IGAF Firms: Interview with Dennis Tepe of Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon & Co.

Dennis Tepe, tax partner at Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon & Co., (JRS) relishes the opportunity to develop client and professional relationships that he has in the Cincinnati, Ohio firm. The passion for Tepe, who has worked in regional and national firms as well as the private sector, is for the local feel in relationships, the diversity of his work, and the opportunity to provide customized services to clients based on his team's understanding of the client's needs.

Unique work environment

The work environment at JRS is truly exceptional, Tepe says, because, "We believe it is possible to create fairness. We emphasize this in our recruiting. We also believe that our employees as shareholders should receive a return." Another factor driving their unique environment, Tepe says, is that JRS is not a policy firm. "We try to stay away from rules." The partners and managers at his firm "understand their people, respect their need for a quality of life, and provide a supportive environment where people are allowed to make mistakes."

Making this all work depends on communication. Communication is at the heart of the firm's mission. "When there is a problem," Tepe says, "the firm faces it head on quickly, takes steps, and all parties involved understand." Addressing challenges with clients as they arise imparts a sense of shared responsibility between client and accounting professional. All JRS accountants approach the process of developing client relationships with a commitment to good communication. "We succeed in our mission when our clients are successful," Tepe says. "Honest, forthright communication is the cornerstone of our comprehensive approach to client service."

"At JRS we use a three-factor management model: we consider the clients, our people, and the firm, and aim to create the win in our decisions for all three areas. We are committed to the future of those behind us. We have an aggressive growth plan that will allow solid career paths for our employees."

Unusual for firms of its size in the region – with six partners and approximately 50 employees - JRS has true functional departments in both audit and tax. New hires on staff enter a shared staff program where they spend six months in audit and six months in tax so that they can get a feel for what they really like, a program that has been received impressively on campus.

Customized services based on expertise

A full service firm, JRS provides specialized niche services including business valuation services, wealth management, and pension and executive compensation consulting. On the tax side, the firm offers a well established tax outsourcing program, and a growing international tax practice.

Tepe emphasizes that even with their expertise in special services, what sets JRS apart is that each client situation is assessed in terms of the issues the clients are facing, not based upon the products that the firm offers. This approach can be challenging at times, because there can be complex, technical issues involved. However, as communication drives their client relationships, JRS's professionals make sure they present the issues and their solutions in non-technical terms, and that the client understands. Tepe's partner Roger Spurgeon, for example, who has a specialty in inventory controls, has the unique ability to present options of practical solutions in plain terms where he sees weaknesses and opportunities for client value.

When developing an approach to a problem, JRS professionals proceed by asking their clients, "What would you like to achieve?" and then they design the plan. They follow up, Tepe says, and ask, "Is this solution accomplishing what you intended?"

Regional economy and the prospects for growth

Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon & Co.'s clients are located in Cincinnati and the northern Kentucky region where Honda has brought in other related companies. As a member of the member of the Northern Kentucky International Trade Association, Tepe is finding "an amazing amount of activity in the Midwest." Tepe credits their membership in IGAF with allowing them to participate in international taxation both inbound and outbound, an important service in their regional business environment.

"Tough times expose weaknesses," Tepe says, "and require that accountants be sharp and creative and work with updated information in real time." Accountants will be functioning in more of a consulting role than as just historians of financial information. "They have to be there for their clients on a day-to-day basis, looking at banking relationships and debt covenants, looking at a possible turnaround. In this storm the silver lining will be opportunities to venture into new markets. Some businesses will grow with the recovery."

"We need to ask ourselves how our business will be different, when things do turn," Tepe says. "We need to look at the new regulatory environment and anticipate the business opportunities there. . . . We need to be looking at IFRS for private companies and providing ancillary services to the financial market. We need to think about areas where people have been underserved - in FAS 109 and Fin 48, for example, where we have expertise."

Accounting, the career

Tepe admits that some of his passion is still for the technical side of his work, the tax research, but his work in the private sector - learning to walk in the client's shoes - has helped him to give much better service. In the role of corporate tax director, he took on "the vision and felt the pain." Overall, his experience in public accounting and private industry has given him a very good flavor of the profession and the passion has grown over time.

Tepe enjoys working with young people and enjoys recruiting. He and his wife are the parents of six children, most of whom are now out of college, who share their insights and experiences as they embark on their own careers.

IGAF membership

Tepe cannot overstate the benefits that come from association with IGAF member firms. They are "top shelf," he says. "They are a wonderful group of firms whose cultures are so similar – caring firms who emphasize employees and client service." JRS has been very active in IGAF. Jim Rofles, managing partner, served as president. Tepe says that the value of an association can be measured by the involvement of its members, and IGAF members are really involved.

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