IGAF firms interview with Marc Elman, Managing Partner of PSB Boisjoli

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This is one article in a series of interviews with firms that are members of the International Group of Accounting Firms (IGAF).

PSB Boisjoli LLP's origins as a Montreal, Quebec-based accounting firm trace back to the 1930s. After experiencing annual double digit growth since 2000, the firm completed a merger in early 2008 with Boisjoli Sabbag, another Quebec-based French firm, resulting in the merged entities' further penetration into the francophone market. PSB Boisjoli is well poised to serve the province of Quebec's multi cultural landscape consisting of francophone, anglophone, and allophone businesses

With a client base of private companies with revenues of $5 to $150 million in quite diverse industries, PSB Boisjoli LLP in Montreal, Quebec, occupies an "interesting niche in the province, next to the Big Four firms and two or three others," says Marc Elman, managing partner. "We are much more broad-based than our size would indicate." PSB Boisjoli currently employs 130 people, and in addition to full service audit and tax support offers specialized practices directed by partners and managers with 16 certifications.

Elman enjoys saying that in his whole life he has had just one job, working as an accountant for PSB. He started with the firm as an undergraduate working part time, joined the audit staff in 1983, and then moved to tax, where he became partner-in-charge. By 1995, Elman found that his tax practice had become so large that he had to choose between day-to-day client involvement and practice management. He decided to relinquish his position as Tax PIC and turned to building the firm's business, becoming managing partner in 2000. Since that time, PSB Boisjoli has grown from $6.5 million in sales to $20-21 million, for the most part through organic development.

Specialized services

PSB Boisjoli's multidisciplinary team specialized practices include, among others, scientific research and experimental development tax credit support, business valuation services, a financial reorganization and insolvency practice, cross-border tax planning, and human resources outsourcing, a unique specialty in their market.

The human resources consulting division offers various services such as compensation strategies, performance management, company diagnostics, organizational development, and training. Many of these consulting services are subsidized by the government. In addition, the division also offers services that deal with compliance to Quebec law such as Pay Equity and the 1% Training law. Please note that Pay Equity in Quebec differs from "equal pay for equal work" in that predominantly female categories are evaluated against predominantly male job categories. This ensures that all women working in predominantly female job categories are paid equally to that of predominantly male job categories.

PSB Boisjoli's scientific research and experimental development tax credit expertise gives real value to many of their clients. "Quebec is the most generous place in the world to do research," Elman says. Up to 80 percent of research and development expenses are paid for by the government and PSB Boisjoli has engineers on staff to support clients' claims. Demand for the firm's bankruptcy, financial reorganization, and insolvency practice has been cyclical, but Elman anticipates significant growth in the present economic climate. Through their insolvency arm, H.H. Davis and Associates, PSB Boisjoli experts can serve as trustees of insolvent entities and manage their assets. In the past four years the firm has built strength in the field of U.S./Canada taxation.

Values define PSB Boisjoli

Elman conveys the excitement and commitment to quality that drive this dynamic firm. "Most of our growth comes from doing the basics properly," he says. "Existing clients are the biggest source of new business – probably over 75 percent of new business comes from referrals by clients. We do the basics consistently and then exceed their expectations. We take care of our clients but we also manage our time well.

"Our focus is on paying attention to areas that will yield positive results. We have a philosophy that we work hard but we also work smart. Proof that we work smart and support our employees is that our staff worked 150 hours less in comparison with our peer group. They know that they will have to put in long hours during the busy periods, but during the summer they can leave early on Fridays. Of course," Elman adds, "in this environment the partners work long hours.

"We have a give-and take atmosphere here. We provide support for working mothers in the form of flexible hours, part-time positions, and telecommuting. We are on the leading edge of technology – we have been paperless for over a year now," Elman says. "The biggest challenge facing our industry has been recruiting new talent."

The Future

"Montreal has been less adversely affected by economic trends because we never really got ahead of ourselves during the boom," says Elman. Nevertheless he expects a greater percentage of their clients will find themselves in troubled situations. "There is a negative mood out there and we expect a rough road for a while."

Elman believes that good leaders will get stronger in this environment, will thrive and gain significant market share. "We have to be nimble and flexible," he says. "Stay the course but be ahead of the changes that will come. We should not grow much larger than we are right now because that would change who we are. We want growth but not growth alone.

"We have to anticipate changing trends and be very up front with our clients and staff and we need to continue to work harder and smarter," Elman says. In 2009 the firm will need to stay on top of billing and collections, and be even more proactive in helping our clients navigate themselves through troubled times.

IGAF membership and the image of accountants

Elman attended the IGAF Managing Partners' conference in Salt Lake City recently, where he said he had the privilege of interacting with some really great people, building networks and sharing best practice ideas. "IGAF member firms are the best of breed," he says, and "they are really on top of their game.

"There is no better place to be than in accounting," he says. "This is an exciting, challenging, non-routine job. You don't spend your time just with numbers. I spend most of my time talking to people. But accountants haven't done enough to change their image. This is anything but a boring job."

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