IGAF Firm Interview with David Donnelly of Gainer, Donnelly & Desroches, LLP
In keeping with the Texas tradition of going big... Gainer, Donnelly & Desroches (GD&D) LLP is Houston's oldest and largest accounting firm. The firm started 60 years ago under a different name and then was bought in the 70s by Sam Gainer. David Donnelly came along in 1983, and Rod Desroches, who is now the managing partner, joined the growing firm in 1985. Today, GD&D employs 150 people and has eight partners, though that will change to eleven after promotions go into effect in January 2009. From individuals to small local companies to multinational corporations with revenues in excess of $1 billion, the professionals at GD&D serve a broad base of clients, providing special expertise in construction, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, and real estate. Add to that all of the resources available through membership in IGAF... and the result is formidable.
What sets GD&D apart from other firms?
Perhaps the strongest differentiator is GD&D's focus on helping private companies. The firm has assembled a group of business and accounting experts that specialize in helping private companies reach their goals. Add to this strong relationships with proven professionals in the banking, consulting, legal, and private equity industries, and you have all the ingredients for a place where private companies can come to address their challenges – whatever they might be.
Beyond that, it's the people. "We recognize that our people and our culture are our biggest assets," says Donnelly. "We bend over backwards to try to improve training, processes, and workplaces. It's a fun place to work." That's clear to visitors who often comment on how different the atmosphere within the office is. "They see people laughing and happy, not stern like in many other firms."
Another impressive aspect of GD&D's culture is the firm's employee-directed charitable giving program. One percent of GD&D's revenue is devoted to charities selected by the employees. Here's how this works: GD&D holds a quarterly meeting in which up to eight charities are invited to each make five-minute presentations. Following the presentations the employees vote for the one they choose to support. Once a charity is selected, a check is cut that same day, says Donnelly. Since this is general funding as opposed to program funding, this money can be used at the discretion of the charity. So far the firm has given away more than $800,000.
Studies show that most employees would rather work for companies that share their values. So, besides the obvious good that is accomplished for the charities, programs like this have real power to solidify a team and create loyalty. "The charitable giving program has been a real success," says Donnelly.
Each month, GD&D also sponsors a social event and informational staff meeting, plus a summer picnic and a Christmas party. "It all wraps into the fact that we're proud of our culture and we do our best to keep it a fun and positive place to work."
The Real Estate Niche
To some extent, the Houston real estate market has been insulated from the general economic downturn. According to Donnelly, some of the firm's developer clients "saw what was coming around the corner" and pulled back three years or so ago. Recently Houston has begun to feel the effects of the price of oil dropping and the latest bad news from the market. But, says Donnelly, he and the firm are optimistic that oil prices and local real estate prices will return to a more normal level.
"This is an interesting time to be in real estate," he says, given the economic and financial market meltdown. One of his clients is a homebuilder who started a business last year and finds that the combination of low real estate, material and labor costs make it a great time to buy lots. Others, he says, are holding back and watching the market for deals.
As far as how the economy is affecting the accounting industry, Donnelly is optimistic. "We think there is opportunity in chaos. It's a changing market, but there is also opportunity because people are looking to revisit their accounting relationships. Some that were with the Big Four will be looking for good size regional firms like GD&D, to take over." He also predicts that as the economy recovers and more students enter the accounting field, recruiting and retention - which have been big problems for CPA firms in recent years - will be less difficult in the future
How does membership in IGAF benefit GD&D? Among other things, technical expertise, says Donnelly. Then there is geographic access. For example... if they have a client with assets in another state that someone needs to physically examine, IGAF members can call on a firm in that area and get someone to do the verification. But, says Donnelly, the biggest benefit is probably that members can talk to each other and find out what works for them, and what doesn't work in some area, like HR or retention. "I wouldn't share that with a competitor," says Donnelly, "but I'd share it with a member in another area. Members are able to learn and profit from the successes or failures of other members."
It's clear that there are many benefits available from membership in IGAF, though sometimes they may be indirect. "Accountants are often so inundated with work that they aren't willing to put the time and energy into the IGAF meetings to reap the benefits," says Donnelly. "You get out of it what you're willing to put in." Based on GD&D's experience, it sounds like the rewards are more than worth the effort.