BDO USA LLP has elected Wayne Berson as the firm’s next CEO, starting November 1 when longtime CEO Jack Weisbaum retires.
Weisbaum, who has served as CEO since 2004, is set to retire on October 31 (see BDO CEO Jack Weisbaum to Retire). Berson, 50, has worked for the firm for 11 years. A South African native, he joined the firm in 2001 when he was managing partner of the Lang Group, a Washington, D.C.-based accounting firm that he merged into BDO.
Berson learned the news about his new job while he was sitting down to dinner with friends at their house on Friday evening. “That was it for me as far as dinner,” he told Accounting Today in an interview on Monday. He said the rest of the weekend was a “blur.”
Berson plans to expand the firm’s presence in major cities in the U.S. through mergers and acquisitions once he takes over in November.
“I’m always fascinated when I read about all the deals,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I like deals. We have successfully positioned ourselves as a service alternative to the Big Four. To do that, we’ll emphasize partner retention, responsive client service and the BDO Global network. Our international network is unmatched by any non-Big Four firm.”
Among the cities on his target list are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“I’m committed to working with my partners to accelerate the growth of BDO and advance our strategic position in the marketplace,” he said. “Organic growth alone is not going to accomplish everything. Sure, we want organic growth, but it’s not going to be enough. We need to be active in identifying and targeting appropriate expansion prospects in the key strategic markets.”
He said he wants BDO to become the fifth or sixth largest firm in all the major markets. The firm has already been growing nationally in other markets, he noted, through expansions in recent years in New York City; Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio, Texas; and Wilmington, Del.
“The opportunities are out there,” said Berson. “I want to make sure BDO is at the table where any of these decisions are being made.”
He sees the opportunities for growth in all of BDO’s major service lines, including assurance, audit, consulting and tax.
“Where any firm is looking to do a deal with someone, I’d like BDO to be one of the firms they’re talking to,” he added. “I joined the firm via a merger in 2001. So I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been the person coming into BDO, and I’ve been the person bringing people into BDO. I think that was very helpful for me. Now, having been elected CEO, I feel I can deliver an even more compelling message on how acquisition candidates can really thrive in the BDO culture of inclusion. So I’m looking forward to that.”
He noted that the firm would benefit from the talent it would get through acquisitions. “It helps when you bring in fresh faces into a firm,” he noted. “You’re bringing in new leadership and new ideas. One thing about BDO is you don’t need to have started your career at BDO to succeed. I’m proof of that. I’ve only been here at BDO for 11 years and I’m going to be the next CEO.”
Berson has served as BDO USA’s Atlantic Regional Business Line Leader for Assurance Services since 2008 and has been a member of the firm’s board of directors since 2009. He has been the board’s presiding member since 2010. He is based in the firm’s Greater Washington, D.C., office.
He said he has looked upon his predecessor, Weisbaum, as a mentor at the firm. “I’ve been privileged to work with him on the board of directors,” he said. “I’m the presiding member of our board, which is our equivalent of chairman, and so I’ve been worked with him in that role, and I intend to build on the strong foundation that Jack is leaving me. We have spoken a number of times, and he’s been a mentor to me. He’s in Europe this week, but next week we’re going to get together and start looking at various transition plans. He’s going to introduce me to various people as we move along.”
Weisbaum had high praise for his successor. “I believe the partnership has shown wise judgment in electing Wayne Berson as my successor,” Weisbaum said in a statement. “Wayne is a very deserving individual. His experience on the board of directors, success as a regional business line leader and prior history as managing partner of a very successful local firm provide him with valuable insight and experience for his new role. I look forward to working with Wayne during the transition process and I am confident that he will lead the firm to new levels of success.”
Koltin Consulting Group CEO Allan D. Koltin, who put together the merger that brought Berson to BDO, commented, "You could see 11 years ago that Wayne had all of the right vision and leadership skills to someday run the firm. The only question was when. I expect BDO to be much more involved in M&A now than ever before. Can you imagine how powerful it will be when he is talking to a local firm about merging into BDO and says, "I can relate to you as I merged my firm into BDO and here's what's great about this culture."
Berson plans to expand the firm’s recruitment and retention efforts once he takes over as CEO.
“In professional services you’re only as good as your people,” he pointed out.
In recent years BDO has heavily invested in various programs, such as its women’s initiative and its flex program. “These have all paid off in terms of recruitment and retention,” said Berson. “We are viewed as a leader in workplace policies.”
He noted that the firm was recently honored as a Best Company to Work For by Working Mother magazine, and the firm has also received a number of awards for its workplace flexibility programs.
“This type of recognition is helpful, whether you’re talking to a recent graduate, a lateral hire, or even a merger target,” said Berson. “They want to know they’re going into a firm that values its people. We want to make sure we have everything in place to keep our employees happy.”
He noted that the firm needs to be flexible for families where both parents work, and be aware of technologies that would allow them to work away from the office. “We have to be progressive and recognize that,” he said. “That’s something I do believe in, and I want to make sure that’s in place at BDO.”
Berson also wants BDO to be ready for any regulatory changes coming down the road, including the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s proposal for mandatory audit firm rotation. “We’re completing our first decade as a regulated profession,” he said. “Potentially you’re looking at some form of mandatory auditor rotation. We need to need to work with the PCAOB as they consider whatever changes they feel are best for the profession. And whichever way they rule, BDO as a firm needs to be ready. So whether we feel it’s a good or a bad idea, we will have a plan in place to position BDO should it get implemented. So I think the opportunity is out there, and we need to position ourselves to take advantage of it as we move forward.”
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