William R. Hagaman Jr., CPA, CGMA

CEO, Managing Partner, WithumSmith+Brown PC, New Brunswick, N.J.

Once I became a WithumSmith+Brown partner in 1985, I was also tasked to be the partner-in-charge of the New Brunswick, N.J., office. I was only 27 years old. What I recall thinking at the time was that I had this goal to become partner since the day I started with WS+B in 1980, but since I achieved that goal rather soon, I was unsure of what to do next. It took me a little while to figure out what my next goal would be. There weren’t a lot of classes on leadership and business development available to young professionals at that time—no training on the two core skill sets (leadership and business development) we look for in younger partners today. Back then, we just figured things out as we went along. “Baptism by fire,” as they say. It was an awkward yet exciting period of time right after making partner.

My focus was never on my individual book of business as much as it was on building the firm. You have to think in terms of firm first, office second, and yourself third. That has always been my mindset.

Now that I am managing partner, I don’t have any direct client responsibilities. All of the clients who were part of my book of business when I became managing partner in 2010 have been reassigned to other partners in the firm. My main focus now is to support our 77 partners, making sure they have the tools they need to do their part in growing the firm as a whole, as well as growing their own careers.

We have 515 employees in 13 offices. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary on March 21. I am pleased to say we have enjoyed year-over-year revenue growth every year throughout the past four decades.

We’ve done four videos over the past four years. Each one has a theme to it, and they are first premiered as the kickoff to our annual firmwide meeting held in January. The idea of the first video, where we lip-synced to the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” (see withum.com/popupvid_music-video.html), originally came from one of my partners, who saw something similar on television. The marketing department felt they could pull it off. We gave it a shot, and it came out better than we ever expected.

Using video to brand our firm was never part of our original thought process. But when we did the first one, we made it available to the staff on YouTube and through our website. To our surprise, we found that our staff were sending it all over the place, either by email or sharing it through social media channels. We were soon getting feedback from clients and other CPAs saying they really enjoyed it. So now, creating a new video is part of our brand strategy every year: What are we going to do, and how are we going to promote it?

There’s definitely a measurable increase in people wanting to work for the firm as a result of the videos. And the videos have become a differentiator for us when we are pitching new business. CFOs find them fun and interesting. They want to meet us to see what we are like. We do sell ourselves as having a unique culture, and the videos fortify that pitch. I can’t say we have generated new business from the videos, but in terms of recruitment, they are a huge success.

Part of the value of the videos is the filming process. Our people have a really great time on filming days. Generally, it takes two or three days to shoot. This is done during the first week of December. It’s a huge morale boost for the staff; everyone feels energized and positive about the firm and our culture coming out of that experience. It’s a great benefit to us as one of the things we do to help keep our staff turnover low.

—As told to Jeff Drew, jdrew@aicpa.org, a JofA senior editor.


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