Joe Adams, CPA

Managing partner and CEO of RSM US LLP in Chicago

Joe Adams, CPA, is managing partner and CEO of RSM US LLP in Chicago.
Photo by Alex Garcia/AP Images

'Focus on staying current ...'

Serving middle market companies: Generally speaking, middle market companies don't have the large corporate staffs that larger companies have. It's our job to fill that gap — serving as an adviser to them, listening, and identifying their needs. Relationships are critical. With many of these companies, we deal directly with the owners, and that means balancing the needs of the owners as well as the needs of the corporation. Oftentimes, there's no easy answer, and solutions must be customized. Part of that means we must truly understand the various industries we serve so we can anticipate what some of their needs are going to be.

Successful mergers: Mergers were critical to our becoming a national firm. Our strategy over the first 80 years was to locate in markets that weren't as competitive. We stayed out of the big cities. Over the years we realized from a market-share perspective, and to leverage our capabilities, that we needed to be in those larger markets. We have a merger team that is well versed in the structural aspects, mainly on the people and integration side. Sometimes it takes a couple of years or longer to have newly merged folks feel like they're part of the organization. Our brand promise is "the power of being understood," and it's really about how that feels from the other side — making sure that a merger candidate is fully understood and that we're taking care of their needs.

The biggest challenge: Keeping up with the pace of change is the biggest challenge right now to running a successful firm. Blockchain, data analytics, and artificial intelligence will transform how business is done. It's important to focus on staying current and being aware. The future of robotics has the potential to enhance processes or provide an electronic solution, in terms of replacing the more redundant tasks. Robotics and some of the data analytics will provide information more quickly. That will help us become that valued adviser and aid clients in making decisions that will make them more successful. There will be a need for people to evolve and do different things. However, I don't see it taking jobs away as much as making it easier for people to obtain the information to advise clients, provide solutions, and complete services.

Going slow to go fast: One concept I've learned to embrace over the years is the concept of going slow to go fast. Sometimes we do have to make a quick decision, but often it's more important to spend time upfront to get everyone's input. When that's done, the concept gets implemented more effectively. It is always more effective to get those impacted on board first.

— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at

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