AN ENTREPRENEUR WHO HAPPENS TO BE AN ACCOUNTANT
Brian M. Davis
Managing Director and CEO
Brian M. Davis doesn’t fit the profile of your typical accountant. While still a student, Davis planned to use his accounting degree to go into law enforcement. While his career path took him in a different direction, he is still a straight shooter.
When Davis founded ClearView Group in 2011, he envisioned creating a firm that would go beyond the services of a traditional accountant to become a true business partner. That approach has resonated quickly with clients and has grown the firm to 28 employees.
Q: What are some of the most exciting developments ClearView Group has seen in the past year?
A: The past year has been one of tremendous growth at ClearView. Both our client and employee bases have grown, and we are poised for additional, significant growth during the rest of 2015 and beyond.
We recently expanded our office space to be more open and vibrant, which is in keeping with our culture. Gone are the traditional cubes, which have been replaced with more open work spaces that promote collaboration. And despite the increase in space, we are already in negotiations to find additional space, as we have already filled the expansion to capacity. It’s a great problem to have!
In January of this year, we added a director of assurance and advisory services; more recently, we have added several experienced hires to our state and local tax practice, which allows us to expand offerings in areas like personal property tax, sales and use tax, and unclaimed property. As we round out 2015, you’ll see an increased focus on our marketing efforts so we can continue to share our story about our services and our people. Our talent is second to none, and at this point, we’re the most talented firm you’ve never heard of. But you will.
We have also made additional investments in the critical areas of human capital and firm culture. We added a director of human resources to the team, and she is currently working with members of the team to promote philanthropy and to develop a strategy around our community-service efforts. We’re excited about the future, and about making investments in the things that will continue to differentiate us.
Q: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur or an accountant? Why?
A: I definitely see myself as an entrepreneur, first and foremost.
An accountant by definition is a historian who helps others make decisions. An entrepreneur builds things — builds businesses, and inherently needs to be the one making decisions. The entrepreneur develops the business model, acquires the human capital or other required resources, and is fully responsible for its success or failure. When I resigned from my previous firm, it was because I believed we could change the accounting industry, take a certain spirit and energy that my practices always had, and put them in traditional practices — like tax and assurance — and so far, it’s worked phenomenally. This firm was started with no clients, no employees, no prospects and I left behind a group of partners that promised to make it as difficult as possible on me. You know what we did? We solved problems. We took full accountability for our success and failure, and here we are today.
Q: As a company that has achieved rapid growth, what has been your biggest challenge as a leader and how did you overcome that challenge?
A: As many might expect, our largest challenge has been around human capital; but not for the reasons you might expect.
We have worked diligently to build a strong team and a culture that is unmatched — a culture of transparency, honesty and trust. Our firm is totally different. We’ve very quickly built a firm that is the destination of choice for many of the top talent in our field.
Our challenges, which we don’t consider to be negative challenges, have been twofold. The first is timing our hiring of new team members to match when it is appropriate for us to take them on and when they would like to come work for us. The second is, of those individuals that want to join ClearView, finding individuals who truly get what we’re about.
The first challenge is an obvious human capital challenge. Everyone gets the notion of hiring the right talent at the right time. But finding people who truly “get” what we’re about, that’s the tougher of the two.
There are many talented accountants in the world. The real challenge that we face in our environment is finding business people — people who love building businesses and the intricacies that go along with that process — who also happened to be excellent accountants. We also set out to find people who are ready and willing to admit their shortcomings — and be truly transparent and honest so we as a team can work to build a stronger unit.
Again, we’re building something different — inside and out. So, it is critically important that the professionals we bring on board are the right fit, both from a timing perspective and from a cultural perspective.
Q: How can business owners make the most of their relationship with their accountants?
A: Many business owners are challenged when trying to maximize their relationship with their accountants, and we see this on a regular basis. Without trying to sound flippant or condescending, many people have heard my thoughts on the accounting industry. Those that know me know that I believe most accountants are not necessarily the best business people — they are scorekeepers for good business people. Business owners who go to their accountants and expect them to be able to provide advice and guidance around growth-oriented business challenges are often disappointed.
This is not to say that many accountants are not great at what they do — many are. However, most accountants excel in areas focused around compliance and historical matters. So, if you’re looking for advice for how most businesses can maximize their relationship with the general field of accountants (other than ClearView), then we would say that it may be best for them to stay focused in their expectations and limit their conversations around maintaining compliance. If businesses are looking for sound business guidance from a team of people who also happen to be accountants, then they should be speaking to ClearView Group.
Q: What is it that you do differently that helps clients grow their businesses? How do you provide advisement?
A: Very simply — by asking the best questions.
We are business people and we get excited about building businesses and helping them grow. We ask the best questions we can — to dig into the real drivers of a business and the goals of the business owners.
Many times, the things that will help a business grow the most may not even be related to traditional accounting. For example, there are many times that the most effective way to grow a business comes through improving the company’s culture or business processes.
The opportunities to grow are unique to every business. The key is to understand that there is no magic bullet. There simply isn’t one playbook of best practices — every company and every challenge our clients encounter is truly unique to their environment. Case in point: If we tell a local small spice company the best practices that McCormick puts in place — do you think they’ll work for them? Probably not.
It is very much worth mentioning, asking the best questions isn’t enough. We also have to simply “shut up” and listen. Many times, the best answers come from simply listening to our clients. But let me be clear, we are experts at compliance; however we also believe that our business knowledge and acumen affords us a better perspective when working with our clients and allows us to deploy strategies that are not just academic in nature, and certainly are forward looking.
We don’t pretend to show up with all the answers. If we don’t know an answer, we’ll tell you. But, we’ll also make your problem our problem; and get to work using all our resources and tools to solve it.