One of my mentors regularly comments regarding growing a service business — “It is about expertise and relationships!” That is sage advice for anyone trying to grow and expand a business in this competitive marketplace. Having personally been involved in growing a few startup service related businesses, I appreciate the opportunity to interview leaders who have defied the odds and built thriving practices. I recently visited with James A. (Jim) Koerber, founder of The Koerber Company, P.A. in Hattiesburg, who has built a national practice in valuation and litigation support services. Today, he and his team of three CPAs serve clients around the country, and he is a recognized expert in his field. When we met, I wanted to know his “secret of success” in building a thriving practice, and he was gracious to share some of his experiences and wisdom with me.
Koerber grew up along the Mississippi River living in both Natchez and Vidalia, La. After getting his education at Mississippi State (banking & finance) and LSU (accounting), he went on to work as an accountant for several companies before starting his own CPA firm in 1997. Koerber said, “When I started my practice, my goal was to incorporate the good things that I have seen other successful CPAs and business owners do. As a result, I am now blessed to work with a great and wonderful group of men and women.” The early days were not easy as he built a practice from scratch. Koerber candidly shared, “For the first full year of operations for my practice, my profit was only $4,900, but I relied on what others had taught me and persevered. Plus, my wife, Melinda (we will be married 39 years in August 2013), encouraged me to not give up.”
Business valuation and litigation services were new for CPAs when he opened up his firm, and Koerber worked hard to gain expertise in these new areas. He attended countless seminars, and as he built his expertise, he shared it with others in articles and speaking opportunities. Koerber shared with me that in the early days of his practice he would spend his Saturdays faxing out his newsletters to potential referral sources. I share that story because I think it is a great example of the commitment and dedication Koerber has in building his business.
Entrepreneurial leaders like Koerber are lifelong learners. Even today, he continues to seek out ways to develop his expertise. He shared that one his mentors in business is Maury Gurwitch, who operated the Smart Shoe Store in Hattiesburg for years. Koerber said, “Each Saturday, I have lunch with Maury to continue to seek his advice.” I have found that my interviewee’s favorite quotes reveal a lot about their character and philosophy. Koerber had several quotes he shared that I want to share. He cited Ann Landers who said, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.”
Vince Lombardi had a similar thought when he said, “The only time that success comes before work is in the dictionary.” I also really enjoyed the anonymous quote, “When you care about yourself, you are a peddler; however, when you care about your clients, you are a professional.”
Koerber also had sage advice for future leaders that he shared. He believes it is important to stay humble and truly listen to your customers/clients and co-workers and to ask them great questions. As no surprise, he believes that it is important to never stop learning and to persevere despite difficulties and obstacles that you may face. He shared, “Overall, whether you own a business or work for a business, be an entrepreneur by looking at ways to build your expertise and be innovative.” Koerber is a great example of how to build a successful service based business by continually seeking to build expertise and building relationships by truly listening to the customer and delivering value.
Up Close With Jim Koerber
Title: Founder, The Koerber Company, P.A.
Favorite Books: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
First Job: “(a) Cleaning ditches with a sling blade for the Town of Vidalia, La., for $1 per hour; and (b) cleaning the mortar off old bricks for a penny per brick for my cousin’s construction/demolition company.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “Whenever I receive a thank you note (a) from a client, who I have helped in a case; (b) from another CPA, who I have helped get credentialed as a business valuator or helped with a project or problem; or (c) from someone, who I have helped find employment.”
Hobbies/Interests: Music, movies, and restaurants
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.