'We are living in a rapidly changing society'
A rich history: Washington, Pittman & McKeever grew out of a firm started in 1939 by Mary T. Washington, the first female African-American CPA. I became partner in the late 1960s and managing partner in 1976. The initial clientele were small African-American businesses and individuals, and one larger company. It has always been my dream to have a quality large, national minority firm. We were fortunate to line up with Mitchell Titus, the profession's largest minority-controlled firm, which acquired certain assets of our firm this year. I always think back to when I got started with very few opportunities to get a job. I want there to always be a place for our youth to get a job in our profession.
Putting staff first in succession: It is never too soon to think about succession planning, be it through internal or external acquisition. How you grow your firm, the specialties you develop, and the staff are all important. If you have a successful firm, it's because you have talented people, and their succession should always be important as you go through this process. If the firm is growing sufficiently, and the remaining partners feel confident about future growth, an external acquisition may not be necessary. But the profession is so complex and an external acquisition may make sense. You can never be absolutely sure that you've made the right deal, but make sure your current staff has the skills that the acquiring firm may need.
Lessons from time as the Chicago Federal Reserve chairman: Serving on the Chicago Federal Reserve Board, and as its chairman, has been one of the highlights of my professional career. To have sat around the table with Alan Greenspan, the Board of Governors, and the other regional chairmen was an unbelievable opportunity and experience. At every meeting, we would give and discuss anecdotal information about our economy that would assist the Fed in establishing policies. This taught me that as much information as can be processed benefited the Fed, and this principle can also apply to serving your clients.
Evolving with the business marketplace: Accounting firm leaders need to be community leaders, taking interest in not just the firm's growth, but also the betterment of the broader community. We are living in a rapidly changing society fueled by technology. This pace of change will definitely offer challenges. This evolving marketplace will change the profession as it changes our way of life. Firm leaders have a huge responsibility in keeping their firms current. In the end, they must react in a manner that helps not only themselves but the community at large.
— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.