What makes an accounting firm a great employer? Is it exceptional benefits? Flex time? Opportunities for advancement?As you might expect, the tactics that make for success vary from firm to firm; however, one value underlies them all - a genuine "people-first" attitude.

Accounting Today set out to find the firms that excel at keeping their workforce on board and happy through our first Best Firms to Work For survey.

To see the full report and rankings, click here.

The winning firms were divided into three categories for ranking: small firms with between 15 and 24 employees, midsized firms with 25 and 249 employees, and large firms with more than 250 employees.

Mark Bailey & Co. in Reno, Nev., Frazier & Deeter LLC in Atlanta, and Kaufman, Rossin & Co. in Miami garnered the first-place ranking in the small, midsized and large categories, respectively. In all, five small firms, 40 midsized firms and 15 large firms were honored as Best Firms to Work For. They will be recognized at an awards ceremony in May.

"We were very excited when the results came in," said Susan Springer, director of workplace assessments for Best Companies Group, which conducted the analysis and rankings. "The data was a very strong and competitive list. ... It's great to see that there's stiff competition, which means overall, accounting companies get it." (For details on the process, see "Choosing the Best," at left.)


It was the "trashing" of the timesheet at Mark Bailey & Co. approximately three years ago that started the firm's cultural odyssey to a more satisfying and successful workplace environment.

The defining moment came when the firm's managing partner, Mark Bailey, was going through a divorce and found himself sifting through bills from his attorneys that documented every phone call, according to the firm's marketing director, Michelle Turri. At that point, Bailey and his firm reflected on the organization's value system and how charging an hourly fee was archaic.

Instead, the firm introduced a fixed fee for each proposal, which decreased the administrative time of tracking costs - and the results were immediate.

"The biggest thing is [seen] in the employees - just happiness and staff retention," Turri said. "Our firm revenue has more than doubled, our clients have doubled, and the firm size has doubled, all in the time of implementing this."

Aside from the new fee structure, the firm started asking employees what jobs they wanted to work on, and from there assigned them tasks to get the job done by an allotted deadline.

"The staff is pretty much free to set the hours that they need to be in the office or work on that engagement. We're not there to keep track of the time," Turri said. "We trust our employees to get the job done. That really frees them up, and they feel like they are a valuable resource to the firm."

A retired university professor was also hired in 2007 to develop a mentoring program and focus on firm growth.

With both the mountains and an ample urban life available, the firm takes advantage of Nevada's amenities, treating staff members to rafting trips, barbecues, annual holiday parties and a plethora of outside staff functions through its social committee.

"There's a misconception about small accounting firms that you're going to be bored, you're going to work on small clients, you are going to be doing tedious things, and that's not the case at all," Turri said. "They're experiencing a wide variety of clients. They still get all of their continuing education. They are working on a flexible work schedule and people are getting paid for their overtime. I think they feel respected."


With 180 employees, including those in its wealth-advisory firm, Frazier & Deeter attributes its consistent, organic, seven-year, double-digit growth to a combination of being able to add talent and services that benefit clients, its geographic location and a strong marketplace.

"I just think we have a culture where the men and women have bought into our strategic plan," said managing partner David Deeter. "We've laid out what we're trying to accomplish as a firm at quarterly meetings, and we give updates on how the firm is progressing."

Deeter can rattle off a variety of reasons why his firm is a great place to work: fun activities, community involvement, reasonable targets for charge hours, sports teams, and social hours. The firm has had less than 5 percent turnover in the last three years, revealed marketing director Erinn Keserica. She said that coaching, training, community, and social and entrepreneurial initiatives make a stronger impact collectively than as individual strategies. The firm also annually hosts the Our Clients' Expectations And Needs, or OCEAN, Awards, where peers and partners can nominate each other for actions done to improve the quality of client work and internal support.

"It's amazing the exposure our firm has received over the last several years for being well-managed and well-operated," Keserica said. "It's really opened the eyes of potential candidates. They come straight here and want to be part of the team, which is a compliment."

The firm's geography helps, too. Deeter said that Atlanta is among the best places for young people to start a career - and to finish one, as well.

"I think we've always had bias towards growth and entrepreneurship and career opportunities," Deeter said. He added that the firm recently created an internal director of learning, is formalizing a teaching university within the firm, and plans to expand beyond Atlanta to other Georgia locations, as well as neighboring states. "We've taken risks in opening divisions. We've taken risks in bringing people into the firm. We're trying different things all the time. Some work, some don't."


"One of the things I felt is a real hardship on a whole segment of our group is health insurance costs for dependents and for children," said Jim Kaufman, managing partner at Kaufman, Rossin & Co. in Miami. "We actually devised a supplemental system with an HMO where we provided children coverage for $150 month and families for $250 for our employees. There is nobody in our business now, in this market, that even comes close to offering that kind of benefit. To me, that was causing the most pain - especially on staff levels."

That program was initiated approximately two years ago. However, that's not the only reason the firm's employees stay put. On the firm's Web site are employee "spotlights" or "A day in the life," as well as a video about the benefits of working in southern Florida at their firm.

With 291 employees and three offices in the area, the firm offers book clubs, wine parties, and an on-premise spa and gym, as well as "rainmaker boot camps."

"I think we've always had a people-first culture," Kaufman said of his firm, which has grown to its current size without any mergers. "We're 46 years in business. This has been inculcated since there were just a few employees during the first few years, and that value system I think has permeated the culture ever since."

Approximately five years ago, the firm created Kaufman Rossin University, which offers a curriculum focusing on professional, technical and lifestyle skills. It has also instituted a leadership program to promote innovation and growth. "It really gives traction to the message that we want people to grow," Kaufman said, adding that the firm also has a mentoring program managed by a talent development director, and that roughly 150 of the firm's employees are in their 20s or 30s.

Kaufman describes the firm as like family. "One of the comments that was made to me by one of our new employees, who came on from another accounting firm, at one of our social events, was that the incredible thing is you can't really tell who the partners are, who the staff or admin are because there is so much social interaction," he recalled with a laugh. "Apparently in this old firm, all the partners clustered together and talked to each other and there wasn't that kind of congenial tone like we have here."

As for what's next for the firm, Kaufman said he's trying to keep everybody employed and challenged. "That's a good project in this day and age," he said. "Our big focus is keeping everything in place, and we're not retrenching when it comes to employee benefits."


Identifying and recognizing the best employers in accounting was a joint effort of the publishers of Accounting Today and Best Companies Group.

The program was open to accounting firms with at least 15 employees working in the U.S. Participating firms submitted an Employer Benefits and Policies Questionnaire to disclose company policies, practices and demographics, which made up one quarter of the firm's score. Then staff members completed a confidential Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey, to evaluate the employees' workplace experience and company culture, which accounted for the remaining three quarters of each firm's score.

The results were then analyzed and categorized in eight areas: leadership and planning, corporate culture and communications, role satisfaction, work environment, relationship with supervisor, training and development, pay and benefits, and overall engagement.

The registration process, surveys and data evaluation were managed by Best Companies Group, which manages 32 similar programs across the country and in Canada.

For more information, visit www.bestaccountingfirmstoworkfor.com. To participate in next year's Best Firms ranking, look for announcements in Accounting Today in late spring, or send a firm contact name, phone number and e-mail address to AcToday@sourcemedia.com.

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