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MICPA Connections: Three Steps for a Successful Firm Integration

[1]Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) have been on a uptick in the accounting industry, but for CPA firm owners across Michigan, the process can succeed or fail based on the acquiring firm’s ability to successfully integrate the new business. Transitioning ownership of a firm is rarely without hiccups, so the MICPA spoke with member Mark Hughes, CPA, partner at Metro Detroit accounting firm ShindelRock to discuss their recent experience with acquiring a local CPA firm and integrating its clients and staff.

“The selling firm had two partners with different appetites for post-close workloads, a small but technically sound staff, and a base of loyal clients,” Hughes recalls. He explains a missing piece within the firm was technology, specifically the kind that make internal processes more efficient and improve client experience. “Our firm was a great fit for the partners, who cared deeply that their longtime staff and clients would be supported despite the change in ownership.”Hughes reports there were three elements of ShindelRock’s approach to the acquisition which formed the basis of their
successful transition and integration:

  1. Develop (and follow) a plan. According to Hughes, ShindelRock set a detailed timeline, spanning several months both prior to and after the deal actually closed.  Included in that timeline were communications to stakeholders, including ShindelRock’s employees and existing clients, as well as those of the transitioning firm.  “When Integration Day arrived, we were ready to announce our big news to the market without it surprising anyone,” Hughes says. “It also gave our support staff, including operations, IT, and marketing, adequate time to plan for the announcement day and client handover.”
  2. Accommodate the owner’s flexibility post-close. Selling partners are motivated by many things, but generally some change in workload is desired. Working with the sellers to determine what their new roles will be within the acquiring firm and allowing them to set their own paths to retirement, or semi-retirement, is an accommodation sellers will appreciate. Some owners may wish to cease working entirely, while some may hope to work with a select client list for as long as they can. Being flexible allows buyers to find an arrangement that meets the seller’s unique vision for their involvement post-close.
  3. Care for the incoming staff. Welcoming the employees of an acquired firm should be priority within the overall process, with its own set of considerations, says Hughes. “ShindelRock has operated under a ‘One Firm’ philosophy for nearly 20 years, so creating a welcoming and inclusive culture for our staff has been a priority as we’ve grown our firm.” For example, Hughes describes how they approached the employees of their recent acquisition. “We were conscious of the many changes our new staff would be asked to absorb, so we took time to fully train and orient them to our technology and processes. Clear opportunities for advancement and professional development were conveyed, and we planned team-building events throughout the year to build camaraderie.” He adds that new titles, higher salaries, greater flexibility and better tools and training were among the benefits offered to their newly acquired talent.

Acquiring a firm and welcoming its staff and clients can be a rewarding experience, and ShindelRock’s playbook offers some insight into how a successful integration and smooth transition for partners, staff and clients can operate. In Hughes’ experience, it is never too early to start planning for a transition of ownership, something at which he says ShindelRock excels. “We’re dedicated to making transitions seamless for clients and staff.” He adds, “We’re actually seeking to acquire public accounting firms with five to 15 staff members in Oakland, Wayne or Livingston County right now, so we could be working together sometime soon.”

For more information on transitioning your partnership to ShindelRock, contact Mark Hughes at 248-855-2997 or [email protected].