On episode 70 of The Unique CPA, Randy talks to Gary Shamis, CEO of Winding River Consulting, about being an entrepreneur and dealing with losing control. They also discuss Winding River Consulting and Gary’s Managing Partner Bootcamp.
Hello, and welcome to The Unique CPA. I’m your host, Randy Crabtree. The goal of our show is to keep you at the forefront of the changing face of public accounting by having conversations with fascinating leaders and bringing you their stories, insights and advice. The Unique CPA podcast is brought to you by Tri-Merit, the specialty tax professionals. Today, our guest is Gary Shamis. Gary is currently CEO of Winding River Consulting. Prior to Winding River, which he started in 2015, he actually started and grew SS&G CPAs out of Cleveland into the 37th largest CPA firm in the country. He ended up merging with BDO in 2014, which we’re going to want to talk about a little bit today. Gary’s also received numerous awards and recognitions. Any lists out there you see him on these days – Most Influential People in Accounting, Most Recommended Consultant. He actually was on, I think, Accounting Today‘s initial Managing Partner Elite list. And so Gary, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thank you. Happy to be here.
Yeah, happy to have you. I’ve been thinking about this a while. I just reached out to you a couple months ago, and I’m glad you were able to get on. So I appreciate it. Let’s talk a little bit. I want to get to what you’re doing with Winding River, I want to get to some hot topics going on in public accounting today. But I also want to get into your history because you started from scratch, as far as I know, building this firm SS&G which ended up being the 37th largest firm in the country. And do I have that right? This was your baby from the start?
Yeah, it was, and it’s all history. I mean, certainly we learned from history, but the world has changed so much today, I think the history is not as important. But just to make it kind of short, let me reflect on some of our really big items and move this forward. So we grew to about $100 million firm before we sold on January 1, 2015 to BDL. Of our growth, which is probably not as typical as it is today, 85% of our growth was organic, only 15% was M&A. So we weren’t adding on an M&A. But we’re also not talking about a two or three or four year period of time, we’re really talking about a period of time from 1981 to 2014. So it was over three decades, 33 years. So those 33 years we grew significantly. And I’m proud of what we did. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, I wasn’t having a lot of tailwinds. It was headwinds in Ohio and population in the Rust Belt, and it wasn’t like being in parts of Florida or Arizona or Texas, where there were just a lot of new things happening. There was a lot of competition. So we did well, not by the economy doing well, but really by taking clients over the years away from competitors and in growing the practice. There were three things that were really defining when I talk about the practice and what we did from a strategic standpoint. And of the three things we did, one of them was geography – geographic – the next one was service, and the third one was a niche strategy. And I know a lot of firms talk about that, and there’s a lot of discussion. We really combined all three of those strategies in a way to create our organization and grow our organization. And they all happened in somewhat different times too, and then they all evolve over time, too. So it was a strategy with an evolution of each one of the strategies based upon different time horizons. Probably the first one that was from a horizon standpoint was really growing our service line. We kind of got lucky on that when I first got involved with the firm in ‘81, we started a payroll company. So from the very getgo, we had a second company, got comfortable with that, and then over the years, we added on to a wealth management, we had a healthcare consulting company. At one point in time, we tried to do technology that didn’t work out too well. And other things like retirement administration, and then some of the specialty taxes like estate planning and things like that, financial planning. So really, the philosophy there was to try and sell more to an existing client. But the whole idea, we have a happy client, if we could produce something that’s going to be useful to them, that’s what we’re doing, they’re likely to buy it from us versus somebody else. And that was true. We had multiple clients buying all kinds of stuff from us. Also, there was another derivative from that, too, and that was it created a sticky relationship. So before they decided to leave us, you know, hey, I’m doing my retirement plans there, they have my wealth management, what am I going to do? We didn’t force them to stay. But it just created that, and we didn’t force them to buy but we had a high percentage of our clients who bought multiple services from us. So it was really helpful. I used to always remember, we might lose an accounting client and I’d be able to get a payroll list of clients and see that clients were still doing their payroll. So that was part of that strategy. Today, really what that’s translated to is firms looking at these advisory strategies.
Yeah, and just lining up different services that they could offer. I think there’s a big misnomer out there that I’ve been really bothering me for years, and that’s people equate advisory with becoming a consultant for a client. And there were actually some companies that tried to sell that to firms. To me, that’s not what it is. Advisory is being able to offer additional services to show advice in different areas, not necessarily changing your skills. There’s a whole strategy on how to do that. The strategy is either you’re going to buy somebody doing it, you’re going to build your own company or you partner with somebody. But we did it. We weren’t really the smartest people in the world. But we were good copycats. And what we did was, that was really the strategy the Big Four was doing. If you look at the Big Four today, they’re not CPA firms, they’re financial service firms, and part of what they do is CPA and tax work.
So that was one thing that we did that was really successful. The other was geographic. What happened was, Ohio was a little bit different as a state. The geography was a little bit more important years ago to practices. If you think about it, there’re very few states that have three major cities – very few states. Ohio has three major cities, we have Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, you go to Illinois, they have one city, you go to Indiana, they have one city, you go to Pennsylvania, they have two major cities. So we have three major metropolitan areas in Ohio. And just coincidentally, there was no firm other than the Big Four that really had outposts in all three of those major cities. So we felt that that’s something that we wanted to accomplish. Over a period of time, we did, starting in 1995, we opened up in Cincinnati, and we made an acquisition in 2000 in Columbus. Before you know it, we had multiple offices throughout Ohio, then we ended up geographically even expanding more than that, after we really focused on the Ohio portion of it. So the third element would be really becoming a niche player. That’s maybe what we were most well-known for as an organization. Really, that was in 1999, we had made a decision and the decision was we were going to become a vertical player. We weren’t going to be doing everything for everybody, we were going to take our efforts in marketing, education and development professionals, and have them narrow themselves down to give themselves just much deeper capabilities within those verticals. It was an absolute home run for us. Our restaurant practice went from a startup to 500 restaurant clients from coast to coast, it was 25% of our firm. So those three things added together turned out to be really successful for us in terms of the overall arching strategy in growing the firm.
So recap that real quick. The first one, what did you call that? I mean, it was the multiple services to the one client.
Yeah, building an advisory practice is one of the things we did. The second thing we did was geographic expansion, and the third thing we did is we really sharpened and focused on six industry verticals.
Do you think that those three things are key today as firms are growing as well? Is this something you consult on?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. The answer is probably not so much with geography.
I certainly think people should niche their practice.
They’ll be so much more successful. Everybody wants advisory, whether it’s outsourcing or wealth management, or whatever. People are focusing on that. What we learned because of the pandemic is geography is not as important. I’m sitting there at my Cincinnati office, which was the hub of our restaurant practice. We did more restaurants outside of Ohio than we did inside of Ohio by a longshot. And it was hard to do that. We’re talking back 1995 to 2015. It was hard. How do you get somebody in San Diego to hire an accounting firm in Cincinnati? But today, it’s just not as hard to do that. It would have been so much easier to build this practice, because using digital strategies behind it. I mean, I’m a big proponent in growing advisories, financial service organizations, and also really focusing down on niches. So that strategy hasn’t changed. But like I said, the geography is just definitely different because of the way the world changed.
Oh, no, for sure. But I agree. Niche is some topic I love talking about and that’s a topic we’ve addressed on The Unique CPA quite often. It was great to see you’ve been in that a while. You’ve been in the advisory, you were calling yourself the advisory firm before everybody was that they are now today, it sounds like so that’s awesome. All right. So let’s get into a couple other things. Before we switch out from SS&G because I want to go into a few other things, you also were probably the catalyst, I’m guessing, to starting Leading Edge Alliance, which is an association of CPA firms. Did that tie into your growth? Do you feel a need for that?
Oh, yeah, that was very helpful. It really was very helpful to me in terms of, I guess, surrounding myself with some very successful people and some people I learned from, and we all learned from each other growing up. The brief background on the Leading Edge Alliance is, I guess I couldn’t keep a job. What happened was, we were a member of another alliance. And I had this idea when I was a part of this alliance as to how to really make something that can be very beneficial to the constituents. I tried to sell that to the group I was in and it really became ugly. They didn’t like the fact that I was pushing them. It happened on my birthday, May 2, and we got thrown out of this association unexpectedly, and it really wasn’t right and fair. We were small then. We maybe were a 2 million dollar firm or something. But anyway, we got thrown out. And then what happened was, we really felt that we needed to be a part of one of these as our practice was growing nationally and internationally, we needed to have these resources. So I asked my partner, Bob Littman, he said, okay, let’s do it again. But you be the key point guy, I’m just too critical of these people, and you be the point guy, and I’ll stay away. So we joined another group, I don’t even remember the name of it, for about a two year period of time. And about a year into it, Bob asked me if I would come and do a presentation to the group. It was in Dallas, I remember. So I went to Dallas. I did a presentation in the group. The firms that were in it were just so unimpressive. And so I’m going to Bob and I’m saying, Bob, this is ridiculous. What are we going to learn from these people? They just didn’t have their lights on. I had this idea of, well, if I can’t join one, maybe I can make one. And we had just such incredible, perfect timing. Timing sometimes is a major factor. You sit back, what kind of timing could you have had? Well, the timing that we had was starting in the 70s, these associations were starting to be created in order to be competitive with the Big Eight. Now you’d be in Cleveland, Ohio, we have a client that has a warehouse in Los Angeles, and it wasn’t economical for you to go and do an inventory observation. So you create an alliance of firms, and there’s an LA firm, and you have them go do that work for you. Or you have a tax matter in another state, or you could use some political help there or whatever. These firms were realizing that, so in the 70s, they started 20 years later. What happened was there were about a dozen of these firms out there, the largest alliances, and they all started with firms that were similar. But if you look 20 years down the road, what you had is you had some that were really successful and became the lead groups of these organizations, and some of them stayed small. It was no longer homogeneous, it became very heterogeneous in terms of the firms that were involved. So me, with two friends of mine, who I had known from the AICPA MAP Committee that I used to chair, I talked to them about this idea, and they agreed to help me. What we did was we started going to some of these alliances, friends of theirs, friends of mine and saying, hey, does this make sense for you? And they were all kind of like, it really does. I mean, what’s happened is at one point in time I was taking from those alliances, and now I’m just giving, I’d like to be able to take. So we created this alliance, we raised a little bit of money, I hired a person to help me who used to be at the AICPA who did a wonderful job of getting us going. We ended up having a meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. At that meeting, there were 15 firms or 16 firms, and we talked about it, and then everybody had till September 30 to say whether they were in or not. Of the 15 firms, 14 of them said they would go forward. So they all gave me a little bit of money. Then what would happen is we had enough money to hire Karen Calrose. She ran the organization for two decades, and did an amazingly great job.
She was, yep.
Yeah, so everything kind of came together. Then if you go back and you look at some of the firms that were in this organization, you have Marcum, Jeff Lena was there. You have Lattimore, Black, LMBC. They were an initial firm. We were an initial firm, Elford was an initial firm. Kahn Litwan was an initial firm, and these are some firms that were just very entrepreneurial, they were early on, and today they’re just all mega successes. Some of them didn’t make it like mine and things had changed to the LEA. But what happened there for a while, and it probably was a decade or so, we had all of us together, we all got to be really close friends, we shared ideas, and it just rocketed forward. So I was the chair for the first nine years. The LEA somewhat struggled, they’re still around today, they still have some great firms in there, Kahn Litwin, LBMC, Marcum, Bennett Thrasher. So they have, still, a strong nucleus of large firms.
Yep. We originally got working with LEA – we started Tri-Merit, 15 years ago – I would think two years after we started. All right. So that’s a little background. I love that whole opportunity of seeing, hey, there’s a need here, the fix isn’t there for me, let’s go create this fix. Because that opportunity, just the mindset to be able to see that there’s an opportunity to build that, not everybody sees that. Everybody has an opportunity to do something like that, just their eyes aren’t open to it. It’s like, okay, well, someone else can do it, someone else can help, and you’ve got that different mindset, let’s make it work, which is awesome. I tend to feel I have that as well, but it’s nice to see when someone else is coming up with the solutions rather than just identifying the problem. Then in 2014, and began ‘15, you merged with BDO. It sounds like you stayed around for a couple of years, but then Winding River came about. And I don’t know if you want to talk about BDO or go straight into Winding River, whatever you want.
BDO was now almost seven and a half years ago that we sold to them. It was quite a learning experience for me for those couple of years. I’m not a young person, I’ve been doing this – starting my fifth decade right now. I like it, I think I can help people and I have a lot of experience to do so. But that short period of time when we did the deal in my short stint with BDO, afterwards, I really learned a lot about myself, and that was really interesting, but when we ended up selling to BDO it was very contentious. It wasn’t like a slam dunk. I think we made some huge mistakes. And probably the biggest mistake we made is it was contentious. So there wasn’t a kumbaya moment where we all came together, and we basically went into this hating each other. Some people were really upset because they didn’t want this to happen, they were forced into it. The staff certainly had no say whatsoever into this thing, and all of a sudden, you know, we’re part of BDO. And It happened. From a financial standpoint, I think it was an extraordinarily good transaction. My partners and I all did well, probably better than we would have if we would have sold it internally. But it changed our lives. I don’t know, these things happen, the train leaves the station, you don’t pay attention to what’s happening sometimes. Every one of us had been supporting clients that sold out to other companies, and we had all seen this movie before. Some people didn’t think the movie was going to happen to them. And what happened was we lost control. We had 100% control, you lose control, so you can’t make decisions anymore, you totally lose control, which was difficult. I think the biggest problem for me was, and this is no slam on BDO, but they were different. They have different clients, okay, and they had different goals. What happened is, given their sheer size, they had to be very bureaucratic, data, metric-oriented organization. I always considered myself to be more of a people person, and there’s just no place for that in a bureaucratic organization like that. I found myself thinking that I could be helpful because as big as our company was, there’s not one person in that company who did what I did. Wayne has been really successful and a lot of them are successful, but there’s not one person in that firm who took a startup to 100 million dollars.
So I felt I had a skill set that could be really helpful to them, and I was kind of excited about using it. But it just was a terrible match. I found myself being so entrepreneurial on them, it was just so bureaucratic, I just eventually had to leave so I kind of got my way out of there and began Winding River.
Yeah, I would say it’d be pretty hard going on 30 plus years of being an entrepreneur to being someone who is not in control any longer. I tried that for six months after I sold my practice – well, we merged it and then they bought me out. I tried that ‘go work for someone else for six months.’ That didn’t work and I couldn’t deal with it.
Well, there are different practices, and I look back at my practice and, I don’t know who’s gonna listen to your podcasts.
Okay, well, those millions, if you start going below one through 25 or one through 10 size of firms, one through 10 for sure, they serve as different clients that we serve.
Their relationship is much more of a compliance relationship than–
Just a personal relationship, yep.
So it’s very different. In my skill set and our firm skill set was based upon delivering a personal relationship, we were good at it. Here they’re getting more interested in commodities and things like that. But it was really interesting. There were two things that I learned most about it. One was watch what you wish for. And then the other thing – and I talked to clients about this when they’re looking at it – you just have to realize you’re just gonna lose control.
You just have to be able to sign off on that and understand that it’s going to happen, but you lose control. You’re able to keep some partial control for a short period of time, but it’s two years at best. And after that you lose control.
Let’s talk about that quickly, the private equity investment of public accounting, because yours wasn’t private equity, but you’ve been through a situation, what do you see? Do you have an opinion on what’s happening with private equity? Good, bad, how it’s going to change the profession?
Yeah, I have an opinion. I have a very strong opinion on it. It’s probably contrary, I see the contrary opinion, sometimes, where all the hype is, and all that. Really, I think the best way to look at that is to look at CBIZ, as an example. If you look at CBIZ, CBIZ started out as only accounting firm. All they did was just consolidate accounting firms, they had consolidated, I don’t even know how many of them but a significant amount, 150, 100 firms. That’s how they started that organization. If you look at CBIZ today, CBIZ has over a billion dollars in revenues, but less than 25% of that, or so, is the CPA practice. The problem is, if you think about this, if you’re going to go public, if you’re going to be acquired by a private equity, this is all about enhancing profits. If you can enhance profits, then you could maybe make a return to a shareholder. Or if you’re a private equity, you can say the business is more valuable and sell it to somebody else. But what I’ve always found, it’s really hard to enhance revenues in the accounting field, because it’s a personal service business, these people are working, the partners are working. Their expectation is, well if there’s extra money made, it’s because I earned it and I want that money. So how do you pull that money away? And what CBIZ did, if you remember this, is CBIZ basically exchanged stock for cash flow forever. So they said, well, if your cash flow is $1, we’ll give you $7 today, as a capital gain, but we get to keep that dollar forever. So number one is the ability to create enhanced revenues. Now, if some of these firms can move to the advisory area, which is more profitable – the perfect example is go sell a big insurance policy, you get a million dollar premium. You don’t get a million dollar premiums doing anything in the accounting business. It’s more profitable. So it’s possible, you could create more profits, and that’s what CBIZ has done. Profitability of a company is not being driven by the accounting practice, it’s probably being driven by the other side of the world. The second element of this, where CBIZ has had a problem, and I still think they probably have a problem today, is attracting talent. Everybody has a problem attracting talent. But if you’re feeding them public dollars, or you’re feeding a bottom line for a private equity, what happens is the partners don’t make as much money. So you’re going to take some young partner who could go work for you know, an SS&G or a coding company or Skoda Minotti, he can make x and if he goes and does this for CBIZ, and does the exact same thing, he can’t make as much money. The only people who make that kind of money in those public companies are the C-suite, not the workers. So I think it’s really challenging to do that. And then we talked briefly of all the problems that I just talked about, the other side of it is what’s the exit strategy on this thing going forward?
So the private equity takes control. And private equities only have three exit strategies. One, to sell to another private equity, two, to go public and create a public market, or three to sell to, potentially, a larger private company. So they would take this company and maybe sell it to KPMG, or something like that. Those are all tough deals they have, and there’s no guarantee on those deals. It’s crazy. I talked to my buddy Cole, and he’s kind of calling them left and right, people wanting to go in different sizes, family offices. Now, because of the first couple of deals that were done in ICER and Citrin deal. So I don’t understand how these things work out in the end. To me, it’s like, can you be smart enough to really take these organizations and enhance the profitability, and if you can, that there’s enough profitability to give the partners what they were making, and maybe a little bit more and then enough to create this additional cash flow so maybe you can make something happen, but that’s got to be the goal.
Yep. I’m on board with you, kind of the same thing. I guess we’ll wait and see over the years. I mean, historically, we’ve had some pretty bad flops with it. CBIZ is, for the most part, a success. I mean, I would say.
They’re a survivor.
I’ve had some dealings with some of these private equity in the last couple months. They’re very focused, more so focused on how to run these businesses than the CPAs who are running these businesses.
Sometimes it can be pretty tough, and not that they shouldn’t be, maybe that’s how they’re successful. But it’s just not typically what you’ll see in a CPA firm, their characteristics and attitudes and things like that.
All right, well, let’s transition. I just thought that was a good time to talk about that. But let’s transition quickly, because I want to hear about Winding River. But I want to hear what are the key things that Winding River – you’re consulting with firms, and you’re advising firms, and you can explain it better – but what are the key things that you’re seeing that firms are dealing with now that Winding River goes in and helps them with?
Well, let me tell you what we do. Some of the things, there’s better people to do them. We don’t do everything. So we kind of do what we do, and we’re good at it. But what happened was when I had my experience at BDO, and this actually was starting in our sixth year, so we started Winding River in ‘17, so this was starting our sixth year. I was at a point where I decided I wanted to continue working. For me, it really wasn’t about the money. I just like what I’m doing, I like helping people, I think I have a capability of doing that, so I like to do that. So that was the reason I wasn’t going to do that. And then, actually personal reasons too. My father died from Alzheimer’s, my father-in-law died from Alzheimer’s, and I just think if you can just keep your mind going and working, you just have a better chance of having a better ending than they did. And then I had a grandfather who was a practicing dentist until he was 82 years old. The only condition when he was 82 was if you wanted an appointment with him you had to pick him up at his house to take him to work because he didn’t drive. That’s kind of influenced me to keep going on. But that was kind of what happened with me, and I didn’t really know what the plan was. I had done conferences with Colton and Boomer and I knew Jay Nisberg and I knew everybody who was out there. They were either friends of mine — I was Gale’s first client, Gale Crosley, and Katie Tolan used to work for me – so I knew everybody pretty much out there. I really wanted to continue working, but I was quite honestly a little concerned and scared about it. And what I was scared about was that I just couldn’t do the travel. So I was finishing a book, my third book called Building Blocks. I had a ghostwriter, Marsha Leest. And Marcia tells me, she says, you know more about running an accounting firm than anybody I’ve ever met, I’ve been in the industry forever. Did you ever think about teaching people how to do that? And I was like, wow, that’s really an interesting thought. I did start thinking about it. That was the genesis of a leadership development program that we started, and we’re in our sixth year, called Managing Partner Bootcamp. Probably a misnomer on the name, it’s not only managing partners, it could be people on the executive committee, it could be people who are going to be managing partners, could be people running an office, but we’re looking for senior leadership type people. So using that as a springboard, what I did is I developed this course called Managing Partner Bootcamp. I’m a big exercise person, so it’s a boot camp. So we do the exercise, we have a military trainer, and we talk about his things about your personal health as well. We’ve divided the course into really four sections, we talk about human capital, we talk about growth, we talk about practice management, and then we talk about skills. We teach 16 classes, and every one of those fits in there somewhere. There may actually be more than 16 classes. It goes over two, three day periods of time, spring and fall and fall and spring. And it’s been great. To date, we’ve had 100 people graduate. We have struggled honestly building this thing. This year, we have a class coming in May, which we have 10 people in already, we still have two months before, so we’ll probably sell out. And then our October class, we have nine people out of 12. So that’s almost sold out. And then we’re going to be expanding to Amsterdam in Europe this coming year. We’ll have an announcement later in the year but Winding River Consulting will be in Europe effective sometime this year.
We have breaking news here. Nice.
Yeah, yeah. Breaking news. So we’ve worked on that for a while, so that was really the springboard for the class that we did. What I don’t like doing is, I don’t like the airplanes. I don’t like the one and dones. I’m not a great person to come in. I’m probably a very capable person to come in and facilitate firm retreats, but I don’t like it. What I like doing is I like working with firms on a regular basis. So I have about a half a dozen firms or so that have advisory boards that we meet on a regular basis, anywhere from two to four times a year. Now we follow progress, they become accountable to the Advisory Board, we help them make their decisions at a higher level. I think that’s my best use as a consultant is to be able to work with these firms, probably more than six, there’s probably eight or nine firms right now. So that keeps me pretty busy. We do some special projects. One of the largest, we just had a very, very large engagement that kind of popped out of nowhere that I was working with a private equity, looking at the space and helping them understand the space, so projects like that we do. Then I added my colleague, David Toth about two years ago. David’s now my partner, and David focuses on digital marketing. He is incredibly busy. Part of what we talk about today is we look at growth strategy, and we really narrow it down to three elements. One is your traditional element, relationship building. The second is the digital side of it, and then the third is M&A side of it. And M&A, I mean, there’s not a lot of people helping people understand how to do that. I can help people with that. So I don’t execute the M&A generally, but we’ve done a couple, but that’s not really what we do, but we help them on the strategy part. David works out with firms on developing the digital strategy which is focusing on LinkedIn strategy to hire people, looking at the websites, traffic to the website, content within the websites. We’ll help clients with their new websites. We don’t do that work, we’ll contract that out to somebody else, but we’ll orchestrate those type of things. So that’s pretty much what we’re doing. Jeanette Schwartz has been with me at SS&G, so we’ve been together, I don’t even know how long, 15 years. She’s very helpful. We brought in another woman named Katy Martin, she helps us with our social media. So there’s four of us there full time. We’re actually looking to hire a fifth consultant because we’re so busy. We have about five or six or seven contractors who work with us just depending upon what the need is. We have a conference coming up in two weeks, we’re doing one on digital marketing, limited to 25 people, it’s already sold out. We had tried to put together a conference last year, this Winning Ways conference that was going to be like the newer version of Winning is Everything, shorter, more focused. It was all planned and it was actually going pretty well. We had about 125 people around and then omicron showed up, and we just couldn’t pull it off.
Yeah, I was supposed to be, I think, doing some roundtable or something with Alan Colton at that, so I was disappointed that that didn’t happen.
So we are looking to relaunch this year, it’s going to be early November, it’s going to be in Atlanta, most likely. It’s only going to be limited to 70 people and the topic is going to be contemporary issues focusing on really four different elements for a couple hours, but having world class people who really know what they’re talking about with their specific areas, talking about human capital, marketing, management, and M&A. Probably technology too, so we’ll be talking about that. So that’s coming down the road.
Alright, so Winding River overall management firm, succession planning firm, strategic growth firm, even digital marketing, so that’s what you are revolving around, is making the firm better?
Yeah, it’s leadership development for your most high level leaders, we don’t teach the whole firm, we’re not good at that. It’s digital marketing, and then some consulting advisory type work. But we’re looking to do that on a continual basis with the firm, we’re not looking to come in and do a firm retreat and say goodbye, or see you in three years. I want to see progress. I did this, I had those retreats, and I stopped having them because we just never showed progress. It was kind of like, oh, that’s really interesting, but you really didn’t formulate plans, you weren’t executing plans, you were maybe updating some of your partners on what’s going on. So I’m much more about really combining strategy and execution. That was only maybe a piece of the strategy side, not the whole strategy side.
Well, I think, obviously, you can advise on this, building the firm from zero to $100 million over your career, and so I’m guessing you have a lot to share. What I found out today in our conversation, you and I have a lot in common. I agree on the private equity. I agree on not doing the things you don’t like. Just concentrate on the things that you like and the things you’re good at and things you’re passionate about. Because I do the exact same thing that you were saying. We found out we share a birthday so we have a lot in common.
May 2, yep. Based on what you just said, I may know one of your answers, but tell me what things you like to do when you’re not out consulting, working. What are your fun, your passions outside of work?
Well I like to travel. I mean, my wife and I don’t even know how many countries we’ve been to, 35 or 40 countries. A couple of years ago, we started coming to Florida. Before that we were going to California and we actually have a place in the Naples area. So we’re down here during the winter. In some ways, in the consulting ways of the world, this whole Zoom thing has actually been better for me. I don’t want to travel so I could do most of these meetings through a Zoom call. So that actually is good for me. I play golf, I used to be good. Now I’m not so good. Just before this call, I was trying to get good again. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Practicing a little bit. And then I have two kids, both live in Chicago, and I have three grandkids, one of them is new. Aubrey Jane was just born February 10.
We were up there for 22 days for that, between that and some other birthdays that were going on.
So that’s what I kind of do. And I’m a big sports fan. I like to say that I think I’m one of the few people alive who actually went to the 1964 Browns championship game against Baltimore, and won 27 to nothing. I actually went to the last game in Cleveland in 2016 that they won before they finished out Golden State’s property. So I was in both of the last Cleveland championship games, and I was really happy with ‘16 because I didn’t think I was ever going to get another.
Alright. Alright, well, Gary, this has been great. If anybody wants to find out more about you or Winding River, where would they get more information?
Just go to our website, you could connect to Winding River Consulting. We get help, we’d be happy to have a discussion.
I couldn’t think of anybody better at helping on the things that you’ve gone through already and be able to advise on that and help other firms grow. It’s awesome. So I want to thank you again for being here. I had a great time. Hopefully you did, too.
Okay. Thanks, Randy.
Thank you for joining us today. And you can find all the links and show notes for today’s episode as well as more about Tri-Merit at theuniquecpa.com. Remember to subscribe and join us for our next episode where we’ll be going beyond compliance into forging new pathways of delivering value to clients, diversifying your revenue streams and leading-edge management techniques and styles.
About the Guest
Gary Shamis is the CEO of Winding River Consulting, an advisory company all about helping businesses see progress. Before Winding River, Shamis built his father’s firm, SS&G Inc, to the 37th largest independent accounting firm in America. He has written the books How to Manage Your Accounting Practice and Building Blocks: Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur. He also co-founded The Advisory Board with other accounting firm consultants.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.