What I learned from my merger

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I was going along nicely for 34 years. At age 58, I had a great staff of six at Gail Rosen CPA PC who had been happily working together for many years. There were no thoughts of a merger in my near future. My long-term plan was to join another CPA firm five years prior to retirement, which was still a few years off for me. It was the perfect plan until, thankfully, opportunity knocked.

The e-mail came from Wilkin & Guttenplan, inviting me to dinner. I suspected that I knew what that e-mail meant -- talks of a merger. Although I had no interest, my philosophy is that you never know what benefits will come from a meeting. Additionally, in the back of my mind, I knew that W&G was a firm I would consider due to their reputation for providing a great work environment for staff. Luckily, I allowed myself to be open-minded.

How my story unfolds

Over dinner, the idea of joining forces came up. Although I communicated my longer-term merger plans, W&G provided some very compelling arguments and logic that really started to resonate with me. The merger offered me the chance to spend time on projects that I enjoy and give up the work that I dreaded.

As I drove home, I realized that I was interested in pursuing this merger opportunity. I had been approached by other firms in the past, but for me, this was not only a fit between W&G and my firm, but between what I wanted for the firm and what it could become.

Here are some tips I can pass on from my M&A experience:

  • Consider hiring an accounting merger consultant. With so much at stake, I found this to be a wise monetary investment for both my future and my staff’s. This helped protect me on issues that I might have not otherwise considered.
  • Try not to over-plan. The most important thing I learned through this process was the value of merging now versus waiting. For me, W&G was interested in all that Gail Rosen CPA PC had to offer, which was me, my staff and my client base. Choosing to wait until a few years prior to retirement would have meant it was primarily my clients that I was “selling.” Often, the longer one waits to merge, the less marketable the package becomes.
  • Think about operational risks. There was tremendous operational risk that I was ignoring if a health issue were to occur for me or any of my key staff. Worries about cybersecurity, technology, staff, benefits and other expertise needed are no longer mine to worry about alone. I face the future with a team, and a tremendous burden has come off my shoulders.
  • Analyze whether your clients need more. With this fast-changing world, I am now able to offer my clients answers about international issues and other complex matters. I never realized how much better our services could be for clients.
  • Evaluate cross-selling opportunities. With combined operations, I am pleasantly surprised about the amount of opportunities that have grown from my clients and existing relationships.
  • Review whether one is open to additional controls. Merging resources with a larger CPA firm meant additional controls for us, which may not be for everyone. While there is additional accountability, it is nothing like what I envisioned it might be.

Lessons learned

The hardest part of any merger is choosing the right merger partner. Although change is hard, my staff realized that this was a good choice, presenting opportunities both from a professional and a networking standpoint.

The unexpected benefit of this merger is how happy I am, now that the merger is complete. I was happy for 34 years doing business as a sole practitioner, but now I am doing bigger and more exciting jobs during the last leg of my career.

I write this from one (former) small practitioner to another. I challenge you to be open-minded to the benefits of a merger, perhaps sooner than you might originally have planned. As accountants, we do not embrace change easily, but we certainly cannot ignore the benefits of good business and opportunities.

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