Graylin Smith, CPA, CGMA

Managing partner and commercial practice leader with SB & Company LLC in Owings Mills, Md.

Graylin Smith, CPA, CGMA, is managing partner and commercial practice leader with SB & Company LLC in Owings Mills, Md.
(Photo by Rodney Choice/AP Images)

'We look at the opportunities ...'

The bull's-eye philosophy: Becoming a trusted business adviser to clients takes work. Our firm has what we call a bull's-eye philosophy that everyone works toward. It's driven around four key areas of relationships with the client. First, we focus on making sure that our quality is second to none. Second, we make sure we're providing outstanding customer service — being responsive, listening to and providing for the client. Third, we develop a relationship in which the client is comfortable and can be open with us on any topic. And last, we make sure we are knowledgeable to help answer any client questions. We ask our team to develop themselves around these areas and then score them on a scale of one to five. A five is considered hitting the bull's-eye.

Helping clients pursue the right M&A opportunities: I've seen many times where a client is more concerned with doing a deal than with doing the right deal. As an adviser, we can help them get to the right deal. Understand what they're trying to achieve. Are they trying to grow revenue or skills? Or trying to expand to another market? Then understand their principles in doing a deal and what they won't compromise on. Once you're sure of the boundaries, you can keep them in those boundaries. Finally, make sure whatever deal they do will achieve their goals. Help them establish their evaluation criteria, and make sure they have access to quality data.

Guiding clients when facing risk: I like to get clients to think about and approach risk using several parameters. First, I establish their appetite for risk. From there, I gain a better understanding of what risks they're not willing to take. Part of this is understanding the worst-case scenario for any risk. People will say they're willing to take risks, but sometimes they haven't thought about what those decisions can lead to. Finally, we look at the opportunities. Once the client understands the opportunities and what the outside risk is, we can then determine the opportunities they're willing to achieve, and balance that with the risk they're willing to accept.

Grow your knowledge and learn from diverse perspectives: I started in the profession in the early '80s, when the body of knowledge was so much more limited than today. It's important to continue to develop yourself. Stay up to date on the industries in which you practice, and join professional organizations to help you grow. I read a lot as well, from professional and industry publications to news publications. I listen to and learn from others, and we ask our team to do the same. We are a very diverse firm with people from all over the world, and that helps us all see things from other perspectives.

  • Favorite book: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama.
  • Favorite technology and app: iPhone and LinkedIn.
  • Favorite item to keep on your desk: iPad.

— 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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