Spotlight on Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co.

Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co.
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Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co.

Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co.: An Accounting Firm That Sweats the Small Stuff

The staff in most of the larger accounting and consulting firms would readily admit—off the record, most likely—that their firm is too bogged down in increasing the bottom line to factor in the care and feeding of its employees as an integral part of the firm. This isn’t because the firm may not want to do so, but more than likely because it is just too big.

Not so at Clark, Schaefer, Hackett & Co. (, where the tone is much different. This Ohio firm with 150 professionals and a 200 employees total, is perpetuating an atmosphere that does more than just provide lip service to making employees feel like they matter or contribute to the firm. The attitude is one of family, closeness and positive strokes. It’s a firm in which it seems that anyone would want to work.

Determining a Course of Action
For those who think this has been an easy task for Clark Schaefer … think again. True, this 60-year-old+ firm always had its opinion that staff was very important, but it had the foresight to conduct a study in 1998 that resulted in a “Recruitment Orientation and Retention Plan.” The firm appointed a Recruitment Orientation and Retention Committee made up of eight people, only two of whom were partners, to study how to find quality employees and keep them for the long haul.

“We included people at all levels to ensure the committee was as objective as possible,” says Tom Hazelbaker, CPA, executive vice president and partner-in-charge of the Dayton offices. “The committee addressed how to effectively recruit, orient new people and retain existing staff at the firm.”

One result was a bottom-up survey conducted by the firm to improve communications at all levels. As an example of one of the results, Hazelbaker explains that an executive committee—made up of five elected partners—held monthly meetings in only one of the firm’s offices. Now, the Committee rotates meetings between offices, inviting staff to have lunch with them, but more than that, immediately issues a report to all firm personnel about the significant matters discussed during the meetings.

“I wouldn’t be here as long as I have if I didn’t enjoy it,” says Karen Gray, an administrator for the firm. “It’s a close-knit, family-type environment where you feel the positive rather than the negative. All of us know that if a client walks in and senses a negative attitude, that client would not want to do business with our firm. Our outlook only helps increase our business because our employees are very satisfied.”

Hazelbaker says the firm is extremely concerned about how to keep managers and other professionals from being lured away by start-ups and dotcoms. The firm will hold a fall manager’s retreat to “re-recruit” this level of employee “back into the firm.”

“The managers themselves were the ones who asked for and wanted this, and our intent is to make it a fun time, not jammed-packed with eight hour meetings,” he says. “We’ll take someone who has been with the firm five to seven years, and tell them we’re glad they’re here, want them to stay and help them with their skills. There will be some technical training, but much of the material will focus on human resources, time management, mentoring and other areas that sometimes are overlooked in the typical CPA education arena.”

Providing Autonomy to Offices
One of the other major hallmarks of Clark Schaefer is the way in which the Executive Committee engages each office to operate autonomously with respect to employee morale issues and routine matters like interpreting personnel policies. It’s not a perfect setting, and Hazelbaker is the first to admit so. However, he and the other partners provide quite a bit of leeway to enforce personnel guidelines as they see fit.

“A firm with 200 employees has to have guidelines and personnel manuals, but we give each of our partners-in-charge of an office tons of flexibility to interpret and enforce those rules to meet their own expectations,” says Hazelbaker. “If the rule doesn’t work, we don’t worry about breaking it when it comes to treating an employee right. We want to do the right thing for the person, and it hasn’t come back and bitten us yet.”

Hazelbaker says the firm started flexible schedules before flex time had hit the vernacular in the business world, accommodating staff who needed to stay home with children, take summers off, support spouses, and even the ins and outs of being the single parent in a single-parent family. “We recognize we still have a business to run, but we listen to employees and their needs, and work with them in the best way we can.

Hazelbaker welcomes questions and comments to

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