The 2019 MP Elite

What makes someone elite? In some cases, it’s skill or talent — the basketball player who always sinks a free throw, the artist who can draw a perfect circle freehand, or the singer with perfect pitch. In others, it’s imagination or innovation — the engineer who sees a novel way to solve a problem, or the writer who creates a whole world in their head. And in still others, it’s leadership — the manager who inspires their staff, or the captain who elicits unparalleled efforts from their team.

When it comes to running an accounting firm, being elite involves skill and innovation and leadership, but we’re going to suggest one other, crucial element: having the right priorities.

To one degree or another, all of this year’s inductees into Accounting Today’s Managing Partner Elite share two main priorities (beyond sustainable growth, which is a priority for most firm leaders):

  • People and culture. Simply put, engaged, motivated staff serve clients better for longer. A firm culture that values employees and provides them careers, not just jobs, is a major focus for the best MPs.
  • Technology. The successful firm has to leverage new tools to keep up with the competition and better serve clients, and more and more, leading MPs are moving technology closer and closer to the core of everything they do.

That’s not all they care about, of course. Rigorous strategic planning, succession planning, and adding the right new services are high on their lists — but people and technology are right at the top.

One final thought: Since we launched the MP Elite in 2012, we’ve regularly lamented the fact that, though we knew there were plenty of strong female leaders in the profession, we weren’t receiving submissions from them. So this year our editorial team made a concerted effort to identify and reach out to a group of outstanding female MPs, and we’re happy to note that as a result, this year’s list includes four women — the most ever.

Make no mistake: We did not lower the bar for selection, and these candidates went through the same submission and vetting process as all the rest. They are all more than qualified to be on the list, and we look forward to including more women just like them in future editions of the list. It’s a start, at least, at recognizing the growing role women have in accounting leadership, and hopefully encouraging more of it.

With all that said, Accounting Today is proud to present the 2019 Managing Partner Elite:

A long list of firsts

Austin-Laurie-DiCicco Gulman
Laurie Austin
DiCicco, Gulman & Co.
MP since 2015

“I believe that the keys to good leadership are authenticity, being genuine and sincere, and behaving like you want others to behave,” says Austin. “It’s important to listen, to respect others, and to understand what motivates them. There’s certainly a lot more to running a firm than just the mechanics of being a leader — how you behave is critical if you expect people to respect and listen to you.”

That attitude goes a long way to explaining DGC’s frequent appearances on Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For list, and the 168-person firm’s extraordinarily low turnover rate under Austin’s leadership. It is also indicative of the priorities of many of this year’s MP Elite, who are looking for genuine connections with staff, so that they’ll build the sort of long-term career Austin has had at DGC, where she was the firm’s first female partner, its first non-founding partner, and its first second-generation leader.

As important as people are, Austin hasn’t lost sight of the other priorities, focusing on a niche-based strategy that allows the firm to expand its client base far beyond New England, adding cutting-edge practice areas in business advisory, outsourced CFO services, and cyber services, and moving its major applications to the cloud.

Ahead of the revolution

Catarisano-Nancy-Insero & Co.
Nancy Catarisano
Insero & Co. CPAs
MP since 2011

Catarisano has always been a few steps ahead, from implementing an ongoing strategic planning process at Insero shortly after taking the helm eight years ago, to having established an outsourced accounting services group at the firm long before that, all the way back in 1990. And she is leading the firm’s staff to be just as forward-thinking, by, as one example, assembling an innovation committee that includes no management team members so that committee members have the freedom to be more creative and imaginative. Empowering Insero’s 140 employees also aligns with the smaller-office feel Catarisano aims to maintain, where people are the priority, including finding the right ones to eventually succeed her in the MP role.

Catarisano values the balance between management and the next generation of leaders because, as she puts it, “I believe evolution is led by the partners and revolution is led by the team members, and our industry is going through revolution.” Catarisano is working hard to ensure Insero stays ahead of all that change, having added at least four major service lines during her tenure, and countless HR initiatives that helped earn Insero top spots on various best and innovative workplaces lists, including seven appearances in Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For ranking.

Giving back

Causey-Ron-SC&H Group
Ron Causey
SC&H Group
Co-founder and MP since 1991

Maryland-based SC&H Group’s comprehensive strategic plan was created only last year, but the Top 100 Firm was on a successful trajectory long before that, as evidenced by its first-place ranking among large firms in Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For in both 2014 and 2018. The firm was co-founded by Causey with that positive culture in mind, specifically focused on clients, colleagues and community. The community pillar is a crucial one, as Causey encourages the 260 staff members to give back through charitable activities, board leadership opportunities, and during the firm’s Annual Day of Service. Under Causey’s guidance, SC&H professionals donate, on average, 25 hours to community service each year.

This employee engagement extends to the firm’s use of technology, with new tools in areas like data visualization and ERP facilitating better collaboration and client service. Causey has also helmed the development of more progressive practice groups, including tech advisory services and outsourced accounting, while empowering staff through the establishment of employee-led committees. All staff also have access to strong leadership development and training programs, which will prove helpful as SC&H has required documented succession plans from partners age 55 and above — designed to ensure transparency and business continuity.

‘The next big firm’

Cohen-Eric-E. Cohen & Co.
Eric Cohen
E. Cohen & Co. CPAs
Founder, owner and managing principal since 1991

The founder and managing principal of this Maryland-based firm aims to make it “the next big firm to look out for” — and he’s well on his way, having doubled its size through organic growth over the past five years, with plans to double its current office space soon.

Smart new service offerings and technology investments have played their part in that expansion, but underpinning it all has been a belief in the importance of people. “Not only do I invest greatly in developing employees, but I invest greatly in maintaining a positive work environment where everyone feels like they are part of a team,” says Cohen. “Since the firm was founded, my main objective was to create an environment where people want to come to work every day.”

With a remarkably low (single-digit) turnover rate, he’s clearly doing something right. A detailed succession plan, a dedication to open communication, individualized career development plans, and an extensive roster of great benefits have helped land the 61-person firm on Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For list in 10 out of the past 11 years — and we’d definitely say that makes Cohen and his firm worth looking out for right now.

Set for success

Heidi LaMarca
Windham Brannon
CEO and MP since 2015

“You can have the greatest ideas and strategies in the world,” LaMarca says, “but if you don’t have the right tools and people in place to implement them, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.” That’s not an issue at her Atlanta-based firm, where she supports the strategic plan that went into place the same year she took the helm with a strong technology infrastructure and a family-friendly culture that has earned WB a spot on Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For list three years in a row.

She’s also not afraid to move those tools and people around — literally: The firm switched its layout so that its tax, assurance and advisory staff are all located on one floor. “This move has helped tremendously with collaboration on client engagements,” she notes.

Besides the ongoing success of Windham Brannon, LaMarca is a strong believer in the development of its 163 employees. “It’s extremely rewarding to see our teams grow and reach potentials that they didn’t think they could achieve,” she says. “I’m especially proud of the fact that women currently comprise 50 percent of our shareholders and 70 percent of our leadership team.”

Not resting on his laurels

Long-Alan-Baldwin CPAs
Alan Long
Baldwin CPAs
Managing member since 1984

One of the key hallmarks of an outstanding firm leader is that they don’t stand still, and Long is a perfect example of that. He was a member of our inaugural class of the MP Elite in 2012, when we highlighted his forward-looking stance and his adoption of technologies and human resources practices that would have been bold at a much larger firm, and in the years since, he has kept moving at a brisk pace, doubling Baldwin’s revenues, tripling its staff, completing five mergers and, in just the past two years, adding five new practice areas. And all that while staying up to date on the latest technology to boost efficiency, and continually prioritizing employee engagement to remain an employer of choice.

“Being complacent and stagnant can lead to a firm’s downfall,” warns Long. “I am a visionary and remain future-focused to ensure we stay relevant in the industry.” That he’s one of the few MP Elite to earn a return engagement on the list shows just how very relevant he is.

Investing in culture

McDaniel-Seth-Frazier & Deeter
Seth McDaniel
Frazier & Deeter
MP since 2010

McDaniel’s commitment to culture is well-documented, including in a Harvard Business Review book profiling Atlanta Top 100 Firm Frazier & Deeter as one of three companies leading the way in talent development, “An Everyone Culture.” He has galvanized these efforts in several development programs and recruitment strategies, which include leadership training and community involvement programs. These initiatives, along with expanded perks like flexible work hours and dress code policies, have proven successful enough to land the 375-person firm on Best Firms to Work For and Best Firms For Women lists for multiple years.

Under McDaniel’s leadership, Frazier & Deeter has expanded into multiple new niches, established national practices, and implemented the technology — including an entirely virtual IT environment — to support these new specialties and geographic expansions. But even as the firm grows its presence, including opening an office in London earlier this year, McDaniel is locally recognized as a community leader with accolades such as being named one of the Most Admired CEOs in Atlanta in 2019 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. His accomplishments embody the Frazier & Deeter brand promise he developed, “Investing in relationships to make a difference.”

Making it personal

Moehringer-Harry-Marks Paneth
Harry Moehringer
Marks Paneth
MP since 2012

“Success is personal” runs the recently rebranded tagline of Moehringer’s New York City-based Top 100 Firm, an ethos that runs clearly through all of what the firm does, from the host of employee-centric programs it has launched on his watch, the relaunch of its women’s initiative, and its numerous health and wellness programs, to its extensive succession planning process and professional development programs. “My partners and I recognize that continued growth is dependent on attracting and retaining top talent,” says Moehringer.

But while no one — neither clients nor staff — is treated as a number at Marks Paneth, the numbers it has accumulated are pretty impressive: adding six offices since Moehringer took over in 2012, closing eight separate mergers, and maintaining growth rates that would be the envy of any similar-sized firm. And all that while staying on the cutting edge, with a brand-new technology and digital services practice area to help clients embrace digital transformation, and its own homegrown data analytics team that’s helping keep the firm’s auditing professionals ahead of the curve.

A visionary mindset

Michael Novogradac
Novogradac & Co.
Founder and MP since 1989

San Francisco-based Novogradac & Co. has become a Top 100 Firm since it was founded 30 years ago, which it attributes to steady growth and the development of several new practice areas, all resting on the clear vision that Michael Novogradac formalizes every year in a firmwide “vision speech.” In his address to the 601 staff members, Novogradac sets various goals — for fee revenue, recruiting, technology and new practice areas — as the foundation for the firm’s strategic plan, updated annually at its partner meetings. To transform these plans into actions, partners are tasked with leading parts of the larger strategy, while being held accountable for their own individual goals.

Novogradac and the firm are so focused on the year ahead, they’ve eschewed the traditional title of these meetings in favor of the more proactive “Partner Advance” because “the firm never retreats.” That is also evident in its relationship to technology, which the firm has embraced by establishing wide-area-networks between its 27 offices, and by developing a team of engineers and developers who build industry tools and proprietary applications that help staff work better and smarter. And, always looking ahead, Novogradac and his firm are actively exploring the latest innovations like machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Tenacious ‘Mama V’

Carol Villemaire
James Moore & Co.
MP since 2011

Villemaire has worked hard to develop clear paths for the 165 employees at Gainesville, Florida-based James Moore & Co., beginning with a formal succession plan established in 2014, but also by formalizing partner admission guidelines, establishing a career development program, and creating a director position for employees not interested in the traditional partner track. Under these clear rubrics, during Villemaire’s tenure, the firm has admitted six new partners, retired six others, and also achieved gender equality in the partner group, with a 50/50 split between male and female.

These talent initiatives are all part of the firm’s larger strategic plan, also created in 2014, and updated annually. Within this plan is a focus on technology, including the use of an internal cloud and cloud-hosted technology, which enables 8 percent of the workforce to be fully remote; a multi-monitor policy; and the use of client-focused tools like custom portals and CRM platforms. Villemaire executes on these comprehensive plans because, as she says, she is “tenacious at seeing things through.”

That drive, coupled with fostering a culture that has made JMCo a Best Firm to Work For and an Accounting MOVE Project Best Firm for Equity Leadership, has earned Villemaire another title: She’s known as “Mama V” among employees for her parent-like love and guidance.