The People Who Count

With too few accountants to go around, companies are grabbing people wherever they can find them.

Many accounting firms now emphasize an “employee first” approach, says Koltin, in contrast to the “client first” approach of previous eras. At Braver that translates into on-site yoga and massages, and the chance to watch March Madness basketball games on new large-screen TVs in order to ease the pain of working on Saturdays during busy season. “We’re upping the ante on everything this year so people will be happy when they go out to clients,” says Alison K. Simons, marketing manager for Braver, which has stopped publishing the names of new hires or managers on its Website for fear that recruiters will come calling. The larger aim of such perks is to create a sense of camaraderie at the firm so “people would feel like they’d be abandoning their friends if they left,” Simons explains.

Regional firms are also adding a new tier of incentives known as “nonequity partnerships” to retain valued managers who may not want to become full partners. According to a recent survey by the trade journal Inside Public Accounting, nearly 20 percent of non-national firms now offer senior managers such carrots, up from 11 percent 4 years ago. The focus on retention “is beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” says Koltin, who has worked as a CPA and a consultant to firms over the past 26 years.

To Market, to Market

Companies, it seems, have little choice but to follow suit. “You’d think you’d just have to raise salaries to get supply in line with demand, but that’s not true,” says Jon Zion, president of eastern U.S. operations for Robert Half International, which tracks CFOs’ forecasted hiring. “Companies are getting very creative about accommodating the quality of life and professional issues that matter to people.” They are also making the hiring a priority. “In the past, we’d find a few recruiters and let them go off and find candidates,” says Stuart West, vice president of finance at TiVo Inc., “but now our entire team has a sense of urgency” about finance hiring. As one sign of the times, the company’s search for a new head of internal audit spanned not just weeks or months but several quarters.

Not that compensation is unimportant. Fifty percent of CFOs surveyed say they do plan to loosen the purse strings not only to attract new hires but to retain current staff as well. “Very often,” says Mobile Mini’s Trachtenberg, “a finance person starts with a company, gets annual increases, and then suddenly looks up and realizes they’re 20 to 30 percent under market,” prompting the person to leave in order to get the market rate. To stem the outflow in his 12-person finance department, he has at times given staff members as much as a 30 percent salary increase to get them up to market. “It’s a big dilemma — how do you justify giving someone a raise like that when they didn’t really demand it, but on the other hand, you know it’s just a matter of time [before they leave if you don't]?” he says.

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