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Changing of the guard seen at metro firms

Major metro CPA firms see a changing of the guard

Often many years will go by without major changes in the top management of major CPA firms in the Jackson metropolitan area. But the past couple of years have seen the changing of the guard at three of the Big Five accounting firms here.

J. Eustis Corrigan is the new manager of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, taking over the reins from long-time managing partner Murray Underwood, who recently took early retirement. Timothy R. Cantrell is the new managing partner at Arthur Andersen LLP. Cantrell took over after Jobie Melton, who was managing partner of the office for about 12 years, left to take a position with a client. And Steve Sanders became managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP about two years ago.

Sanders said that CPA firms, like most other businesses in the U.S., have evolved as technological improvements have changed the way CPAs do their job, enhancing efficiency and the depth of services that can be provided to clients.

“The real change from a national perspective has been technology and the innovations associated with that,” Sanders said. “The other major change is education, keeping our people current. We’ve always had continuing education. But now with the technology we have available, we are much more proficient in getting information to our people, and being able to use that information to provide better services for our clients.”

All new staff is issued computers the first day, and goes through training in how to use the computers to access the information available to help them with their jobs.

Sanders said employees have access to not only internal guidance from other members of the firm, but also a wealth of information on public companies in industries similar to those staff members are working on.

“There is a lot more information available to them to be able to provide more and better answers to client’s questions,” Sanders said. “In addition, the technology allows us to be much more efficient than we were a few years ago in terms of how we analyze information, audit their systems, and provide comments to improve the client’s operations and systems.”

Timothy R. Cantrell, the new managing partner at Arthur Andersen, said the biggest challenge to CPA firms is finding the best way to provide client services.

“Our principal focus is helping clients in ways they have never imagined,” Cantrell said.

“The thing our firm is trying to do is leverage our knowledge capital in such a way as to create value for our clients. We create that value by coming up with ideas that help our clients increase revenues, cut costs, manage risk, and unleash the power of new technologies. All the firms are going to be focusing on how they can improve the knowledge transfer to clients.”

Cantrell began his career with the Houston office of Arthur Andersen in 1979 after graduation from the University of Mississippi.

In 1983, he transferred to the Memphis office of Arthur Andersen and was promoted to manager in 1984 and partner in 1990.

In August, 1998, he transferred to the Jackson office of Arthur Andersen and was named managing partner of that office.

J. Eustis Corrigan, who took over as the new managing partner of KPMG Peat Marwick, said retaining quality employees has become increasingly competitive.

“I would say that the people side is critical,” Corrigan said. “Attracting and retaining world-class talent is a big issue. The marketplace is extremely competitive. Guys like me, managing partners, should wake up worrying about it every day.”

Competition for clients has also increased.

Ten years ago CPA firms could usually expect that clients would use them for all of their accounting needs. Today clients are more likely to use more than one firm.

“Ten years ago the competitive pressures weren’t there,” Corrigan said. “Now the doors are open, and clients look to a variety of different service providers, not just one. So you can have a strong relationship with an audit client, and have some other firm coming in and doing estate tax planning and a variety of other consulting services.”

Corrigan said clients are looking for someone who can bring value, and produce bottom line results.

An LSU accounting graduate, Corrigan transferred from Baton Rouge with KPMG Peat Marwick in 1996.

He has been involved in a variety of community and business organizations, and was a board member for the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of Greater Baton Rouge.

About Becky Gillette

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