Barrett Simonis, CPA

Officer and audit leader at Pugh CPAs in Knoxville, Tenn.

 Barrett Simonis, CPA, is officer and audit leader at Pugh CPAs in Knoxville, Tenn.
Barrett Simonis, CPA, is officer and audit leader at Pugh CPAs in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo by Jon Morgan/AP Images)

'Send a message that you enjoy what you do ...'

Enjoying both the structure and social aspects of accounting: My dad was an accountant in private industry in controller and CFO roles. I interned with Pugh as a University of Tennessee undergraduate and later received a full-time offer. Once I started in public accounting, I found I enjoyed the opportunity to work with people. Here at the firm, I do that in many ways. Through mentoring, coaching, training, and recruiting, I get the opportunity to work with young and future CPAs. In working with our clients, I build relationships and work to understand their needs.

Keeping pace in business development: We try to encourage our people to be involved in business development. Our CPAs that like to get out of the office can engage in the community with the end goal of trying to meet people. Those who are involved in other activities in their community can build a network of individuals in those realms who are prospective clients or who can make client referrals. I think, too, if you can send a message that you enjoy what you do as a CPA, that can lead to opportunities for the firm. Finally, it's important to take care of your current clients. Providing them with great service can result in them being your biggest referral source.

Recruiting strategies: Our firm devotes a lot of time and resources to recruiting. Firms can overstretch their resources with an approach to pursue as many avenues as possible to find employees. We've tried to narrow our focus, picking the handful of places where we're most effective in recruiting. I think it's important to forge relationships with the stakeholders at those places — that might be professors or student groups. Pick the best people at your firm who enjoy recruiting and building those relationships. Send them to campus as often as possible to identify potential candidates and, once you find those candidates, stay engaged with them. We took it one step further and formed a leadership conference a couple of years ago, inviting students to give them a glimpse of our firm over a few days, and finding ways for them to have fun and meet people at our firm. As they build relationships, we hope to recruit them for full-time positions. We've had to get creative this recruiting season due to COVID-19 restrictions, which has made the process virtual this year. Our recruiting team is ready to meet that challenge because we know the importance of filling our internship pipeline early.

Growing demand for SOC reports: In our market, we've definitely seen a significant amount of growth over the past eight to 10 years in the SOC area. As companies look to outsource critical parts of their business, they need to provide some level of commitment that they're operating effectively and have proper controls. As outsourcing has picked up, we've been contacted by many companies looking for SOC-type engagement. Once we go through a SOC engagement, I've found it enhances internal processes for service providers.

— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Virginia. 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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