the legacy is carried on for future generations.

Carrie Steffen, The Whetstone Group,

CPA firms are on an unprecedented trajectory as existing firm leaders prepare to exit the profession and the next generation prepares to take the reins. Firms that are taking a proactive approach to developing the future leaders in their firms will have a distinct competitive advantage. In conjunction with identifying these up-and-comers is a new focus on firm stewardship and culture transformation. Firm stewardship is the pledge new leaders in the firm make when they assume the responsibility of accepting the firm in its current state and committing to taking it to another level of success—which may also mean creating a new firm model to accommodate the changing wants and needs of its workforce.

Dustin Hostetler, Boomer Consulting,

The CPA firm talent wars are still raging strong. I see and hear about it in almost every market/firm with which I work, and CPACA members confirmed as much. It is going to be imperative that firms take measures to address this – beyond the traditional means. Questions firms should be asking themselves to help assess retention issues and develop opportunities are:

  • Are we providing leading edge growth and development opportunities for our team members?
  • Do we have a collaborative culture – both internally and with our clients – in which young talent is attracted to?
  • Do we have world-class processes – utilizing the best technology and process improvement initiatives – in which young talent is attracted to?
  • Does our firm leadership “lead by example” in every way?
  • Do we focus on results, not just effort?

Gary Adamson, Adamson Advisory,

Baby Boomer leadership in CPA firms will continue to grapple with their own retirements and how to position their firms to survive the succession challenges.

Most prefer an internal succession plan, handing the firm off to the future leadership they believe they are growing to be ready. Unfortunately many will not be able to pull it off. The challenges center on building your bench and must include strategies addressing recruiting, growth and development and retention. But the biggest challenge (and perhaps the key to it all) is to understand and address the gap between the values and expectations of your emerging leaders compared to the current Baby Boomer leadership. We just can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them and expect success.

Jennifer Wilson, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, 

The most important issue or opportunity facing CPAs is embracing the next generation of leadership.  Up-and-comers are committed to entrepreneurial, innovative ideas to drive change. They are interested in better leveraging technology, improving efficiency and moving away from a volume model toward a true value model. They embrace anytime, anywhere work strategies and putting people first. I think there’s never been a more exciting time to be a CPA!  Current firm leaders who resist these ideals will find themselves driving their Millennials away – and ending up at a significant competitive disadvantage, without the talent to bring their organizations forward.  Firm leaders who encourage these new ideas and foster an environment of change will retain their best and brightest, ensuring unlimited potential for their firms.

Mary Bennett, ML Bennett Consulting, LLC,

We are facing the “perfect storm” of baby boomer retirements—lack of gen x and gen y professionals to take the boomers’ place exacerbated by the increasing apathy among potential successors regarding the traditional public accounting model and “partnership opportunity”. This crisis is real and some firms are just “waking up” to the reality of their situation.  Firms of the future have understood for some time that one key to success is developing an organization that values “multicultural competency”.  What does that mean?  It means:

  • the ability to identify and develop talent that is different from ourselves
  • the ability to develop trusted client relationships with business owners who are also different from ourselves

The firm of the future is moving from what we see today to fully inclusive teams of people that effectively leverage the broadest diversity of talent along with contemporary organizational structures and career paths supported by new business models.

Rick Solomon, Thriving Firm, 

The disconnect between current firm leaders and the emerging leaders who they hope will take the helm one day is hurting our profession and, if left unaddressed, will only get worse. Many current leaders fail to recognize the importance of investing in both the personal and professional development of their emerging leaders. Often we see way too much emphasis on current year profits as opposed to a more enlightened view that investing in your people, your most valuable asset, provides the greatest possible long-term benefits – both in terms of business success and personal fulfillment.

Rita Keller, Keller Advisors, LLC,

There is so much M&A activity and we are all seeing many situations where a firm is “merging up” in order to fix a problem. As M&A continues, there will be many firms left behind because the firms doing acquisitions are becoming more selective. They do not want other people’s problems.

Roman Kepczyk, Xcentric,

Proactively addressing the different viewpoints between the senior members in the firm and the up and coming future leaders.  Discussions pointed out the root cause of many inter-firm conflicts having to do with senior members becoming comfortable with the environment they have participated in creating, which frankly drives little motivation for them to change if they have been really successful.  Counter this to the feelings of the strongest professional staff that believe they are running the gauntlet to get the firm to adopt positive change. Firms must address these differences and find a middle ground otherwise the future leaders of the firm will be dis-incentivized and leave the firm to either go into to industry or start their own practice (which, by the way has never been easier to do!).

Sandra Wiley, Boomer Consulting, Inc.,

Leaders in our profession are in need of a makeover.  They have the technical skills to run a “today” firm, but they need to gain new skills and knowledge to lead their firm into the future. Learning from profession leaders, and even the emerging leaders in their firms will set them up for success – but they have to be committed to change.  This may not be easy, but it is exciting and necessary.    

Sarah Johnson Dobek, Inovautus Consulting,

Firms don’t spend enough time teaching their people how to manage. It takes time to manage, but it creates more productive, profitable workers and an overall better working environment. It also creates trust.  Managing isn’t offering to review notes. It filters in one-on-one training and education, too. Also, training and development of their people is an issue. I am not talking about CPE. Instead, I am talking about one-to-one time with employees. We have done away with shadowing and allowing people to learn through observing and doing. We can’t just throw them to the wolves. Someone has to show them how to do things and be there to support them as they learn.

Tamera Loerzel, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC,

The most important insight is not a new insight, but rather a heightened sense of urgency for current firm leaders to come together with their future leaders to understand both views for the future of their firms. I believe they will find more similarities than they believe exist, and on the differences, the current leaders that empower the change that future leaders envision will emerge as the leading firms that attract the best and brightest, make the biggest difference for their clients and define new opportunities for the profession. And, it has to start now with the anticipated transition of the Baby Boomers over the next ten years and continued increase in voluntary turnover in firms with many leaving public accounting.

Terry Putney, Transition Advisors, LLC,

Many firms in the profession are enjoying significant top line growth both organically and through acquisitions. However, a growing problem is attracting, developing, and retaining talent. Up to now this problem has been addressed by many firms through increasing productivity with increased investments in technology but also via increasing time requirements for their people, including owners. In the future, successful firms will do a better job than their peers of providing a rewarding and satisfying professional opportunity without sacrificing work life balance. The firms that are not able to deal with this issue will be more likely to seek upstream mergers in order to provide for the succession of their owners.

In 2014 the CPACA conducted a groundbreaking study of CPA firms on “What Drives Happiness at Work”.  Measuring Happiness at Work: How Firms Win with A Happy Culture is an article that begins to address the implications of the key findings from the survey, and what firms can do about it. For more information on The CPACA, to subscribe to their blog or visit their website at

This publication is being distributed with the understanding that the contributing authors and editors, and the publisher, are not rendering legal, human resources, management or other professional services in this white paper. If the reader seeks such advice or other expert assistance is required, they should seek the services of a competent professional. The information contained in this publication is for informational purposes only. The views expressed here are those of the CPACA members. The information provided in this publication will not be kept current after the publish date and the consultants of The CPA Consultants’ Alliance make no representation or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability or suitability of the information contained herein. Any reliance you place on this information is strictly at your own risk.

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