Integrate Succession into Your Firm Culture 

by W. Allen Carroll, Jr., CPA/ABV, CFF, CVA and Morgan Cooper 

Over the last 50 years, Wilkins Miller has grown from the merging of both regional and national firms, and currently has a team of about 70. We have become one of the Top 15 firms in the State of Alabama and one of the largest firms in the Mobile Bay Region. In addition to our growth through M&A activity, we are also constantly recruiting new talent at the high school and college level. We maintain strong relationships with our local universities, and actively recruit the best and brightest students. We then focus heavily on developing and retaining these individuals.

Our firm’s commitment to the continued development of our people has equipped us with a pool of talent containing strong candidates for internal succession. We believe it is important for our next generation partners to understand, as early as possible, what being a high performance leader means. We evaluate our managers using the same criteria used for our partner group, which provides a well-rounded view of what it takes to move up the career ladder within our firm. Our next generation partners understand where they are along this spectrum and each have a development plan that works to their strengths and improvement areas as necessary.

Leading People Forward
Our first step in helping our people reach their full potential is providing them leadership opportunities as early as possible. We have several process improvement teams, each focused on a different area of our practice. Each team is led by a younger (typically 1-3 year experienced) staff person. Our entire firm convenes offsite after busy season to review what went well and what needs improvement. The process improvement teams present their opportunities for improvement to the partner group and then spend the rest of the year working on solutions. They provide regular updates to the partner group and develop an end of year report where they preset their suggestions, which are integrated into our firm infrastructure.

These teams enable our staff to feel engaged, heard and actively involved in the future of the firm. This also gives these employees the opportunity to experience a small scale version of succession. They are developing new processes and then transitioning them to the next iteration of leadership. Not only does this structure lead to process improvements, which benefit the firm as a whole, it also develops our young team members, and fosters leadership and collaboration skills, early in their careers.

We are committed to providing everyone on our team the chance to grow, develop and reach their potential. We recently appointed a Talent and Development Coordinator who is helping us take a more focused approach in developing each person on an individual level. In addition to this, the majority of the firm’s major operations are handled by seasoned team members who are non-partners. By allowing daily firm operations to be handled by others, not only are our partners focused on higher level activities, we are simultaneously creating a deep bench of talent capable of running much of the firm without partner influence.

Our People are the Plan
Though we don’t have a formalized succession plan, our approach of developing talent internally has been successful. In 2015, we named our first next generation partner, who has been actively engaged in the firm for about 15 years. When transitioning into the partner role, we asked if he had any issues that he wanted to address as partner and he had no pressing action items. Through his involvement in the various leadership opportunities provided by the firm, he already had the opportunity to identify and address any deficiencies.

Firms should begin a focus on succession right away. Determine who on your team has the potential to become a partner and commit to developing those people. Also consider starting a mentor program which is a valuable option for grooming these individuals. Succession done well is about working with and for your people, supporting them and seeing them grow and succeed.

Also know that you are not alone in this journey. Some firms seem to have it all figured out while others, like us, are finding our way. We would highly recommend that all firms join a PCPS Networking Group to learn how other firms of similar size are managing succession and other common practice management challenges.  There is truth in the old saying that “wise people learn from others’ mistakes, and fools learn from their own mistakes.” Our firm has been a member of the Medium Firm Networking Group for years and has learned so much from so many excellent firms. It is well worth the investment in time and money if you are truly interested in seeing your firm reach its potential.

Wilkins Miller LLC is a medium firm based in Mobile, AL. W. Allen Carroll, Jr., CPA/ABV, CFF, CVA is the managing partner and Morgan Cooper is the marketing coordinator.


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