A conversation with Gale Crosley, growth consultant.
The Principles behind the Leaps and Bounds of Mowery & Schoenfeld
By CPA Trendlines
More Gale Crosley here
When Jeffrey L. Mowery and Keith A. Schoenfeld decided to bail out of the big firms and start their own, they were just a couple of CPAs with a couple of folding tables and a dream.
That was then. This is now. After a series of astonishing leaps and bounds, they have raised their revenues from $3.5 million in 2008 to over $17 million today. And they plan to double that in five years.
Obviously two CPAs don’t accomplish that alone. They’ve added staff by hiring young talent and continuously educating them. The principle behind staff development: if you have the best, the business will thrive.
“We’ve put a great emphasis on the development of talent with the idea that if you have great talent, you can accomplish anything,” Jeffrey Mowery says. “So early on we started looking at the kind of firm we wanted to be when we grew up.”
Great Strategy, Great Principles
Great staff informs a great CPA firm, but it’s a great strategy, guided by solid principles, that makes a firm grow.
The firm grew quickly but seemed to hit a ceiling when annual revenues reached about $7 million. Much of the growth was through two mergers, one of which went well, the other of which, well…it gave Mowery and Schoenfeld pause for thought.
“There were a lot of issues, a lot of hubris on our part—the certainty that we could do anything,” Mowery said. “We realized we needed to be more strategic about how we grow our firm. We can’t just be doing mergers. We have to be thoughtful and strategic to get our growth engines going.”
Around that time, Mowery was attending a lot of conferences and other events, networking for ideas, talent, and contacts. That’s when he heard growth consultant Gail Crosley speak about the principles behind strategic growth.
Mowery & Schoenfeld CPAs had Crosley come to counsel the firm for a whole day. It was one of the most significant decisions the partners had ever made.
Crosley didn’t come to just talk. She analyzed the firm. She noted that it had a lot of young partners but not a lot of seasoned partners. But from another perspective, it was a firm with a lot of up-and-comers with great potential for the future.
From Large-Thinking to Large-Growing
She also saw that the firm had the right mindset but not the right shape. It was not a large firm, but it was large-thinking. What it needed was a methodology for turning large-thinking into large-growing.
The firm received her thoughts eagerly. She came back every six weeks for several months, each time helping everyone take a certain set of principles and implement them to the firm’s particular situation. The principles served as a solid foundation on which a strategy could be built. Principles kept people on the right track and avoided the confusion and wasted effort that the wrong track inevitably leads to.
Mowery came to realize that he’d been developing the firm under old-school thinking, networking with bankers and lawyers, grabbing up every available client. But as he started thinking strategically, he adjusted his approach.
“You want to get the right clients, not just take everyone in,” he said. “You get to $7 million by taking in anything…but then you need to be much more focused.”
Crosley advised the firm to look not only at the client mix but to identify the most profitable clients. She advised focusing on distribution channels. She told them to figure out what they do best and then do more of that.
She talked about the pipeline that goes from the opportunity to the proposal. The whole firm should be in the pipeline. Seizing an opportunity is a firm effort, not an individual effort.
The move toward strategic thinking started with a new vocabulary that enabled a new way of thinking. Crosley wanted everyone to first change their way of thinking, then change their behavior, and then change their results.
Mowery said it was very difficult in the beginning. The firm had to gather a lot of data. Being accountants, they could never get enough numbers, could never get the data set as precise and comprehensive as it could be.
Crosley learned something from their relentless search for and refinement of data. She saw that it would never end. She had to give them a deadline. The deadline wasn’t the point where they had enough data. It was a set time when they simply had to stop looking for data and run with what they had.
So it turned out to be a collaborative journey—the consultant learning, the firm learning.
A few months after Crosley had done all she could do, Mowery told her that the firm was already seeing results. The firm was “on fire with growth.” The firm had multiple rainmakers. Everyone had their eye on results. They were confident enough to take that entrepreneurial leap of faith, that belief that if you go all in, you will get where you want to go.
Where is Mowery & Schoenfeld going? Upward. Outward. In the next five years, they figure on reaching $30-40 million in revenues. They’ll be taking on at least five more partners. They going to look for merger opportunities. They going to open more offices around their home base in Chicago. They’re going to reach for regional.
Not bad for a couple of CPAs with a dream and a couple of folding tables.