The Definitive Guide to CPA Firm Leadership
By Marc Rosenberg, CPA, with Kristen Rampe, CPA
The comprehensive handbook and how-manual for building a thriving, growing, and profitable accounting business.
Featuring real-world case studies and insights from dozens of the nation’s leading CPA firm CEOs.
With checklists, sample forms, and step-by-step procedures, in 20 concise chapters, spanning more than 200 pages.
Add the optional Toolkit Upgrade to your order to start benefitting immediately.
$180.00 – $350.00
Bonus Downloads: Toolkit Set
The proprietary toolkit set includes 15 key documents your firm can use to more easily implement Managing Partner best practices at your firm. The toolkit set is available as a $75 add-on to your book or e-book purchase and offers:
High-Impact One-Page PDFs for sharing with your partner group
- Management Philosophy of CPA Firms
- Management vs Administration
- Corporate vs Partnership Styles of CPA Firm Management
Editable Resources – Word documents to save you time typing up these useful pages
- Managing Partner Job Description
- Partner Self-Evaluation Form
- Partner Peer Evaluation Form
The links to download your PDF and Word documents will appear on your order confirmation screen and via email from email@example.com
The Managing Partner: Redefined for the New Era
If you want to build a merely good firm into a great firm, then it’s time to re-position the Managing Partner as a real CEO.
Learn the inside secrets directly from the leaders of firms with exponential growth and unparalleled profits.
Marc Rosenberg on Herding Cats
There are 44,000 CPA firms in the U.S. An elite group of firms comprise the top 100. These firms enjoy dramatically higher growth and profitability than the other 43,900 firms. The average income per equity partner of the top 100, excluding the Big 4, averages $600,000 to $1 million. The average of multi-partner firms below the top 100 is roughly $450,000. That’s quite a difference.
Why the big gap? The differentiator is strong, effective management and leadership. Strong management makes all the other factors that comprise success happen.
Great managing partners of CPA firms, large and small, have led and built fantastic, growing firms by discovering the Holy Grail of accounting firm management: Successful cat herding of CPA firm partners, showing them that the firm can achieve greatness by performing as a team rather than as a group of individuals.
The biggest factors in achieving organizational success are strong management and leadership. In a CPA firm, the leader is the Managing Partner.
With Insights and Guidance on Every Page
- Six fatal flaws in the CPA firm business model – and how the best managing partners fix them.
- Four strategies for overcoming management by committee.
- The eight traits of real leaders.
- Why good managers make lousy leaders.
- 15 essential organizational skills for managing partners.
- The two types of managing partners.
- (And why only one is a true CEO.)
The view from next-gen leaders
- The 11 things new managing partners wish they had known before they got the job.
- How small-firm Millennial managing partners are re-shaping the future of the profession.
- Millennial managing partners’ top six focus areas.
- The seven big issues Millennial managing partners are facing in their new jobs.
- The 16 top innovations Millennial managing partners are bringing to their firms.
- The eight toughest parts of being a Millennial managing partner.
- Six things today’s future Millennial managing partners can start doing today.
Today’s top trends
- From the impact of the Coronavirus to the failing and outdated CPA firm business model.
The top 10 reasons partnerships are just bad business
1. Management by committee
2. Watered-down decisions
3. Difficult to get consensus
4. No one’s in charge
5. Decisions get killed or derailed
6. Promotes feelings of entitlement
7. Overreliance on one’s rank and title
8. No accountability
9. Inconsistencies in work and policies
10. Slow to react to challenges and opportunities
The top 10 strengths good managing partners bring to their firms
1. Efficient decision-making
2. Profit-focused strategies and tactics
3. Clarity in vision, mission and purpose
4. Consistent and efficient policies and procedures
5. Setting priorities to reach common goals
6. Accountability for performance – good and bad
7. Clarifying roles and responsibilities so everyone can work at their peak performance
8. Defining structures and building the right organization chart
9. Driven by success to the next success
10. Proactive, practical and positive
- The seven things every partner must contribute to help grow the business.
- What the top 100 firms know that other firms are still learning.
- Why the managing partner has only one job.
- And why it has nothing to do with accounting.
- Defining the successful CPA firm in only eight words.
- (Live by them or die trying.)
- The 14 essential elements in the managing partner’s job description.
- The one thing GE CEO Jack Welch taught everybody who worked for him.
- And why it applies to CPAs, too.
- The five most important things the best managing partners want you to know.
The difference between a well-run business and the typical CPA firm partnership: “When a business says move left, everybody takes a step left. In a partnership, when you say move left, three people go to the bathroom, four people move right, and five people leave the firm.”
- Seven ways managing partners can help make each partner more effective.
- Eight ways managing partners build a great staff.
- Five ways managing partners enhance firm-wide communication and collaboration.
- Six ways managing partners can improve strategic planning.
- Ten ways managing partners can develop their personal leadership styles.
How the best managing partners:
- Develop succession planning.
- Find the right mergers and acquisitions.
- Drive growth.
- Guard the firm’s culture and reputation. And,
- Still have time to do client work.
More Insights and Guidance on Every Page
- The 12 specific authorities essential to making the managing partner effective.
- The 16 key decisions managing partners must be able to make without votes.
- The seven policies that a managing partner must put to a vote.
- Plus: Guidance on partner meetings and retreats.
- The 25 best practices for managing partners to focus on. (Nail this one to the wall.)
- The managing partner’s billable hours:
- How much is too much?
- And how it depends on the size of the firm.
- Three stupid things bad managing partners do.
- Three brilliant things managing partners should be able to do in just one minute.
- The super-simple five-step technique for delivering crystal-clear performance reviews.
- The one-page “individual partner performance plan.”
- Setting a partner’s personalized goals.
- With 20 sample items.
- The only two things any partner really needs to do – and how the managing partner makes sure they get done.
- Nine ways managing partners should be helping partners in client management.
- Why money isn’t everything in partner comp.
- How to leverage peer pressure to help manage partner performance and positive attitudes.
- The five types of partner evaluations.
- (Number 3 will be the most controversial and the most under-used.)
- Where good firms go wrong in upward evaluations of partners by staff.
- The art of handling a partner’s self-evaluation
- And the single-page form to get it right.
- The 10 main ways to achieve partner accountability.
- When to fire a partner
- And the three things you need to do first.
- The top seven managing partner priorities for attracting the best new talent.
- (Start with ABR: Always Be Recruiting.)
- The managing partner’s four overarching goals in staff training.
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
– Jack Welch, CEO, GE
- The four methods managing partners use to nurture next-gen leadership development.
- Three managing partner habits to create career paths and advancement opportunities for staff.
- Why smart managing partners are paying top-dollar for the best talent.
- What national salary surveys won’t tell you.
- When managing partners treat their star performers like the stars they are.
- Forget “work-life balance.”
- Today’s savvy managing partners are talking about “flexibility.”
- Stop rewarding workaholics.
- They’re setting the wrong example.
- A partner’s most important performance trait that’s also the least compensated.
- Why it’s critically important for managing partners to follow the baseball umpire’s creed:
- “Be Mobile. Be Assertive. Be Loud.” Communication is no exception.
- About 20 percent of CPA firm partners are women.
- But 60 percent of CPA firm staff are women.
- That’s a lot of talent going to waste.
- Eight reasons CPA firms must grow, or they’ll wither away.
- The seven fanatical fixations shared by growth-minded managing partners.
- The 29 best practices for firm growth.
- If mergers aren’t in your DNA, you’ll go extinct.
- Seventeen facts about today’s frenetic merger market – and some are downright scary.
- Buyer turn-offs: The top 18.
- Three keys to making mergers work.
- Four methods for finding a firm that’s ready to sell.
- The top 10 criteria for managing partners to sort out merger candidates.
- The 15-step tried-and-true deal-making process.
- Merger due diligence: 14 red flags seasoned managing partners know they might really need to dig for.
- The managing partner’s top nine merger nightmares.
- The five most common metrics managing partners use for benchmarking profitability.
- (Your mileage may vary.)
- Top 10 strategies for managing partners to improve profits.
- The eight partner agreement problems that keep managing partners awake at night.
- The one paragraph that should begin every managing partner’s employment contract.
- Managing partners should be on the lookout for these 10 violations of a partner’s contract.
- Four common requirements for partners working past retirement age.
- Seven key deal-points for a retired partner’s continued work arrangement.
- Seven important distinctions between an executive-level firm administrator and a full-fledged chief operating officer.
- Why many of the best managing partners don’t know much about technology, but they know a lot about what they don’t know.
- Why every managing partner needs a great IT director,
- and still gets regular advice from outside experts.
- Three good reasons a managing partner needs an executive committee.
- The 10-point job description for a COO or firm administrator.
- The 19-point job description for a marketing director.
- The 16-point job description for a human resources director.
- Seven common partner comp systems.
- Five reasons the comp committee is the Cadillac of partner comp systems.
- And the managing partner’s job as a comp committee chair.
- The five biggest factors in the managing partner’s compensation package.
- How firms handle the managing partner’s compensation when he or she steps down or is forced out.
- The three-page form for conducting the managing partner’s performance evaluation.
- How and why managing partners fail: The top 11 traps and dangers.
- Thirteen bad managing partner attitudes in need of adjustment.
Plus: Tips from Today’s Great Managing Partners
• “When we promote managers to partner, we try to move clients they worked on to their billing run.”
• “If you’re not building, you shouldn’t be an equity partner.”
• “Transgressions of our core values are never tolerated. Firms are better off having no core values than having core values that are not followed or enforced.”
• “Business development is expected of our staff as part of their job and career path.”
• “There is peer pressure among our partners to have plenty of business development opportunities on our plates.”
• “A key to our profitability is specialization.”
• “From a new staffer’s first day, he or she receives training in business development.”
• “Two things are never tolerated: abuse of staff or low-quality client work. These transgressions aren’t merely dealt with by lowering partners’ compensation. They are grounds for dismissal.”
• “A big part of our compensation process is performance measurement. We look at each partner’s staff development result, critical thinking skills and how entrenched clients are with the firm. Taking care of people is just as important as business development.”
• “When we merge a firm in, we give goals to their partners for their role in making the merger a success.”
• “We show prospective practices and their partners the major pain points we see with their firm. We do this early in the merger process so that neither firm wastes time on a merger that will never work.”
• “I absolutely love working with our partners to help them succeed.”
• “We are somewhat resistant to rules. We don’t tell our partners how to manage their business unless they are off track.”
• “We feel our wealth management division is best run by a tax person.”
• “You get what you measure. Knowing this, you predetermine what is most important. Things like: Growth. Leadership. Mentoring staff and helping them advance. Formal, written goals. Upward evaluation of partners by staff. A high New Promoter Score (a measure of client service excellence evidenced by client referrals).”
• “Staff find their own mentors, and staff are mentored only if they want to be.”
• “To advance and succeed at our firm, people need to demonstrate skills at developing people.”
• “We believe that staff turnover and revenue growth operate in sync. Aggressive growth will cause some turnover. Staff turnover is a bit unavoidable even at the best firms.”
• “If you’re serious about developing female partners, there must be a special program for them.”
• “We just lowered our mandatory retirement age to 62. If you want people to succeed you, opportunities for them must constantly be created.”
• “We actually limit our partners from having too large a book of business because that would hinder their time and efforts in two more important areas: business development and helping staff learn and grow.”
Complete Table of Contents
20 Chapters, More than 200 Pages
1 – Introduction
- Success Starts with Management and Leadership
- Management Is Often Maligned
- The Flawed Operating Model of CPA Firms
- The Management Philosophy of a CPA Firm
- The Antithesis of the Managing Partner: Management by Committee
2 – Key Definitions
- Management and Leadership
- Management vs. Administration
- Leadership vs. Management vs. Administration
- Two Types of Managing Partners
- Partnership vs. Corporate Style of Management
- Why Partnerships Are Like Herding Cats
3 – Why Management Is the #1 Key to the Firm’s Success
- What We Mean by Management
- What Is Success?
- Is Management Really the #1 Key to Success?
- How Strong Managing Partners Make All the Success Factors Happen
- Can Firms That Lack Strong Management Be Successful?
4 – The Managing Partner’s Job Description
- Expanding on the Managing Partner Job Description
- Highly Respected Managing Partners Tell Us How They Do It
- More Advice from Great Managing Partners
- Overarching Authority That Managing Partners Must Have
- The Managing Partner’s Authority: Standard Verbiage
- Key Decisions Managing Partners Must Be Able to Make without Votes
- The Managing Partner’s Term of Office
- Common Requirements by Firms for Formal Votes
- Meetings with the Partners
- 25 Best Practices for the Managing Partner to Focus On
- Managing Partners’ Billable Hours
- Words for the Managing Partner to Live By
5 – How the Managing Partner Manages the Partners
- The Supreme Challenge in Managing Performance
- Management Is a People Job
- Managing the Partners: Clarify Expectations
- Manage the Partners with Goal Setting
- Sample Goals for Partners
- Make Sure Partners Focus on Two Things
- Manage Partners by Helping with Client Management
- Manage Partners with Performance-Based Compensation
- Manage Partners by Encouraging Peer Pressure
- Partner Performance Evaluations
6 – Partner Accountability
- How Partners at Most Firms See Accountability
- My Favorite Definition of Accountability
- Ten Main Ways to Achieve Partner Accountability
7 – The Managing Partner’s Role in Managing Staff
- Leadership Development
- How the Partners Treat the Staff
- Challenging Work
- Career Paths and Advancement
- Staff Compensation
- Work-Life Balance and Flexibility
- Performance Feedback
- Communication and Transparency
- Developing Women Partners
- Staff Surveys
- The Managing Partner Must Show Why Being a Partner Is a Dream Job
8 – How a Good Managing Partner Impacts the Firm’s Growth
- Cases for Heavy Managing Partner Oversight in Practice Development
- How CPA Firms Benefit from Revenue Growth
- How Managing Partners Help the Firm Grow
- Best Practices for Firm Growth
9 – The Managing Partner’s Role in Mergers (Major Growth Opportunity)
- Something Important Was Missing from Chapter 8
- Mergers Are in CPA Firms’ DNA
- Why Firms Merge
- A Very Short History of CPA Firm Mergers
- Mergers vs. Acquisitions 102
- The State of the CPA Firm Merger Market
- Common Turnoffs to Buyers
- Do Mergers Work?
- Finding Sellers
- Develop Criteria for a Merger Partner
- Stay with the Process
- A Little More on Due Diligence
- Merger Pitfalls
10 – How a Good Managing Partner Impacts Profitability
- Is It Foolish to Expect the Managing Partner to Drive Profitability?
- What Is Profitability at a CPA Firm?
- Industry Norms for CPA Firm Profitability
- Tactics Managing Partners Use to Improve Firm Profitability
11 – How Managing Partners Enforce the Partner Agreement
- Safeguarding the Firm’s Assets
- Main Governance Issues Partner Agreements Address
- An Overarching Perspective on the Managing Partner’s Authorities
- Managing Partner Authorities Commonly Found in Agreements
- Keeping the Partner Agreement Current
- Enforcement Issues Managing Partners Should Be Alert For
- Client Transition for Retiring Partners
12 – Stay Out of the Weeds: Assemble a Great Team
- Focus… Focus… Focus
- Who Is on the Team?
- COO / Firm Administrator
- Marketing Director
- Human Resources (HR) Director
- IT Director
- Executive Committee
- Department, Service Line, and Industry Team Partners-in-Charge
13 – Partner Compensation: A Potent Weapon in the Managing Partner’s Arsenal
- Does Compensation Motivate Partner Performance?
- Biggest Obstacles to Using Compensation to Motivate
- Overarching Goals for Partner Compensation System
- Highest-Earning Performance Attributes
- Seven Partner Compensation Systems
- Compensation Committee: The System of Choice
- What Should the Managing Partner Do as Compensation Committee Chair?
- Open vs. Closed System
- How Should the Managing Partner Be Compensated?
- Managing Partners’ Compensation When They Leave the Job
14 – Advice from New Managing Partners
- Dealing with People issues
- Balancing Time between Managing Partner and Client Duties
- Getting Credibility and Buy-in with the Partners
- Prioritizing and Delegating
- Preparing for the Job and Homework
- Learning from the Prior Managing Partner
- Handling Partner Buyout and Compensation Challenges
- Dealing with Aversion to Change
- Watching Profitability
- Developing Style and Rhythm
BONUS: Millennial Managing Partners Views on Top Responsibilities
- Top Issues Our Millennial Managing Partners Face
- Unique Programs of Millennial Managing Partners
- The Hardest Part of Being a Millennial Managing Partner
- What Future Millennial Managing Partners Can Do Today
15 – Observations on the Best Managing Partners
16 – How Managing Partners Address Major CPA Firm Trends
- Managing Partners Must Anticipate Trends and Adapt
- The Current Trends
17 – Essential Organizational Skills for Managing Partners
18 – Evaluating the Managing Partner
- Why the Managing Partner Needs Performance Feedback
- The Process
19 – Why and How Managing Partners Fail
- Attitudes That Don’t Pass Muster
20 – Final Pearls of Wisdom
- Great Quotes from Great Leaders
- The Managing Partner Elite
About the Authors: Marc Rosenberg and Kristen Rampe
Marc Rosenberg is a nationally known consultant, author, and speaker on CPA firm management, strategy, and partner issues. President of his own Chicago-based consulting firm, The Rosenberg Associates, he is the founder of the most authoritative annual survey of mid-sized CPA firm performance statistics in the country, The Rosenberg Survey. Annually recognized by Accounting Today as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People and a longtime Inside Public Accounting Top Ten Recommended Consultant, he has advised more than 1000 firms throughout his more than 20-year consulting career.
See more by Marc Rosenberg at CPA Trendlines
Kristen Rampe, CPA of Grand Rapids-based Rampe Consulting joined Rosenberg as a partner in their joint venture, Rosenberg Rampe Practice Management in 2020. After working together for several years on a variety of consulting projects, Marc and Kristen are now collaborating on all facets of the ever-expanding book program. As rising stars of our industry’s next-generation, Kristen and her team will bring a fresh and valuable professional perspective to the trends and topics our series continues to address.
See more by Kristen Rampe at CPA Trendlines
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