The partners of Top 100 Firm Sikich LLP have elected Chris Geier as their next managing partner and CEO, succeeding James Sikich.

Geier will take office on Jan. 1, 2017, and Sikich will retire at the end of 2017.

Geier joined the firm in 2008, and currently serves as partner-in-charge of Sikich Investment Banking and CEO of Sikich Corporate Finance, and is also a member of the Executive Board.

“Chris Geier has played an integral role in developing and helping guide the firm’s strategy over the past eight years,” said James Sikich in a statement. “He is a proven leader with broad business experience who is highly respected by the executive board and across the firm.”

In an interview with Accounting Today, Geier noted that he has been involved in the firm at a high level from the very beginning of his tenure. “From early on, when I joined the firm in 2008, Jim and I started working together fairly closely not just on the investment bank but on many things involving the firm itself.”

“I’ve been involved in the key decisions of the firm now for a number of years,” he added, “so in terms of transition, there isn’t anything going on that I’m not involved in already. It’s been very smooth, and it’ll be very smooth when Jim gives up his role.”

That said, Sikich will stay with the firm to help with the transition, Geier said: “He’s been the only MP of the firm and the only leader that any of the partners have known, so it’s a big move.”

Under Sikich, the firm has quadrupled in size since the 1990s, and now ranks No. 31 on Accounting Today’s Top 100 Firms with $115 million in revenue in 2015.

Geier is aiming to achieve something similar in the future. “We have a 10-year strategic plan, and that plan has us as a national firm, and if we continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years, we’ll be a firm in excess of $500 million in revenue in the next 10,” he said. “We created a market index to find out where it makes the most sense for us to expand geographically. In this business, there’s a grow-or-die mentality, so you don’t have a choice – you have to grow.”

For all its fame as a serial acquirer, the firm’s growth has historically been roughly split 50/50 between organic sources and M&A, and Geier expects that to continue – though there will probably be “a little bit more M&A going forward,” he acknowledged, even as the firm aims to continue organic growth of 7-10 percent.

In terms of M&A, the firm targets certain geographies, but will also make opportunistic acquisitions when appropriate – particularly when a firm offers a strong bench of talent, or a new vertical niche that Sikich isn’t currently in.

 

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Like many firm leaders, Geier is concerned about staff shortages and succession issues.

“The race for talent is so acute -- we’re struggling to find the talent we need now,” he said. “We have strong leaders in certain areas of the business who are getting closer to retirement – it’s a challenge for us to have people coming up behind them.”

To help solve the problem, Sikich has invested significant resources into developing its staff. “We provide a lot of strong opportunities for potential leaders,” Geier explained. “We spent millions of dollars on Sikich University to create a pathway for people in the firm, almost like a college curriculum.”

The firm also uses its industrial psychology practice to assess its up-and-coming leaders through a series of tests. “The purpose is to help identify potentially strong leaders, but also once we understand their strengths and weaknesses, we know how to help bring them along,” Geier said. “We want to know how we can help improve their skills and give them some tools to put in their box.”

He identified a number of other challenges facing his firm – and others: “Externally, we’ve got market forces, like everyone does, and part of our business is being somewhat commoditized, so we’re working hard to be innovative to provide the kinds of services clients need. Technology is going to have a huge effect on the things we do going forward. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t affected us more to date.”

He also expects technology to offer opportunities, too, citing data analytics and business intelligence as an example. “Many of our clients have all this data, but they don’t know what do with it, so we have a lot of development going on with business intelligence,” he said.

 

A DIFFERENT BACKGROUND

Interestingly, part of the value Geier brought to Sikich originally was that he had not had a career in accounting. “With my broader business background, having been involved with a number of different companies across numerous industries, I think I brought a different perspective,” said Geier, who is not a CPA. “Sikich, like many firms, is becoming a complex professional service organization where you’re dealing with a variety of different service offerings that cater to different industries and different size of clients. It’s becoming a more complicated business than the traditional accounting firm has been over the decades.”

Geier held C-level operating roles at both private and publicly traded companies and has more than 20 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions and capital-raising transactions across multiple industries. Immediately prior to joining Sikich in 2008, he was running his own firm, GEI Advisory, and was introduced to the firm through a headhunter.

“He said, ‘There’s a really interesting firm in Chicagoland that’s trying to aggressively grow and needs somebody to come in and rework the M&A capability,’” Geier recalled. “Sikich had gotten into the business in 2001 with mixed results, and they really wanted to create a real, legitimate investment bank. I spoke with Jim Sikich and the board members over a couple of months, and thought it sounded like an interesting firm and an interesting opportunity.”

“I’d been on my own for 15 years, and I would never have imagined a place with people who would be willing to put up with me, but it’s a testament to the type of firm we have and the entrepreneurial spirit of the leadership,” he added.

Geier holds a degree in criminal justice from Washington State University, and an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

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