“You ever think of doing this for a living?” It was that question, asked by Richard Stokes twenty years ago, that set my life on a new trajectory and from which there was no turning back. On July 1, 2001, I left a successful career at KPMG to join forces with Richard to start GAAP Seminars, the predecessor entity to GAAP Dynamics. On the eve of our 20th anniversary, I sat down to reflect on why GAAP Dynamics has been so successful. Here are five lessons I’ve learned during the journey.
Be the Wolf for Your Clients
I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.” – Harvey Keitel’s character, Winston Wolf, in Pulp Fiction
Anyone who has ever worked at GAAP Dynamics knows that I believe that we need to be “the Wolf” for our clients. I am referring to Winston Wolf from the movie Pulp Fiction. Mr. Wolf was the fixer for Marsellus Wallace sent to help John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters after they accidently kill Marvin. I believe B2B businesses like GAAP Dynamics can learn a thing or two from Winston Wolf such as:
- Make your clients' lives easier
- Deadlines matter. Be on time. Every time.
- Take care of the most important items first.
- Communicate, delivering bad news promptly.
- Focus on the end goal.
It’s cliché, but true; without customers you don’t have a business. They should be your number one priority. I think Richard put it best when, in his retirement interview, I asked him for his advice on how to operate a successful training company:
Always listen to our customers and do what they want. If our people understand the customer is our top priority, we’ll continue to be a successful training company.” – Richard Stokes, co-Founder GAAP Seminars
It’s Not (Always) About the Money
Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.” – Voltaire
After our first year in business, I was feeling pretty good having made slightly more money than I previously made at KPMG. I remember asking Richard at dinner one evening: “Over my life, do you think I’ll make more money doing this or being a partner at KPMG?” And, to this day, I distinctly remember his response verbatim: “Mike, if all you want to do is make money, you are, without a doubt, one hundred percent better off at KPMG!”
Of course, the old man was right. But what he didn’t tell me is that making a bit less money has its advantages too! I've been married for 26 years and my wife still loves me. I have great relationships with all three of my kids. I have friends and hobbies. I take all of my vacation days each year. And I am still (relatively) healthy with a full head of hair! Life is good.
That said, profits are necessary to keep our people employed, give them good raises and bonuses, and provide opportunities for them to grow. And we must also continually reinvest in the business to deliver learning solutions that our clients demand. Obviously, the leaner we are the more profits we make, but at what cost? Profits don’t do you any good if you have a burnt-out workforce. Finding the right balance of profits and productivity is one of the greatest challenges of running a small business.
Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” – Jim Rohn
Work Hard. Play Hard. And Lead by Example.
Working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek
We don’t miss deadlines, which means that sometimes we must put in extra hours to ensure we deliver on the promises made to clients. And the leaders at GAAP Dynamics lead by example, sometimes working just as hard as we did during our days at Big 4 firms. If we have a big deadline, we are right there with the team, rolling up our sleeves to get the job done. Our philosophy is that we will never ask our employees to do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves. I think our people appreciate the fact that we are with them in the trenches.
That said, we all play hard too! We start our employees with 20 days of PTO per year, which ramps up to 30 days after 5 years, and we give them 10 paid holidays per year. And we allow people to take them! I don’t know the exact statistics, but I think most of our people use up their allotted PTO and paid holidays each year. I know I do!
We even have a sabbatical program after 5 years of service, allowing people to take a continuous month away from work. We feel that this is important to give people a chance to recharge their batteries, so they can come back to work refreshed and rejuvenated.
You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.” – Katie Thurmes
Put Love into Everything You Do
Spread love everywhere you go, let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa
Accountants get a bad rap. The stereotype is that we are boring, number crunchers who don’t know how to have fun. Well, that may be true for some, but most accountants I know aren’t like that at all. That said, the generalization that most accounting training is mind-numbingly boring is true. I know. I’ve been a participant!
In fact, it is for this very reason that I believe we’ve had success over the past twenty years. Our brand promise is simple. We passionately create high-quality training that we would want to take. This means it is accurate, relevant, engaging, visually appealing, and fun.
Our people understand that if they touch something, they should make it better. Whether its themes running through a course or entertaining videos with character voices, we put “the love” into all our learning solutions because our clients are worth the extra effort.
Does it matter? I think it does. Heck, we’ve been around for twenty years and the clients keep coming back. However, even if learners don’t appreciate Fred Flintstone and George Jetson talking CECL or learning about the accounting for initiation fees under ASC 606 in a blog post with a Caddyshack theme, at least it makes our job more fun!
If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Marc Anthony
You’re Nothing Without Your People
If you’re lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming into work in the morning.” – John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods Market
My father was an entrepreneur and he instilled upon me the importance of making payroll each month as employees’ families depend on it. As such, although we’ve taken calculated risks throughout the years, we’ve been much more conservative than other small companies. While this meant that we didn’t achieve meteoric growth, sell to a venture capital firm, and retire early, it also meant that we didn’t go out of business during one of the three major economic downturns over the past twenty years putting our employees’ jobs at risk. I’m good with that (and sleep well at night)!
This conservative nature has also meant that, in general, we were slow to hire, even when the prevailing thought is that we needed people. We’d rather be a little short staffed than make a wrong hire.
Our HR philosophy is simple:
- Hire the best people with an entrepreneurial spirit
- Give them a competitive overall compensation and benefits package
- Share with them the company’s profits, paying more for performance
- Treat them fairly and with respect
- Provide them opportunities to grow and thrive
Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain
We are a great company because of the great people that work here. To all current and past employees, thank you for your contributions to this company. I feel truly blessed to have been able to lead GAAP Dynamics over the last twenty years and I look forward to continuing to do so for years to come. I am constantly amazed by our team and cannot wait to see how they guide and shape our company in the future!
About GAAP Dynamics
We’re a DIFFERENT type of accounting training firm. We don’t think of training as a “tick the box” exercise, but rather an opportunity to empower your people to help them make the right decisions at the right time. Whether it’s U.S. GAAP training, IFRS training, or audit training, we’ve helped thousands of professionals since 2001. Our clients include some of the largest accounting firms and companies in the world. As lifelong learners, we believe training is important. As CPAs, we believe great training is vital to doing your job well and maintaining the public trust. We want to help you understand complex accounting matters and we believe you deserve the best training in the world, regardless of whether you work for a large, multinational company or a small, regional accounting firm. We passionately create high-quality training that we would want to take. This means it is accurate, relevant, engaging, visually appealing, and fun. That’s our brand promise. Want to learn more about how GAAP Dynamics can help you? Let’s talk!
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