WINNER - Services
chairman, president and CEO
Black & Veatch
Len Rodman is not interested in doing things the easy way. His employees at Black & Veatch know very well his saying of, “If it’s easy, someone else is probably doing it.”
Rodman wants to ?nd the innovative solution, the one that comes with a complex challenge and a dif?cult series of steps to enact — because Rodman knows all that effort will lead to a great product for his customers.
He joined Black & Veatch in 1971 as a design engineer and worked hard, progressing to become managing partner.
He has led the company’s transition from partnership to employee-owned corporation, a move that set the stage for explosive growth. It allowed greater access to capital, fueling expansion to new markets.
Rodman leads by ?nding ways to do things better. He is always looking for the next challenge and always wants to bring his employees along on the journey.
His ability to engage and inspire others to dig deep allows the company to devise unique solutions that delight customers and bolster the position of Black & Veatch in the infrastructure industry.
One of the most important ways Rodman helps his employees is through classes designed to teach engineers at Black & Veatch business acumen and provide them with critical management tools.
The chairman, president and CEO believes that each project needs to be valued and understood to be a integral component of the company’s growth plan.
The classes have progressed to provide the company with a steady stream of new leadership development.
With that leadership base as a foundation to build upon, Rodman has Black & Veatch positioned for strong success in the future.
HOW TO REACH: Black & Veatch, www.bv.com
WINNER - Financial Services
Brock and Brant Bukowsky
Veterans United Home Loans
Brothers Brant and Brock Bukowsky are no strangers to entrepreneurship. While students at the University of Missouri, they started a small business health care insurance company from their dorm room, and later, after Brock won a football ticket from a soda can, they started Buy-Sell-Tix, an online venture where ticket brokers could purchase tickets.
Then, in 2002, they began pursuing the mortgage business after a casual discussion with a former student. A grateful Veterans Affairs loan recipient, whom the company helped purchase his ?rst home, sealed the duo’s commitment to focus on VA mortgages — and Veterans United Home Loans was born.
The Bukowskys have developed a long-term sustainable company, enjoying success despite the fact that many other mortgage companies failed during the recession. In fact, Veterans United Home Loans has experienced more than 30 percent growth each year.
The brothers attribute their growth and success to three core values: being passionate and having fun, delivering results with integrity, and enhancing lives every day.
At board meetings, for example, it is not uncommon for the duo to lead discussions on how to increase the company’s focus on its company culture instead of improving ?nancial ?gures.
This culture also includes a commitment to the community. In November 2011, the Bukowskys launched their own charitable entity, Veterans United Foundation, which aims to enhance the lives of veterans and military family and friends. Many employees donate a percentage of their annual pay to the foundation, which the brothers match.
The Bukowskys plan to continue to grow the company in the future. They will soon be launching a title company and have also begun hiring VA loan specialists to establish Veterans United branch of?ces to establish face-to-face leads.
HOW TO REACH: Veterans United Home Loans, www.vu.com
WINNER - Communications
The world’s largest provider of questions and answers can trace its origins back to an old computer that was about to be thrown in the trash.
David Karandish received the computer that had been discarded from his father’s business and used it to discover the power of computer programming. As he gained knowledge, he put it to use helping businesses get online at a time when few companies even had a website.
All the while, he was gathering momentum for his eventual purchase of Answers. He had started a business, which, at ?rst, was going to be an e-commerce site that helped shoppers make smart buys. But after challenges cropped up in making that work, Karandish turned to a question-and-answer content model.
The business soon generated a database of 150,000 questions and answers and Karandish was ready to go after Answers.com. The deal was negotiated, and Karandish now had 150 million questions and answers at his disposal.
The company continued to evolve as social media began to take off, and Karandish made another acquisition, bringing his database to an astounding 15 billion questions and answers. He is co-founder of parent company Announce Media.
One of the keys to the company’s ascent has been Karandish’s strong belief in his team.
As CEO, he often will throw out challenges to his people and they’ll respond with doubt as to whether they can accomplish what he has asked.
If Karandish has doubt in his mind, he doesn’t show it, and this support from the top gives employees the boost they need to come through. Employees need to be energized and connected in their work and Karandish makes every effort to give them the forum that they need to succeed.
HOW TO REACH: Answers, www.announcemedia.com
WINNER - Industrial Manufacturing and Mining
Knight Hawk Coal LLC
When Steve Carter announced in 1997 that he was creating a coal mining company in southern Illinois, the reaction was a mix of hope and skepticism. At the time, Illinois’ mining industry had all but been gutted with employment dropping 64 percent in the 1990s. However, he knew that the big companies that had abandoned the region left behind enough coal, pent-up demand and good people to make it work.
In creating Knight Hawk Coal, Carter, who is president, played an important role in the revitalization of the coal industry in Illinois. During the 1990s, many coal consumers abandoned Illinois coal for lower sulfur coal found in the Appalachians as well as in the Power River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming. With the onset of advanced scrubbing technology, Carter believed Illinois Basin coal could be a lower-cost alternative to Appalachian coal and could also provide bene?ts over PRB coal through signi?cantly lower freight costs given Illinois’ central proximity.
Through his leadership, Carter has built Knight Hawk Coal from a ?edgling operation with one mine and 17 employees to a very successful company with six mines and nearly 400 employees. He understands that effective leadership involves making dif?cult decisions. He also understands that he may not always know the answer or have the best ideas, so he invites all employees to share views on various aspects of the business.
Carter believes that a collaborative culture will promote innovative thinking, which will be key to the company’s future success. Through his efforts, coal has made a comeback in Illinois, and with the help of his team, he is working each day to ensure that success is sustained.
HOW TO REACH: Knight Hawk Coal LLC, www.knighthawkcoal.com
As labor rates rise in China, shipping costs increase, the dollar weakens and supply chains grow more complex, many industry analysts are suggesting U.S. manufacturing activity will increase over the next five years.
And while some risks such as supply chain failures may be reduced if manufacturing firms are closer to operations and manage them more effectively, other risks — such as medical cost inflation for workers’ compensation and nonoccupational injuries — are on the rise, says Mike Stankard, managing director and Industrial and Materials Practice leader at Aon Risk Solutions.
“High-frequency, low-severity type risks, such as workers’ compensation or fire prevention, need to be managed on a day-to-day basis to prevent and mitigate losses,” says Stankard. “Businesses simply can’t overlook those because they face them every day. They also need to control losses that would prove catastrophic, such as large liability claims or the financial impact from natural disasters. Those risks can be managed with insurance because they are largely unpreventable, and businesses have an obligation to protect shareholders’ capital.”
Smart Business spoke with Stankard and John Gertken, senior account executive with Aon Risk Solutions, about how to manage risks facing the industrial and materials sector.
What are some risks that can impact the industrial and materials sector?
Aon Risk Solutions recently conducted a survey of business leaders in the industrial and materials sector to gauge their concerns, which included the economic slowdown — in both the U.S. and abroad, uncertainly surrounding raw materials and commodity pricing, and future innovations to keep up with customer needs.
In addition to the broad risks that drive macroeconomic issues affecting supply and demand, leaders must consider specific risks and manage them on a day-to-day basis to ensure efficient and effective execution of their business plan. In this area, risks include business interruption and supply chain failures, keeping up with emerging market opportunities and the risks and rewards of globalization.
What are some of the major drivers of risk?
The recession has had a profound impact on manufacturers that were forced to quickly adjust to changing demands for their products. The challenge was that no one knew just how low the economy was going to go. Some manufacturing employers reduced their work force by 40 to 60 percent and closed plants, although some of those reductions are starting to reverse. Many companies, especially automotive, used bankruptcy as the ultimate risk management tool to make long-term fixes to their macro-business models in the areas of labor contracts and raw material purchasing, shutting down inefficient plants and dropping marginal product lines.
Escalating health care costs continue to affect the work force both in terms of group medical insurance costs and workers’ compensation. When workers are injured, an employer is affected by wage replacement, medical costs and productivity leakage.
There’s also been reaction to all of the production moved offshore in the past 10 years. In 2011, natural disasters, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, flooding in Thailand and earthquakes in New Zealand and Chile, put stress on the global supply chain, forcing companies to re-examine the vulnerabilities around their supply and customer chains. Many are now considering whether they were shortsighted when they moved production to low-labor rate countries that could potentially result in larger issues than just how much per hour they are paying employees.
How can mid-sized employers minimize risks?
Mid-sized employers may want to consider increasing workplace safety to avoid injuries that may result in expensive medical costs. As not all accidents are preventable, effective claims management practices on post-accident behaviors can help control medical costs and get workers back on the job as quickly as possible, even if it’s for light duty work.
When looking at the supply chain, manufacturers need to re-examine their supplier base to look for potential bottlenecks, single-source suppliers that could cause problems down the road. To minimize the risk, contingent business interruption coverage insurance around supply chain failure is available, which can cover loss of revenue.
However, it is important to note that underwriters have changed their business practices to limit their exposure in this space. They want to know about your suppliers — where they are located and how much business you do with them. For example, they might reduce your limits or restrict coverage so it only applies to direct suppliers rather than indirect ones, even though both can have just as much impact on your business.
Once risk management practices are in place, how can you measure them for effectiveness?
Your insurance broker, who optimally deals with your industry, knows it well and works with your peer companies, should be able to provide best practice benchmarks and performance metrics that can be continually updated. They can give you guidance on how to prevent and minimize claims as well as advice on the quality of insurance, how much you should purchase, how you should measure and value business interruption losses, etc. For example, your broker could perform a comprehensive evaluation of your workers’ compensation processes and losses, analyzing your environment and all of the losses you had on a granular basis. After determining the root cause of those losses, the broker would make recommendations such as ergonomic corrections, improvement in communications around losses and reporting lags.
These kinds of precise adjustments and the best practices associated with them could add up to millions of dollars in savings over time.
Mike Stankard is a managing director and Industrial and Materials Practice leader for Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (248) 936-5353 or email email@example.com.
John Gertken is a senior account executive with Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (314) 719-5193 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit aon.com/industrialandmaterialsreport to download a copy of the 2012 U.S. Industrial and Materials Industry Report.
Insights Risk Management is brought to you by Aon Risk Solutions
The only sure thing with health care reform is that things are changing. No one is sure how, exactly, those changes will play out as current reform legislation is reviewed in the Supreme Court, or what will happen following the presidential election.
That uncertainty makes planning for the significant and steadily escalating cost of health care a real challenge for businesses. As costs increase, how can employers continue to provide benefits that attract and retain quality workers while managing their expenses?
“One of the things that employers should be doing now is reviewing their health care costs to begin to identify ways to control their costs, regardless of what happens with health care reform,” says Ron Present, principal, health care advisory services, Brown Smith Wallace, St. Louis, Mo.
Smart Business spoke with Present about what employers should know about the current state of health care reform and how they can begin to prepare for the future.
What are employers’ greatest concerns surrounding health care reform?
The biggest fear is that their health care costs will increase significantly, and that is a valid fear. Then there is the question of how to manage expenses while continuing to offer quality benefits to employees. In today’s market, companies must begin to view health care as more than just an employee benefit — it’s a recruiting and retention tool that provides companies with a competitive advantage.
Employers must look at benefits from a strategic perspective and consider how they can position their health insurance offering as an incentive. At the same time, they must manage the bottom line, and that won’t be easy. In addition, there is widespread confusion about health care benefits in light of the uncertainty in health care reform. In the end, it is the responsibility of — and perhaps opportunity for — employers to clearly communicate to their employees about the company’s benefits.
How could the individual mandate affect employers?
The individual mandate is a law requiring that all individuals purchase health care insurance or pay a penalty that will phase in during 2014. The individual mandate, as part of the health care reform legislation, is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and it’s a sticky issue.
Is it constitutional to mandate that all citizens have health insurance? Is it fair to charge a penalty to employers for not offering health care benefits? And because the mandate has been written into the tax code — and the Supreme Court cannot rule on tax code issues unless there has been harm done — will the court be able to rule on the individual mandate before it is set to go into effect in 2014? A key related question is how the upcoming presidential election will impact the legislation.
The health care reform plan could be tossed aside completely, altered or kept fully intact.
What decisions will employers be forced to make regarding health care legislation?
Concerning the individual mandate, employers must determine whether it’s more financially prudent and culturally sensible to offer benefits to employees or to pay the penalty for not doing so. A discussion with an experienced tax professional who is well-versed in health care reform legislation can help employers consider the financial impact of this decision and determine the right course of action.
Meanwhile, companies will need to heighten their monitoring of hourly employees because those who work 130 or more hours per month will be automatically eligible for company health care benefits if the current legislation stands. If employers do not abide by this and exclude those employees, they will pay a steep penalty. This becomes particularly complicated with part-time and shift workers and in situations in which workers are picking up additional shifts, which may push them over 130 hours in a given month. Employers will need to carefully monitor employees time on a real-time basis and manage employees in terms of their monthly/hourly workloads. Currently most systems track data on a pay period basis (weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly). Companies will need to ensure they have systems in place to be able to track hours on a monthly basis.
What should business owners be emphasizing in their communications with employees?
According to an ADP HR/Benefits Pulse Survey on Employee Benefit Tools, 40 percent of employees do not understand their current benefits plan. It is critical to drive home to employees the value of the health care benefits that you offer. Communicate often, and reach out to employees in face-to-face meetings, through e-newsletters, mailers that go home to spouses and dependents, and via the company intranet.
Emphasize the importance of wellness and enforce employee accountability, communicating that the healthier they are, the less they could pay for their monthly health insurance premium. Be proactive by implementing wellness programs including incentives for better nutrition or exercise.
What should employers be doing right now in light of the current uncertainty?
Now is the time to get discerning input on the strategic and cost differentials of offering health insurance versus paying a penalty for not doing so. You should explore ways to reduce cost, without sacrificing benefit and identify systems to put in place that will improve real-time reporting.
The keys to success will be having sound knowledge of the current situation and a strong framework in place before you need to make the upcoming changes and decisions you face as health care reform is implemented. With these two essential procedures under your belt, you will be in a position to make wise strategic decisions for the ongoing health of your business.
Ron Present, CALA, CNHA, LNHA, is principal, health care advisory services, at Brown Smith Wallace, St. Louis, Mo. Reach him at (314) 983-1358 or email@example.com.
Insights Accounting is brought to you by Brown Smith Wallace LLC
From greater flexibility to lower costs, self-funded insurance is attracting the attention of more and more employers.
“Self-funding plans have been gaining popularity as a way for companies and employees to save money in the face of the recession, recent health care reform and increasing health care costs,” says Mark Haegele, director, sales and account management, for HealthLink. “Health care reform adds a number of taxes and restrictions on fully insured companies that those on a partially self-funded basis are typically able to avoid.”
Smart Business spoke with Haegele about how you can manage a self-funded plan to ensure your company gets the most out of its health care expenditures.
What’s the difference between a self-funded and a fully insured health plan?
With self insurance, or self funding, the employer assumes the financial risk of providing health care insurance. Typically, the company sets up a trust of corporate and employee contributions that are administered in house or subcontracted to a third party. A company can either hire a third-party administrator (TPA) or do the administration itself to save on fees that would normally go to an insurance company. A TPA can also take on fiduciary responsibility with reinsurance to further protect the employer.
When an employer is fully insured, it pays a fixed premium to an insurance carrier that assumes all of the risk.
Why would an employer choose to self-fund?
There are a number of reasons to go with self-funded insurance, and flexibility is one of the biggest selling points. For example, Company A can choose to exclude bariatric surgery on its health plan and Company B can include it, depending on its employees’ specific needs. In Illinois, the state mandates that fully insured businesses must pay for bariatric surgery, so only with self-funding do businesses have the ability to choose.
In another example, under self-funded insurance, an employer can identify disease prevalence and assign benefits to accommodate its employees’ specific needs. So, if an employer discovers a higher incidence of asthma and diabetes in its employee population, as a self-funded employer, it can choose to pay 100 percent of all of the services required to manage those illnesses. This keeps employees healthier — and out of the costly ER and hospital — by ensuring they maintain their treatment protocols for that particular illness.
It’s about identifying the makeup of the employee population, and designing and building self-insured plans to really support that population’s needs; you’re not stuck in a box of what you have to provide, based on what the state mandates or on your insurance company’s systems.
In addition, you can maximize your interest income on premiums that would otherwise go to an insurance carrier, and you can avoid prepaying for health care coverage, improving your business’s cash flow.
Finally, self-funded insurance is only subject to federal law, not conflicting state health insurance regulations and/or benefit mandates and state health insurance premium taxes, which can account for 2 to 3 percent of premium costs.
How common is self-funded insurance and how can a company determine if it is the best option for its needs?
Approximately 50 million employees and their dependents receive benefits through self-insured health plans, which accounts for 33 percent of the 150 million participants in private employment-based plans nationwide, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute in 2000.
There’s a myth that self-funded insurance is not cost effective for employers with fewer than 1,000 employees. However, there are many TPAs that offer partially self-funded programs for companies with as few as 10 employees. In most states, including Missouri and Illinois, health care is a guarantee issue for plans with fewer than 50 lives. This means if you have 50 or fewer employees and you try self-funded insurance but it doesn’t work out, health insurance carriers must allow you to have fully funded insurance the following year.
However, if you have between 50 and 100 employees, you need to truly understand your risks because returning to a fully funded plan from a self-funded plan could increase your rates dramatically. Make sure that you have a trustworthy broker and/or lawyer review the plan you’re going to participate in before making your decision.
If a company assumes the risk of self funding, how can it protect itself from a catastrophic claim?
You can purchase stop-loss insurance for reimbursement of claims above a specified amount through a TPA. Only the employer is insured, not the employees or health plan participants, which means you can avoid most insurance taxes.
There are two types of stop-loss insurance, which acts as reinsurance:
- Specific stop-loss provides protection against a high claim on any one individual. The rule of thumb is $10,000 if you have 10 employees, $20,000 if you have 20 employees, etc.
- Aggregate stop-loss offers a ceiling on the amount of eligible expenses an employer would pay, in total, during a contract period. The carrier reimburses the employer at the contract’s end for aggregate claims.
You also can use TPAs to help decrease your risk. A TPA will have existing affiliations with health care networks to help manage the plan and save the most money. TPAs can also help manage the increased complexity of self-funded insurance.
Self funding is more viable than ever for employer groups with as few as 10 employees. Right off the top, employers save 3 to 5 percent of the total cost of their health plan through insurance companies’ risk charge and profit, coupled with the other advantages of plan design flexibility and additional tax avoidance associated with health care reform.
Mark Haegele is a director, sales and account management, for HealthLink. Reach him at (314) 753-2100 or Mark.Haegele@healthlink.com.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink®
Knock Knock! Who’s there? Iowa. Iowa who? Iowa lot of money for my marketing programs. Okay, so that might not be the funniest joke ever but it serves well for exploring humor as an effective business tool.
As people communicate more individually in areas of presentation and electronic media, many focus on creating a “professional” image, which simply means making it look like what’s expected. Sadly this often results in boring and forgettable websites, PowerPoint and videos. It doesn’t help the presenter connect emotionally nor differentiate from the other “professional” offerings.
Rarely do you hear people coming out of a business presentation saying: “That person was hysterical!” More often presenters attempt connection by tugging emotional heartstrings creating small trauma. In most film festivals, dramas outnumber, comedies by 20 to 1. Why? The great 18th century actor Edmund Kean answered us as he lay dying: “Death is easy, comedy is hard.”
Still, humor is a worthy aspiration, accomplishing tasks seldom achieved by serious approach.
- Humor establishes rapport – Almost all people love to laugh. Non-offensive jokes can easily establish likeability and trust. A joke related to a difficult situation can disarm a prospect or client when delivering “tough medicine.” Relationships are often built on experiences of shared humor. People do business with people they like, and if they smile and laugh every time you are near they associate you with happiness. Combined with knowledge, humor enhances expertise, demonstrating confidence and strength.
- Humor triggers memorability – Many strive to create “AHA! moments” in customer’s minds. This occurs when one is thinking one way and you turn their head to think another. Those are the very mechanics of a joke punch-line. In our example I suggest a Midwestern state and quickly turn it to a statement of finances. The unexpected wordplay registers in the brain as humor, which triggers endorphins that encode for memory. This is why a childhood joke exists in our repertoire decades after introduction.
- Humor creates alignment – A joke is based upon shared experience. Humor works well when there is communal understanding of the issues at hand. By identifying a common problem and creating a punch-line around it, insiders will adopt the punch-line as a trigger representing the issue. So when no one remembers to turn off the lights when leaving, a giant light switch painted on the wall makes people laugh and remember their responsibility without embarrassment.
Exploring humor research can be beneficial to creating memorable marketing, particularly in video. But suffice it to say if you just want people to like and remember you in a consistent and productive manner, simply follow the words of the late, great Donald Oconnor and “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh!”
An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best selling author of Video Marketing For Dummies. and ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle. Visit him at KevinDaum.com or @awesomeroar
An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of the books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.
“I’ve been on both sides of the aisle,” says Marty Doerr, member-in-charge of the Tax Services Group of Brown Smith Wallace LLC, who earlier worked for a decade and a half as head of the tax department at May Department Stores. “I would just say, from a CEO perspective, it’s really helpful if he includes his CPA, whether it’s in-house or his adviser, as part of the team. Sometimes the CEO thinks of the taxperson as the guy who’s supposed to give him the answer after he’s given him the facts. But they need to be involved in helping create the facts.”
Sales of real estate and major asset purchases are two of the critical transaction types for which business executives should seek expert financial advice beforehand rather than afterward.
“You can’t have that input unless you’re at the table when they’re doing the transaction,” Doerr says. “That’s what I mean by being on the team. It can save a lot of hassles and probably taxes and maybe penalties, if you can weigh in before those transactions have already happened. It’s a matter of having somebody there who has their tax antenna up all the time.”
The unpredictability involving the upcoming election and how it will affect next year’s tax rates makes CEO-accountant interaction even more crucial this year.
“It’s so uncertain right now what’s going to happen with [tax] rates,” Doerr says. “Of course it’s an axiom that you don’t let the tax issue wag the dog, but most people think rates are going to go up next year. And any time we’re into that kind of a situation, particularly in an election year, it makes tax planning that much more difficult. So I would encourage management to keep the dialogue open.”
Marty Doerr, member-in-charge of the Tax Services Group of Brown Smith Wallace LLC, is responsible for overall client service and technical oversight of the tax practice, as well as training staff on best practices and new tax developments.
HOW TO REACH: Brown Smith Wallace LLC, www.bswllc.com or (314) 983-1200
How often do CEOs need to talk to their accountants in order to effectively manage their company’s finances? Obviously, this question can’t be answered with a simple blanket statement: “X times a year for a total of Y hours should do the trick.” There are too many different types of businesses, each with different amounts of expertise and unique needs of their own.
But if you talk to even a small number experts in the accounting field, a couple of themes emerge. One is that when CEOs are contemplating unusual transactions, it’s always better to err on the side of having too much contact with their accountant than not enough. Another refrain is that any time a CEO has any doubts or unease about an upcoming transaction, it’s definitely time to call your accountant to let him or her know you have something you need to talk about.
“Typically, in a larger company, the CFO would take on that role,” says Mark Koziel, vice president of firm services and global alliances for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. “But what about the CEO who doesn’t have the C-suite and the finance function inside their organization? That’s where, in particular, we talk a lot about being the trusted business adviser for that CEO. Especially in family-owned businesses, you see this a lot. You need that financial adviser, but you may not need them full time, so you can lean on your CPA on a regular basis throughout the year.
“They should be there for part of the strategic planning sessions. If the CPA knows what’s going on throughout the year and is present for discussions about important things like expansion, employment and succession, then they can be better informed for when they do the year-end planning and consulting.”
The benefits of touching base periodically with clients throughout the year, not just at year end, is a common theme among those with experience in the accounting field.
“When you meet with clients during the year, you can go over their financial statements, among many other things,” says Sharon Cook, president of the National Society of Accountants. “You can make sure they are doing everything properly. And you can make suggestions about some of the other things they need to do, for taxes and for other financial purposes.”
Think, talk, transact
Talking to your financial team throughout the year enables your experts to make suggestions in advance of key transactions that can greatly alter the tax and financial impact of those decisions.
“When you get to year end, depending on what the CPA is doing for you — if it’s a compiled financial statement, an audited financial statement, a tax return — there are definite tax implications that could be affected,” Koziel says. “And maybe some decisions would have been made another way if the CEO had considered the tax implications of what they were about to do.”
Making assumptions on your own rather than asking professionals for guidance can lead to unpleasant surprises. Accountants come across these types of situations frequently in their daily interactions with clients.
“A situation that I find clients often have problems with is, for example, in a year in which they’re expecting a large profit, they want to be able to reduce that,” Cook says. “So one of the first things they think about buying is a car, because they think they’re going to be able to write that car off in full in the first year. Then, by the time you get the books and you’re ready to do the tax return, you have to tell them, ‘Guess what — you’re not going to be able to do that. You’re going to have some limits in terms of what you can deduct this year.’”
For many types of nonroutine transactions, getting advice beforehand from your accountant or finance team is almost always the wisest course for business executives to follow.
“Some of the types of transactions that should be discussed ahead of time would be, for instance, any type of big-dollar purchases that they’re looking at,” Koziel says. “Buying versus leasing is one that needs to be looked at carefully, such as whether you want to buy or lease a building. Another important one is business expansion: If they’re looking to buy a business or even sell their business, the whole M&A transaction and how that will take place is a very important thing to consider.
“Major investment decisions along the way could have significant impact. And succession of the business — that’s another huge issue. You should be having big-time conversations about that early on.”
Other nonroutine transactions that should be reviewed carefully ahead of time include borrowing money, major equipment purchases and like-kind exchanges.
“Before you do a like-kind exchange, you should definitely talk to your accountant to make sure it’s done properly so it won’t be disallowed somewhere down the line,” says Cook. “There are many types of like-kind exchanges. It could involve property that they own. A lot of times, especially in smaller businesses, it may involve cars or equipment that they have around, where they can exchange it and therefore not pay the tax that they would have had to pay if they had sold it directly to someone else.
“Any time a CEO wants to make a big expenditure on any kind of equipment, they need to talk to their accountant to make sure they’re getting the benefit of everything they have, especially if they want to borrow money to pay for it. Because if they want to borrow money, they’ve got to figure out, ‘What is that going to do to my bottom line? Is this something I really need to do, and is it right for me?’”
An accountant’s value to a CEO or a client company isn’t limited to figuring out the tax effects of transactions before they’re entered into. There are many other types of general business issues for which an accountant can provide valuable advice.
“Strategic planning is a big one,” Koziel says. “One of the best services a CPA can provide to a CEO is to just get them in a room for a day and sit down and talk about the business. Do a strategic planning session. Make it formal, kind of like a board of directors meeting.
“Having frequent conversations throughout the year is useful in many ways. The beauty of the CPA environment is you gain a lot of knowledge about particular industries. Take construction, for example. Typically, the CPA has more than one construction contractor client, so they see good habits and bad habits that are out there, based on other businesses in that market. And they also can sometimes translate things to other types of businesses. Maybe it’s a customer service strategy in a certain retail business that could be replicated in, let’s say, a not-for-profit that you might have as a client.
“The ability to observe how a variety of different businesses operate and being able to assess the good habits from the bad habits and recommending the good habits to other types of businesses that are in their client base — these are valuable services that CPAs are in a position to offer.”
Another important service that accountants can provide is keeping tabs on key financial line items to watch for significant changes, then investigating those changes to determine the factors that are causing them, and, if needed, recommending ways to counteract the changes.
“If you keep in close contact with your clients, especially if they’re doing their own accounting in-house, one of the things you can do is review their gross profit percentages,” Cook says. “Are they staying consistent? Are they changing dramatically from one period to another? What’s the cause of that? And you can sit down and go over that with them and see if there’s a problem. It may be in their inventory control, if they have inventory. Or is the cost of their regular purchases going up? And if so, what do they need to do to offset that? Does that mean that they need to find a way to increase sales? Or do they need to have better controls on what’s in inventory and how it’s coming out of inventory?”
The definition of trust
One of the accountant’s main goals is to achieve trusted business adviser status with his or her clients. It’s a prestigious standing, and it must be earned over time.
“It’s about giving your clients the absolute best service you can provide,” Cook says. “To be able to review and make sure they’re handling their affairs properly, to produce good financial statements, to have the best possible relationship between the accountant and the CEO, and ultimately, to make sure that their business prospers. That’s the key. That’s what you aim for.”
Koziel concluded by telling a story — “the ultimate story of a CPA as a trusted adviser,” as he calls it.
“I was at lunch with a CPA friend of mine about a month ago, and he says to me — because he’s heard me say time and again: ‘Trusted adviser, trusted adviser’ — he says, ‘You know, I never really understood the meaning of “trusted adviser” until just this past weekend. I got a call from the wife of a client of mine. The client is a construction contractor; he owns a construction business.’
“This guy was a huge car buff and had a warehouse full of antique cars. He was in the warehouse tinkering one day, and he fell to his death off of a ladder — changing a light bulb, of all things. So he says to me, ‘I’m sitting there last weekend, and this client’s wife calls me. … A little while later, I’m in her living room. It’s the wife, the two daughters, the two son-in-laws and me.’ He says, ‘That is the trusted adviser relationship. That’s exactly what you’ve been talking about. The only one that they felt comfortable enough with — the only one they felt confident enough with as the outside consultant to the family — was me. It’s almost like I was part of the family.’
“That’s the type of relationship that you start to see in these businesses with their CPAs,” Koziel says. “And as a CEO, if you don’t have that trusted adviser relationship now — well, we’re talking about your life’s savings. Whether it’s invested all in the business or whether it’s held in other types of assets — these are your life’s savings. Who are you going to trust with those types of decisions? And you’d better have that person with you year-round, to help you make better decisions all along the way.”
HOW TO REACH: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, www.aicpa.org; National Society of Accountants, www.nsacct.org