Theresa Richardson, CPA

Theresa Richardson, CPA
Theresa Richardson, CPA, is a partner and the chief talent officer at WithumSmith+Brown in Morristown, N.J. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/AP Images)

'Talent is our No. 1 asset'

Beginning: I started with Withum after graduating from Rider University in New Jersey and became a partner about six years ago. My work was primarily in audit and tax. Two years ago, Bill Hagaman, the firm's managing partner and CEO, asked if I would revamp the firm's mentoring program. I put together a committee of team members from all levels of the firm. The team created a mentoring system by reaching out to other firms, watching webinars, and pulling the best pieces together to create our own program. We renamed the program Career Coaching to reflect its emphasis on working at Withum as a career, not just a job.

Offer: This new, more structured, and accountable program was a success. In the meantime, the firm was experiencing a tremendous amount of growth. Six months after the Career Coaching program began, the firm went through a restructure. Bill reached out to me and said that the firm needed a chief talent officer to oversee all of our talent—recruitment, learning and development, and HR. Both of us recognized that talent is our No. 1 asset and deserved close oversight by a partner.

Decision: Although Bill gave me two weeks to consider the CTO position, I immediately said "yes!" I had been in accounting for 18 years and thought, "Why not try something different?" My interest was sparked by how much I had enjoyed revamping the mentoring program. I strongly believe that having been on the service side of the firm, I can better understand what our talent needs and wants are.

Strategies: Our Career Coaching program consists of a wealth of talent strategies. Everyone has a career coach, including partners, and two mandatory meetings with their career coach per year. New team members also get a peer mentor—their everyday go-to person. After a team member has worked for six weeks, anyone for whom they work completes a 10-question SPEAD evaluation, which rolls up to their year-end evaluation. At Withum, SPEAD stands for "staff performance evaluation and development."

Benefits: New mothers get 10 weeks of paid leave, while new dads get three weeks—to use anytime during their baby's first year. Strategies to meet Millennials' expectations include flexible work arrangements and complete flex time: In billing their 40 weekly hours, team members can work whenever they want to, Monday through Sunday, as long as they meet clients' needs.

Rewards: I love talking to other firms about what they are doing to discern what we can do better and identify inefficiencies. Knowing the firm's internal side, as well as its external side, helps me be a more strategic partner for our firm.

—As told to Amy Krasnyanskaya, J.D., a freelance writer in Cary, N.C.

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