An inspirational keynote on teamwork from renowned motivational speaker Pat Williams, an update on M&A activity among CPA firms and the induction of Clifton Gunderson chief executive Carl George into the Advisory Board Hall of Fame highlighted the opening day for the 8th annual Winning Is Everything conference here.

Roughly 400 partners and principals of mid- and upper-tier CPA firms heard Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic of the NBA and the author of 47 books, compare the value of teamwork and the value of success, whether on the hard court or within an accounting firm.

“Everything rises and falls on teamwork,” said Williams, who has also competed in 44 marathons over a 12-year period. “Corporate America is intrigued with the concept of teamwork from professional sports. Your players or employees have to have talent, but that talent has to be coachable and teachable. Do they understand their roles and are those roles effectively communicated?”

He maintained that leaders are lifelong readers and challenged attendees to read a book for one hour a day for the rest of their lives. “Leaders are not only readers, but teachers as well. Basketball coaching legend John Wooden never thought of himself as a coach, but as a teacher.”

Williams also offered recruiting advice: “Hire slowly, but if it’s not working out - fire quickly.”

Meanwhile, as 2008 ended with a flurry of merger activity, including consolidator CBIZ absorbing both New York firm Mahoney Cohen and Boston-based practice Tofias, Allan Koltin, chief executive of Chicago-based consultancy PDI Global and a member of conference host The Advisory Board, projected that 2009 will probably see more marriages between CPA firms.

Ken Baggett, managing principal of Reznick Group, a firm with 12 offices and about $250 million in annual revenue, said his firm often entered into mergers because he could not cultivate leadership fast enough. He told the audience that, of Reznick’s 114 partners, 37 of them were not there in 2003. He also revealed that while some mergers went smoothly, an acquisition in Chicago was a painful three-year integration process because Reznick did not “drill down” into the second- and third-tier leadership of the acquiree.

Ivan Brown, managing partner of New Jersey-based WithumSmith+Brown, said his firm has completed 10 mergers in the past 20 years - with firms ranging from $500,000 to $2.5 million in revenue. He said his firm has backed away from deals but insists that the partners of both the acquirer and acquiree get to know each other before proceeding.

Bill Carr, managing partner of Carr, Riggs & Ingram of Enterprise, Ala., said his firm has completed 16 transactions over the past 11 years, with many of them predicated on penetrating different geographic markets or expanding to new service lines. He also advised that post-merger, the acquiring firm should meet with key clients and explain to them that the service will not change, and in fact, will be enhanced.
“We will never do a Statue of Liberty merger, where we say, ‘Give me your tired, your hungry and your poor,’” quipped Baggett of Reznick Group.

Carl George, the longtime chief executive of Peoria, Ill.-based Clifton Gunderson, was honored as the Advisory Board’s 2009 Hall of Fame recipient. George, who oversees the 17-office firm, has been with CG since 1970 and will step down as CEO later this year, handing the reins to Krista McMasters. George also oversees the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.

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