BNA: A completely flat hierarchy

By Lea Hart

Clockwise from top-left, Jason Ackerman, CPA, CGMA, with his dog, Franklin; Jessie Whyte; Jeannette Campbell, CPA; Daniel Love; and Nancy Grimm work at BNA, an accounting firm where no one has a formal role or title. (Photos by Zan Maddox/Social Design House)

At first glance, you might take Rock Hill, S.C.-based CPA firm BNA for a tech startup. BNA staffers set their own working hours and never touch a time sheet. All employees get their own offices, starting on their first day on the job. No one, from the founder on down, has a job title. There's no path to partner because there are no partners.

Though BNA's practices are unusual in the accounting world, they're paying off in terms of recruitment. In a hiring market where CPA firms jockey to recruit the best candidates even before they've graduated from college, BNA has no trouble filling its open positions. "We receive 10 to 15 résumés a week, even when we're not hiring," estimated BNA's Jason Ackerman, CPA, CGMA.

CPAs on the lookout for something different are clearly drawn to BNA's culture of accountability. Having no titles, Ackerman said, "means everyone feels like they can contribute on day one."

New employees are assigned clients fairly early on, and they can't use having a lower position in the hierarchy as an excuse not to step up.

"They have ownership," Ackerman said. "For young people, that's big."

The firm doesn't formally have supervisors, so roles are informal. More-experienced employees review the work of newer ones, and people who are better-versed in certain topics train others. In the case of technology, Ackerman said, this means younger employees may teach older ones. With 20 employees, the firm is small enough that staff can make major decisions as a team, though the firm's owner does have final say.

BNA has such a unique culture that hiring for fit is prioritized. "We can train people on the accounting side. It's hard to train for the cultural side," Ackerman said.

In fact, the firm grows some of its own employees from the ground up by hiring interns who are still in high school. If they seem like a good fit, BNA will often give them a college scholarship, Ackerman said. "By the time they graduate, they will have known us for six or seven years," he said. "And they'll have plenty of experience with our culture."

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