Friday, November 8, 2019

Today’s Succession Market – A Harsh Reality

Two months ago, my neighbor of more than 20 years hung out a “For Sale” in front of his house. He told me it was time. His children were grown and out of the house and he was closing in on retirement from his job with the county. His wife had retired just months before. He had set his sights on North Carolina and showed me the blueprints for his retirement home.

He was one of those true do-it-yourselfers, he mowed his own lawn, repaved his own driveway and installed a new front door. His home was always immaculate, and I assumed it would sell immediately.


The sign is still out and despite a few nibbles no one has made a concrete offer. I asked him what the problem was, and he said the realtor told him that it was truly a buyer’s market and home shoppers could be a lot more selective than even as recently as five years ago.

So, he waits and waits and waits for an offer that hopefully will come before the New Year.

Which in a roundabout way sort of brings me to the accounting marketplace – particularly regarding succession and M&A.

This week I had to have a painful heart to heart with a practitioner in his mid-70s – a sole owner with no succession plan. When I asked him our $64,000 question about how many more years he wanted to work full time – he simply replied “forever.”

Friday, November 1, 2019

It Must Be the Altitude

More years ago, than I care to remember I attended the University of Denver and graduated without fanfare. I think my sole accomplishment during my tenure there was being listed in the Metro phone book.

I had always heard about how being 5,280 feet above sea level affects you both physically and mentally – a fact hammered home convincingly after participating in a touch football game the second day on campus. After six or seven plays, I was wheezing like a 40-year chain smoker and had to sit on the sidelines for a while.

But I believe it does funny things to your cognitive processes as well, another Denver-centric fact that became blatantly obvious last week during my CPE sessions there at a major vendor conference.

Okay to be fair the annual event was primarily focused on tax and technology and the attendance at my dual 100-minute sessions for lack of a better term “reflected” those major segments – as succession planning was obviously far down the list in terms of interest.

So, with over 1,300 attendees crammed into one venue, only 40 or so of them (and that included the audio-visual guys) felt succession planning was important enough for them to attend.

And that was unfortunate because if I may be shamelessly immodest for a moment, I felt they were two of the best sessions I’ve ever facilitated in nearly 15 years of teaching CPE. Seriously. Although standing for that long resulted in a rather painful plane ride home the following day.

But back to the topic de jour.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Elephant(s) in the Room

Next week I am scheduled to jet off to the Mile-High City of Denver where I will deliver a couple of presentations on succession planning at a global software vendors massive user’s conference.

I was flattered when they accepted my speaking proposal but harkened back to when we would regularly exhibit at this event complete with a booth and marketing materials and generate little or no interest from attendees. We collectively figured we were simply catering to the wrong audience.

Perhaps this year will be different.

As evidence, I have already received several emails from attendees who claim they are looking forward to my presentation. I was both flattered and puzzled. Just a few short years ago I taught a similar session at this same event some five years ago and the audience more resembled a haunted house in number than a standing room only crowd.

So, what has changed?

I would like to think they many have finally resigned themselves to the fact that they can no longer ignore the elephant – or perhaps closer to the scale of the problem – the wooly mammoth – in the room – succession planning or lack thereof.

Mark Twain once remarked that no amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot. I’ll be somewhat more diplomatic and tell anyone that will listen there is a virtual Mount Everest of statistical and real-life evidence that the profession is dangerously behind on succession planning.

Yet most firm owners prefer kicking the can down the road and putting the inevitable off for yet another year.

Case in point. Last year I was working with a sole practitioner in the Northeast who was approaching the dreaded six-five. His practice generated roughly $1 million in billings and made an easy “tuck-in” for larger firms.

Yet, he decided to spurn any offer and opted for the “P” word – procrastination.

Let me tell you what happened in the course of several months. His IT system went on the fritz – requiring an expensive upgrade. One of his key employees resigned and he suffered the loss of a 50K client that he never saw coming.

Now he’s forced to accept far less profitable terms should he finally make the decision to merge.

I should use that as a marquee case study during the conference on the importance of succession planning and see who salutes or at least pays attention.

I don’t know how much has changed in five years, but that’s the skeptic in me talking.

We’ll see.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Why Dilbert Will Always Remain Relevant

Since its debut in 1989 I have been a faithful and unwavering fan of the parody cartoon Dilbert. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a cynical and satirical glimpse of a white-collar office with a cast of characters including lazy and problematic co-workers, a pointy haired boss without a clue and even a cat in the role of an evil human resources director.

But for a lot of us who were, and are, mired in the corporate arena, some of the strips hit far too close to home – particularly with regard to undeserved promotions and questionable upward mobility. Many of you can probably cite examples of C-suite incompetence that not only went unpunished, but often rewarded.

Case in point. A publishing company I once worked for was losing money like a leaky dinghy. Since the majority of its revenue was derived from classified and display advertising sales, upper management hired a consultant to ferret out the problem. It was discovered that the company actually counted more vice presidents in their New York office than actual salespeople.

After the problem was “solved” by basically letting go of several overpaid and useless executives, the CEO was incredibly awarded an “Excellence in Business” certificate by a local organization.

Fast forward 10 years or so later, I was unceremoniously saddled with a micromanaging superior who insisted on putting his pipsqueak hands on everything that fell under my purview including artwork and editorial submissions.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Make a Decision – Please!

My high school football coach often employed a memorable axiom about making mistakes.

He would always lecture his players that if they made a mistake, at least make sure it’s an aggressive one. I road tested that theory in a late-season game when I took it upon myself to blitz the quarterback from my safety position getting there a millisecond too late and leaving my assigned wide receiver to gather in a soft pass and waltz into the end zone.

Instead of getting his usual reaming if a play blew up, he consoled me and said he liked the fact that I at least took a chance.

My father often spouted a similar philosophy, “a bad decision is a bad decision but it’s better than no decision.”

I don’t think that happens very often in the CPA world.

During my 20 years of either covering or consulting on the profession, I have seen little evidence of brazen decision making – particularly when it comes to succession planning – or more accurately, a lack thereof.

In fact, I have witnessed quicker decisions from nervous first-time skydivers jumping out of a plane.

Case in point. Earlier this month I was consulting with a two-partner firm in the Northeast whose owners were each 64 years old.

Friday, September 20, 2019

My Social Media Guidelines – take it or leave it!

I have been a Facebook user since 2007, three years after it made its debut. Like many other things’ technology, I’m always a bit behind the curve.

Ditto for LinkedIn. I first became a member in 2009 – some six years after it launched. Since then I’ve accumulated rather modest totals of Facebook “friends” and LinkedIn connections.

For those keeping score at home it’s 117 for the former and just over 300 for the latter.

I realize those numbers pale in comparison with others on both platforms some of whom have recorded over 1,000 Facebook friends and as much as 2,000 LinkedIn connects.

Wanna know why?

Because as elitist as it sounds, I’m very selective on whom I connect with on each. You would not invite people you didn’t know over to your house for drinks, right? Then I never understood why people agree to instantly connect with everyone who reaches out to them. Particularly on the socially-leaning Facebook which reveals reams of personal information – no matter how many safeguards they install to block them.

My rule is simple – if I don’t know you – or in the case of I know you but don’t like you – your connection requests quickly meet the delete key. I know someone with 2,365 Facebook connections. And no, that’s not a misprint. I’m sorry, it strains the bounds of credulity that they could know each one of them let alone share personal information.

I had a one-time boss whose ineptness could have filled a week’s worth of Dilbert cartoons who, after he was mercifully fired, wanted to be my LinkedIn buddy.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Why Didn’t You Do That Before?

As someone who has reported on two large industries since the mid-1980s, as you may imagine I have written and commented on the omnipresent issue of employee turnover. While an employee revolving door would be more frequent say, in the restaurant industry as opposed to the accounting profession, nevertheless it remains critical metric for CPA firms.

Which is why I’m still astonished at how many remain reactive to employee retention as opposed to proactive.

Case in point.

The other day I was at my local health club when a former partner at one of the super-regional CPA firms and now on his own, was bemoaning about the loss of his long-time senior manager. He explained that the manager was with him nearly eight years but left for a firm that offered more money and a faster track to partnership.

He said he matched the money to get him to remain to which I replied that if he matched the money it meant it was there in the first place so why wasn’t he more proactive about raises and merit promotions?

The ensuing silence reinforced the fact I had brought up an uncomfortable truth. Sadly, that’s more the rule as opposed to the exception.

Closer to home my spouse is leaving her position after 18 years with the same company for a sizeable leap in salary and perks. Her resignation letter set off a panic within upper management and they made a furious charge to convince her to stay – matching the money and the benefits. I pointed out that they hadn’t given her a raise in three years and now additional funds were miraculously available?