President, D. B. Scholl, Inc.
This Consultant Lives by a Simple Motto: "Manage Well Today and Visualize Successes Tomorrow"
Few "outsiders" get invited to closed-door meetings with accounting firm owners, what with sensitive and strategic business information in the air. But that's where one outsider -- Don Scholl -- is most often welcomed.
While not a CPA or trained in the technical standards or practices of the accounting profession, Scholl, president of D.B. Scholl, Inc. in West Chester, PA, is an authority in high demand for his insights on effective management, business development and strategic planning. His distinction as a practice management expert ushers him in front of owners and managers of many of the most prestigious accounting firms in the United States and Canada. Through his 33 years as a consultant, his consistent message amid the ever-evolving market is that a firm's leader should never leave the future to chance, and should guide the firm with as much respect, wise counsel and attention to detail as is accorded each client.
The Road to Excellence
A graduate of Haverford College, Scholl's varied career included positions in general management, sales, real estate development and corporate administration. His steps then led to a partnership in 1966 with a pioneer in the management development field, Hugh Gyllenhaal. They initially tackled corporate work for such heavyweights as General Dynamics and Union Carbide, but eventually added a few management training courses for two professional associations: the American Institute of CPAs and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
The natural progress led to a concentration in accounting. Scholl led AICPA training courses on a series aiding all levels of public practice, and considers his key achievement the development of the "Management for Results," advanced training course for CPA/CA firm owners, firm administrators and owners-in-training.
That and other seminars like "Strategic Planning for Accounting Firms" and a discussion leader workshop has made Scholl a popular guest among AICPA members, state CPA societies and more than 200 local, regional and national accounting firms. He provides and facilitates partner retreats; staff training programs, firm reviews, management audits and resolution of partnership issues.
Along the way, he has broadened his scope by participation in other professional groups. He is co-founder, past president and director of Inpact Americas, Inc., an international association of local and regional accounting firms. He also co-founded and now serves as an advisor to the Board of Directors of the Association for Accounting Administration, and is member of the American Society for Training and Development. In 1994, Accounting Today dubbed him one of the "100 Most Influential People in Accounting."
Trends to Watch
Taking his services a step further, he distributes to the accounting profession in North America the Predictive Index, a psychological profiling instrument used in recruiting and promotion decisions in more than 60 firms. To Scholl, practice management is more challenging than ever, given trends in the market.
"Times look rosy for effective accounting firms of all sizes if they decide what they do well, organize to do it efficiently and add services to complement the firm's strengths and the market's needs," he says. "But planning is primary. Owners need to sit down and do careful planning. They need to come to agreement about where they will direct their attention in the next one, two or three years and then designate a task force to get the firm on that course."
The basis for that level of success involves a firm's traditional services. Scholl views the market as finally putting a fair value on those tried-and-true accounting services so that there is good money in providing traditional services to good clients. In his opinion, the keys to building a better practice involves putting an effective leadership in place, sticking to criteria for model clients, and recruiting and retaining the appropriate staff to provide the services.
"In most practices, some clients don't deserve the time or attention of the firm," he says. "Setting real standards for client acceptance as they come in the front door, and then evaluating the client list and telling the less attractive clients they could be better served by another organization, would go a long way in enhancing profit-making opportunities and driving business growth."
A necessity hand-in-hand with periodic evaluation of clients is effective staffing. Firm management should search for proven competencies and unique talents among its candidates for staff openings. And, one underrated skill Scholl stresses to owners is writing and oral communication. He believes schools and colleges do not adequately prepare future employees bound for accounting; yet, all communication between clients and CPA practices end up in the written or spoken word.
"Firms across the country are having to rewrite reports, causing redundancy in tasks," he says. "Plus, the tendency of public accountant to over-write reports ends up with the client not understanding what the recommendation is and that affects the firm's credibility."
One trend Scholl notices that accounting firms rarely address in advance is succession planning for the approaching retirements of its key owners and the lack of leaders in the firm to take their places. He believes that scenario is often the reason that a firm is forced into a merger or sale.
"The firm did not bring aboard or retain people as staffers to be effective leaders," says Scholl. "Firms with foresight need to develop skills and capabilities of its younger people to take over those roles and be the future leaders of that firm."
Scholl welcomes comments and questions at [email protected].