J.H. Cohn LLP, the largest regional firm in the Northeast and one of the country’s 20 largest accounting firms, confronted by the increasingly complex needs of their middle market client base, in 1997 adopted a strategy of developing specialized practices and making acquisitions in their marketplace. That strategy resulted in revenues for the accounting and consulting firm that grew from $18 million in 1997 to $144 million in 2005.
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Other regional firms offering both accounting and consulting services to middle market companies have experienced comparable growth to J.H. Cohn in the last decade by following a similar strategy. These include Moss Adams LLP of Seattle, Washington, the largest firm in the Northwest, which is expanding into New Mexico, and Virchow Krause & Co. of Madison, Wisconsin, a firm that is looking to grow in Michigan.
J.H. Cohn plans continued expansion in the Northeast, especially in the New York market, and has partnered with Joe Torre, manager of the New York Yankees, to build the firm’s name recognition in the region. To Marino, “Joe Torre projects the same image J.H. Cohn’s legacy was built on – trust and a winning strategy.”
AccountingWEB spoke recently with Tom Marino and Robert DeMeola, the partner-in-charge of J.H. Cohn‘s New York office.
Q. How would you characterize a regional firm? How do you set yourselves apart from other firms in the region?
“I would say that as a regional firm we are geographically driven. Ninety percent of our clients are in the Northeast, although we have an international client base. We can get out to our clients in two hours or less. We want to concentrate our resources – understand the region, understand the people, know the region and its nuances.”
“We stand out because of the special attention we give our clients at the partner level. We make a point to manage our internal resources on each client’s team – we structure teams so that clients can always expect the highest level of service -- that means the partner can pick up the phone when the client calls.”
“At the end of last year we asked new clients, 'How did we do?' And they said 'I thought I’d see you twice a year. I never expected to see you so often. It was a breath of fresh air!'”
Q. “How do you market to the middle market. What makes you stand out as a firm in this market?"
“We provide specialized service. Our partners are industry specialists because they are recognized leaders in the industry, not just because they have a large number of clients in that area. They can sit down with clients and talk about what these business leaders face in their industry.”
“Our goal is to be the dominant regional firm in the industries we serve. We are selective about our clients, and are working toward establishing a critical mass [of clients]."
“We have specialized knowledge. The more that our people know about a client’s industry, the better it is for our clients. We provide better services for the dollars, more partner level services.”
Q How do get everybody on board, and involved?
“How do we get the buy-in from our staff? Through information sharing. And timely information sharing. We are open. After the partner meeting at the end of February, we joined each office to share our vision, the financial results, the good with the bad. We thrive on getting buy-in from the staff at these meetings and come out of those meetings energized. There is real excitement in the conversations with staff.”
Q What will a recent graduate, or a more experienced accountant who is looking to make a change, find at J.H. Cohn?
“Most of our staff will start out in audit. Later, they are given the opportunity to specialize in a different area, for example, forensic accounting. We devote the resources and budget for cross training and industry specialized training.”
“Accountants coming to J.H. Cohn should look to the opportunities in our growth patterns. They should look at our level-to-level growth -- the new markets we have entered. When someone chooses a career in accounting, they want to be accountants and financial advisors. We give them that opportunity, but we also prepare them for two occupations, as accountants and industry specialists, so that they can work either in accounting or in the industry."
“We want to know from them, what is your passion? It is a two way street. But where better to grow than in a firm that’s growing?”
Q Will Sarbanes-Oxley revenue continue to grow in ’06?
“There is a lot of discussion about not requiring businesses with small capitalization to meet the requirements because of cost. I think that’s a bad idea. I think the cost will come down, and I don’t see how you can rationalize two standards because of size. I think [these companies] will see a cost benefit as they understand the processes, not just look at the results. But yes, I think we may see $25 million in revenue from SOX.”
Q Do you expect that mergers and acquisition will be an area for revenue growth in ’06?
“That has been a growth area for the past two years and we expect it to continue. But we are expecting other opportunities. We are living in a 'perfect storm' for regional firms.”
Q What are you looking at for the next few months?
We have seen huge growth in ERISA work – the Big Four is moving away from that. We also have a large nonprofit group.”
“We have a lot of commercial work. We have a lot of privately held clients that do not have to meet SEC filing deadlines. And, for example, we may be asked to provide due diligence work for a potential acquisition.”
Q What are your staff working on right now?
“Our forensics specialists are involved in a 12-month project resulting from the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the Players’ Association in 30 cities. Some of our staff are working on that."
Q On your Web site you say that you want to double the number of female executives within two years and significantly increase the number of your female partners. Why did you make such a strong statement?
“Because I want to be in business ten years from now.”
Q How are you doing on that goal?
“We are preparing young women to take on key positions. Not because they are women, but because we want to develop individuals who are capable of becoming leaders. We also plan on appointing women to the Management Board.”
Q Any plans for future expansion?
“We are dedicated to our growth and expansion plans in the New York metro area. Our ad campaign and integrated marketing resources are geared toward capitalizing on our presence in the Northeast, in New York, Westchester and Long Island.”
Q. Your headquarters is in Roseland, New Jersey. Are you planning a larger presence in New York?
“Our corporate growth plans are focused on the New York market. In the future, our headquarters may relocate to New York as well.”