I recently experienced the most "differentiating" firm retreat (I prefer to call it a firm summit). It occurred in May at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. I know what most of you are thinking ... the partners must have had a great time.

You are right: They did, but not for the reasons you are thinking. Most of you have points of reference and visions that are totally outdated when it comes to conducting a firm summit (look forward, not to the past). Let me tell you the more important differentiating factors.

* The Siegfried Group LLP included everyone in the firm, as well as outside advisory board members (they have grown to over 450 people).

* The chief executive, Rob Siegfried, disclosed the firm's financial results and projections for future years. Each person received a printed copy.

* They had world-class speakers and facilitators (John Kotter, Barry Greiff, Wendy Vinson, Roger Merriam and myself - it was an honor to be included in this group).

* They made it fun for everyone (dinners, socials, free time, contests and a firm talent show with judges). They even had contingency plans in the event that someone had too good a time in "Sin City." They included sensitivity training as part of the program.

I witnessed teamwork, spirit, a culture and a group of people really enjoying spending time together. The other big difference: Everyone I talked to said, "Siegfried is different. I used to work at a Big Four firm, a local firm or in industry. This is fun. They respect me."

I am sure that I have already lost some of you, in that your firm would never spend the money and take the time to put together such an event. For you, this probably won't help.

For the rest of you, I believe that I can provide more insight on how this has all occurred, and mostly under the radar screen - although, when Siegfried started hiring some of the best and brightest out of the Big Four last year, they rapidly became a large "blip" on those firms' radar screens.

I met Rob and George Siegfried along with Bill Scheiffer in the early 1990s, when they heard me speak at a conference in Las Vegas. At that time, they were a small single-office firm based in Wilmington, Del. Today, they have multiple offices and a national focus.

Within weeks of meeting Rob, he had me spend a day in their firm and review their technology. We both remember how I had to deliver the message to George (an electrical engineer) that they needed to move from an Apple environment. I have continued to work with them as a coach and facilitator.

Rob is the CEO and George is the chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Bill is now the director of national tax compliance. They have skilled professionals in key management positions. They function like a corporation, rather than a partnership. They spend significant amounts of time planning, thinking and improving their processes. They share those visions, plans and results with everyone in the firm.

By the way, I should tell you another big differentiating factor: Their mom and dad are members of the firm's outside advisory board. In fact, Dorothy and Bob were in attendance at the retreat. They attended the sessions and were active in all of the social activities. Their pride was exuberant!

Do you see something different about this culture? Most firms can't duplicate it, but they could emulate it.

Many partners state that there are few quality young people and leaders in the profession. Again, I can say, "Not true," as I sat in a room with 450 of them intently focused on the keynote speaker. Dr. John P. Kotter from Harvard spoke on "Effective Leadership: Leveraging an Unfair Advantage." They gave him a standing ovation at the end of his presentation. When was the last time you saw a standing ovation at a firm meeting?

The talent show after dinner on Saturday night was entertaining, engaging and fun. There were skits, even one where two employees did a great job of portraying Rob and Edward Webb, director of Siegfried Consulting. Some real talent was also displayed, and took home awards of $1,000, $500 and $250. At least 10 employees won $2,500 travel awards and additional days off.

If you have read this far, you see why quality people want to work for Siegfried. As I said earlier, a few firms may be able to create a culture that differentiates their firm as well. The sad part is the majority of firms still operate as a partnership, with no one really in charge and too many of the owners focused on restricting the decision-making capacity of their leader.

Fun is not a core value in too many firms' strategic plans. Bright young talent wants to know the firm's game plan (you have to have one, and be willing to share) and how they (the employee) can play a significant role.

Keep track of this firm over the next few years. They have talent, culture and dynamic leadership. I almost forgot to mention: Their largest client is PricewaterhouseCoopers. The firm is also owned by the employees.

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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