An extra degree of service Featured

5:19pm EDT May 12, 2011
Lee Beall, CEO, Rea & Associates Lee Beall, CEO, Rea & Associates

An economic recession may not be the best time for a company to develop a growth culture. But don’t tell that to Rea & Associates Inc.

By the time the recession hit, the accounting firm was already invested in this initiative. The real question was whether they’d continue fueling it with resources when times got tough. Because CEO Lee Beall believes that success rests in the ability of employees to be innovative and deliver proactive solutions to clients, he knew the culture was a crucial foundation toward getting results. So he stuck with the initiative when many others in his industry backed off.

Beall told Smart Business how he keeps his organization on the leading edge by recognizing talent, giving back to the community and going the extra degree for clients.

Give an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Our firm began an initiative a few years ago to develop, from the ground up, into a growth culture. We began this process before the economy took its dive into the recession. Our biggest challenge was to continue to stick with this initiative and continue to commit resources to it during such a difficult time in our economy, when it might have been easy to walk away from it.

We are proud to say that we stuck to our initiative. We have seen positive results from its efforts throughout the recession and expect to see an even more positive outcome as the economy improves and we can implement more of its steps.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Innovative leaders recognize talent. That means not only identifying talented individuals, but attracting them and retaining them in your organization. Once you have a talented team, it’s important to give them the freedom to be progressive. These are really the individuals who allow your organization to be innovative.

A few years ago, a survey suggested that clients were looking for more proactive services from our firm. As a result, we created our consulting division and our Lean services division. Lean Six Sigma is a business philosophy that improves efficiency and decreases defects in processes. It began in the manufacturing arena but is being applied to many other types of processes, including those in professional services. Our work in this area led to the development of a new division, Lean CPA, which helps other CPA firms use lean principles to become more efficient and effective, as well as our Pulse Check service, which allows us to take a holistic view of our business clients and look for ways to help them improve strategically.

Our firm has also been innovating in its investment in the marketing and human resources departments at a time when many in the industry backed off due to the economy. We have continued to develop internal education programs for our team as well as marketing initiatives during this time.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, and how have you applied it?

When I first became CEO, I learned that people often not only hang on every word you say, but can also recall your words long after you say them. And they can sometimes take what you say very seriously but not recognize the context in which you made your comments.

As our governor has quickly found out, you must be very careful about what you say!

How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Rea & Associates Inc. is among the top 100 accounting firms in the country, but unlike many of the other large regional firms, we invest directly in each of the 11 communities in which our offices are located. We own our facilities, employ local team members and invest both our time and money from our Rea Foundation.

A while back we did a study and determined that our team donates more than 4,000 hours per year to more than 100 local organizations in Northeast Ohio alone. Since our Rea Foundation was established in 2003, we have donated more than $300,000 to our local communities and organizations and provided seven annual accounting scholarships to area colleges.

How have you added “value” to the products and services you provide to clients?

Our greatest value as a firm is the talent our team members provide. We work hard to provide strategic thinking and a bigger picture view for our clients, and we’re constantly looking for ways we can bring them greater value.

Our Pulse Check service is probably the best example of a way we add value to our services. Pulse Check allows us to bring various specialists from several areas of our firm together with a client or prospect for a holistic review of the business and look for ways to help the business improve strategically – whether through changes in tax treatment, to its corporate structure, to its processes (for greater efficiency) or even its retirement plan offerings. This service has been very well received by our clients and has been especially valued during the recession when so many businesses have struggled.

What is your philosophy on going “above and beyond” for customer service?

My philosophy is it’s all about the customers. When a client works with me, they get my total attention – I’m all in with them. I’m there to serve as their primary advocate, whether that’s with their bank, the IRS or guiding them through our organization.

We’ve also adopted an “above and beyond” philosophy throughout our firm. Each employee receives the book 212, the Extra Degree. The book’s premise is that at 212 degrees, water boils and it’s strong enough to power a locomotive – and when we all go that extra degree, we can do great things. We encourage all of our team members to go that extra degree, and team members nominate their coworkers for an annual 212 and Then Some recognition award.

How to reach: Rea & Associates, (330) 339-6651 or www.reacpa.com