Pease & Associates Restructures for Growth with Help from BGC

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CHALLENGE:
Part of the thrill of starting your own business is shucking off the conventional wisdom of your industry — those old procedures and strategies that never made much sense to you — in favor of something new. But the question arises: what is that "something new?" How can you develop a structure and initiate operations that are fresh, feasible and functional, and that spur your business growth rather than getting in its way? At first, entrepreneurs are preoccupied with simply surviving, but a business can't climb very high without a structure to support it. This was the situation facing Joe Pease, President and CEO of Cleveland-based accounting firm, Pease & Associates … even though he didn't know it.

SITUATION:
In 1998, Joe Pease, Kuno Bell, Charles Federanich, Mark Prusinski and Christopher Umerley were working together at an accounting firm that had spun into turmoil. The five men founded Pease & Associates in January 1999, with Joe Pease in the role of President and CEO. The partners wanted to focus on traditional accounting services, bucking the "one-stop shopping" trend that had developed since the mid-1990s, when the Federal Accounting Standards Board ruled that CPAs could earn commissions by branching into related areas such as law, insurance, banking and financial products. By 1999, many accounting firms had established separate business units. Diversification was touted as the future of the profession.

Many CPAs, however, believed strongly in the accountant's role as an impartial guardian of a client's best interest, a role that could be compromised by fee-for-service. (Think Arthur Andersen and Enron.) Pease and his partners knew that such scandals were the exception within their profession, but they wanted their firm to reflect the values, identity and focus of traditional accounting. The trouble was that their industry was growing increasingly price competitive, and they needed a way to sell the value of their core services. Joe Pease, whose specialty is advising other business owners, knew they needed outside help. "I hired Andy Birol to determine what our growth approach should be," Pease said. "I wanted him to show us the best way to grow the practice."

THE BGC SOLUTION:

Andy began by talking with people in the firm and interviewing key clients about their perceptions of Pease & Associates. "After one day," Pease recalled with a laugh, "Andy had us all figured out. He said, 'You will not, cannot grow until you organize this firm.'" This wasn't what Pease had expected to hear. "I said, 'I hired you to help us grow sales and you're giving me an organizational chart? What the hell is this?'" said Pease. "I hated to admit he was right."

But with the proof in front of him, he was soon convinced. Andy recommended changes in the following areas:

  • Stay Pure: Andy agreed that there was great value in the company's purity as an unbiased accounting, tax and auditing firm. The company needed to market itself as an alternative to clients who 1) were bothered by the potential ethical complications of the all-in-one approach to accounting, and 2) were satisfied with their existing providers in banking, financial management, insurance and legal services.
  • Spread the Love: Andy's SWOT analysis revealed that the firm relied too heavily on Joe Pease for its identity and success. Clients expressed such fierce loyalty (bordering on "adoration," as Andy noted) to the CEO that it put the firm's future at risk. Accordingly, the strengths of other partners were not being leveraged. Andy encouraged the others to emulate Joe's "entrepreneurial spirit" and demonstrate their individual expertise to clients.
  • Restructure: Although Joe Pease knew operations and administration weren't his strengths, until hiring Andy, he hadn't realized that they'd become obstacles to growth. "Once Andy pointed things out, we had to acknowledge the importance of operations and structure," said Pease. Andy developed an organizational plan to focus each partner on performing his Best and Highest Use®, thus maximizing efficiency, performance and personal satisfaction. "Andy said, 'You need to have someone run your firm so you can focus on what you want to do," Pease recalled. "I credit him with showing us how to use people in the roles they're best suited to be in."
  • Commit to Grow, or Merge: When Pease hired BGC, he had an offer in hand from a large accounting firm. Andy urged him to commit fully to growth or sell the firm; maintaining the status quo would simply lead to stagnation. "Andy showed us that we were still operating in survival mode, even though the business was well beyond that point," said Pease. "He helped us see we had real value and real opportunity."


CLIENT RESULTS:
Despite his initial doubts about Andy's findings, Joe Pease now admits his practice needed much more than a sales consultant. "The perception of someone who does what Andy does is that it's all about sales and marketing," Pease said, "but he goes much further in what he can do for a company. He's not a regular marketing consultant … It's difficult to pin him down, because what he does is anything that has to do with growth."

Today Pease & Associates provides clients with the highest level of core accounting services. The company, which began with 16 employees, now employs 22 people in addition to the five partners. Upon Andy's recommendation, Joe Pease delegated many day-to-day responsibilities to his partners in order to devote his time to creating opportunities for his clients and for his firm. "We're a real team now," he said. "We each have value that we add, and [Andy] helped us see how focusing on our strengths as individuals would strengthen the firm." Having recommitted to growing his business by growing his Best and Highest Use, Joe Pease built a stellar reputation for his pure accounting firm and sees a bright future ahead. And he achieved his original goal of attracting new clients — starting with his business consultant. "One of the first things Andy said to us," Pease recalled, "was that he wanted to be reincarnated as one of our clients. We told him he didn't have to wait that long!" As a client, Andy has a front-row view of the firm's progress. "In this world of 'jack of all trades'," he said, "it's delightful to work with a master of accounting."


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