The Detroit to China Express
Laser focus drives firm to global success
BY GALE CROSLEY
The words “Detroit” and “success” are rarely mentioned in the
same sentence these days. The Motor City has been hammered
by the recession and the media has held a microscope to the
city’s shrinking size and business reversals.
developed an impressive Chinese client base.
McKervey said that understanding how a particular country works on the granular level is
like being on the right voltage — without it,
you lack the power to get the job done.
But Clayton & McKervey has proven an
impressive exception to the rule.
A MARKET AND A MARKETER
It was by chance that this 60-person CPA
firm happened upon the international marketplace. But it is by design that it is on the
way to becoming a serious international
How has Clayton & McKervey held its own
despite economically depressed conditions
in its home city? What is its formula for penetrating a global niche?
With firmly established global aspirations,
and increasing international skills and
knowledge, the next step was to focus on
other promising overseas markets. By
the 1990s, European and Japanese au-
tomakers had begun
sourcing parts in
Another strategic direction the firm took
was to get involved in trade mission trips
sponsored by state and local governmental
entities, and the Detroit Regional Cham-
ber of Commerce. These trade missions,
which were designed to win opportuni-
ties in foreign countries for local busi-
nesses, proved an excellent way for
C&M principals to reach Chinese
I got focused (that’s a clue!) answers from
shareholder-in-charge of international ser-
vices Kevin McKervey.
was not a good
fit because at
that time, the
and cultural skills.
The firm also became an active
supporter of Chinese interests
beyond Detroit. This enabled
the firm to grow its Chinese
niche nationally. Any company
with interests in both the U.S. and
So the firm set its sights
on Europe, where English is a common
second language in business. As they were
reaching out to German, French and British
companies, firm leaders learned that Ford
Motor Co. was planning to source $2 billion
in parts out of China.
“We concluded that domestic suppliers would need to expand their Chinese
operations, and Chinese suppliers would
be looking for U.S. connections,” recalled
McKervey. Focused on China, the firm assigned a shareholder to champion the team
effort, and found and hired a Chinese-born
accounting professional, identified through
the global networking organization PKF International. McKervey had become active
in the group’s international committee and
held leadership positions.
China, regardless of where in the U.S. they
are located, is a potential client. Channels of
distribution reach beyond Detroit as well.
The Chicago Chinese Consulate and the
Bank of China in Manhattan are examples.
Removing artificial geographic borders from
their thinking (example: we only work with
prospects in Detroit) has been a key strategic
“Someone who knew the language and
business protocols, and who had experience
with the Chinese, was key,” said McKervey.
“This individual is also a good communica-
tor with a great sense of business develop-
ment. Those skills have proven to be a valu-
able asset for us.”
Along with the right leadership and spe-
cialized knowledge base, the firm added fur-
ther depth to the China team by hiring other
Chinese-born staff. As a result, the firm could
move much more quickly to market, and has
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estate planning issues.
Under a different name, Clayton & McKervey
was founded in 1953 and offered traditional
accounting services. In the 1980s, one of the
firm’s clients was sold to a French company.
An astute partner saw in that transaction a
possible entrée to a new world of international opportunity.
Around that time, the global auto industry
was coming into its own and the firm’s Detroit location would prove to be especially
strategic. Spurred on by this French connection, Clayton & McKervey began plotting a
global growth strategy — nurturing channels
of distribution, including economic develop-ers, bankers and attorneys in order to attract
an inbound client base. Eventually the firm
added outbound as well, with the overall goal
of specializing in entrepreneurs pursuing international business.
By focusing intently and uniquely on this
niche, C&M distinguished itself from other
firms, a key factor in its success in the international marketplace.
UpStAte New yORK
Bonadio acquires parenteBeard’s
Details: The Bonadio Group has
acquired ParenteBeard’s branch office in
Syracuse, N. Y., which will add nearly $3
million in firm revenues, 21 employees,
and four new partners. The Bonadio
Group will increase its headcount to 55 in
the Syracuse region, and more than 375
across upstate New York. Bonadio plans
to move its current Syracuse office to the
existing ParenteBeard location.
Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal
of Crosley+Co. ( www.crosleycompany.com),
providing revenue growth consulting and
coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at gcros-
FOCUSED GROWTH PLAN
Having forged a highly productive specialty
in both inbound and outbound commerce
with entrepreneurs doing business in China,
C&M is poised to grab lucrative international
market territory. Their approach has given
them a jump on the market, and put them
way ahead of most firms.
McKervey said that the firm is pursuing a
focused plan to double in size over the next
five years while holding fast to its China-cen-tric mission. As the firm expands, its leaders
are in no rush to sell. But they acknowledge
that a firm with a successful international
focus will become an increasingly attractive
Like all global businesses, the firm is finding that virtual tools and capabilities greatly
facilitate working across time zones and vast
distances. “The existence of ‘the cloud’ means
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