This edition of Generational Viewpoints features father-and-son partners and their perspectives on the way their generations approach specialization. We asked Baby Boomer president Clive Grimbleby, born in 1955, and Millennial principal Ian Grimbleby, born in 1982, from Modesto, Calif.-based Grimbleby Coleman to answer the following question:

“How important are industry and/or service specializations to your generation? How do you perceive it to be different or similar to other generations?”

 

CLIVE’S BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT

[IMGCAP(1)]From my career beginning at Coopers & Lybrand in 1979 to becoming the managing partner of Grimbleby Coleman in 1982, I have always assumed that the “one-firm concept” was the norm. A firm that has a “one-firm concept” practices what you might consider “job fit” by assigning clients and projects to those who have interest or strengths in a specialized area. Growing firms faced the reality that staff had to be generalists first, and focus on a specialty second, until their teams and client bases became large enough to support specialists. Being a generalist took precedence over specializing for most of my career, and I was very comfortable in the generalist role.

What appears to be different with the younger generations is the desire to specialize earlier in one’s career. I don’t disagree with this; however, it is unclear whether this is a difference of generational bias or the result of a more attainable path when working in a more mature firm. Millennials tend to desire more (and faster) experiential learning that is accompanied by resulting feedback. They also desire to make a difference through their careers, so learning about where their passion lies and then focusing on that specialty could be a great motivator for some. On the other hand, some young professionals might find passion in being able to serve a variety of client types and gaining a wide range of experience. Either way, it’s vital to understand each individual’s preferences.

Learning about emerging professionals’ interests regarding specialization is an example of how our firm and I can better understand other generations. We can take into account the skills, strengths and career goals of each of our professionals and provide a role that best suits their needs and those of our firm. Providing employees with options around specializing or staying more generalized is also a great feature for our recruiting efforts because we can offer recruits multiple possibilities for their potential career paths.

 

IAN’S MILLENNIAL VIEWPOINT

[IMGCAP(2)]In 2004, I started my accounting career as an auditor at PwC in Los Angeles. The firm had a very diverse mix of clients, so everyone was assigned to a smaller group (i.e., private clients, financial services, nonprofits, etc.) with the idea that in addition to learning to audit in general, staff would also gain specialized knowledge. It’s ironic that I am more of a “generalist” today due to working at a 50-person firm versus a Big Four firm.

Often, the biggest difference in opinion among generations relates to how specialization affects or influences marketing and business development. The more mature generations seem to worry that niche messaging in the market will deter potential clients or narrow our possibilities. Being “niched” shouldn’t be a negative, as we want clients that fit our ideal target client profile and whom we can serve to the best of our abilities. Even firms that market to a broader audience should define their ideal target client profile. Otherwise, they run the risk of engaging less-than-ideal clients and their staff becoming disgruntled serving them.

My generational perspective on specialization leads to transparent conversations about what I am good at and what I am not. I have told prospective clients that I don’t think I am a good fit based on their needs and have referred them to someone else where possible. Some people might cringe at turning down potential work, but I find that most prospects are very appreciative of this honesty and transparency. I’d rather disappoint them by saying that I can’t work with them than risk engaging that client and delivering potentially subpar work.

As a result of this approach, our firm is better able to focus our time and services on clients where we can provide the most value.

The decision to specialize as a CPA boils down to individual preferences and the size and structure of the firm they work for. It’s important for any professional to learn what motivates them most and then take opportunities that allow them to pursue that passion.

This column is facilitated and edited by Brianna Marth, the Millennial consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner, of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm’s generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail brianna@convergencecoaching.com.

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