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Strong firm culture

The Power of a Strong Firm Culture

You’ve probably heard the old adage about the importance of giving children roots and wings. You’ve probably also heard that the roots are the easy part—they are your values—and that the wings are not so easy. Sometimes you have to let them go and wait for them to come back, like a boomerang.
Strangely, it’s not so different in CPA firms. It’s no secret that firms with a nurturing culture (think roots) have more satisfied employees. Often, valued employees who leave to try their wings in the private sector come back.

Forward-thinking firms take pains to maintain relationships with these professionals. They understand that boomerang employees know how the firm operates and are familiar with its processes and procedures, reducing training costs. They also bring intimate knowledge of what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table, which gives them added insight into client matters.

When two CPAs at St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace (BSW) explained why they came back to their firm, it came down to a nurturing environment: BSW begins nurturing candidates the first time they meet them, often at the college level, whether they wind up hiring them or not.

Nathan Carter rejoined the firm in February after 2 ½ years as controller of an auto dealership. He is currently a Tax Supervisor in BSW’s Insurance Advisory Services Group, which is where he wants to be. “When I started at BSW,” he said, “they let me work in the practice area I wanted to be in. Plus, I worked with a group of people I wanted to spend 40-60 hours a week with, and then socialize with.”

Nathan left the firm after about 3 ½ years when he relocated to be closer to family. He first went to another regional firm, but he wasn’t happy there. “I didn’t see myself there for the long term,” he said. “The culture was not what I was looking for.” He left that firm and went to the auto dealership. At about the two-year mark, he realized that being part owner of that company was not what he wanted.

He’d been in touch with BSW after he relocated, and in the fall of 2014 he saw Alan Fine, the partner he had reported to, at a Rams football game. They chatted, and Alan asked if it was possible for him to come back.

It was, but Nathan didn’t want to relocate back to St. Louis. They met again after Thanksgiving to talk about how to make it work.

Nathan started back at the firm in January 2015 as a telecommuter. He visits the firm monthly, or more frequently if necessary.

“This is the best of all possible worlds. I am doing work I love with people I like. And I am learning more and more. Working in private industry was okay, but I was doing the same things again and again. Public accounting is a lot more interesting and challenging,” he concluded.

Todd Goldenhersh worked at BSW for over nine years when he decided to take a position in internal audit for a large pharmaceutical company. He thought it was a good time to try it out. He found that while he enjoyed being on the corporate side, he missed the client service environment public accounting offers. He rejoined BSW in January 2015 as manager in the Insurance Advisory Services practice after 20 months. “You know,” Todd said, “I even interviewed with Big 4 firms although I wasn’t really interested in working for any of them. I feel very lucky that I’m at a firm that values me. I felt that way from the first day of my internship.”

He always knew that if he went back to public accounting he would go back to BSW. When the opportunity arose for him to return to the firm, he took it.

Both Nathan and Todd had different career paths and different reasons for leaving, and then returning to the firm, but both knew that if they came back to public accounting, it would be at BSW.

Here’s something else you should know about Todd and Nathan:

  • Beginning with the first time they met the firm, both were impressed with its culture.
  • Both Todd and Nathan knew what they were looking for: neither ever wanted to work at a Big 4, although both interviewed with them and Nathan even turned down an offer.

BSW’s firm leaders realize the power of a strong firm culture. For them, embracing talented professionals who want to return to the firm is just another aspect of the firm’s commitment to maintaining long-lasting relationships. It’s also a good indication of the type of thinking it takes to attract top talent.

Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

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