[IMGCAP(1)]Having recently been named editor-in-chief of Accounting Today, I was looking forward to coasting for a while. I figured I'd throttle back, work the cocktail circuit, do a little light hobnobbing with the great and good of the accounting profession, and generally ease my way into my new position.
I figured I could rest on my laurels, meager as they are. Isn't that what laurels are for? Isn't that why people accumulate them? For resting purposes?
Apparently, some people don't think so.
The day before I officially took up my new post, I had the opportunity to meet Allan Koltin, who was here in New York City for a day to address a meeting of the Large and Midsized Firm Practice Management Committee of the New York State Society of CPAs, which he very kindly invited me to attend.
This was exactly the kind of thing I had in mind. If any crowd was ripe for laurel-resting, this was it -- managing and senior partners from around a quarter of the Top 100 Firms, the well-established leaders of some of the biggest and most successful firms in the country, all gathered to listen to one of the profession's most highly regarded consultants. I had high hopes of learning some valuable lessons about abusing the perks of executive office.
I was sorely disappointed.
Despite having reached the pinnacles of public accounting, these folks were not at all interested in coasting, resting on their laurels, enjoying the view, smelling the roses, or even engaging in a little self-congratulatory backpatting. Instead, they had gathered at 8 a.m. (the ungodly hour should have warned me that something was wrong) to discuss ways to build their businesses, to learn from each other, and to pay serious attention to Koltin's fairly rigorous prescriptions for growth.
These revolved around a "Triangle Offense" involving mergers and acquisitions; developing or acquiring "lateral" talent; and organic growth through cross-selling, innovation, and sales and marketing. Many firms and many firm partners know all about these avenues to growth, Koltin said, but they grew complacent. The phone rang so much from 2002 to 2007 that partners forgot how to develop new business and how to chase new clients. They also forgot how to innovate and develop new service lines. "There's a ton of business out there," he said, "but a lot of things are stopping us from getting it. A lot of partners have forgotten that there's business out there."
Rather than going out and getting new clients, Koltin explained, partners are often focusing on maintaining their current book of business. The best rainmakers often aren't making any rain at all, because they're serving current clients, neglecting cross-selling and business development in favor of keeping what they've got now.
"Professional sales people can help," Koltin said, "but in the end, it's partners who sell, and your stars are doing other things."
This kind of coasting, complacent, unfocused partner was exactly the kind of person I wanted to meet and emulate -- but from what I saw of the managing partners in the conference room that morning, I won't have much chance to.
To my horror, it became gradually clearer and clearer that they weren't there to congratulate each other on their success -- they were there to learn how to build on it. They weren't there to laugh about their mistakes -- they wanted plans to fix them. They're not content to be at the top -- they want to go higher.
So I offer you this as a warning: The people running the top firms in the profession aren't resting. They don't know how to throttle back. They don't know what laurels are for, and so they won't rest on them.
And that means the rest of us can't either.
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