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Even businesses can’t be “all business” all the time

September 17, 2015 Blog 3 min read


Earlier this week, ESPN posted the article, “Steve Patterson’s Fall Shows College Ads Can’t Be All Business.” It talks about why University of Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson—a “businessman first” with a reputation for being “innovative” and “forward thinking” at the expense of tradition and human relations—didn’t succeed in the role. It also interviews Michigan State University Athletic Director Mark Hollis about his perspective on Patterson’s termination and what it takes to succeed as an athletic director. And then Mark mentioned Plante Moran (and me!).

“If you come into this as a successful businessperson or an attorney, that doesn’t always play to the coaches, to the donors,” Hollis said. “That’s not to say those are bad people or that they’ve made bad decisions but intercollegiate athletics is unlike anything else out there. … Every day I will talk to a coach, a board member, a booster, a fan, a donor, a student-athlete. Every day. If I’m the CEO of Plante Moran I don’t necessarily have that sort of interaction, nor do I need to. But as an athletic director, it’s imperative to understand that you have to talk to those people every day.”

A shout out to Plante Moran. From ESPN! Now there’s something we can cross off our bucket list!

Mark Hollis has been a friend of the firm for years now, and we have great respect for him and the MSU team, including Tom Izzo, Mark Dantonio, and Lou Anna Simon. They have an uncanny ability to connect with people—whether students, faculty, alumni, or donors—and their ability to build effective teams both on and off the field has led to an incredibly successful period at Michigan State. They understand the importance of balancing financial goals with the traditions and cultural legacy of the university—something we also balance at Plante Moran.

In fact, our firm has much more in common with MSU’s philosophies than Steve Patterson’s. Yes, we’re here to endure, and to endure we have to be profitable, but we do that by serving our clients to the best of our ability and by adhering to certain longstanding firm traditions and beliefs—our culture. We balance the bottom line with philosophies like “money doesn’t lead, it follows,” “we care,” and “optimize, don’t maximize.” These may not sound like the typical operating principles of a thriving business, but they’re key to how we operate and endure.

You know what else is key? Spending money on things that matter, like our staff. For example, each summer, we invite our 2,200+ staff to Detroit’s beautiful Fox Theatre for our annual firm conference, a day of staff appreciation and information sharing. It’s very expensive; staff from all over the Midwest travel to Detroit and stay overnight, and we provide entertainment (this year we had a block party). Is that something that makes good business sense? According to some, maybe not, but to us it’s an integral part of our culture. The impact it has on our staff and how they feel about working at Plante Moran is priceless.

I’ve worked at Plante Moran for all of my 35-year career because I love it here. I have the greatest job in the world! There’s so much variety built into it, and I meet so many great people, from our clients and their advisory teams and boards to managing partners at other firms to others active in our business communities. And I love interacting with our staff, whether formally via meetings or informally at ice cream socials and parties. Next month, I’ll visit Beijing for a conference, and I’ll stop by our Shanghai office to spend time with the staff and their families—I know it will be an amazing experience.

Andy Warhol once said that being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. I think he’s right. Because true success takes so much more than a laser-like focus on the numbers

What about you? What do you think makes a successful business? And how great is it that Plante Moran was referenced in an ESPN article?

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