This issue of Generational Viewpoints features two individuals from Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, a Birmingham, Ala.-based firm with 95 employees, which has won numerous workplace awards. Gen Y staff accountant AJ VanderWoude, born in 1986, and Gen X senior manager Bill Lorimer, born in 1972, shared their responses to the following question:"

How important is firm culture and what specific factors related to it are most important to you?"



A company's culture doesn't often come up, and if it does, it's not easily put into words. Culture is an intangible, but vital, asset, and much like the temperature of a pool on a late spring day, it is difficult to get a feel for it until you are immersed in it.

As an unpolished accounting major approaching the end of my college career, I attended various recruiting events, meeting the faces of firms and having lengthy discussions about what set each firm apart. I had discussions about location, clients and benefits, but the word that continued to crop up most often was culture. At the time, I was only dipping my toe in the pool, but the chance to hear what culture, as best as it could be described, meant to the employees of each firm and, more important, to see the interaction between the firm's employees, gave me great insight into where I would best fit.

Culture was one of the overriding factors in my choice of accounting firms for my internship. For me the size, salary, clients and office location of a firm were only superficial factors of attraction. Much in the way that the intricacy of a person and underlying beauty is what is found beneath the skin, the true personality and lifeblood of a firm is the culture. Now, after wading into the culture and putting a full busy season behind me, I have found what true culture is, and the factors that, in my mind, make up a firm's culture.

Culture is getting to your desk 30 minutes after you arrive to work because you are catching up with friends who are co-workers. Culture is the willingness of your engagement leader to take an hour to walk you through a project during busy season. As a newer professional, this type of environment made me feel welcome, and is one that will help me thrive and build my career.

The most important factor that makes up a firm's culture, though, is not found in the mission statement, but rather in the effort to fulfill the mission statement. At Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, long before I could even add numbers, much less use a calculator, the founding shareholders made the decision to create an "environment that fosters personal and professional fulfillment." They have continued to pursue that mindset and establish a culture where the employees, as well as employees' families, are always first and foremost.



It's been almost 20 years since I started my first job in a small, local firm. At the beginning of my career, I focused on providing for my family. The concept of a firm's culture was a foreign one to me for many years.

In 2006, I decided to search for another position in public practice. I accepted a position at Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, not realizing that the factors I sought were not what I would value most about this firm shortly thereafter: its culture. What I have experienced at BMSS has changed my mind about what's most important in a firm, so my answer to your question is that a firm's culture is one of the most important elements of its success.

The founding shareholders began the firm in 1991 with a goal of establishing an accounting practice that would allow for career development and a well-balanced life for its employees. Many in the profession have coined this phrase as "work/life balance." We feel that our firm truly pioneered the concept many years ago, and we refer to this phrase as "life/work balance" to greater emphasize how we are different from other firms in the profession. BMSS is constantly trying to finds ways to manage the hours asked of our staff during busy season. This past year, we were able to reduce mandatory Saturdays to only four days for busy season, allowing employees greater control over their work schedule and more quality time with their families. To further support the life/work philosophy, we also have many employees who work a part-time or flex-time schedule to help meet the demands of their personal lives.

The most impressive vision the shareholders have been able to maintain has been our "One-Firm Philosophy." Most accounting practices our size believe that a firm must be bifurcated into an audit and tax department, which often creates a division in the organization. At BMSS, we believe that staying unified allows us to operate as a team, which helps to better serve our clients. Being a part of a firm that believes so strongly in a family atmosphere, and desires to pull in a common direction, gives a sense of purpose to each employee and helps everyone see how they contribute to the firm's success. These are the factors of our firm's culture that I most appreciate and feel are most important to my job satisfaction.

This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and training firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm's generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them at

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