[IMGCAP(1)]Gordon Krater took the reins as managing partner of Plante & Moran in July, only the sixth managing partner since the firm was founded in 1924. He was first elected by the firm’s partners last October, and succeeded Bill Hermann, who had served as managing partner at the Southfield, Mich.-based firm since July 2001.

Just as he took charge, Plante & Moran acquired Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon & Co., one of Cincinnati’s largest accounting firms, expanding its presence in Ohio. Krater first joined Plante & Moran in 1980 after graduating from the University of Michigan. In the nearly three decades he’s been with the firm, he’s served in a variety of positions, most recently as group managing partner in charge of industry specializations.

Could you tell me what your objectives are for Plante & Moran now that you’ll be managing the firm?

Sure. We are a people-oriented organization. It’s going to be a natural transition from Bill Hermann to me. We want to keep the great client service and preserve our terrific culture. What I plan to do is leverage our strength. To me, we’re one of the great places in the world to work. We have a sterling reputation, and I think we bring the best of both worlds: a deep expertise at services with a caring personal touch or service approach, so all the benefits of a large firm with the personal service of a small firm. One of the objectives is to continue with the great success we’ve had with our culture and our clients, but we’re focusing specifically on growth. We do need to continue to grow, expand our footprint a little bit, market our services better than we do. I think you’re aware that we have a Shanghai and a Monterrey, Mexico, office, and we do some work in India as well, so [we need to] make sure that we have the right strategy to serve the middle-market clients from an international perspective. And then really the last one is diversity within our own firm, continuing the diversity efforts that we’ve got, and getting to the point where we want to be on our diverse workforce.

How will you be working with Bill Hermann?

Bill is going to head up our service industry. We have six main industries at the firm that we go to market by. Service is one of those. Bill’s got background in that and is going to be running that practice while he’s helping mentor the person that will take over when Bill retires. Thank goodness he’s here and I can still draw on his counsel and advice as questions come up. He’s a wealth of information.

What kinds of challenges do you see facing the accounting profession right now?

I think the biggest challenge for everybody is the economy. Clearly growth is difficult in this economy. I think risk goes up in this economy, as companies fail and as interested parties are looking to blame somebody, so risk goes up. One of the challenges that I know we’ve talked about in our firm is making sure we remember this is public accounting. We serve the public, and when we’re doing audits, making sure we’re doing them the right way just like we always have in our 85-year history.

Is Plante & Moran going to continue to expand? Some accounting firms have been scaling back their hiring or even downsizing because of the economy, but you recently did a merger.

The merger with Jackson Rolfes added about 50 people. We’re very excited about that. We have talks going on at all times with various firms about mergers. We are bringing on around 80 new people this fall or around December from campus, so we’re going to continue to hire. Clearly we have to watch what we do because the growth isn’t at the same rate that it was for the whole profession over the last few years, but yes we are continuing to look to expand. I think one of the things that happens is, because of our great culture, it’s easier to attract people. What we’ve been told by clients is that they get to see the same people and they get to see terrific people. Our clients see the benefits of it.

Is your firm finding that many clients are concerned about the economy and losing their incomes?

Absolutely. I think the businesses are tightening up. Many of them are worried about their futures. In the Midwest, I think the news about Chrysler and GM coming through bankruptcy is a big plus. I think a number of companies have sort of been in limbo. Now, once things settle down with those two companies in particular, they can make plans and get back to business. I keep hearing the term, “green shoots.” We’re starting to see some of that, but they’re slow-growing green shoots right now.

Are you adding new services to help clients who are having difficulty in the economy?

One of our goals is to constantly evaluate and anticipate what services clients will need and develop those, so we have done that. We have a very broad array of services already, anything from turnaround to a number of IT services that we offer, ERP implementation, assessment in hiring, organizational development. We have a very broad array of services that we’ve built to help clients get through these tough times.

What advantages does the Jackson Rolfes merger give your firm?

The advantages of the Jackson Rolfes merger are several. First and foremost is that they’re a great firm with a comparable culture so they will be easy to integrate. Secondly, it rounds out our footprint in Ohio. That’s a state where we already had three offices and we were looking at Cincinnati for quite some time. It will help us expand to other areas near there as we look at other cities that are possible. And we have a very strong Japanese auto supplier practice, and there are a number of those in the Cincinnati area. That gives us a real opportunity to service those clients with the expertise that we have developed in that area.

Are you planning to do more mergers like the Jackson Rolfes merger in the near future?

I’m not ready to announce any yet, but yes, I think there will be other mergers in the next year or two of solid firms as well.

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