From implementing a vision to becoming a global brand to making a commitment to client service excellence, a quartet of chief executives revealed their respective firms’ best practices and strategies in a marquee session during the second day of the Winning Is Everything confab in Las Vegas.

The leaders of four firms, ranging from one among the top 10 in the U.S. in terms of revenue, to a young, but rapidly growing practice in Puerto Rico, told an audience of roughly 300 managing partners how their practices evolved to their current size and profitability and what they’re doing to grow amid a tough economic climate.

“Four years ago, we put forth a vision to become a national firm and a global brand,” said Chuck Allen of Crowe Horwath. “We made presentations in the field to all our offices and articulated where we saw ourselves.”

Allen said that goal culminated with the firm meshing with the international firm Horwath International and becoming Crowe Horwath in September of 2008. Allen added that the firm also began running what he termed “relationship campaigns,” print ad efforts featuring actual CH associates, and reinforcing the firm’s commitment to superior client service.

“This recession tested our best practices,” said Jack Cotton of Suby von Haden & Associates, which is now branded as SVA. “It will be some time before we see significant growth. But too often firms remain focused on the stumbling blocks to change instead of change.”

He said SVA conducts internal surveys on current practices and initiatives entitled, “Stop, Start, Continue.”

“We ask them [the SVA associates] to identify one of each,” said Cotton. He told conference-goers that as a result of the responses to one poll, the firm has restructured its compensation plans.

Ryan Marin, who heads Scherrer Hernandez & Co. in Puerto Rico, a relative fledgling that began in 2000 and is now the second-largest CPA firm on the island, said the firm’s focus is on what’s working, what’s not and then subsequently drills down on both.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “Who can sell, who can develop business? You have to define your profitability matrix, and not waiver from that. But balance profitability with what your people want.” He said that one of the firm’s goals was to be recognized as one of the 20 best employers in Puerto Rico, which came to fruition in 2008.

Bill Tapp, at Tampa, Fla.-based Kirkland, Russ Murphy & Tapp, set his firm’s vision to more of a localized strategy — to be the most reliable provider of services in the Tampa Bay area. The majority of KRMT’s employee recruiting is also done at the local level — primarily from the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa.

“All of our growth has been organic,” he said. “But we also do what we call a ‘strategic strike’ where we find the best person in another firm to meet a particular need.” His firm has also re-engineered the traditional performance review, and he regularly hosts get-togethers for associates called “Breakfast with Billy.”

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