Meet one of today’s experienced public accounting firm Chief Operating Officers, Sharon Trabbic. Helping run a successful Midwestern firm that started in 1959, Sharon has much to say about the profession and a life that’s immersed in the public accounting world and the Association for Accounting Administration. Sharon’s responsibilities include: oversight of the firm’s human resources, facilities, marketing, internal accounting and technology areas, as well as management of the firm’s support staff. Enjoy the Q&A…
Q: You’re very involved with the Association for Accounting Administration. How has that organization evolved over the years?
AAA has become a well-respected organization of professionals managing accounting practices. We have many different titles (COO, Firm Administrator, Director of Administration) and AAA over the years has brought us all together by defining our overall responsibility: to manage our firms’ day-to-day operations and allow our partner group to do what they do best – service our clients and develop new business.
Q: What do today’s public accounting firm partners need to know about AAA?
We are professionals, and like the professional organizations the partners belong to, we help each other with our responsibilities and bring in experts to help us learn more about trends in the accounting industry so we can do our jobs better. One of our partners once asked me years ago: “does your AAA group talk about the brand name of copiers?” Oh my goodness, no! Copiers are generally all the same quality – it’s the service level of the copier company we care about. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about brand names! We’re much more than that — we talk about and provide resources to learn as much as we can about the same things the partners care about: succession planning (and how we can help our partner group with that process), mergers and acquisitions (and making sure they are communicated properly and are successful in the long run), professional training (it’s more than just the 40-hour/year requirement), and keeping Millennials engaged and happy, and on and on. Partners need to know that it’s okay to let go, and if your firm manager is a member of AAA, he or she will have the support and resources they need to help their firms grow and prosper.
Q: What’s it like being a public accounting firm’s administrator?
Every day is different! We all have a lot on our plate and our to-do list is very long, and some days we add more to it and don’t get to cross anything off! My “busy season” runs from April 16 through about February 16; as you know our firms don’t like any change during the first trimester of the year! Just as our employees are winding down, we’re gearing up. Among other things, most days I’m a team leader, and a problem solver, and the last two trimesters of the calendar year, I add the responsibility of change agent.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do on a daily basis?
The most rewarding is being an advocate for some person or project. As I said before, each day is different, but generally my days have the same theme: an employee or partner needs support with a problem or challenge, or a project needs definition and explanation. When I can solve a problem or help others understand, I think I’ve had a good day!
Q: How challenging is it dealing with the constant changes concerning insurance programs, along with the myriad of regulations and such that an administrator must handle?
Well, I am doing everything I can to understand the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and how it is going to affect our firm and our employees. We’re certain our health insurance premiums will skyrocket at our renewal on January 1, and we know we’ll need to be creative in order to provide a similar level of benefits to our employees and their families.
As far as other regulations go, over the years I’ve learned just to accept it, get it done and move on. You can complain to your managing partner that you don’t have time, call and argue with a bureaucrat about some form or information you are required to provide to some governmental agency, but in the end you are going to have to do it anyway, so use that energy instead to change something you can control — you’ll be happier in the long run. I don’t like spending time dealing with the idiosyncrasies of our governmental agencies, but better me than our partner group! As I said before, our partners need to service our clients and get new business. I doubt that our partners are even aware of how many different governmental agencies I deal with in any given month. They may see the city Fire Marshal in our office performing his quarterly inspection, but all they need to know is that all is well and they didn’t have to talk to him!
Q: How important is it that accounting firms devote some time to community involvement and “giving back?” What role does the firm administrator take with those efforts?
It’s extremely important and we are the cheerleaders! We’re well-respected professional firms, and as trusted advisors to our clients, we have a lot of expertise to “give back” to our communities. The boards of nonprofits need and want a talented CPA or business expert to advise them, and we are often called upon to serve, and we all should heed that call. I would say that I am the “gatekeeper” of requests for board participation – and I can generally recommend the right person, if they don’t already have someone in mind, or explain in a kind way why we can’t provide a candidate at that time.
Although it’s not a requirement, just about all of our partners and management team are active members of one or more nonprofit boards, and regularly commit their time, talent and money to support organizations they are passionate about.
Our firm has a generous line item as part of our marketing budget for community activities, and we encourage civic participation at all levels, as should all accounting firms. Each year we gather all the requests for donations and sponsorships, and I come up with a manageable and practical list of causes to support with our time and/or money. This list is reviewed by the partner group, and approved, but you can be assured it is often edited by a new cause or donation that we didn’t know about at the time the original list was put together. And our marketing coordinator and I are diligent about spending our firm’s money wisely, and ensuring that we don’t just throw money at a cause without seeing the benefit. We also require participation by one or more firm members or clients in any event or community activity we sponsor or support financially.
We also consider jury duty part of our civic responsibility. Other than February, March, and the beginning of April, we don’t give our employees an excuse for not doing their civic duty to be on a jury if they are selected.
Q: What’s in the future for Sharon Trabbic?
More of the same! I love my job and my role at William Vaughan Company. My firm has a succession plan in place and over the next few years, our managing partner and administrative partner will be retiring. Our firm will look different, and my interaction with a new managing and administrative partner will no doubt change, but I know we will glide through the transition smoothly as our ultimate mission is ensuring our clients are well-served and our employees are happy doing so.
I’ve recently been elected to the National AAA Board of Directors, and I’ll be serving as Director of Membership and Growth. There are 13,000+ multi-partner firms in the United States, and I bet that each one of them have a professional person managing their operations — or should have. It’s my goal to get the word out, and ensure that partners of those 12,000 firms that don’t have a member of AAA learn about the benefits and rewards of joining us! If I can convince just 1/5 of those partners that their time is better spent servicing clients and getting new business, AND hiring or empowering the right person to manage the operations end of their firm, I will feel that my role with AAA will be a successful one!
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