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Firm proving collaboration is often the key to success

Ridgeland — The accounting firm of Matthews, Cutrer & Lindsay, P.A., purposely stayed small longer than most of its competitors.

Originally a one-man office, Jesse Matthews began a solo accounting practice in the mid-1940s. His son, Brett Matthews, joined him along the way, and on December 1, 1988, the Matthews merged with the small accounting firm, Rosen Hearon & Company. As a result, three partners have practiced together since 1989: CPAs Brett Matthews, Raleigh Cutrer and Chuck Lindsay.

“It is a marriage,” said Lindsay, with a chuckle. “Most partners try to dodge each other, but we try to get together for a breakfast meeting almost weekly.”

Matthew Freeland joined the accounting firm right after college graduation, starting at the entry level. Two years ago, he was named the firm’s fourth partner. (Jesse Matthews retired from the practice several years ago.)

“It’s been a good experience, they’re a great group of guys,” said Freeland, CPA.

Two years ago, the partners decided to grow the firm, and now have nine professionals and two administrative employees. The Mississippi State Board of Public Accountancy licensed every CPA. All are members of the Mississippi Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Goal-setting participation

To make certain everyone was in agreement with the way the practice should expand, the entire office staff participated in goal-setting exercises last year.

“We asked the partners to select their top five values out of 20, and had other staff members do the same,” said Freeland. “Amongst the partners, we were all in line. Amongst the staff, we were all in line. Even though it was never formally discussed, we all had the same goals. For one thing, we’re a very family-oriented place, with children from the cradle to newlyweds. We’ve made sure to provide a very flexible workplace so hopefully no one misses a school play.”

The diverse firm, which does not serve any public companies, has a client base ranging from “those with locales in most of the 50 states to small mom-and-pops to fresh-out-of-the-box startup corporations,” said Lindsay.

Clients represent manufacturers, auto dealerships, insurance brokerage firms, restaurants, non-profit organizations, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Rural Development multifamily housing projects.

“Determining our specialties has evolved,” explained Freeland. “Right now, we’re in a mode reviewing and refining the services we offer and concentrate in. Later this summer, our partners will have a work session, with one priority looking at the client base to determine if they all fit the mix we want and should be serving. That’s very new for us, but we think it’s very important for us to make sure the quality of services we offer is second to none.

“As part of our initial review and evaluation, we’ve identified three areas of expansion for our firm to commit staff and resources, and to market services in addition to your typical CPA services. We want to position ourselves to better serve nonprofits, to provide more litigation support and business valuation services and to assist more construction industry clients.”

The CPAs adapted quickly to provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which Congress passed several years ago in response to widespread corporate fraud.

“We’ve seen the trickle-down effect to non-profits, maybe not in a formal way, but as they adopt best practices,” said Freeland. “Also, some service firms were once able to do consulting and auditing, but no more. We’re seeing opportunities for a firm our size to take on one of those practices another firm can’t do. Perhaps one firm wants to continue auditing and they’ll ask us to pick up some consulting work, or vice versa. It’s really given smaller firms like ours an opportunity to serve clients we may have never been in touch with before.”

Staff involvement

The four partners have found innovative ways to involve the entire staff in the management of their practice.

“We have areas of ownership, with different staff members ‘owning’ different areas of management,” said Lindsay. “One guy owns the recruiting area and has accepted total responsibility for finding new staff, whether through job fairs, on-campus interviews, or whatever he sees fit. Another one owns our mentoring program and continuing education area. Fran Stallings, for instance, handles all of our marketing efforts. By spreading out the management duties, we’ve empowered the staff to take charge of them. They report back to the partner group.”

Freeland, who handles the firm’s technology, said he envisions the practice going paperless. “Our clients expect us to be on the cutting edge of technology, and to meet their needs now. We’ve made great strides doing just that. For example, this year we e-filed 90% of their tax returns.”

The firm remains committed to the community, holding various leadership positions in organizations such as American Red Cross, Metro Jackson YMCA, Catholic Charities Inc., North Jackson Kiwanis Club, Downtown Jackson Exchange Club, Ridgeland Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Jackson and Madison County Educational Foundation.

“As volunteers, we contribute our professional expertise to our community because we believe that our success is dependent on the success of our clients and the community in which we live and work,” said Lindsay.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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