MARRIED COUPLE CPA FIRMS
ARE FINDING SUCCESS on their
own terms and learning valuable practice
management lessons along the way.
EACH INDIVIDUAL SHOULD
HAVE AN INDEPENDENT practice
area. Having autonomy over final
decisions in specific areas prevents
spouses from stepping on each other’s
toes. In many cases, this division of
labor develops naturally.
COLLABORATION HELPS BUILD
THE RIGHT CLIENT BASE. Before
partners accept a new job, both must be
comfortable with the client. Couples
have flexible access to each other, so
they can weigh in regularly about
clients, staffing, marketing and growth
CONTINUING EDUCATION requires
extra effort for small firms. Helpful
resources include seminars sponsored by
state CPA societies, law firms, banks,
chambers of commerce, colleges, payroll
processing companies and the AICPA.
Small firms also get a big-picture
perspective at conferences.
WHEN PARTNERS TAKE A
VACATION TOGETHER, some
prefer to leave midweek and return in
the middle of the following week. That
way, clients see their time away as
FACE the same challenges as
any small firm—from staffing to growth
to succession planning. It’s a
mom-and-pop practice’s unified approach
and mutual respect that keep things
running smoothly. Viewing any small firm
partnership as a marriage may actually
be an excellent operating philosophy.
MILLNER, CPA, is a freelance business
writer based in Florida. Her e-mail
ast April, CPAs Dina and John
Kellogg, of the two-person firm Kellogg and
Kellogg PC, packed up their laptops, cell phones
and four-year-old daughter and left Fort Worth,
Texas, for a six-week road trip along the East
Coast. They visited friends in Maryland, saw Busch
Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., drove the Blue Ridge
Parkway, played golf in Hilton Head, worked when
they needed to—and their business didn’t miss a
beat. “We had continuous access via cell phones
and e-mail,” says John. Even without a Fort Worth
staff, “our clients didn’t worry that they
couldn’t get us on the road.” The Kelloggs—who
specialize in audits of privately held
businesses—have built their practice around their
lifestyle. They are married to each other, not to
Husband-and-wife CPA teams like
the Kelloggs are finding success on their own
terms and learning valuable practice management
lessons along the way. Here six couples share
their secrets for making it work. Small firm
partners don’t have to be married to each other to
put these tips to good use.
FIT GROWTH TO YOUR GOALS
Remarkably, CPAs Scott and Debra
McKeown live on the farm where Scott grew up. They
started their 10-person firm, McKeown & Kraai
PC, in 1985. Unlike the Kelloggs, they chose to
grow—an impressive feat considering their practice
is in tiny Middleville, Mich., population 2,000.
The firm serves small businesses, providing tax
and audit services, write-up and “pretty much
everything,” says Scott. About half of their
business comes from Grand Rapids, 19 miles away.
|100% Rule |
Instead of a 50/50 meeting of
minds, many couples who combine
long-term happy marriages with being
in business together follow the 100%
rule. Each takes total responsibility
for the quality of her or his
for their joint ventures.
Business Journal Weekly,
mistake the McKeowns made was to accept government
and not-for-profit work that, for them, required
an immense learning curve. After that, they chose
only engagements for which they were fully
prepared. By 1996 they had to turn business away.
To increase capacity, they hired good
people. “Don’t skimp on administrative staff,”
Scott advises. The firm’s office manager, in
particular, has made life easier. All the
long-term employees have close ties to the small
community and are like family, the McKeowns say
(see “Get Smart About Staffing,” page 33). The
addition of audit partner Jeff Kraai, CPA, in
1997, let Debra spend more time at home with the
couple’s four boys.
CPA/ABVs Gary and
Linda Trugman, of Trugman Valuation Associates
Inc. in Plantation, Fla., have a different growth
story. After 21 years as a small practice in New
Jersey, they merged in 2002 with a Florida firm of
200. It seemed a perfect fit: A large firm wanted
the Trugmans’ knowledge to grow its business
valuation (BV) niche, and the couple saw a
financial opportunity. The BV department expanded
to include 20 staff, but the couple learned they
didn’t enjoy managing—“We found that bigger wasn’t
better,” Linda says. Within two years, they
decided to go back out on their own, and they now
run a six-person firm.
“A tip for the
small firm is to know yourself,” Linda says. “Some
people are entrepreneurial and do very well on
their own. Smaller works for us.”
DON'T STEP ON EACH OTHER'S TOES
The husband-and-wife CPA firms in this
article all say it’s essential for each partner to
have an independent practice area. In many cases,
that division of labor develops naturally. “You
have to have autonomy over final decisions in
specific areas,” says CPA Hope Igdalsky, of
Igdalsky & Co. in Manchester, Conn. Hope
specializes in tax while Alan, her husband,
specializes in financial statements. Their
five-person firm serves closely held businesses.
CPAs Sue and Rich Meehan, of Meehan &
Associates in Moorestown, N.J., have a similar
operation. They serve families and closely held
businesses, with Sue specializing in tax and Rich
in CFO services. “Specializing keeps us from
stepping on each other’s toes,” Sue says.
Even when married partners share similar
skills, dividing tasks and authority helps
minimize frustration and increase efficiency. John
and Dina Kellogg work as an audit team, but when
there’s a technical issue involving auditing and
accounting standards, Dina resolves it. John is
the firm’s rainmaker.
benefits other aspects of the couples’ operations,
though—especially when it comes to building the
client base. All the couples say that before they
will accept a new job, both partners must be
comfortable with the prospective client.
None of the firms has a formal, up-to-date
business plan. As couples, however, the partners
have flexible access to each other and weigh in
regularly about clients, staffing, marketing and
growth plans. Most of them discuss strategy on a
Marlyn and Carol
Felsing, CPAs, of Felsing, Rankin & Co. in
Longwood, Fla., provide tax, estate and trust
services, audits, small business consulting and
investment advisory work. The Felsings hold an
annual management retreat attended by the three
partners, the firm administrator and, for some
portions, the other six employees. They find
retreats indispensable for strategic planning. Two
initiatives that resulted from the last one, for
example, are production-based bonuses for staff
and a new formula for calculating partner
compensation. “I’d be hard-pressed to name any
facet of the business that hasn’t been helped” by
the planning they accomplish during retreats,
Small firms also get a
big-picture perspective at conferences. Scott
McKeown called last spring’s AICPA Practitioners
Symposium “a wake-up call for me to do more
The meeting inspired the
McKeowns to review their compensation-sharing
arrangements and highlighted the importance of
grooming younger staff members for possible
succession. Some couples learn from peer groups
such as the PCPS Small Firm Network, which the
Kelloggs find very helpful (see “ Resources ”).
INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY
Technology lets small firms of all types run
smarter (see “
High Tech for the Small Office ”). The CPA
couples in this article use it to save on
staffing, supercharge their marketing efforts and
work from home or elsewhere. The specific hardware
and software the firms use vary with their needs.
For their six-week East Coast trip, the
Kelloggs stayed connected to Internet and e-mail
with a PC card modem. Cellular reception gave them
telephone access even on the road. When an audit
client called to request documents, for instance,
the Kelloggs scanned hard copies on their portable
all-in-one printer/fax/copier/scanner and e-mailed
them. They carried all programs and PPC research
tools on CD-ROM—and made sure they backed up files
on a regular basis.
The Meehans, who
market extensively, keep their contacts organized
with ACT!—a contact management software package
with database capabilities.
technology before purchasing it, the Felsings
consult the CPA Computer Report Newsletter
www.cpacomputerreport.com ) and other
resources such as the Journal of Accountancy. For
a while Marlyn Felsing was host to a small firm
technology discussion group that “met” via phone
once a month to exchange ideas. Carol Felsing, who
often works from home, uses Windows Terminal
Server for remote access.
KEEP UP WITH CPE
The Meehans say their most pressing issue is
keeping current. Both came from Big Eight firms
with terrific CPE programs. On their own, they
say, finding quality continuing education requires
a little extra effort. They’ve found many helpful
They attend conferences and
seminar programs sponsored by the AICPA, state CPA
societies, law firms, banks, chambers of commerce,
Big Four firms, the Rutgers-Camden Quarterly
Business Outlook and the Business
Incubator, Lehigh University (their alma
mater), Harvard Business School Executive
Education programs, payroll processing companies
and the Turnaround Management Association. They
also find timely, relevant information in the
AICPA’s Journal of Accountancy and
Tax Adviser as well as the
Philadelphia Business Journal, Money
magazine and the Wall Street Journal
. They scour the Internet for articles
related to their respective practice areas and
depend on the AICPA and state society Web sites to
obtain the latest technical pronouncements.
|Get Smart About Staffing
The CPA couples interviewed
for this article say staffing is their
most critical issue. They offer these
Be on the lookout.
“Even when you don’t have
an immediate need, run an ad to see
who’s out there,” Hope Igdalsky says.
“Then decide, ‘Should we take a little
less income home and bring this person
on board?’” On the Web, check local
job-hunting services rather than just
using national sites such as
Know whom you’re hiring.
The Felsings give all
potential employees a personality
profile test. Don’t neglect a background
check, either. The Felsings once offered
employment to someone only to learn he
had a rap sheet.
Keep succession in mind.
Think ahead to succession
when you hire. Linda Trugman says it is
not easy identifying who will be good.
“When you interview potential staff,
everybody wants to make rain.” Be sure
candidates are not just telling you what
you want to hear.
Be flexible. The
secret weapon for small firms is being
family-friendly. Debra McKeown, who
works full-time during busy season and
part-time the rest of the year, knows
this firsthand. Giving employees the
same option has engendered strong
loyalty. The Felsings, responding to
staff, instituted summer hours—nine-hour
days Monday through Thursday with Friday
Be fearless about training.
“Our role when managing
staff is to become a good rsum builder
for them,” Gary Trugman says. “We can’t
be afraid they’re going to leave us.”
Teach them the business.
Gary Trugman advises
taking senior staff people with you to
conferences and trade shows. “Not only
do we teach [our employees] business
valuation, we teach them the business of
business valuation,” he says. Their
staff people “learn how to make
contacts, price jobs and do the work
efficiently and profitably.”
Show your appreciation.
The Trugmans and others
have productivity systems based on
billable hours and reward employees for
the business they generate.
Know when to delegate.
“None of us is good at
personnel issues,” Carol Felsing says.
“So we have a firm administrator do the
preliminary work on our hiring, vacation
and dress code.” Employees open up to
the administrator more easily, too, so
the Felsings get a better handle on what
the firm is doing right.
LEAVE THE BRIEFCASE AT THE OFFICE
Keeping a healthy balance between work and
home life is an ongoing challenge for married CPA
partners. So how do they avoid discussing business
all the time? Those with children say the problem
of taking work home is solved by their kids, who
demand their complete attention. In fact, before
their four boys were grown, the McKeowns made a
point of having lunch together as a couple
whenever they could; Debra jokes that in those
days her quality time with Scott was usually at
the office rather than away from it.
Vacations pose another challenge for married
partners, who both are absent from the office when
they take time off together. The Igdalskys’
solution is to limit vacations to a week. They’ve
found it helpful to leave for vacation in the
middle of one week and return in the middle of the
next. That way, they’re in the office part of each
week, and clients perceive their time away as
The Trugmans consider vacation an
absolute necessity. At the beginning of each year,
they sit down together and slate five or six weeks
of vacation time throughout the year.
“When we’re away, no business is conducted,”
Linda says. “We don’t use cell phones or talk
about business from the time we leave until we get
Underscoring the importance of
quality R&R, Carol Felsing says: “Ten years
from now, your kids will remember you went on
vacation together. But clients will not know or
remember that you stayed home to get something
done for them.”
KEEP STRESS IN CHECK
Finally, married CPA couples become
especially adept at spotting and mitigating each
others’ stressors, something from which all
partnerships could benefit.
Hope and Alan
Igdalsky stay tuned in to stress, especially where
clients are concerned. If Hope sees a difficult
client is causing problems for Alan that he
doesn’t realize, “that’s where [I] come in,” Hope
says. “I may have to say to Alan, ‘This client
isn’t working.’” Alan is grateful for the insight.
“Sometimes when it’s your client and you’re trying
hard to make sure the client is happy, you may not
see the stress it is causing,” he says.
TAKE A UNIFIED APPROACH
Being married to your partner may make it
more difficult to separate work and personal time,
but taking a unified approach to the business is a
clear-cut operational advantage. Any firm works
best when the partners work toward a common
Here’s what three husbands from
the interviewed couples say they like best about
their wife partners:
Scott McKeown says that in Debra he
knows he has “somebody at the firm who cares about
our clients as much as I do.”
Marlyn Felsing says the best thing
about working with Carol is “being able to get
each other’s counsel on whatever the question of
the day is.”
Gary Trugman says, “I have the best
partner I could ever imagine—someone with such a
vested interest in succeeding. I trust her
Husband-and-wife CPAs who run
small firms face the same challenges as any
mom-and-pop business—from staffing to growth to
succession planning. It’s their unified approach
and mutual respect that help them keep things
running smoothly. In fact, viewing any small firm
partnership as a marriage could be the ideal
PCPS, the Alliance for CPA Firms, is
a membership section of the AICPA
committed to making practicing CPAs and
their firms successful. It established the
PCPS Small Firm Network in 2002 to enable
small firms (1 to 9 CPAs) to discuss
problems and share solutions at
one-and-a-half-day, twice-yearly meetings.
PCPS also sponsors networking forums for
midsize (10 to 24 CPAs) and larger (25 to
49 CPAs) firms. Network groups meet twice
a year, independent of AICPA conferences,
in different locations around the country.
They are a members-only benefit.
Small Firm Network meetings as many as
30 participants sit facing each other
around a horseshoe table. A designated
member speaks on a practice management
topic for about 20 minutes, after which
participants exchange their views about
the subject. Participants can lead a
discussion at any time. Best practices
usually are covered on the second day.
Any group member can e-mail or call
contacts year-round for help. James
Metzler, AICPA vice-president of small
firm interests, generally attends to
update participants on AICPA
The Small Firm
Network schedules its spring and fall
meeting dates and locations 6 to 12
months in advance. Attendees pay their
own travel expenses and a registration
fee covering all meeting costs such as
food, audiovisual systems and a nominal
fee to outside speakers if any.
At various times the Small Firm
Network has met in Atlanta, Chicago, New
York, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. To
learn more about PCPS firm network
groups, go to
Management of an Accounting Practice
Handbook , loose-leaf version (#
090407JA); e-MAP, online subscription (#
For more information
or to order, go to
www.cpa2biz.com or call the AICPA
Up Close and Personal
Landers & Landers AC
L anders & Landers
AC’s president and managing officer John T.
Landers, CPA, and his CPA wife Cassie, founded
their six-person, three-CPA Huntington, W. Va.,
firm in 1975. The firm has strong niches serving
small contractors and closely held businesses with
sales to $20 million, and in tax and tax planning.
About 57% of its operating budget goes for
salaries, 3% for marketing, 27% for overhead and
13% for profit sharing and employee benefits.
Marketing consists of phone directory ads, a Web
site, newsletters and sponsoring charity
functions. The firm’s ties to the community are
strong, and both partners serve on various boards.
“Clients have come to us after getting to
know our children through their own,” says Cassie.
Here, John and Cassie Landers share a few
details about their professional and personal
John: Practicing as
husband and wife had a few drawbacks in the early
years, when we had three small children at home.
We’ve mellowed and learned to better deal with
stress and to leave work at work. We do butt heads
on occasion; however, after 34 years of marriage,
we tend to butt more gently. When we cross the
line, we make up quickly.
our work overlaps to some degree, although we have
our own areas of responsibility. I oversee the
firm’s operations, for example.
start-up resources were a sound education,
experience, a business plan and a strong network
of extraordinary people. As a firm the best thing
we did was to hire Renee Stinnett, CPA, who has
been with us 21 years. The worst thing we did was
wait too long to get out of auditing and to
purchase our own building.
Since we are
the firm, if any one of us is not at our best, the
entire organization is affected. Cassie, Renee and
I all have had health or personal setbacks over
the years. As a consequence, we make every effort
to be sensitive to each other. My door is always
open. Not feeling alone is a great healer.
Probably the biggest issues we face are changes
within the profession (standards) and the
transformation of the U.S. economy. Years ago tax
laws and accounting standards were relatively
stagnant. Now, they seem to change frequently. We
read and attend seminars and conferences to stay
in tune nationally as well as locally. We discuss
changes and issues, formulate an operational
policy we believe will be successful and act upon
it. Flexibility is essential—not every policy
Our local economy doesn’t even
resemble what it was 30 years ago. Today profit
margins are much tighter. As a small firm, we have
been forced to specialize, and it has been good
for us. For the future we see lots of growth
opportunities in areas we enjoy professionally:
planning, advising and helping our clients grow
their businesses and preserve greater portions of
A succession plan is a very
high priority in the next few years. I hope to
keep my mind active and never to stop entirely,
but I intend to slow down. The prospect of
bringing in younger practitioners who share our
professional philosophy and serving as their
mentors is exciting.
Cassie: Besides John’s
list, I’d say small business consulting and
compilation and our own form of elder care are
strong practice areas for us. Deciding to forgo
audit services was absolutely the best thing we
did since starting. The worst experience we had
was uncovering a multimillion-dollar embezzlement
that ended in a murder. A CPA career isn’t always
The practice is always changing, so
we plan to add two CPAs and a paraprofessional to
help handle new business and allow us to
concentrate on practice development and play more.
It’s hard not to get overextended. Sometimes we
have to say to a potential client, “You need X,
and we don’t do that. We can help you choose
someone who does.” We’ve found it important to
have a trusted network of other professionals who
are highly competent in areas we don’t cover.
Due to joint and several liability, partners
must have similar moral and ethical standards and
must trust each other completely. Shared values,
goals and ideals are pretty important in marriage
as well. We respect each other’s talents and trust
each other to do what is right.
profession helped us raise three great kids: a
teacher, a Naval Academy graduate who is also a
doctor, and a medical school student. I’m proud of
them for their strong work ethic, compassion and
decency—although I may be biased.
end of the day, golf helps us both leave work at
the office. Oh, yes; John can make anything funny.
At our office—and at home—we laugh a lot.