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Inside Aprio: Leading a Top 30 Accounting Powerhouse

Explore the success journey of Aprio, a Top 30 US Accounting Firm, with CEO Richard Kopelman. Gain insights from overseeing 25+ mergers & acquisitions.

Richard Kopelman, CEO and Managing Partner of Aprio, discusses the exciting transformation and rebranding of HA&W into a global business advisory and accounting firm.

He explores the high demand for accounting services due to changes in business, regulatory requirements, and technology. A key challenge for accounting firms, according to Kopelman, often lies in mindset, with many professionals needing to shift from a risk-averse outlook to a more positive, entrepreneurial one.

He highlights the importance of an inclusive, growing, and nurturing work culture and leveraging technology for business operations, emphasizing the crucial role of data. He shares the hiring strategies of Aprio and discusses the future of the accounting sector, expressing a keen interest in the endless opportunities that constant change brings.

Key Moments

00:35 The Current State of the Accounting Profession

01:38 Challenges in the Accounting Profession

02:13 The Importance of a Positive Mindset

03:04 The Growth Mindset in Accounting

04:19 The Aprio Story: From Regional to Global

05:45 The Challenges of Rebranding

08:20 The Role of Technology in Accounting

13:45 Hiring and Recruitment Strategies

15:04 The Importance of Culture in Accounting Firms

18:10 Looking Forward: The Future of Accounting

Imogen Allen

Transcript
Rob Brown:

Our guest today on the Accounting Influencers podcast is CEO and managing partner of Aprio, the number one fastest growing business advisory and accounting firm in the US. And in rebranding and growing HA& W from a regional to an international practice in over 50 countries speaking more than 60 languages, this is a massive rebrand and a real game changer. Often called a matchmaker, connecting companies, investors and private equity firms with the right people and projects to help grow their portfolios. We are thrilled to have with us today Richard Kopelman. Good day, sir. Good day,

Richard Kopelman:

Rob. Good to see you. Thank you for having

Rob Brown:

me. Richard, uh, let's ask a challenging question straight out of the gate. Why is it good to be an accounting firm right

Richard Kopelman:

now? Oh, I think accounting is, uh, it's in high demand. Actually, when I meet with our interns and new hires, and I'm on college campuses, or we're doing our annual, uh, um, leadership training for, for students that are in the process of, uh, pursuing their accounting degree. I tell them this is an amazing time to be in the profession, because we've never been in higher demand than we are today. The pace of change in business, the pace of change in regulatory requirements and regimes and tax, um, tax legislation, as well as technology is driving high demand in the profession. There's a lot of, there's a lot of succession happening and therefore, you know, opportunities in front of people to become business owners and entrepreneurs in this amazing profession. What do you think

Rob Brown:

are the biggest challenges accounting professionals of firms face these days, particularly if they want to grow or thrive?

Richard Kopelman:

I think a lot of it is about mindset, and that might be something different than what you've heard from other guests. But I think there's a lot of negative mindset in the profession. What's that coming from? I don't know. Maybe it's the conservative nature of people. We're taught to look for the negative. We're taught to look for what's wrong as technicians, but I think we have to take that hat off. And we have to focus on the positive aspects and be positive with our clients. And when I look at our clients, the ones that are successful, they're hard driving, they're positive about their business, about their profession, about their industry, and we should be the same way.

Rob Brown:

I wonder though Richard, the nature of a CPA, a Chartered Accountant, they are risk managers, mitigators of risk, risk averse generally, and that didn't lend itself to a positive, optimistic, can do mindset. Is that being unfair? Would you go along with that? I

Richard Kopelman:

think that's, I think there's some truth to that. Right. Again, I think people need to take their hat off and put the entrepreneurial hat on and put the business owner hat on or future business owner hat on and look at the world in a different, very different way. Three or well, no, it's probably seven years ago. We brought in the author of a book called Mindset and we had a discussion about. How do we drive a growth mindset in

Rob Brown:

the business? It's a famous book, Growth Mindset is, is not something you'd find in accountants. Certainly, as you said, entrepreneurs, business owners, but are you looking at two different animals? Because if accountants had entrepreneurial blood in them, they'd perhaps be running their own firm or running their own business and

Richard Kopelman:

not being an accountant. Well, I think in at least our world, In the clients that we're serving, which are lower middle market and middle market companies and their families, uh, they're entrepreneurs and we view ourselves as entrepreneurs serving entrepreneurs. I think it's a choice that you, I think it's a choice people make, right? We wake up every day. Are we going to have a positive attitude or not? And, uh, our fundamentals that back up the Aprio brand, our 31 fundamentals, I believe actually drive a growth mindset. Well, you've

Rob Brown:

certainly embraced the growth mindset. The Aprio story, let's talk about that for a little bit. from lowly H A N W to a global brand that it is. Did you sit down around the desk with a few colleagues and say, right, we're going from here to here in, in 60 seconds, all gas, no brakes. And here's how we're going to do it. What was the

Richard Kopelman:

vision? Yeah, I don't think it was quite, uh, as that's described because, you know, after all, we are accountants. So, you know, justify and look at the numbers quite a bit. Okay, we did sit down. Uh, we hired a third party. It was right after our advertising agency came in and suggested that our new ad campaign should be HeHaw. Now going back 30 or 40 years, that was a TV show in the U. S. You familiar with it? Yeah. And I kindly said to them, thank you for the idea. There's the door. Yeah. Let's focus on, uh, you know, let's focus on now what we can

Rob Brown:

become. It could have been all so different if you'd have gone with that,

Richard Kopelman:

Richard. It could have been very different if we went with that. Yes, I don't think we'd have the growth that we've had over the last, uh, six, seven years since we've changed the name.

Rob Brown:

Well, that's a fact. You did hire a branding firm. It's in the public domain. You spent a lot of money with them. This is, this is not a cheap rebrand. This was a whole change in philosophy and direction and everything. So, how difficult is a rebrand

Richard Kopelman:

like that? Yeah, I would say, I would say it was difficult. It was time consuming. Yeah. It was focused. and it was very purposeful, as you have said, not just changing the name. 'cause that's one thing. And I remember focusing on, we were gonna be changing the name, which means head and heart. Mm-Hmm. That's where Ario comes from. But how are we gonna operationalize that? And how are we going to have a growth mindset? And we developed these 31 fundamentals of behavior that back up the brand and drive the growth mindset. That transition is ongoing. We are constantly living. The Daily Rituals of Practicing Our Fundamentals of the Week.

Rob Brown:

Yeah. Well, in looking at that question again, what are the challenges accounting firms face if they want to grow? Mindset. Okay. Mindset from the leadership. Mindset with a vision. Maybe even a courageous mindset. Anything else you think represents a challenge for growth for firms?

Richard Kopelman:

Yeah, we could probably go through everything across, right? Technology, systems, institutionalizing process, uh, people, just, you know, stretching people as you are expanding on a rapid basis. Uh, sometimes we fondly talk about what we're going through is. Building, flying, writing the manual, gassing up the plane all at the same time. And that's what I've watched clients experience for the last 30 years that are in high growth. We've been experiencing it ourselves. Um, there's, you know, I always think maybe I've seen all the challenges. And then another one appears, and I'm like, well, I guess we're not done seeing the challenges yet. And they happen at different phases of the business. What we experienced at 70 million versus at 150 million, versus what we're experiencing today now at, uh, approaching 450 million going into 2024. The challenges are different, yet the solutions you can deploy and what scale provides in order to afford those solutions are totally different as you scale the business.

Rob Brown:

Is there any aspect of the accounting sector that hasn't evolved as quickly as it should have in your eyes?

Richard Kopelman:

Oh, I think technology we've been, you know, you and I were just talking about that. I think technology is not evolving as fast as it, as it needs to. Really? Okay. And, and in the profession in general, I think mindset, you know, how people are, the behaviors aren't evolving as quickly as customer changes, client demands are changing.

Rob Brown:

Well, the technology vendors would argue that they're going too fast for accounting firms. They're evolving too fast that you can't keep up. So what is

Richard Kopelman:

it? Well, no, I agree with that. By the way, the technology advancements are there. It's, it's the, I saw a chart once. I don't know. I probably saw it 10 years ago that the human mind's ability to absorb. New Technology is slower than Technology Advancement itself. Yeah, I've seen that too. Yeah, and so I think that's what we're experiencing right now in the profession.

Rob Brown:

In terms of Aprio staying ahead of the technology. What's your plan

Richard Kopelman:

there? Yeah, we've just brought in nine months ago a new digital officer to lead all of technology across the business. And we are, we have now developed a team just focused on data. Because I think that data is way underutilized inside the profession. I throw that under the umbrella of technology. We have a separate automation team. Of course, we're focused on cybersecurity as everybody should be across the globe. So those are some key areas that we're focused

Rob Brown:

on today. The technology roles are vital because accounting firms are not known as being good buyers of technology, particularly with making those big strategic investments in tech and marrying it to everything else.

Richard Kopelman:

So, great point. I think the profession has suffered from application, um, over No, over application buying. Okay. In other words, you end up with this suite of applications Yes. But nothing talks to each other. Yeah. And where Where we're, what we're experiencing right now is that shift from applications to enterprise applications. So, you're, you know, moving from an application to solve a particular problem or for particular need to applications that are, you know, solving multiple problems at the, uh, at the same time. And that's the, that's the shift at least we're going through right now. And we couldn't have done it without scale. So scale creates, you know, again, that ability to make that transformation.

Rob Brown:

We often ask on the show, Richard, what separates the good firms from the great? And to you, what is really working for the successful accounting firms? Because we seem to be having a gap being created between the good and the great firms. Or if you want to be more dramatic about it, the firms. that will succeed and survive and the firms will decline and become irrelevant and get bored or whatever. So, what's really working for successful accounting firms? You know,

Richard Kopelman:

that's a broad question and I don't know enough about other firms to necessarily answer that. Why don't you comment

Rob Brown:

on one that you do know well about which is

Richard Kopelman:

yours? Yeah, I'll answer for us. I think, I think mindset and attitude is number one. The can do attitude. Uh, it is continuing to look to improve the business. We call that being relentless about improvement. It's one of our fundamentals. But you also have to celebrate the successes when you have the wins along the way and making those, you know, you have to be willing to make investments. You have to run the business as a business, not as a combination of practices. And that's what I see probably more often than not, is I see accounting practices, not financial services businesses.

Rob Brown:

You've been on the record as saying how the industry is changing and you want to position the firm for the next 65 years. I've seen that in print. What does that involve?

Richard Kopelman:

Yeah, all the things we've been talking about, right? It involves making the right hires, hiring the, um, uh, investing in the engines that are going to build and expand on a national basis. It's about having a national footprint. So today we're up and down the East Coast. We're on the West Coast. We just added Texas. Uh, we announced that. Well, it'll be today, not the day of the recording that's going to be launched. We'll edit it

Rob Brown:

out because the recording will come after you, uh, after you do it. We just announced

Richard Kopelman:

Texas at the, uh, you know, in the middle of December of 2023. Uh, and we're continuing to, you know, grow and expand to fill in those, uh, those locations to be able to serve our clients best. And it's about having 24 hour capabilities on the team. So it's about having people abroad so that we can serve clients and increase the throughput and velocity of, uh, and speed in which we're delivering our services. Well, delivery requires

Rob Brown:

capacity. Capacity requires people. I want to ask you about the hiring policy for firms that want to grow. You're on the M& A trail. You're acquiring, uh, assertively in the marketplace with good fit firms, which is a way of bringing in capacity. But, uh, tell us about your hiring policy generally with recruitment. Yeah,

Richard Kopelman:

it's interesting. Many people have shared with me that their M& A strategy has been about. Yeah, our M& A strategy has been about growth, and we have solved our, uh, uh, we have solved the challenge the professions experiencing from a people perspective by doing a few things. One is we've been flooding the bottom, we call it, so we've been over hiring, uh, if you would, uh, interns and new hires to make sure we're growing our team, uh, through. Our, our system, uh, we've been making a lot of lateral hires, but that's really come because we've made investments in the culture and we've been a people first firm. We've been able to grow fast. grow profitability, and we've maintained a four and a half or better out of five in Glassdoor. And in 2022, we're named by Glassdoor as the best places to work in the U. S. We're on a list of 50 companies, not 50 CPA firms, but just 50 companies. And I think culture and a growth mindset are critical to, uh, to attracting talent. It's, you know, people are leaving the profession because they're not having fun. And that's Fundamental 31 at APRIO. Keep things fun.

Rob Brown:

I get that culture's important. You look on a million accounting firm websites, and they will say the same thing. We are a great place to work. We look after our people. We've got an amazing culture. We will develop you. They all say the same things, and for the talent out there, it's difficult to discern what is real and what is hype. I

Richard Kopelman:

think. Uh, you are 100 percent correct. I hear and sit in panels inside and outside the profession. I sit, sorry, I sit and watch panels and I read articles all the time and I look at websites of accounting firms and people in all sorts of industries and they all say, Oh, we have an amazing culture and as you're describing, and I don't talk about our culture that way. I talk in specific figures like where we rank on Glassdoor. And I talk about that we have a defined and practice culture, and I don't meet many people. Maybe you have, and I'd love for you to share with me, but you don't meet many people who can describe their culture as defined. and ritualized and practiced every day. I've

Rob Brown:

only met one firm that does that. And they're a firm in North Carolina who I happen to work for insofar as they're a 200 person firm, 11 offices, a mid tier firm called Bernard Robinson Company. I'm happy to give them a shout out here, BRC. What they're very good at, Richard, is not just claiming to have a great culture, but they're very good at getting their people to front up. come on video, come on interviews, go on social and talk about not just that they have a great culture but why and give examples. So as Muhammad Ali the boxer said it ain't bragging if you've done it and their own people are willing to be advocates of the brand and say hey this is real. Here's an example of how work life balance plays out. Here's an example of how flexible we are. Here's an example of why it's not all about chargeable hours. So you ask the question and that is a big difference, but it's demonstrating that culture in a way that people feel that it's real. And you're obviously getting that right as well, because it's not just the glass door awards. It's, it's making it real for people outside.

Richard Kopelman:

It is. It is. And I, you know, on a regular basis, I go visit Glassdoor and, uh, uh, what's the other one? Um, Fishbowl to just see what people are writing. In fact, I've had friends of mine who have said, is this real? Yeah. Do you guys write this for them? And, you know, as far as I know, we haven't.

Rob Brown:

Well, Richard, it's been an excellent discussion. I just want to ask you to end this show, and we'll get you on doing another show to talk a little bit more about you personally. But what excites you most for the future? Change. I didn't expect to hear that word.

Richard Kopelman:

I like change. Change is a constant. And, uh, you know, change, as they say, will never be slower than it is today. Uh, from, you know, from here forward, the pace of change is just going to increase. And the pace of change is, uh, is providing opportunity. I've had the chance to experience that over the last 30 plus years in the profession and here at Aprio. And that is going to, what's going to create opportunity for the next few generations. And I'm excited for them to be able to experience that and be entrepreneurs. in the accounting profession, in the financial services arena, and best serve our clients, uh, today and in the future. Inspirational.

Rob Brown:

Richard Kopelman.

Richard Kopelman:

Thank you. Thank you. Pleasure to be here.