Introducing Plante & Moran's New Management Team
Jul 15, 2009
Effective July 1, Plante & Moran ushered in a new management team. Bill Hermann stepped down as firm managing partner, and former Group Managing Partner Gordon Krater became the sixth firm managing partner in Plante & Moran’s history.
Gordon is joined by a management team that includes the group managing partners and committee chairs: Frank Audia (recurring services), Beth Bialy (partner participation committee), Laura Claeys (nominating committee), Ron Eckstein (operations), Jim Proppe (industry groups), Bruce Shapiro (offices), and Craig Thornton (non-recurring services). In the following roundtable discussion, you’ll meet the firm’s new management team and hear their take on issues ranging from the economy and tips for struggling businesses to the team’s plans for the future of the nation’s 12th largest public accounting and management consulting firm.
For the past couple of years, former Managing Partner Bill Hermann has encouraged those of us in the Midwest to adopt an optimistic outlook, despite all of the obvious challenges with our economy. Is that a viewpoint you all share?
GK: Absolutely. It’s like the Stockdale Paradox. We have to be optimistic in our appraisal but realistic in our approach. People keep saying these are unprecedented times, and I think that’s true. However, unprecedented times yield unprecedented opportunities. We have to be diligent about finding and capitalizing on those opportunities.
JP: It’s interesting…if you read the papers, which tend to focus on very large organizations, you can get into a malaise in a hurry. We all know that things could be a lot better, but organizations with strong management teams will make it through this downturn and come out a lot stronger.
Frank Moran had a saying: “Times are tough. Let’s get busy.” What kinds of things should organizations focus on to withstand the economy and position for profitability when things do turn around?
JP: Companies that are struggling need to find a way to get to a cash flow neutral position immediately. Then it’s important to make investments in areas that organizations can take advantage of when the economy turns around — whether it’s people, technology, new customers, or markets.
LC: Make sure the organization is structured properly. Are the right people in the right roles? Is there appropriate financing? Is there a positive relationship with banks and investors? Is the cost structure in alignment with current market conditions and demand? If a company understands what their customers are going to need and is appropriately structured to provide that assistance, that’s a step in the right direction.
CT: It’s critical that organizations truly understand what their customers value and that everything they do translates into creating value in the most efficient, high quality, profitable way.
What are the attributes that thriving companies tend to have in common?
BB: Thriving companies have a long-term focus coupled with short-term discipline. They also put their customers first and treat their staff well.
BS: Absolutely. They also have an unwavering focus on growth.
RE: And they’re opportunistic. When everyone else is moaning and groaning, these organizations are determining how to turn the challenges into something positive. They’re not afraid to go against the grain or make necessary investments.
FA: Thriving organizations genuinely understand the needs of their customers and constantly deliver on those needs. They also have a great work ethic and are forward-thinking — they consider what their customers’ needs will be tomorrow vs. simply today.
JP: Agreed. Most successful companies do have very forward-thinking management teams. Those teams also tend to have complementary skills. They recognize where gaps exist — whether strategy, people issues, financial analysis, etc. — and fill them, sometimes with Plante & Moran.
How can Plante & Moran help clients position themselves for success when the economy recovers?
GK: We’ve been around 85 years, so we’ve seen our share of ups and downs. Some clients haven’t weathered a recession, so it’s hard to imagine what life’s like on the other side. We can help give them perspective and good advice — things like when/where/how to deploy capital and keeping a healthy balance between the short and long term. We can also be change agents. Oftentimes, clients may have certain practices they know aren’t good for the company, but inertia takes over and nothing ever changes. Times like these are perfect for making positive changes to enable prosperity when the economy recovers.
LC: Situations like today’s economy allow us to learn even more about our clients and their businesses. We can help them identify their strengths, analyze their business processes, and discuss what the future might look like. We can help them make current decisions to make sure they’re here and ready for success when things pick up again.
CT: The key is to start now. Clients need to manage their businesses in such a way as to preserve capital while simultaneously developing a well-thought-out strategy. This way, when the economy begins to recover, they have a clear game plan, financial resources, and market focus to capitalize on opportunities.
FA: A lot of it is helping clients design a sustainability plan. Are they viable? Are their business plans realistic? If yes, what are the important metrics/action items? If not, what’s next? There are a lot of things we can do to help clients reduce operating costs, optimize technology, and achieve their business plans while ensuring they remain solvent.
Let’s switch gears and talk a little about the focus of Plante & Moran’s new management team. What are the top things you hope to accomplish over the next couple of years?
RE: First and foremost, continued growth for the firm. Second, continue to recruit and retain the best and brightest staff, as the campus recruit of today could be the managing partner of tomorrow.
BS: It’s important to look at our geographic footprint and determine if we’re sufficiently diverse. It’s equally important to ensure we deploy our staff and resources effectively so that we’re best positioned to serve our clients and continue to grow to provide opportunities for staff. Finally, we want to make sure we preserve our great culture.
JP: I’d like to see us help our clients through this difficult period by living up to and delivering on our role as a trusted advisor. We’ll continue to expand our team’s ability to serve clients — not just the breadth of services, but also the depth — and continue to exceed our clients’ expectations. And like Ron said, continue to recruit the best talent. If we do those three things, we’ll have a great firm that provides significant opportunities to staff and consummate service to clients.
How do you plan to leverage the past to guide Plante & Moran’s future?
GK: One of the hardest things for companies to change is their culture. When it’s wrong, it’s very difficult to make it right. Plante & Moran has worked hard to develop a wonderful culture we can build on. It’s an incredible advantage that will allow us to continue to attract and retain talented professionals, provide great client service, and ensure our future success.
CT: We’ve been steadfast in maintaining our values and principles over many years. We recognize the importance of maintaining and enhancing our reputation, and know that we must do so with each and every decision. We have a tremendous foundation and are committed to upholding our values. We won’t be blind to opportunities that face us, but we won’t ignore the values that have brought us to where we are today.
BB: We have a saying at the firm: do the right things for the right reasons. We’ve followed this simple strategy for 85 years. It sounds simple, but when it comes to taking care of clients and staff, that’s all the strategy you need.
What does Plante & Moran’s presence as an accounting and business advisory firm mean to the Midwest? To the nation? Internationally?
FA: I strongly believe that there are opportunities within the Midwest, despite the current business climate. If you agree with me, you would likely also agree that there are organiza-tions operating here that need and deserve an excellent trusted advisor. They need a firm like Plante & Moran that balances expertise and resources with a personal touch, and we’re happy to be here in the Midwest for people to count on. We’re not leaving this region; instead, we’ll continue to invest here and be part of our region’s resurgence.
GK: At the same time, business doesn’t know any boundaries. Nationally, I think we’re recognized as a unique firm throughout the country. We’ve really raised the bar in doing things the right way and abiding by the Golden Rule throughout the accounting profession. Internationally, what sets us apart is our ability to help a client execute an international strategy. In addition to asking, “Where do you want to be strategically?” we dive down to, “Who are the right suppliers? What’s the availability of skilled labor?” We can provide clients with these answers not only in our own backyards but across the globe.
This interview with Plante & Moran’s management team was conducted by Universal Advisor Editor Mindy Kroll.