Wipfli names new MP

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Top 100 Firm Wipfli LLP has named a new managing partner, Kurt Gresens, who took the reins from longtime leader, Rick Dreher, on June 1.

Dreher has been managing partner at the Milwaukee-based firm since 2006, expanding it through a series of mergers and acquisitions into one of the top firms in the U.S. Wipfli ranked No. 19 on Accounting Today’s 2019 list of the Top 100 Firms, with $323.6 million in annual revenue. Gresens has been a partner and executive leader at the firm’s Green Bay, Wisconsin office, and a practice partner overseeing Wipfli’s audit, tax and consulting practices. He intends to continue the expansion strategy he is inheriting from Dreher.

“We have several strategic initiatives that we're currently working on,” he told Accounting Today. “My initial plan is to see through those strategic initiatives so that our firm is well-positioned for the future. There are a couple of key elements of that strategic plan that really are focuses for the near term. That is generally to ensure that we're growing, accelerating our growth both organically and through mergers and acquisitions, and that we are improving or upskilling our talent. Our associates are well-positioned in terms of their skills to serve our clients in the manner in which we need to be serving our clients in the future. There’s a heavy emphasis on talent and talent skills. The last one I would point to would be the acknowledgment that technology disruption is going to change many industries, including our own. And so we're very focused on how we internally drive the use of technology and its outcomes, and the efficiencies and automation that come along with that. From an external perspective, we know that many of our clients are also facing disruption and opportunities as a result of technology. We're trying to position ourselves as a firm to ensure that we're able to help our clients as they go through their transformations as well.”

Gresens also plans to improve specific practice areas at the firm. “I'm very bullish on the future of the assurance and the tax practice, so we are firmly committed to delivering those services in ways that our clients will demand and expect into the future,” he said. “For instance we are participating in the Dynamic Audit Solution, the DAS [an auditing technology initiative spearheaded by the American Institute of CPAs]. We're excited to be part of that, with a commitment of both financial and human resources there. That's one example. While we've been a firm that has been focused a lot in the past on what we would call consulting or advisory services to our clients, that will continue to be an increasing emphasis for our firm. ... We have a myriad of advisory services, ranging from risk management to human capital management and valuation, forensic, litigation type of services, that in total from an advisory perspective and from a consultative perspective, are where we have high expectations for our ability to help our clients.”

He also cited wealth management as an area of particular interest, as well as technology consulting, where he expects the firm to see "robust growth" based on the platform there that it has already established.

M&A activity is likely to continue at Wipfli. “We have done a fair bit of mergers and acquisitions in the past,” said Gresens. “I expect us to continue our merger and acquisition strategy for a couple of reasons. One, we know that there is a tremendous amount of talent and skill sets and service offerings that we can provide to our clients by merging firms who have that talent, that skill set, and those offerings. Also, we know that the technology disruption that is affecting our profession and our firm positions us well to be a landing spot for other firms who are needing to or desiring to help their clients. We're on this journey of our own transformation and the mindset around looking at the technology and the disruption from an opportunity perspective as much as anything.”

One of the areas where Gresens would like to expand Wipfli is in acquiring firms or people with more data analytics skills. “As part of our strategic plan, we acknowledge that there is a war for talent, and we intend to be a winner in that war for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One that I would point to is our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. We know that to service our clients best, and some of those clients being diverse, we intend to ensure our firm is both diverse and inclusive of talent or associates who may not have typically been attracted to our industry. I'm expecting our diversity, equity and inclusion to be impactful in winning the war for talent. We intend to hire accounting graduates, for sure, including those that are diverse, but especially we intend to seek alternative degrees and have those individuals join our firm who may not have accounting degrees, but maybe more of a diverse educational background because we believe that level of diversity will match the needs of our clients over the long term.”

He plans to add graduates with education in the STEM skills of science, technology, engineering and math, particularly those with skills in emerging technologies like robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Gresens also intends to continue what the firm calls its “impact pricing” strategy. “Some firms might call it value pricing or worth-based pricing or something like that,” Gresens explained. “Our chosen words are ‘impact pricing.’ What we're trying to do there is ensure that we're having the right strategic dialogues with our clients, understanding their goals, objectives and needs, and then matching our capabilities in service offerings to their goals, needs and objectives. This is an initiative that we feel will continue to be very impactful for our firm.”

The firm’s most recent strategic plan is called Wipfli 2025. “Within the last two years, we spent a fair bit of time understanding why we do what we do for our clients, our associates and our communities. We have defined our purpose to be creating lasting positive impact," said Gresens. "We want to impact our associates, our clients and our communities in a balanced sort of way. We know that if we are helping our clients in whatever their goals and needs are in providing a positive, rewarding and challenging career for our associates, we can impact their lives as well. If we look across the 50 offices or so that we're currently in, we know that we can impact our communities through being a strong community member.”

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