Your CPA Firm -- Is It Focused Or Scattered?

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I was recently reading about the advice Steve Jobs gave Larry Page, co-founder of Google, when he took on the role of CEO of Google in 2011. It comes from the book by Walter Isaacson.

“We talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby and being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.” – Steve Jobs

As a CPA firm owner/leader:

  • What are you doing to keep your firm from getting flabby?
  • Are you larded down with B players?
  • Has your firm grown up? If so, has it turned out like you always wished it would?
  • Are you a fairly new firm? What do you envision for your firm?
  • Is your firm too scattered in it’s focus, trying to be all things to all people?
  • Are you building a team of lieutenants you can count on (succession planning)?
  • Are you adequate but not great?

Maybe you should use these questions as the agenda for your next partner retreat.

"My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that's what I try to do."
Steve Jobs

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Simple and true advice from Steve Jobs, who built a tech empire from the foundation of what his friend and others were pursuing as a mere hobby. The hobbyists had no idea they were sitting on a diamond mine. Jobs later learned about what happens when trust is placed in the wrong people... so did the Apple shareholders, who were rescued when Jobs returned to the business.

I went to work for a CPA in 2003 who had been in practice for 20 years and still struggled to take home recurring compensation. She had a receptionist and part-time staff accountant plus high rent, unprofitable clients, and no marketing strategy. I was nearing retirement and ready to slow down, but still enjoyed working, when she asked for me to help her simply get paid regularly. After I turned her little firm with less than $300K of annual billings into a $1.1 million per year machine, she hired some whinny backstabbing lieutenants who used the company as a source of personal amusement. Three months after I left in disgust, the firm collapsed and no longer exists.

Downfall can occur so quickly to long-existing CPA practices if the leaders at the top fail to pursue vital measures needed for successful growth.