Bob Suprenant likes to borrow and amend that old adage from baseball — the one about how you can never have enough pitching.
“You can never have enough tax knowledge,” Suprenant, a CPA and director of special tax services for Moriarty & Primack, told BusinessWest. He was referring to how the Springfield-based accounting firm uses teamwork to resolve complicated tax matters and other issues for its large and growing roster of clients. “Tax work is all about saving people money.”
Success in the tax arena is just one of many factors that have enabled Moriarty & Primack to achieve growth that would be described as strong and rapid — it was formed only 13 years ago — and thus gain a firm footing in a highly competitive Western Mass. market.
“The primary goal for us, or any firm, is to build credibility, and we’ve done a good job of doing that in a comparatively short time; we’re still the baby on the block in some respects,” said Jay Primack, who founded the company with Richard Moriarty, who passed away two years ago.
The two were long-time employees of Coopers & Lybrand when they decided to put their own names over the door, and they used their own experience and some effective recruiting of talented CPAs and support staff to make their firm one of the standouts in the local accounting community.
The company’s broad operating philosophy, said G.E. Patrick Leary, who became a partner two years ago, is to ensure that none of its services be they tax matters, audit work, or technical assistance, ever become a mere commodity.
“That’s the approach we take — we’re not going to simply hand someone their financials, and say ‘see you next year,’” he explained, referring specifically to audit work. “We want the client to walk out of that meeting with a laundry list of ideas and opportunities to strengthen internal controls, improve cash flow, and help the bottom line.”
This operating philosophy helps explain double-digit growth over the past several years, including a 20% boost over the past year, and regular inclusion on the Affiliated Chamber’s Super 60 list for revenue-growth.
Looking forward, Primack said the firm’s growth strategy essentially calls for the company to practice what it preaches while advising business owners on how to manage their ventures and keep them fiscally sound. These steps include everything from solid customer service to succession planning; smart growth to smart hiring.
Through a mix of organic growth and potential acquisitions — it completed one merger with a local firm just over a year ago — the company intends to expand its already sizable footprint in Western Mass., and perhaps well beyond.
Primack has his own phraseology for describing the firm’s teamwork-oriented approach and efforts to pool resources and personnel to assist clients. He calls it “circling the wagons.”
The circle, and the number of wagons in it, has grown steadily since Primack and Moriarty opted to quit life with what was then one of the so-called Big Eight accounting firms (Moriarty first and Primack soon thereafter) and start their own venture.
Actually, they had seen the handwriting on the wall — Coopers & Lybrand and other members of the Big Eight had been closing many of their offices in smaller, second- or third-tier markets, and it appeared to the two men that the Springfield location’s days were numbered.
They were right; it eventually closed in 1998.
By then, the two were in the midst of another in a series of office expansions necessitated by continuous growth and absorption of market share.
The two partners took most of their clients from Coopers & Lybrand with them — a common occurance in accounting, law, and other professions — and set about building on that portfolio. The methodology has been simple and straightforward, said Primack, and is grounded in quality products and services and a reputation for dependability and consistency. These are two traits that are critical ingredients in any accounting firm’s success formula, because they lead to the referrals from existing clients that are the lifeblood of all players in this changing and increasingly challenging industry.
Primack and Moriarty started, by themselves, in a 1,000-square-foot office in what is now known as the Sovereign Bank Building. They continually expanded that footprint before moving one block down Main Street to Monarch Place in 2001. Today, the firm has 12 certified public accountants, two partners, and 25 employees, a growth rate achieved through a combination of factors, said Leary.
These include a diversity of services, the ability to attract and retain both clients and employees, several niches, or industry groups that have become specialty areas, including construction, manufacturing, distribution, and others, and continuity of services, he said, adding that the operative word is value, and the ability to deliver it.
Teamwork certainly helps with this assignment, said Douglas Theobald, CPA, the firm’s tax director and one of its most recent additions. He told BusinessWest that, by bringing many minds to the table, the firm has been able to tackle some complex cases and often improve on the results generated by other firms taking on the same problem.
Primack agreed. “It’s very much a team approach in this office,” he explained. “If we have an issue or problem where someone thinks they see an opportunity to save dollars or create a better business approach to something, we’ll sit down spontaneously and bring together in that room a number of people whose combined experience might be several hundred years.”
In one case, that approach turned a local retailer’s tax liability of nearly $300,000 into a refund, said Suprenant, adding that there are several similar examples of postive outcomes to complex, often ominous problems.
The teamwork approach is applied to a number of products and services, said Leary, listing tax and audit services, estate and financial planning, business valuations, and litigation support, among others.
The firm also has two affiliated entities: MP Financial Services, directed by Primack, provides fee-based retirement, financial and estate planning, portfolio and asset management services; securities such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds; and insurance products including annuities, life, disability, and long-term care. Meanwhile, New Technology Consultants, LLP (NETC), directed by Donald Smith, CPA, is focused on helping organizations of all sizes expand their technology capabilities. Assistance comes in many forms, including software selection, training, implementation, and project direction.
This broad portfolio enables the company to provide an umbrella of services that often makes it a one-stop source for individuals and businesses, said Leary, adding that this is one of many ingredients in the company’s success formula.
Another, said Theobald, is its ability to recruit and retain talented CPAs and support personnel. It has achieved this largely by creating an attractive work atmosphere, one that blends a dose of freedom with recognition of the need to balance work and life.
“It’s a good place to work, there’s a great environment,” he explained, noting that this was one of the reasons he returned to Western Mass. after a stint with Price Waterhouse Coopers as a tax partner. “This was the only firm I really looked at, because of the quality of the people and the work atmosphere.”
Primack agreed. He told BusinessWest that it often isn’t easy to attract top talent to Western Mass. and then keep it here — other markets offer higher wages and more cultural attractions and nightlife — but Moriarty & Primack has enjoyed some success in part because of its culture and opportunities to grow professionally.
This effective recruiting, part of a succession-planning initiative undertaken by both original partners, and which has drawn Leary, Suprenant, Theobald, and others, will help secure long-term stability for the company through continuity of service, Primack explained.
“This is a people business, and we looked for talented people who might have the prospect of becoming future leaders of the firm,” he continued. “We looked for people who could succeed us so that our clients would not experience any immediate or rapid change in process, attitude, or philosophy; our clients will enjoy the comfort of consistency.”
Looking forward, Primack said the company’s leadership intends to continue a pattern of mostly organic growth, using referrals and targeted marketing to gain a larger piece of the local accounting and tax planning pie. But it will also consider acquisitions and mergers.
A year ago, Moriarty & Primack merged with the Holyoke-based firm of Joseph S. Casden (formerly Casden & Casden), bringing three new CPAs to the company. There are ample additional acquisition opportunities expected in the years ahead, Primack explained, noting new challenges that make it more difficult for many smaller firms and sole proprietorships to succeed, and the firm will be carefully considering them.
“There’s a lot of small firms out there that haven’t done any real succession planning and don’t have an exit strategy,” Leary explained. “We’ve looked at a number of those, both locally and in other areas, and we’ll continue to do that, because there are some great opportunities for us.
“In many cases, clients have been served by one or two individuals for 20 or 30 years,” he continued. “Those people have done a great job for them, and we can now step into their shoes and bring those clients over to our firm.”
Playing the Numbers
The bottom line when considering any potential acquisition is a requisite match of philosophy, or business culture, said Primack.
“There has to be a meshing of ideas, personalities, and chemistry,” he explained. “You need a similar approach to doing business and treating customers.”
At Moriarty & Primack, that approach is to bring value to each of the services provided — and to always look for ways to find more tax knowledge.
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]