The importance of ‘famous persons’
Move over, generalists — the specialist is on the rise
By Jennifer Wilson and Krista remer
in this Generational Viewpoints, rlB llP ( www.rlb.ca), a Guelph, ont.-based accounting firm with
over 60 employees, shares views on firm specialization from the perspective of Gen X partner
Jason Gibbons, born in 1974, and Baby Boomer partner michael manera, born in 1959.
We asked them to consider the following question: “How important is specialization by service
line or industry to the future of your firm? Why?”
GIBBONS’ GEN X VIEWPOINT:
I would classify specialization in an accounting firm in two areas:
1. Specialized area of knowledge.
2. Industry focus or niche.
In my view, the driving force for knowledge specialization was necessity. The pace
of change and complexity of technology,
taxation laws, accounting standards, industry
regulation, and business is accelerating. Simply put, the world is changing so rapidly that
it is impossible to keep current in every area. In order to be relevant
and provide the level of expertise necessary, you need team members
with specialized knowledge in one or more areas.
As a Gen Xer who came up through the ranks of a midsized public
accounting firm, it was clear that “knowledge specialization” was the
key to success. In fact, the last four partners admitted in our firm were
highly specialized. In my view, the “specialized area of knowledge”
was identified (and understood) as a key driver to firm success.
Now, as a new partner, I will only consider admitting another partner if this individual adds to our firm’s bench strength. Specialized
knowledge is required to broaden the scope, breadth and value of our
services provided to clients. I see knowledge specialization as the first
step to building the foundation of a healthy and successful firm.
The second step in specialization is industry focus or niche development. Although this is similar to a specialized area of knowledge, it
is more focused on developing “famous persons” in certain industries.
This industry-specific knowledge becomes a magnet to prospects and
prospective alliance partners who want to benefit from dealing with
our firm and the individual(s) with this specialized expertise.
Clients are becoming more sophisticated, requiring more industry-specific advice — and they are willing to pay for it. Being able to
deliver this specialized advice differentiates our firm from the typical
“compliance provider” and makes us a “trusted advisor” instead.
This type of specialization should increase profitability by providing economies of scale and justifying premium billings as we become
invaluable to our clients’ businesses.
For these reasons, I believe that specialization is absolutely required for a firm to flourish into the future.
MANERA’S BOOMER VIEWPOINT:
Specialization by industry is a critical component to the future of any firm that wants
to be profitable and grow in today’s marketplace.
Since my first year working at RLB in 1981,
I have seen many trends and changes. When
Firm growth occurred during this period, but the introduction
of computers in the 1980s and the increased complexity of the tax
rules created technology specialists and tax partners as specialists
by service line.
Specialization by industry was the more subtle trend that accelerated during this period. As a firm, RLB was an early entrant into
the PKF North America Network of accounting firms. We were introduced to the concept that firm growth correlated with “famous
persons and niche markets,” which is a concept that holds to this day.
Specialization is really a function of the fact that clients rank knowledge of their industry as the most important factor in determining
which accountant to engage.
In the 1980s, almost all of us would have been engaged in doing
the work for municipal clients, medical clients, construction clients,
and so on. In the environment today, the clients’ needs in each of
these areas are significantly deeper. The government reporting for
municipal clients is more complex, medical clients are allowed to
incorporate and represent a more complex engagement than in the
past, and builders have integrated their operations so that most of
them also develop property, which is also more complex than in the
past. Even other service providers, such as lenders, have adopted
industry specialists over this same period of time.
Again, I believe that specialization by industry will be one of the
keys to the future of the firm. A client must feel comfortable when
they trust us as their advisor. We provide that comfort when we specialize in their industry and understand their industry issues. AT
This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and
partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC ( www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success. To have your firm’s generational viewpoints considered for a future
Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently I asked what people saw as the
biggest difference in leadership style
between Millennials and Baby Boom-
ers. I received this response from Chris
Farmand, a CPA from Jacksonville, Fla.,
on Twitter (@cfarmand): “Expectations
are poorly communicated & motivations
are WAY misunderstood.”
When I asked him to elaborate, he
sent this e-mail: “Boomers can’t manage
Millennials. It’s not that they don’t want
to, they can’t. ... We speak a different lan-
guage. The result is an industry of Boom-
ers and late [Gen] Xers who can’t retain
young workers. We have had unprec-
edented access to information our whole
lives, unlike Boomers who are satisfied
with the Sunday paper. This information
has empowered us to learn and do great
things. If you haven’t noticed, Boomers
have control issues, which work very well
if they have an office full of Gen Xers.
“Money isn’t as important to Gen Y
as it is to Gen X. So where is the connec-
tion? What motivates Gen Y? Challenge,
validation, collaboration, a feeling of
being needed in the office. When all a
Gen Y has to look forward to are the daily
timesheet and a $500 Xmas bonus …
zzzzzzzzzz. They’re outta there.”
I love e-mails like this. While some may
disagree with Chris, I appreciate his frank
opinion. This is how dialogue begins and
transformation happens — when people
dare to speak their perspective and truth
as they see it.
Accounting Tomorrow is all about
breaking down generalizations and myths
about people of different age groups, yet
each age wave has its own characteristics. The key is to capitalize on what each
generation has to offer and learn from
Chris, for sharing.
And thanks to all
who respond to
my queries. Your
words really do
make a difference.
to say? Say it. Or
better yet, e-mail
it to tomorrow@
— Liz Gold