Spotlight on August Aquila

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August Aquila
AccountingWeb Profile
August Aquila, Ph.D.
Vice President Mergers & Acquisitions
American Express Tax and Business Services, Inc.

A Deep Knowledge of the Accounting Profession Leads to Continuous Success

On any given day, you can find August Aquila deeply embedded in any number of pursuits: advisor, author, managing editor, teacher, marketing consultant … you name it, and he's probably doing it—or probably has done it some time during his 28-year career span.

Mr. Aquila is a popular, respected member of the accounting community. As Vice President of Mergers & Acquisitions for American Express Tax and Business Services, he regularly interfaces with many of the most prestigious CPA firms across the nation in a recruitment role for his company. Mr. Aquila is well-known for his knowledge of the industry and the credibility that goes along with it. Working primarily from his office in Minneapolis, MN, his responsibilities include working to develop relationships with key players and key firms in the industry.

Mr. Aquila received his undergraduate degree and MBA from DePaul University in Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Indiana University. After teaching four years at the college level, he worked in corporate fundraising for DePaul, and in 1979, joined Coopers & Lybrand in Chicago as associate director of New Business Development.

Four years later, a $6 million local firm, Friedman, Eisenstein, Raemer & Schwartz (FERS), recruited Mr. Aquila to develop new business opportunities. The firm also was the parent of the Practice Development Institute (PDI). Today, FERS is part of the McGladrey network.

"I think I hold the distinction of being the first non-CPA marketing director to obtain an equity position in a major CPA firm in the country," says Mr. Aquila. "My agreement with the managing partner was to give them two years to help them grow their business, and if successful, I would be made a partner. If I were not successful, they could terminate me. After two years, their business doubled to $12 million."

After spending five years with FERS, he went on to work primarily with PDI, receiving invaluable experience and a good, working knowledge of practice tools. Mr. Aquila believes the work he did with PDI prepared him to eventually work at American Express by helping turn PDI from a money-losing operation into something more profitable for FERS and the profession.

"I joined American Express in 1994 to help get them on the map in terms of how the company could work with the accounting profession," he says. "I always try to look and see how market dynamics are changing and impacting the profession in which you are working. This strategy has helped our company communicate a certain level of confidence that has continued to mark our success."

"Today, as we strive to help practices improve their bottom lines, there is no silver bullet that will be an automatic turnaround for a firm. If it's taken a firm five to ten years to witness declines in operations and revenues, no one is going to be able to walk in, and in 30 days, turn that firm around. That's not a realistic expectation."

Mr. Aquila also spends his time writing marketing and practice development articles for various accounting trade journals, and has a regular gig as managing editor of Partner-to-Partner Advisory, published by Aspen Publishing. His books include CPAs that Sell, Breaking the Paradigm: New Approaches to Pricing Accounting Services and CPA Firm Mergers That Work.

Given his role at American Express, and his ties to the accounting community, Mr. Aquila frequently is asked what his predictions are for the state of consolidation going on within the profession. After all, American Express Tax and Business Services is one of the most discussed players among the consolidators in terms of buying practices.

"American Express, H&R Block and others have aggressively acquired firms over the last several years, and many consolidators will consolidate these ownerships in the next years," he says. "Now it's time to make sure these firms we own run efficiently and profitably. I see a continued movement, not only by companies like American Express and Block, but also within the profession – a much higher level of acquisitions going on among firms."

Contact Mr. Aquila at [email protected].

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