Competitors to Collaborators: BT&Co. & CBIZ
Photos | Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
During the past year, several companies have acquired local businesses with complementary areas of expertise and compatible cultures. These acquisitions not only offer more opportunities for strategic growth, customer service, and employee recruitment and retention initiatives but strengthen Topeka’s economy and support a focus on quality of life too.
Merging entails multiple factors, from consolidating data systems, software and office space to integrating teams and informing customers about expanded capabilities. Recently blended accounting firms, financial institutions, and document management and IT support firms share the benefits they have already derived and the hurdles they have overcome as they have transitioned from competitors to collaborators.
Through the years, Berberich Trahan & Co. (BT&Co.) has expressed interest in various acquisition opportunities, but often the smaller firms initially considered fulfilled a market niche outside the scope of the CPA firm’s practice. So Karen Linn, managing director of BT&Co. since 2013, was immediately intrigued when she discovered that CBIZ National Services wanted to sell its Topeka office, another well-regarded CPA firm that had been serving the region for 40 years.
Linn first facilitated a conversation with CBIZ’s local directors so the two firms could get to know one another better before moving to the next step.
“We needed to find out if the two businesses were a good fit in terms of culture, personalities and clientele,” she says, noting that the initial meeting unexpectedly lasted four hours. “We were pleased to learn that CBIZ had a family friendly environment, similar employee culture and a commitment to clients that matched our own.”
Currently, BT&Co. occupies two buildings but will soon be housed in the same office space once renovation work on a newly acquired building is completed in December 2019.
The acquisition’s close in January coincided with the busiest time of year for CPAs so the temporary necessity to maintain two offices made forging relationships more challenging initially, Linn says. To encourage camaraderie in the interim, the 60-plus employees, including interns and part-time personnel, participate in organized social activities and every two weeks a newsletter includes four employee profiles.
“One of the things we’ve prided ourselves on at BT&Co. is our tagline of ‘CPAs Redefined,’ an intentional focus to have more fun and flexibility at work while fulfilling our responsibilities to our clients,” says Linn, noting that the company has implemented policy changes to accommodate flex time, dress for your day opportunities and other benefits.
“As we move forward with our strategic planning as a combined firm, we respect that we each bring strengths to enhance our working relationships, environment and client capabilities and interactions,” she says. “By utilizing the best processes from both offices, we’ll be able to serve our clients and grow the business with a continued focus on service and commitment.”
Managing Planning, Platforms and Possibilities
Linn says transitioning data systems has been one of the most arduous and time-consuming aspects of the acquisition process but progress continues to be made.
“Our employees are our most important asset and we want to focus the most time and effort on them, so it has been frustrating that the data systems have taken so much time in this process,” she says.
Contributing to the Community
Although community service and charitable giving have been focal points for both BT&Co. and CBIZ, the firms handled their programs differently. Directors made donation decisions for BT&Co. in contrast to a community service committee overseeing philanthropic requests at CBIZ.
“We love the idea of having employees participate in the decision-making process, so that’s just one example of something that we’ve integrated recently,” says Linn. “We’re looking at best practices at both companies as
we set our new culture because community involvement and support are very important to BT&Co. We want to give back to this community that has supported us in so many ways.”
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