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A grand experiment, 100 years in the making

April 10, 2024 Article 3 min read
Jim Proppe
In 1924, Elorion Plante opened a small, Detroit-based accounting firm. Since then, we’ve evolved into a global organization of nearly 4,000 people. While a lot’s changed for us, some things haven’t — and for good reason. Managing Partner Jim Proppe reflects.
Professional photo of Jim Proppe.Years ago, when asked about the firm’s success, Plante Moran Co-founding Partner Frank Moran responded by saying, “Elorion Plante and I made a little snowball and got a lot of wonderful people to help roll it. Today, that snowball looks pretty good.”

Over the past 100 years, their little snowball grew from a local, two-partner accounting firm in Detroit to a multinational, full-service professional services firm with over 3,800 staff. And the momentum continues to this day.

It started with what Elorion and Frank called their “grand experiment.” Frank — a philosophy graduate — envisioned Plante Moran as “a people organization disguised as an accounting firm,” where the best practitioners couldn’t wait to get in the door and clients were lining up to receive unsurpassed service. This established Plante Moran’s foundation as a professional services firm with a focus on serving clients while taking great care of its people. Over time, it evolved into Plante Moran’s “Wheel of Progress,” a concept founded on the belief that hiring and developing the best talent will produce the best service for clients, leading to continuing success for all involved.

The firm never lost sight of this vision, and as much as we’ve grown and diversified throughout the past 100 years, it remains at the core of who we are.

During a recent conversation, I was asked to reflect on some of the advantages Plante Moran enjoys as a century-old organization. There are many, but perhaps the most important is the benefit of a solid foundation passed down by Elorion and Frank and fine-tuned by succeeding generations of leaders. It incorporates three key, time-tested strategies.

The first is our “one-firm firm” approach — an “all-in-this-together” organizational structure that avoids creating cost centers based on geography, service lines, or industries. There are no walls between these groups, and staff are incentivized to do what’s best for the client which in turn also benefits the firm in the long run.

Our second strategy is “optimize versus maximize” profitability. It addresses our preference to make financial decisions based on the firm’s long-term goals and to avoid overreacting in the short term, allowing the firm to make investments today that will benefit team members in the future.

Our third strategy is to always “do the right thing.” While the first two strategies help define the business aspects of our professional services model, “do the right thing” focuses on building a culture that creates the space to do our best work. In addition to understanding and applying the rules of our profession, decision-makers must always ask: “Are we doing the right thing for the right reasons?” If a proposed course of action doesn’t feel right, we won’t do it. That’s why you’ll often hear us say, “There’s no right way to do the wrong thing.” 

These strategies — along with our “We Care” philosophy based on the golden rule — are the mainstays of our culture. They’ve been fantastic overarching principles for the past century and will continue to be for the next one.

As I consider what the centennial milestone means to me personally, I immediately think about what we’re really celebrating — the people who got us here. That includes the former and present staff that have helped make us who we are and the people who count on us — the wonderful organizations we’re privileged to serve and the communities we support. They count on us to do the right thing and to continue living by the guidance Elorion and Frank gave us all those years ago.

Would Elorion and Frank be surprised by what the firm looks like today? I don’t think so. They’d immediately recognize our core foundation is the same as it was 100 years ago, and they’d be immensely proud and thrilled to see how we continue to live our culture day in and day out. I can’t help but think they’d be excited about what their snowball looks like today and the incredible impact their grand experiment has had on so many people. I know I am. 

Our legacy is 100 years in the making — and that’s why you can count on us. 

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