Why Developing Younger Staff Is the Key to Successby
It's no secret accounting leaders are getting older, and younger professionals are frequently bypassing small firms in favor of joining larger ones. For smaller firms to be future ready, they need to bridge the generational gap and ensure they are developing new talent. In a new case study, BaCo Tech offers an inside look at why they specifically focused on hiring young professionals as a future readiness strategy and how that's benefited them.
Ford Baker, CPA, founded the BaCo Group in 1999. For 20 years, he grew his firm, hired staff, and expanded his expertise. In 2020, a new need emerged. After developing an accounting workflow technology and a startup spinoff company called BaCo Tech, Ford needed someone to step in to take the day-to-day reins of the firm so he could better manage where his attention was going.
Ford brought on Joe Abesamis, a former staffer who had moved to California in the mid-aughts, to begin running the day-to-day of BaCo Group. Joe and Ford work closely together, and, being 20 years apart in age, they've learned a lot about working well together despite their age and leadership differences.
I was at a crossroads in my career. I was on the partner track at a large local firm, and I began to wonder if that's really what I wanted. When Ford reached out to me, he showed me what he was working on with the technology and explained what I would do in helping bring in a newer and potentially even younger staff. I saw this as an opportunity to have my voice heard. I appreciate it about Ford because he genuinely tries to incorporate younger voices in all endeavors, not discrediting them but valuing them.
I knew that if I were going to bring in a new person to lead the firm, I had to look younger, [because] the industry's problem is that we are getting older. When I began my career, a partner's average age was 48-50 years old. Now, 35 years into my career, that average age has gone up to 55. That trend is going the wrong way. Partners are staying partners for longer, and the reins of CPA firms are not getting passed to younger partners to lead them into the future.
Ford knew that he would have to change how he ran his firm if he was going to attract young talent. It's a challenge for small firms across the country to attract younger CPAs because they are constantly told to go to bigger firms to start their careers, and, typically, the bigger firms have more resources to recruit and more perks to offer.
I learned early in my career that it's important to be teachable. I started making decisions that would benefit my staff more than my clients, trying to communicate value to our team no matter their age. We stopped putting personal cell phone numbers on business cards, didn't force our staff to feel like they were constantly on the clock, and began working on programs for work-life balance and health. These were not initiatives specifically targeted to attract younger talent, but that ended up being a result. The younger professionals were attracted to a strong culture in our small firm.
As I have grown in this profession, I have become passionate about being efficient with things so that I can be effective with people. As accountants, that means we must be efficient with accounting so we can spend our time communicating with and caring for our clients. As a manager, that means I want to be able to pour into my staff and not just make sure they are getting tasks done, but making sure they are growing as well. Ford, when I arrived, had set up a staff and firm that was primed for that.
Developing a culture built around being more effective with people helped BaCo Group start to experience some growth. Ford also began looking into better technology solutions so he could more effectively serve his clients and sought out and developed solutions that would make all the work the firm did more efficient.
One thing I fervently believe is that smaller firms need to be looking towards more tech innovations. I knew recruiters at larger firms, and they would constantly say that the little firms didn't have great tech, so the job would be harder.
Investing in newer solutions is something that younger staff is paying attention to. I became a tech provider as well as a tax professional because I recognized how my firm had started being more efficient and effective and how so many other firms were struggling. I believe that is why so many younger professionals are leaving the industry. We are, as an industry, stuck and afraid to change.
There's no doubt that the differentiator of our firm is the tech. It's the reason why we have young professionals rejecting Big Four and top 20 offers to work with us. We have invested in solutions that are more proactive.
However, I also believe the value we place on all the members of our team is a crucial part as well. We try and communicate that at all levels, all ages, you have valuable input and valuable skills to contribute. Ford and I both make sure that our younger staff are given opportunities to do a variety of things, from recruiting to writing and selling.
Ford and Joe both emphasize teachability. While yes, the firm has gotten younger in age, it is not without investing in, and learning from, their more experienced staff. Being hands on and teaching are keys in crossing those divides.
Ford has put a lot of trust on my shoulders, and he has not only given me awesome opportunities, but he has also made sure I am equipped to lead my team. He didn't hand me the keys and back out; he made sure he was still involved, working with clients, and helping me grow as a leader in the firm. He is our most experienced professional, and with 30 years of experience, we would be foolish to not listen to him and seek his advice.
One of the great things about Joe is how he leads his team and is dedicated to helping them grow. He is constantly taking them to lunch or coffee, has one of them at his desk, and is not keeping in touch with them as a task manager, but as a teacher. It actually makes me want to make sure I am keeping up with that too, because while yes, I value their input, one of the key ways we can value younger professionals as experienced professionals is by sacrificing time and pouring into them.
One thing many are weary of when bringing up younger staff is how older clients will react towards working with a younger professional. Communicate with your clients clearly, and make sure that you help build their confidence in your team.
For years, my firm was actually called "Baker & Company," and I was tired of having clients say that they only wanted to talk to the "Baker" when I had qualified, smart staff who were capable of handling client issues. That's why we changed our name to BaCo Group – I wanted my clients, as well as my team, to know that it wasn't a one-man show, but that as a team, we can serve our clients well.
Developing a multi-generational firm is crucial to building a successful firm. Nurturing younger staff and learning how to bridge generational divides are crucial to growing a firm that is future-focused. It doesn't require older staff to try and adopt hip trends or try and be something that they are not – it requires developing relationships and investing value into all members of the team.
Will Baker has worked in Client Services in the marketing and technology space since graduating from the University of Oklahoma. A son of a CPA, he has developed a passion for helping CPAs improve their practices and gain more work-life balance through technology and attracting the right types of clients. Will has been able to help firms across...