Holistic Leadership: Building Community and Embracing Change with Sandra Wiley

Hosts & Guests

Meredith Smith, State and Local Tax Senior Manager

Judy Vorndran, Partner, State and Local Tax 

Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting

What You Will Discover:

In this episode of the SALTovation podcast, we speak with Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting – an organization dedicated to guiding CPA firms towards success by leveraging leadership, talent, growth processes, and technology. Sandra shares her unique perspective and critical strategies that drive CPA firms. Building a connected community through meaningful relationships can enable firms to create a culture that fosters collaboration and allows individuals to thrive. Listen this week as we discuss the progressive edge of CPA firms today, focusing on community, leadership, and diversity.

 

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • CPA firm consultation: focusing on community, holistic leadership, and innovation
  • Community building is crucial, particularly with remote work, fostering relationships and collaboration 
  • Holistic leadership: considering the whole person, integrating personal and professional lives for a balanced approach to management.
  • How CPA firms are evolving in an increasingly competitive space
  • Proactive adaptation to automation and resource diversification is key to future-proofing CPA firms 

    Quotables:

        • When I think of holistic leadership today, it’s looking at the whole person. When we look holistically at who people are, the human side of them, they are personal and professional. Diversity and inclusion and feeling like you belong somewhere, that is a part of well-being.” -Sandra Wiley [13:15]

         

        • “Young people are coming into firms today with a long list of all the questions they have for ‘what are you going to do for me?’ There are a lot of people who hate that, but that’s what they’re doing. They’re going to come through the door and ask ‘What kind of training are you going to give me?’, ‘What do I do if my kids are sick? Can I work from home three days a week? If we don’t have good answers, they will walk down the street and find another company that will give them what they want.” -Sandra Wiley [25:00]

         

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    Transcript

    [00:00:00] Meredith: Welcome to SSALTovation the SALTovation Show is a podcast series featuring the leading voices in salt, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax. Sandra Wiley, the president of Boomer Consulting joins us today on the SALTovation Show, sharing insights into her journey with the company, which began almost 30 years ago.

    [00:00:27] Meredith: Boomer Consulting specializes in guiding CPA firms towards greater success using a combination of leadership, talent. Growth processes and technology. Sandra speaks with us about the importance of building community. We also talk about holistic leadership, succession planning, and changing business models in accounting, all in this episode of SALTovation.

    [00:00:49] Meredith: Sandra, it's great to have you here today. Thank you so much for doing this.

    [00:00:53] Sandra: It is a pleasure to be here and thank you so much for asking me.

    [00:00:58] Meredith: So could you give us an understanding of who Boomer Consulting is and share some insights into your journey of becoming the president of Boomer Consulting?

    [00:01:09] Sandra: I would be very happy to tell you that.

    [00:01:11] Sandra: So my journey is not one that a lot of other people maybe would take, but honestly, um, Over 30 years ago now, um, I started this journey with Boomer Consulting and I was here the day that we launched the company, which is very cool. Today, rolling forward, we're a company of very high level professionals who guide CPA firms, um, to growth and sustainable success, success and innovation.

    [00:01:39] Sandra: We do, um, that with the expertise in leadership, talent, growth, process, and technology. And our focus is on building communities focused consulting and some training. So my journey, like I said, started 30 years ago. Um, and today I'm the president of the company, a shareholder and a consultant. And my passion is to help drive And firms help them drive and thrive, um, in the change that they're involved in today, which we're going to talk about, I'm sure a lot in this, uh, time that we have together.

    [00:02:14] Sandra: A change is the thing is just all over this profession right now. And I was lucky, um, Gary Boomer, uh, who is our founder and currently what we call our doc connector. Took a chance on me and I have loved every minute of working with this amazing company and these amazing people. So um, that's kind of my background and my story.

    [00:02:37] Meredith: Well, we love that idea of building community, right? Because that's part of really why we're doing this. podcast in general is to just build community, especially, you know, when it can feel really difficult now, right? We're all recording from home where we can't be tactile with each other that we really try to focus on and love talking about.

    [00:02:58] Meredith: So, Can you talk a little bit about that community aspect?

    [00:03:03] Sandra: I would love to. Um, and, and you're so right. Um, in these, in this world we live in, you, you are all the same as us. We all work remotely. So every single person on my team this morning, I met two of my brand new team members. I will not actually meet them face to face until April.

    [00:03:20] Sandra: So this, that is exactly what happens, but you know, community is about relationship building in my opinion, and that can happen face to face. Which is why video is so important. Um, I don't know how you all do this, but for us, we don't have a meeting, uh, in our company unless we're face to face. So we're either zooming each other or we're in teams, um, face to face, or we're on FaceTime on our phones.

    [00:03:45] Sandra: So I asked somebody the other day, when's the last time you actually used your phone as a phone? And they said, We couldn't remember. I mean, I don't remember ever getting a phone call, right? But this relationship piece is important. One of the things that we do at Boomer besides internally building relationships by seeing each other is we have built circles and Our circle communities started, oh gosh, I think over 20 years ago now, and it started with a hope and a dream.

    [00:04:15] Sandra: Um, there was a, there was a group of CPA firms that met with Gary and they all talked about how they like to share best practices. And as they talked through that, and as they kind of ideated on, What could we do to keep the relationships going? They said, well, why don't we join like a group of people and we'll have circles and we'll meet a couple of times a year and we'll share best practices and we'll hear what's going on in the profession.

    [00:04:44] Sandra: And they were technology people. So the very first circle that we built was the boomer technology circles. And that was all we had for a number of years. And then people started coming to us and saying, you know, if you had a circle for Talent like human resources, we would come to that. And if you had a circle for COOs, we would come to that.

    [00:05:06] Sandra: And if you had a circle for, and then they started, you know, building that out. And I will say that the communities that we have built, um, we'd have nine of them now, and in those communities, Um, they're all, I would call them the C suite of the firm, and one of the things you all know that is probably the same about all of those people is they're the onlys in their firm, you know, there is only one COO, there's only one director of human resources, there's only one CIO.

    [00:05:37] Sandra: And so it's a lonely space and place to be. What we've done is taken 20 firms and put them together into that group. And now they have people that are their people. And, um, those communities are so tight. They get to be the best friends and they love having new people in them and they love sharing best practices.

    [00:05:58] Sandra: And so that's what I, what we call communities and they are. They're thriving because people need people at the end of the day. People need people.

    [00:06:08] Judy: So, and I, uh, you guys hosted, I was at the Thompson Reuters synergy conference where I spoke. So I took advantage of attending it because they let me attend for free.

    [00:06:18] Judy: It was in town. So I don't have to travel. I sat through all your circles. I was blown away by it. It was amazing to sit in a group of other peers with different size firms of an equivalent, equivalent Size area, whatever, but we're in different markets and really talk about the things you guys talked about.

    [00:06:33] Judy: It was super powerful and everybody came to that session. There was, I don't know how many people were at this conference, maybe 2000. It was a big conference, just tables everywhere. Filled with people connecting hugely valuable. I was so impressed. Yeah,

    [00:06:48] Sandra: the Thompson Reuters round tables are one of those things that I think at every one of their user conferences, they're so exciting and Boomer helps with those.

    [00:06:57] Sandra: And, um, those are a little different than the circles that we run internally. But you're right. The concept is exactly the same. It is a

    [00:07:07] Judy: showcase though, because there was always a Boomer person at every table. Yeah, it was my. Anyway, there was always a boomer person there. So they're bringing that they're keeping people on task.

    [00:07:17] Judy: They've got their list They're facilitating. So that's clearly what I'm thinking you do as a company. And then you bring that out to that group that belongs to the boomer.

    [00:07:25] Sandra: I agree. I think what's really interesting is we do a lot of work in finding the right people to facilitate those circles. Um, it sounds like anybody could do it.

    [00:07:37] Sandra: And I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of people who can, but there is a certain kind of magic. To really good facilitators who get other people to share their best practices to identify the people that are in the room That can't that you can pull into the conversation um to um, kind of As we've called gary the dot connector It's connecting the dots between hey, you need to talk to that firm because that's exactly what they're working on right now And so that facilitation technique is something I think we have that's special

    [00:08:10] Judy: and um, well, it's credibility You I would just say, cause I, you know, anyone could sit at a table and have a list of questions and just make you answer them.

    [00:08:18] Judy: But it was the credibility of the person who ran my tables. Where I was like, they've been there, done that. They actually have some ideas. They know my pain. They actually feel what I feel. So it's, it gives you credibility to say, I trust you. I'm going to share with you. I know you got my back. Yeah, no, I was really pleased with that.

    [00:08:36] Judy: Cause I thought, not a fence, but it's like a 12 year old to facilitate exceptionally, right. But not really, right. Cause they're not going to continue that discussion, build out more things. And that's what that person did. I feel your pain. I've been through this. I've run a firm. This is why I'm, I'm hosting this.

    [00:08:52] Judy: This is why I'm facilitating this round table right now. So if that's what you do as a company, and I just witnessed it through the synergy conference. That's good stuff. Well, I

    [00:09:06] Meredith: think Judy, when you think about when we have conversations with clients, right from, from kind of an isolated state and local tax perspective, and we'll get back to kind of the CPA kind of consultation as a whole, but we often, you know, when we talk to businesses, right, we, we rarely talk to businesses who are doing their sales tax or their state income tax or whatever correctly, right?

    [00:09:29] Meredith: So then when we talk to people, often it's kind of relegated to, you know, uh, a position within the company that maybe isn't valued or they're not, you know, they're not compliant because of X, Y, Z reason. And, you know, maybe the reason isn't important, but this person who's been tasked with fixing a problem.

    [00:09:48] Meredith: Often feels alone and that they're not being listened to. And so what we often joke about is like, Hey, we come in and we're your therapist because they just they vent. We understand the issues that they're dealing with. We understand that like customers get mad or they're going to get mad if you start putting sales tax on an invoice.

    [00:10:07] Meredith: So we come in and we just listen. And we try to just be that relational point of, hey, it's one, it's OK that you're not doing things correctly it's hard, right? Um, but also just like feeling like you're not on an island because no one wants to be on an island trying to solve a problem alone, especially when maybe that company doesn't, hasn't necessarily valued what, you know, created the problem in the first place.

    [00:10:37] Meredith: And so you're kind of climbing uphill. And so that community and that camaraderie really kind of the way that we approach client interactions, like I think resonates. with us as a firm and how we approach, you know, doing business.

    [00:10:55] Sandra: I agree. And you know, so with what you're saying, what I'm saying about people in general, you know, we have been, I think everybody's worried about this world that we live in, where we're all in behind the camera, we're not face to face anymore.

    [00:11:11] Sandra: But the one thing, the human centric thing that's happening, Across the board is we still need each other and having people that will connect you, connect your clients with other people that are like them. It just makes you feel validated. And, um, I think that is a lot of what we bring to the table is validation for how important the people are that we're talking to the same thing that you're doing.

    [00:11:35] Sandra: So I feel like that's

    [00:11:37] Judy: resourcing too. We're constantly resourcing things that we don't specialize in because. They need this whole thing. It's like, all right, well, we'll resource it for you because you need this piece. And it's sort of related to what you're doing, invoicing a customer, putting something on it.

    [00:11:50] Judy: So sales tax, VAT, whatever. So we're like, we have to resource that. And then people just call you because they need help. And obviously Boomer is like HR, IT, best practices, like all that is so valuable when you're running a firm. And I learned when I left the big four, there are 46, 000 CPA firms in America.

    [00:12:09] Judy: I had no idea there were that many. I never cared. I was big for a final four. I joke, but when I went to a regional firm, I was like, Oh my gosh, who knew that this was this big top 25 firm based in North Dakota, South Dakota. It was a very interesting experience for me. And then we have this HLB network to deal with international issues and we can look bigger.

    [00:12:28] Judy: Well, that was the one thing the big four houses, international national thing. Really good marketing, honestly, but you don't really need all those things all the time, right? Cause they all have to create their own businesses. Not every client is going to use all the things you offer. And so you still see entrepreneurial sidelines within even the big four.

    [00:12:46] Judy: It's really not one point. So why do you have to pay those premium prices? When you can get that same resource as an individual, but And you could still do the same thing and get the bit and the pieces. So that's why there's a small, a lot of small businesses in America. That's why it was 46, 000 CPA firms.

    [00:13:01] Judy: Yeah. And that's just four. Yeah. So, uh, that, that's been a really interesting experience for me. And then you obviously support those firms. Yeah, and they don't want to go to the big four. They don't want to merge out. They want to do what they want to do, what they do well. And there's a need for that in the market.

    [00:13:16] Sandra: Yeah, absolutely.

    [00:13:17] Meredith: Sandra, um, you all emphasize holistic leadership from a CPA profession. What does holistic leadership mean?

    [00:13:29] Sandra: You know, when I think of holistic leadership today, it's really looking at the whole person. So One of the things that I believe COVID did well for us, and I don't say this very often because I don't think there's a lot, but I think there's one thing that it did really well for us is we, maybe there's a couple of things, but the first thing was the firms that thought they could not work remotely, they're able to work remotely and what that happened to, what that opened up for people to look at and to understand is, you know what?

    [00:14:02] Sandra: I can pay attention to both my personal and my business life at the same time. They can be integrated together. They don't have to be separate. This was years ago. Uh, when I first started in business, I was in banking and in banking, I remember the very first day of my employment, I was this young kid and I walked in and they were having, you know, the onboarding.

    [00:14:23] Sandra: And one of the things that they said in onboarding was, listen, when you're in the bank, You're in the bank. You are doing your professional work. You don't bring home with you. You don't talk about your home life. This is for work. That is for home when you leave at night. And I remember that stuck with me for years.

    [00:14:42] Sandra: And when I finally got smart, um, I figured out that is just not true. Your life is your life. And if you think that you can just turn off the switch when you walk through the door and your personal life stays out and your professional life is in, that's just madness. And I think that we were, that we finally are getting it, that when we look at holistically who people are, the human side of them, they're the whole person.

    [00:15:08] Sandra: They are personal and professional. They're the well being is a big part of you, diversity and inclusion and feeling like you belong somewhere. That's a part of who we are. So we talk a lot and I talk a lot about, um, really looking at the whole person when we hire and when we put them into a position within the firm.

    [00:15:29] Sandra: And, um, That's what I believe is holistic, um, about what we're doing today. And I don't believe that was really who we were even 10 years ago. Um, I believe that's just really come on board recently. Thank goodness. Right.

    [00:15:46] Judy: I sat in a cube. I showed it to a desktop. Yep. I made copies. I mean, that was how I started.

    [00:15:53] Judy: So wifi, internet, cell phone, um, That came in my career, you know, and people now that's how they show up.

    [00:16:01] Meredith: I mean, Sandra, you've been doing this for 30 years and CPA firms don't have a, you know, the CPAs are often mocked as like sitting in a room with no windows in front of a lamp with files and a green visor.

    [00:16:18] Meredith: And it's very historically like a stodgy profession. And some of those partners. are probably still partners 30 years later. Do you think that was a really difficult kind of like nudge or, you know, did you have a hard time with any kind of, of the firms of like, hey, you, you really have to let go of that old stodgy way of thinking?

    [00:16:44] Meredith: So

    [00:16:45] Sandra: I'm

    [00:16:45] Meredith: gonna,

    [00:16:46] Sandra: I'm gonna back it up just a little bit. I'm gonna say, um, When I started this journey, um, so I've been in human resources my entire life. That's been my background and I love people and I love relationship building and I love, I especially like HR when you're looking at mentoring and coaching and developing and training.

    [00:17:06] Sandra: I love all of that. But when I started, uh, I was stunned in this profession. Um, so let's just talk accounting profession. I remember the very first speech I gave was on performance management. And I did that speech to a room full of managing partners, which, by the way, um, this was a long time ago and the entire room was full of white men.

    [00:17:29] Sandra: No women. There was not one woman in the room. And I talked about performance management and they really did look at me like I had like two heads and 17 eyes. I mean, you At that time, there was very little human resources in their firms. They might have had a firm administrator or somebody like that.

    [00:17:49] Sandra: Even in the very large firms, it was not a, it was not a person who had a seat at the table. Fast forward to today, most firms I know that are at least 30 full time equivalents and above, All the way up to the big four, um, have somebody who's really in charge of human resources. They recruit, they, um, they do the performance evaluations, they motivate, they do all of that.

    [00:18:12] Sandra: Um, and the larger the firm gets, the more people they have in there. And they have most of their HR directors or people that are in charge of their people have a seat at the table. So I do think we've come a long way. Now, if you look at the, and, and the good firms have a people first organization. So I would say that now, I think there are still firms out there, but you were talking about that kind of old school CPA that I, I didn't even know about this when I first started there.

    [00:18:44] Sandra: They used to have like real eye shades, right? That they would sit there and look down and pen and pencil and they do their work. We're way beyond that, but I still think there's a lot of current partners out there that are still trying to run the firm like the old CPA firm. And the CPA firms of today are different.

    [00:19:06] Sandra: They are not the same and they can't be run the same. And those people that have not made the switch yet, they're in jeopardy of losing their firms. They're a jeopardy that nobody's going to want to buy them. Nobody's want to get going to give them PE money. Nobody's going to want to go to work for them because they're going to figure out that the good firms out there, the people first firms, they're the ones that have shifted.

    [00:19:29] Sandra: So I don't know what the percentage is. I wish I could tell you, I will say Boomer, you know, we have, I'll say 150 firms that we work with on a consistent basis. And I would put them up against every firm out there. I really believe because they're being pushed to change their business model. I feel like they're different, but that's only 150 out of 40, 000.

    [00:19:49] Sandra: Right? Yeah. So, so I can't tell you the percent now. We're not, we, it's not just our clients either. There's lots of good clients out there. But I do feel like we're in jeopardy right now in this profession that if the firm doesn't start to really make a change there, it's going to be a bad thing for our profession.

    [00:20:10] Sandra: And I think that's going to be a bad thing, certainly for their firm. And we already

    [00:20:14] Judy: know because people aren't going to accounting. That's a huge problem. People don't think it's interesting, which is of course, I think it's a fascinating career. You get to see all the numbers, but people aren't getting that message.

    [00:20:25] Judy: So people aren't choosing it. They don't think it's sexy. Don't think it's And so we've got to change that messaging and they don't want to do the heads down, whatever they perceive it to be, which is not what it is actually. But yeah, no, the messaging is not getting out there, the messaging. And the other thing I think that happens with CPA firms in general is this recurring revenue model where.

    [00:20:43] Judy: You got the client, you got the hustle. You might even be an introvert by nature. So you're like, I'm good. I don't need to do anything else. I'm just going to keep them. They keep working with me every year. It's like I'm set. And there is this laziness a little bit in that area because it's like, I did it.

    [00:20:57] Judy: I'm good. I just keep serving them. And so they build these, what I call fiefdoms. Where there's a King and everybody's the minions who work on behalf of the King and they don't have an exit because the people that are doing the work aren't going to be the ones that lead the firm. So if you don't create elevate and delegate, you're not going to have a sale.

    [00:21:15] Judy: So you're going to have to sell to another firm, which is a firm I was previously at. That's how we grew. We just gobbled up firms that didn't have a succession plan. Really? They came in, used our process and then. That was it. That was easy transition operationally, same, same, uh, timekeeping system, same, all the other process systems, uh, SharePoint, whatever it was, they were using a document management tools, resources, all same, easy to transition, like not a lot of change.

    [00:21:42] Judy: So they just got gobbled up and I'm like, well, now we haven't created people that want to work for us. These people work for Joe and Joe was in Dubuque and they love Joe. And now what do you do with them? And they left, we lost all the resources. So we had to go back and like hire, which the big four, quite honestly, it figured out because they have recruiting and they bring in people and then they become indoctrinated to some degree and they're Anderson people, which we all know what happened to them.

    [00:22:07] Judy: But that's kind of what we saw in the big firms was they kind of had it dialed in and they had like this nice little recruiting process going. So they would just build it. Go through people,

    [00:22:17] Sandra: lots of hiring. One of the things that you said I think is foundationally a problem in our profession today. If you go to any CPA firm out there, and I would say you can go to any one of the 45 or 50, 000 firms out there and you say to them, look, we need to talk about changing your business model.

    [00:22:37] Sandra: The first thing that will come out of most partners mouths are, but we're making a lot of money and we don't have to hardly market anymore because people are walking in off the street and wanting to work with us. So that, um, compliance work. That that kind of work that has just kept the money pumping through the door is still there.

    [00:23:00] Sandra: And they don't really see the signs of I need to change yet. Right. So, um, particularly for partners who are have been doing this for a long time. So I think, but I think that there is a big tsunami coming and If people are smart enough to see it, they will start changing their business model today. But between the fact that there is a talent shortage in the accounting profession, no question there are less people going into accounting.

    [00:23:29] Sandra: And there is a lot more firms and companies out there that want accounting graduates. So accounting graduates come out of school. Now there's less of them and there's more opportunity for them to go to a tech company, to a small business. To a corporation, you know, anywhere, and they might make more money there and they might not feel like they're working quite as hard there.

    [00:23:54] Sandra: Now I'm not arguing one way or another that they'll work less. There's all kinds of, it depends on the company you go to, but the reality is that's a problem. The other problem is. There is a lot more automation coming down the pike. Uh, we, we have seen AI being put into different systems this year, whether it's, you know, through Walter's core or through, uh, Thompson Reuters or anyone of the big technology giants, right?

    [00:24:20] Sandra: They're starting to use AI more effectively. Um, and we're seeing it in a lot of other solutions now too. So now you're going to, maybe you don't have to have, at least for the more entry level work, you don't have to have a person that does that. Now we can automate that. We can also outsource. There are millions of people who want to work for U.

    [00:24:40] Sandra: S. Companies that are living in South Africa, India, the Philippines go on and on and on. And so we're going to be able to backfill some of our talent there. But the reality is, then look back at your firm and ask yourself, can we keep Doing the work we've always done and be successful doing it. And can we make it exciting enough that people will want to come and work for us?

    [00:25:05] Sandra: So that less amount of people that are coming out in accounting, will they look at us and go, Ooh, I want to work for that firm. Unless we change the culture of our firms, they are not going to look at us. The first there, I love these. I love young people that are coming into firms today with the list.

    [00:25:22] Sandra: Long list of all the questions they have for what are you going to do for me? And there's a lot of people that hate that, but that's what they're doing. They're going to come through the door. What kind of training are you going to give me? How many days off do I get? Um, what do I do if my kids are sick?

    [00:25:37] Sandra: Can I work from home three days a week? Um, and the list goes on and on benefits and wellbeing and diversity and all of that. And If we don't have good answers, they simply go, well, thank you so much. And they walk down the street and they'll find another company, not another CPA firm. They'll find other companies that will give them what they want.

    [00:25:58] Sandra: And I am worried about that. That part I am worried about because I don't think we see it coming. And it is here.

    [00:26:09] Meredith: Podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be relied upon as legal tax accounting or investment advice should consult with a competent professional to discuss specifics of your situation and the applicability of the information presented.