A Morning with the MP of Aprio, Richard Kopelman

Avatar photoMarc Rosenberg, CPA / Apr 5, 2023

professionals at a tableOur Chicago large-firm roundtable brings in premier MPs from across the country to share their management practices with us. Our most recent visitor was Richard Kopelman, MP of Atlanta-based Aprio, the twenty-fifth largest CPA firm in the U.S., with revenue of $340M, 80 equity partners, 80 non-equity partners, and 1,500 total personnel.  One would be hard-pressed to find another firm that is as dynamic and successful as Aprio.

From when they were a one-office firm 10 years ago, Aprio’s revenue has grown from $40M to $340M in 14 offices. They have merged in 20 or so firms. They were among the first accounting firms to go paperless and be cloud-based. In 2017, Aprio became the first CPA firm in the Top 100 to change their name to one without reference to partner names or initials. 

Here is what we learned from Kopelman’s visit. 

  • Their goal is to be one-third consulting. Today they are at 15%. 
  • “We try lots of things. As accountants, we are trained to be right. But we’re not afraid to fail, which we often do. We’re OK with that.” 
  • “To be effective at recruiting these days, firms must be more active on campus. There’s lots of competition from other firms, especially the Big 4, who we are recruiting at schools that they never visited in the past.” Aprio recruits using Handshake (a popular way that college students find jobs) and social media. They have increased the number of interns hired by 50% in recent years; they intentionally over-hire interns. 
  • Aprio has created a set of core values that they call The Aprio Way.  It contains 31 values.  Among the most impressive to us are ideals that we rarely see in CPA firm core value statements.  Highlights: 
    • Do what’s right for the client even if it’s to our own detriment. 
    • Be fanatical about response time. 
    • Value differences in people; be eager to learn from others, no matter what role they have and regardless of their age, background, experience, or tenure with the firm. 
    • Practice blameless problem-solving. Just fix it. Get smarter with every mistake. 
    • Bring it every day. Don’t come to work and tune out. No coasting. Work with a sense of urgency. 
    • Embrace change. What got us here is not what it will take to get us to the next level. Have an innovation mindset. 
    • Think and act like an owner. Staff should ask themselves: “What would I do if this were my own money?” 
    • Keep things fun. Don’t take things too personally. Stuff happens. Laugh every day. 
  • Remote work: 
      • Mixed bag; the problem is getting staff engaged. 
      • We regularly hire employees in cities around the country to work remotely. 
      • When new staff work remotely, we ship them a standard package consisting of a docking station and three monitors. 

Our book The Role of the Managing Partner includes ►MP job description, ►How the best MPs in the country impact their firm’s success, ►How the MP manages the other partners, ►Getting partner accountability, ►Increasing profitability, ►Management vs. leadership, ►Authority that the MP should have, ►25 best practices that the MP should focus on, ►The MP’s role in managing staff and revenue growth; ►How MPs lead the charge in merging in other firms, ►Why it’s critically important for the MP to assemble a great management team, ►Partner compensation-a potent weapon in the MP’s arsenal; ►Our observations of how the very best MPs operate, ►Essential organizational skills for MPs, ►Evaluating the MP, ►Why and how MPs fail; ►Great quotes from great leaders. 

  • “Before we embarked on our merger and growth activities, we first needed to build up our infrastructure and institutionalize our processes.” 
  • Mergers: 
    • The #1 factor in merging in a firm is cultural fit. 
    • Aprio uses an industrial psychologist to check out sellers. 
  • Workspace: 
    • Aprio expects their office space costs to decrease due to remote work. 
    • They are an advocate for hoteling; people are told that unless they work three days a week in the office, they will be required to participate in hoteling. 
  • Over the past two years, Aprio has raised their billing rates 15% annually. They also raised staff salaries 12% annually over the same period. 
  • “It’s hard to get prospects to change their CPA firm on audit and tax. It’s much easier if you sell them consulting.” 
  • Partner compensation factors that Aprio considers: 
    • Achieving individual goals. 
    • Paying for performance. 
    • Not using comp formulas.
    • Evaluating partners on their contributions to the firm, not just individual performance. 
    • Business originated. 
    • Stewardship of their client base. 
    • Leading a department or service niche. 
    • “We don’t want our partners to strive for average but instead aim to be in the first quartile.” 

What practices is your firm implementing that’s propelling your team to be successful? 

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