Thoughts from a Smith & Howard Partner – Who Happens to be a Woman
Jul 25,2014
Guest Post by Debbie Torrance, Partner with Smith & HowardI started my career in 1986 with no prior experience and a master’s degree in accounting from Clemson University. My first real job was at an international accounting firm where I worked my way up to Tax Manager before leaving five years later. My next stop (which turned out to be my last) was Smith & Howard - a top 25 Atlanta CPA firm in 1991 and still a top 25 Atlanta firm in 2014. As a Tax Partner at Smith and Howard since 1997, I have not only seen my own career change and grow but have also had the privilege and fun of helping others to succeed.When I arrived for my first day of work at Smith & Howard in 1991, I was newly married, had just relocated to Atlanta the weekend before and was excited about my career opportunities. At that time, the firm had less than 20 professionals, and while half of them were women none of the five partners were. As the only Tax Manager at the time I was also the only female Tax Manager.  The fact that in 1991 there were no women partners...
Judgments made in the “Blink” of an eye
Jun 12,2014
I have mentioned before our “Never stop learning” philosophy. We provide comprehensive training – both hard and soft skills – to our entire staff throughout their careers through Smith & Howard University. Included in this training is a long history of reading books together. Jim Howard, our co-founding partner and former Managing Partner, created a culture of reading here, and it continues today. Most recently, our book club (lead by Jessica Yandell, a member of our Accounting group) read and discussed an intriguing book by Malcolm Gladwell, “Blink.” If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In short, Gladwell discusses the many ways and instances in which we make significant judgments and decisions in the “blink” of an eye. And we often do so without even realizing it.Our group discussed not only how our own rapid judgments occur at work or home, but also how others are making decisions on each of us (and therefore, our firm) when they meet us.  Here is a quick recap of the discussion we had surrounding Blink.We talked about how to make the best decisions we can based on limited information, such as when recruiting or interviewing new employees.The importance of culture fit...
Never Stop Learning
May 14,2014
I recently hosted a panel discussion of a group of experienced CPA firm partners. The purpose of that group was to discuss best practices of our firms and of our roles. It was a good , productive discussion that benefited each of us. But what was particularly enlightening for me and others was the fact that, no matter how long we have each been in our profession or our current roles, we still:Have a lot to learn; no matter where we are in our careers, we can benefit from trainingNeed to ask for and listen to the advice of our peersMust seek input from those outside our profession and recognize that their viewpoints are very important Our firm has taken a “never stop learning” approach to training our staff. But I was reminded last week that this approach applies to everyone, at every level, in every business.   
Finishing Well
May 05,2014
Deadlines (goals with absolutely end dates attached) require laser focus and cohesive teamwork. Accounting firms experience this through regulatory deadlines, April 15 being the most well known. In the  months leading up to April15, we have an "all in" spirit - we know the goal and we know how to reach it. Everyone gets on the same page and even though we wonder every year if it we will get finished "this time,", it does get finished and we do meet the deadline.But what happens after April 15 is as important, and as the post from LeadershipNow (below) points out, post-deadline may be the most dangerous time of all. Using climbing Mount Everest as an example, the author notes that most of the deaths on Everest occur on the descent. When ascending, climbers are ever aware and cautious of the dangers. But after reaching their goal, they’ve used everything they have and are in greater danger than before."Success encourages complacency and arrogance, both of which erode character and obstruct growth."We are taking a step back to refocus, reenergize and approach the months after busy season with a renewed spirit (no complacency here) and a desire to learn how to be...
Reflections on the 2014 Busy Season
Apr 22,2014
It surprises many people to learn that accounting firms can bill up to 50% of their revenue in the first four months of each year. Not only does this speak to the volume of work created by demands for audits and IRS-required tax filings, it also provides a hint into the hours and brain power used by everyone in an accounting firm during that time. And I mean everyone.At Smith & Howard, there really is no “i” in team - we all pitch in at some level during busy season. Even having participated in over 20 years of busy seasons at Smith & Howard, I still find myself in awe at the incredible staff we have, the positive attitudes they keep throughout the busiest times and the great clients we serve.We stumble from time to time, but who doesn’t? I think our difference is that we take our stumbles very personally and work hard to keep from making the same mistake twice. We really do love our clients and are most rewarded when they succeed and are happy.So I’ll close out the 2014 busy season with heartfelt thanks to every person at Smith & Howard. You each continue to make...
(Un)harnessing Energy
Apr 08,2014
I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with about 100 very smart people at S&H. Many of them are young, energetic professionals who have ideas and ambitions that are broader and more creative than anything I would dream up on my own.Our challenge as leaders? To recognize this energy and creativity and help our staff channel that energy in ways that interest them and help them grow and at the same time provide solutions our clients need. About 7 months ago, we decided to establish a scholarship program at the Atlanta Technology Village (ATV) providing free rent for a year to a total of four tech start-ups. While this was a firm-wide initiative, it was our younger staff members that drove the success of the venture. Letting our staff come up with – and execute – ideas for enhancing the program and growing relationships at ATV has proven to be a wise decision. It was simply a matter of unharnessing the energy that was already there. Tyler Disk, a tax staff member who is one of our staff leaders on the ATV project, said this about his involvement, “Working with the technology niche … has helped me to step outside the...
Customer Love: The 10 Most Important Phrases
Mar 24,2014
When the mission of your business is “We have a passionate commitment to responsive, personal service,” you have to spend a good bit of time reminding one another what that means. Not just to the business, but to the client. I found some inspiration in the video below and hope you do, too.Click here to watch Customer Love.The ten most important phrases for customer service are:I apologize for our mistake. Let me make it right.Thank you for your business. Please come back again.I’m not sure, but I will find out.What else can I do for you?What is most convenient for you?How may I serve you?How did we do?Glad you’re here.Thank you.Yes.  
Leadership Lessons from SEC Coaches
Mar 21,2014
It’s hard to believe, but the SEC spring football schedule kicks off in less than two weeks. Our office has graduates from a wide range of colleges, many of them in the SEC. No matter which SEC team we cheer for, we believe that SEC coaches are among the best in the nation. Coaching is all about leadership and in many ways it is probably one of the most challenging leadership roles of all. So I thought it would be a good time to highlight some leadership lessons from three SEC coaches: Mark Richt of the University of Georgia, Gus Malzahn of Auburn University and Nick Saban of the University of Alabama. No matter where your team allegiance may be, each of these coaches has seen successful in large part because of their leadership.Mark Richt: Balance process and values.Richt wants to win just like every other coach, but he also emphasizes aligning the desire to win (and the process that will achieve that) with values that determine how that is done. It is important to Richt to focus on what’s important and not waste time on small distractions.Gus Malzahn: Be confident in your process but include others in it.Confidence is...
Building a team of “A” players
Mar 17,2014
Back in January, I wrote that we were being very clear about our firm goals for the year and planned to communicate openly and frequently about those goals. One of my personal goals has been to write the entire office every Monday with a quick note about how we are (or are not) making one of our goals happen, ways to stay focused and what our goals mean to the group as a whole.I thought this would be a difficult task. But I’ve found it to be much easier than I originally thought. Why? When the firm’s goals are established and communicated and everyone is already working in sync to achieve the goals, the emails seem to write themselves.For instance, our “passionate commitment to responsive, personal service” is demonstrated every single day by dozens of people in the firm. So when I want to congratulate someone for a job well done, I have plenty of material to work with. When our growth goal is the theme, it’s easy to find someone who has been actively pursuing new business even while they were spending six days a week serving clients. The list goes on.Which brings me to a valuable leadership lesson:...
Qualities of Emerging Leaders
Mar 03,2014
As a once “future leader” at Smith & Howard, I can attest to the importance of organizations thinking ahead about the qualities of individuals who will lead their companies for many years to come. Knowing what kind of person will work well in the culture of the firm while helping the organization grow are key things we look for at Smith & Howard. Sounds simple, but it’s actually quite complex. Why? Because a person can be a very smart, committed professional and a great person, but may still not fit in with an organization’s culture for various reasons. Also, some of the key qualities may not be evident when someone straight out of college joins the firm. For that reason, we must have a culture of learning and mentoring in place that helps both the individual and the firm determine the best path for each person. And we must all recognize that an investment of time is necessary for everyone to find their way.So what should companies look for in emerging leaders? These five key things from Robert Denker, Ph.D. are right on target with what Smith & Howard looks for in future leaders.1. Is effective at collaborationEmerging leaders are...