Everyone counts

Our focus is on our staff first, then our clients.”

That might well be considered sacrilege in some businesses. But John Finnucan, a managing partner at Bruner-Cox, defends his words by simply adding that the 75-year-old accounting firm’s 85 employees are responsible for its success.

The business, which specializes in providing a full range of accounting services to the construction, manufacturing, wholesale and medical industries, has averaged a 15 to 20 percent increase in revenues the over the last five years.

“If you don’t have an outstanding staff, you can’t provide outstanding service to clients,” he declares.

Finnucan says the firm, founded in 1925 “with one adding machine, one typewriter and two partners,” recruits and retains the best, making Bruner-Cox “a fun place to work.” The goal is in part achieved, he believes, by allowing professional accountants to work in their preferred area of expertise — for example, accounting for corporations, partnerships or individuals.

“We get a sense for what type of financial work he or she wants to do,” he says. “We then provide the training in the area that they’re interested in.”

Training totals 40 to 80 hours each year. Basic education is provided through a network created in the late ’80s by McGladrey & Pullen, one of the U.S.’s top accounting firms, to provide its specialty services through 90 member concerns throughout the country. (Bruner-Cox was the 17th member firm to be licensed by McGladrey & Pullen.)

“We try to use as much of their training as possible so that we have consistency in our approaches to audit, tax and so forth,” Finnucan says.

The company also pays for materials for individual self-study. Tuition reimbursement for advanced degrees is granted on a case-by-case basis.

According to Finnucan, salaries at Bruner-Cox are above average for certified public accounting firms of its size and the company is considering extending an incentive-based program to all personnel. The current arrangement allows managers to earn bonuses for accomplishing set goals — say, increasing billable hours by a certain amount or doing volunteer work.

“Community service is important to us,” Finnucan says.

The company has also developed a feedback process that accurately informs employees of whether they’re performing up to par.

“We spend a lot of time making sure people get an understanding of where they are,” he says. “We’re getting better and better at it.”

Finally, Finnucan says partners strive to create an egalitarian work environment in which employees feel free to voice their opinions, even (respectfully) challenge a boss.

“Some of our very best people have no hesitation in saying, ‘Hey, we think you’re wrong,’” he says, then chuckles. “Occasionally, they’re absolutely right.”

How to reach: Bruner-Cox, (330) 497-2000

Lynne Thompson