Chuck Shechtman | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chuck Shechtman

Background:  

Accounting firm Friedman LLP, founded in 1924 in New York, recently made a move into Philadelphia with the acquisition of Center City's Shechtman Marks & Devor PC. Friedman employs 55 people at its Philadelphia office. 

 

The Mistake:

In developing the internal structure in terms of managing our accounting practice, one of the things that myself and the other people who had started the office realized was that suddenly we needed to worry more than just about being good accountants. We also needed to be really good at managing the business.

As you grow, you need to be able to manage people, and that's difficult because while you are studying for the CPA exam, you really are focused on trying to be a great accountant, or being really good at audit work or account work. But when you are running a firm you realize that there's a big difference between being a great accountant and running a great business. That's just something you have to learn on the fly.

So as we were growing, what we started to see happening was that as partners we would meet and discuss the different issues that were coming up within the firm, but our meetings were not very effective. We were all quibbling about to how get things done in the office, and there was almost too much democracy. If one person disagreed, it became almost like a veto. So nothing would ever go forward. We saw this, for lack of a better term, as a mistake in how we were built.

You need to be a part-time psychologist as well as an accountant.

The Lesson:

I was designated as managing partner. The idea was that there was one person to take the initiative, to get things done. That didn't mean that I would do everything myself, but it did mean that I would be responsible for getting things done, even if I was appointing others to handle them.

I was comfortable [in the role] but there were a couple of tough parts to it. With the partners, some of them were also friends—personal friends and friends from within the office. And now you're in a position where you need to hold them accountable, so there were some awkward moments when you're asking something of a friend or holding them accountable for certain projects—mostly when it came to things like billings and collections.

They were tough conversations, but you had to get it done for the good of the firm. I guess that was the toughest part.

One thing you learn, in this kind of position, is that you need to be a part-time psychologist as well as an accountant. Because when it comes to the staff, the most important thing the managing partner can do is make sure that everyone in the office—the partners, the staff, everyone—feels like they are being seen and heard. You need to make sure each person feels important.

Follow Friedman LLP on Twitter at @friedmanllp.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Shechtman.