Embark expands despite pandemic

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Embark, a Dallas-based financial advisory and consulting firm that also performs accounting services, has expanded to Phoenix and Salt Lake City this year in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The firm was founded in 2010 and has grown considerably in recent years. It made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies for the third year in a row, moving up 700 spots from the previous year. The company has grown from two dozen employees to 130 in the past three years. It expanded to Salt Lake City this month and plans to open in Phoenix in September. The firm’s revenue was $17 million last year, and it expects to hit $24 million this year.

Embark provides services such as technical accounting and external reporting. While it’s not a CPA firm and doesn’t perform audit work, it helps “facilitate” audits with services such as developing supporting schedules and reconciliations, providing test selections, responding to audit inquiries and drafting footnote disclosures.

“We’re a finance and advisory consulting firm, so we do not do any audits,” said David McGuire, strategic accounts practice leader at Embark. “We don’t really do tax work or valuation work. We’re strictly helping our clients with a variety of finance and accounting topics, so we specialize in technical accounting, external reporting and various forecasts, along those lines.”

The firm also helps clients and partners with accounting services and implementations. “We’ll do control and process improvements, so a lot of that is just geared toward basic day-to-day tasks for accounting companies,” said McGuire. “And as they grow and resources become scarce for whatever reason, or if our customer has a transaction, we can also fill those roles to provide whatever assistance they need to get the job done.”

He compares Embark to advisory firms like CFGI and Riveron. Embark mostly hires Big Four CPAs to do its consulting work, much of which is project-based.

“We hand select them, so we feel our talent level is that of the competition in the Big Four, since we source our talent from the same companies and firms,” said McGuire. “Most of our client mix is currently private, but we’re making inroads with public companies as well. Our sweet spot right now with the private companies seems to be with those companies that are looking for an exit strategy and need to clean up their financials. They look to us for external reporting and financial reporting assistance. They’ll also look to us if there’s some technical area of need and then we can also help with supporting the audit, prepping for an audit, and just managing through an ultimate exit event. To the extent we do pre-IPO readiness, we can do carve-outs and all of that. We can help take our clients through those transaction cycles.”

While the firm dates back a decade, it’s been operating as a consulting company for about four years. Embark prides itself on being nimble and responsive.

“We’re very fast, we’re very nimble, and we’re pretty flexible in terms of what we can do,” said McGuire. “Being a single-owner firm, with Paul Allen, we’re not bogged down with a lot of overhead. Again, that allows us to be very nimble, so we are a natural extension to our existing client base in terms of what we can do for them: small projects, large projects, yesterday. We’ll do that, and we can ramp up and down pretty quickly.”

The firm was founded by a serial entrepreneur named Paul Allen, but he’s not the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft who later owned the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers before his death in 2018. Embark’s Paul Allen is still heavily involved in running his firm.

“We’ve got a wonderful culture here at Embark,” said McGuire. “It’s very similar to a lot of the startup companies, in terms of how we take care of our employees. People definitely come first and they’re at the forefront of everything that we do. Our belief is that a happy consultant is a happy client. Then, just to add one more piece on top of that, we do have some industry focus. We are solid in energy and we also have some health care experience here in the Dallas market.”

The firm also has a relationship with Grant Thornton, and recently added former Grant Thornton CEO Ed Nusbaum to its advisory board.

“We have a handful of advisory members across our market that provide all sorts of services to us,” said McGuire. “They help provide credibility to what we do, and our advisory members are similar to Ed’s profile. They have an extensive background in public or industry, and most of them are retired and provide a lot of knowledge. In Ed’s case, he’s grown Grant Thornton by leaps and bounds, not just within the U.S. but globally too as the global CEO in London. So, they help us with operational knowledge in terms of how we would grow our brand. And then to the extent that they have connections with finance executives within our market, they also help us make those connections and provide some credibility. Embark is relatively new, so we’re looking to get our reputation built up in the marketplace.”

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