Some of the most challenging aspects of owning and operating a family business involve accounting and finances. Those challenges may have to do with internal skills and understanding, or it could be a matter of staff capacity and resources. Either way, partnering with an outside accounting firm is a great option for any business looking to gain stability and confidence in that department. However, every business has its own unique needs and circumstances, so it is not always clear how to go about finding the right firm.
As a second-generation family business, we are familiar with the process of shopping and choosing an accounting partner. Finances are the foundation of every business, so it is important to find the right fit based on where the company is today, where it has been in the past, and where it wants to go moving forward. To help shed some light on this topic, we connected with Daniel Sohn – CPA, CVA, Senior Manager at Whittaker & Company – who was kind enough to offer his thoughts and insights.
Having grown up in a family business, your passion for entrepreneurship started at an early age. Do any particular experiences or memories from that time shape the way you approach business today?
I go back to a memory of watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In the scene where the kids are in the candy store taking and eating the candy while the song is going on, I wondered two things: 1) Who is paying for this? 2) Why can’t Charlie join?
I believe the concepts of everything having a cost and making sense of why certain people were excluded bothered me. In business, this led to my draw to Economics as there are also intangible costs (in the form of opportunity cost at times) to decisions made or not made. Furthermore, inclusion and generosity leads me to the idea that businesses have more of a purpose beyond the money made. I greatly cherish and appreciate the sacrifices made by families to build a place for individuals with their own families to be able to provide for themselves.
Growing up in New York, family businesses were everywhere. From the neighborhood bagel shop to the clothing/shoe store, interacting and forming relationships with the people that not only worked at these establishments, but sometimes also getting to know the owners and their families was a connection that made businesses very warm for me.
Family members aside, who has had the biggest impact on your professional growth and development?
It would definitely be Dan Whittaker, our managing partner. In my opinion, he took a chance adding me to the team about 15 years ago since I had more of an economics background. Under his leadership, guidance and mentorship, I learned how powerful numbers can be. Since accounting captures how such numbers are recorded, and therefore trusted, this opened my eyes and heart to the powerful world of working with family businesses in this way.
His humble approach and constant learning attitude gave me a voice from the beginning. I greatly cherish the opportunities of living out my personal calling in the workplace to be a part of people’s growth. In both the lives of clients and our team, I continuously learn from Dan as he himself continues to grow and evolve.
A big part of the Whittaker & Company identity is being more than the “typical” or “normal” CPA firm. What do you consider to be your main differentiator, and how does that benefit your clients?
The main differentiator I would say is in our life-sharing with both our team and our clients. I mention life sharing because it often goes beyond just the business or professional development. The technical skills of providing traditional CPA services are commonly shared as there are a lot of great firms in the marketplace.
We exist to help business owners and team members find fulfillment through personal and financial success. Starting from our hiring process, we actively look for team members who want to grow as those are the types of clients we serve. This indeed is not easy as growth sometimes hurts and gets uncomfortable. When clients work with us, that is what they get, us. We value the people behind the business and the people behind the technical work performed as it is their heart that we seek to make connections with.
Here is an example: We offer up-front pricing to ensure that lines of communication stay open throughout the year as there is no clock that kicks in for questions. If we discover that additional work is needed, then we will add or modify the current scope to capture the new work item to ensure that we stay on the same page. In practical application, this is most easily seen in our work when it comes to M&A/transaction support. Timelines, expectations, requests lists that need to be satisfied are all case by case. It is our commitment to our clients to do all that we can to support the families going through transitions or transactions to alleviate as much stress as possible. Going through a sale of a business can cause a lot of heartache for not only the business owner, but also their families. Our advocacy for our clients is highlighted as we empathize what they are going through to offer very practical support and guidance along the way.
It is common for people to leave accounting in a silo and treat it as a separate organizational entity. When speaking to a marketing director, how would you describe the value and benefits of bridging the gap between their marketing world and the world of accounting?
My first question to ask is if they know what their marketing budget is. I believe the proper criteria needs to be given so that the creative juices can flow within the realm of possibility. My second question would be if they are providing updates on how their marketing dollars are turning into revenue. This may require interactions with sales, operations and also accounting to help decipher the return on investment of marketing dollars.
This exchange of information is key to understand what is happening in both worlds. The marketing world is what can bring life into a business while the world of accounting processes those efforts to turn it into energy. Both need to be on the same page to ensure that the business is marketing itself profitability while obtaining more market share or brand recognition.
What advice do you have for a family business in the process of choosing an accounting partner?
Communication is vitally important to choosing an accounting partner. Do you feel heard by your accountant? Do you understand what your accountant is telling you? As life happens, things will get complicated along the way. If there is healthy dialogue with your accounting partner, then a lot of the noise can be processed to gain clarity on what needs to be done next.
Are there any quotes that you find particularly motivating or inspirational?
One of my favorite quotes come from Albert Einstein, “Creativity is intelligence having fun”.
I highly value our creative minds as people. I come from a family of artistic types and my wife worked as a fashion designer so I may be biased in my opinion, but I truly appreciate the ability to think outside the box. When we have the emotional and mental space for our intelligence to “play”, creativity or innovation can blossom.
Interested in learning more about how Whittaker & Company is helping businesses elevate their financial and accounting processes?