On numerous occasions, I have been asked by my staff, “Why did you decide to start your own firm?” I tell them that as an entrepreneur at heart I did not want a company deciding my future. I was determined to be in control of what I did with the remainder of my career.
We often find that our most extraordinary, fulfilling and rewarding experiences come from overcoming times of challenge and difficulty. It is in these difficult times that we understand what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I knew I needed something more. I knew I would not be happy owning a traditional accounting firm.
I gained confidence in my decision to start my own firm from Jody Padar, who has been labeled a “disruptor” in the accounting profession. When she energetically shared with me her vision for creating a new kind of business-development operation, it was like hearing from my inner self.
My greatest professional joy has always been found in problem-solving. My greatest personal joy has always come from helping people. I then realized that, as a “recovering CPA,” I wanted to be a trusted business adviser who could realize the greatest impact with my current and future clients.
A consulting organization would give me the ability to focus more on the client’s long-term success.
This required me to ask myself some key questions:
I had recently read PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s book: Zero to One Thiel imparts to his readers the enormous value that can be created when a business discovers something new and fresh. He also implies that little relative value is created when a company only slightly improves and competes with existing products and services.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), for almost 15 years, had been trying to get accounting firms to remake and rebrand themselves as trusted business advisers. Additions to existing products and services are easy to imagine, but new and innovative ideas require focus, dedication and creativity. Perhaps if AICPA had provided tools, processes or studies to help them, more CPA’s would have learned how to provide new value to the accounting industry. Instead, CPA’s generally found little value in trying to rebrand their positions.
In his book, Thiel says that vertical progress is doing something that has never been done before. This inspired me: Take a toolbox of skill sets that had been perceived as a commodity by a large segment of the population and repurpose them in a manner that had not been previously attempted. I would use this toolbox to drive metrics, processes, collaboration, and innovation into my business and my clients’ businesses.
I envisioned creating a company that would challenge the status quo operations of traditional CPA firms — like those I had worked for. To support my mission, I would require a staff of people with drive, who would be energized by the opportunity to have a say in shaping their future —individuals not afraid of hard work or the unknown. They would need to be creative and resourceful, have the ability to embrace challenges, enjoy working collaboratively and have the courage to try new ways of solving problems.
This venture would not be my first. I had my own firm 25 years ago. Since then, I have experienced a number of failures in my life. My old way of thinking was that failure was not an option. But, during one of my failures I had an epiphany. After being sick and tired of wallowing in self-pity, I sat down and unpacked what happened and why. At that moment, I understood one of the single most important lessons in my life: Failure is a tremendous teacher, if you listen to her.
Since I started this firm two years ago, my staff and I have not had nonstop success. We have made mistakes and learned some tremendous lessons. As a result, we have developed an encouraging work environment where people are not afraid to share ideas. They feel free to propose unconventional solutions and to even, occasionally, check the boss on what he is saying. Our collaborative dynamic now fuels the creativity that spurs our innovative talents.
At the AICPA Engage 2018 conference this past June, I met Wesley Middleton from the Houston CPA firm of Middleton, Raines + Zapata. Wesley is a true maverick and innovator for the accounting profession. In his book Violent Leadership, he describes his journey of starting a firm and why it became successful: “Our style of getting things done, our innovation and willingness to change, and our search for ideas and improvement.” He continues: “Part of that style is not fearing the outcome of change and being okay with potential failure…. This means being willing to take a chance on an idea that a trusted member of the team proposes even if I do not understand it, and vice versa.” His words were validation that I had embarked on a worthy journey, and they were further confirmed when I had the opportunity to talk with him.
I am proud of what we have built at Santry 360. Growing from one staff member to seven like-minded individuals in less than two years has been a great accomplishment. We share a sense of purpose and direction.
I am excited for what the future holds. Excited not only for myself but for where each of these tremendously talented young professionals will steer the future direction of this firm.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Kevin Santry, CEO/ Managing Member