Richard Branson needs no introduction. Most people know him as, not only the founder of about a million Virgin companies, but also a guy who hates ties and loves people. A quote by him zeros in on what we believe is the quintessential component of a successful CPA firm: culture.
“The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture,” said Branson. “Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality. If you can find people who are fun, friendly, caring and love helping others, you are on to a winner.”
Many people in business talk about culture, but what is it and how do you live it? What difference does it make for a company concerned about growth and profit? For Apex, culture starts (but does not end) with our leadership. The person who founded our company, Jim Chakires, believes – like Sir Richard – that success is driven by aligning everyone in the organization to the culture. The gist: If our culture reflects our values, then we will support the success of other people like our clients, colleagues and our own team.
Understanding our culture through our values and mission makes future decision-making easier and more consistent across the organization.
Of course, all this looks great on paper. So let’s look at a real life example.
A few years ago we made a list of things we wanted to improve upon within the company. It was a long list covering all aspects of operations, personnel and revenue generation. Then we asked, “How does our culture support our goals?” From there, we made our top priority growing our employees and making them happy. A year later we looked back, and we had achieved 80 percent of our goals without focusing on them like an itemized checklist.
That’s why the best accountants don’t do math. A fifth grader can add and subtract. The best CPA professionals build success on their culture and beliefs. When a firm is motivated by its values, clients inevitably win.
For example, a firm focused on lifelong learning can translate into a client paying less in taxes. How? That firm will be thorough and learn all it can about tax changes and best practices. Its accounting professionals will become experts in taxes because they are part of a learning organization. The impact of this one value can extend even further. A company (a.k.a. happy client) that reduces its tax liability has a healthier bottom line, which fuels opportunities for it to invest more in its people or a nonprofit or new technology.
Your team is an equally important argument for why culture is important. In our firm, we look at our staff as human beings, not head count or machines that churn out financial reports. Being culture-focused is a direct line to all of us being happy, productive and proud of our work.
What are the risks if we ignore culture? If an employee is not engaged or happy, they will not engage or be happy with the client, who will in turn not be happy about working with Apex. Our team would not be as efficient or effective as they can be, and they most likely will not stay long term.
The proof is in the numbers. Apex was founded in 1998, but we really began consciously and intentionally building culture in 2015. Since that time, we’ve experienced year-over-year growth with only 7.7% turnover (the average for CPA firms is 15%).
Our culture unites us. It allows us to work collaboratively, which gives way to client loyalty and satisfaction. All this adds up to achieving big goals for our clients and for our firm.
Lucas VanDeWoestyne, CPA and CGMA is the COO of Apex CPAs & Consultants, Inc.