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Sometimes in life, you have to do the hard things. It’s human nature to want to do those things that come easy, or push things to the back-burner because you know they will be challenging, or simply avoid doing anything that elevates your blood pressure or pushes you out of your comfort zone. But it’s when you do those very things that you actually discover new strengths, growing personally or professionally, which ultimately leads to your own version of “success.” I recently read a great article entitled, “4 Tips for Leaving Your Comfort Zone” by Marshall Martin and would like to share theses inspirational thoughts with you:

1. Find your “zone of courage.”
Your zone of courage lies just outside your comfort zone. If you’re not ready to take a big leap, take a baby step. You’ve got to start somewhere. The zone of courage contains much less predictability than your comfort zone, but it could also contain opportunities for personal and professional growth. The thought of leaving home and family and entering a much smaller company in a field I had no experience in was almost terrifying. But I knew that the role would prepare me for much bigger roles in the future, and the timing was right in my life to make a change.

2. Avoid the “zone of terror.”
Beyond your zone of courage lies another zone: the zone of terror, which is overwhelming and a place you want to avoid. The key to success is finding that area outside your comfort zone and outside the terror zone. It’s the sweet spot that allows you to move forward at a pace that allows you to grow but doesn’t paralyze you with fear. If I had thought any of the changes I made in my life were truly terrifying, I would have been frozen and they never would have happened.

3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
You can play it safe and always do the predictable thing, or you can push the envelope a bit and go for maximal growth. Moving out of your comfort zone is bound to make you feel a little exposed and that’s a crucial part of the process. You’re going to feel afraid. But moving forward—even while knowing that failure is a possibility—helps you set new and higher bars for your goals and move into your zone of courage at the same time.

4. Take it one step at a time.
You might think that sounds less than ambitious, but trust me, moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t happen all at once. With every move you make, take time to evaluate where you are and plan where you want to go next. Then take your next step in your new direction. That’s how you develop momentum and keep yourself moving on to greater opportunities, and further out of your comfort zone. We often start the day surrounded by the familiar comforts of home and family. It’s our job as humans to walk out the front door, shake it up a bit and grow.

You have to do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on. Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

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As part of my own professional development, I enjoy reading books and articles on leadership topics. They often serve as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the firm. Whether written by world-renown leadership authors such as Jim Collins or Patrick Lencioni, or by the CEOs of powerhouse companies such as Zappos or Starbucks, you can always find at least one gem of an idea which can be applied to how you might think differently; approach a challenge from a different perspective; or how to inspire the people around you to reach new heights alongside you.

Our partner Tom Basilo forwarded me the email below discussing “divine discontent” the “agnostic habits” shared by global advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather, which sounded very much like the Withum Way philosophy we embrace here. I like the phrase, “divine discontent,” which is an inner urging that calls us forth to our next growth opportunity. Yet, so often we ignore it or procrastinate on listening to it.

To: The Great Leaders Who Have a Passion for Continuous Learning

“We have a divine discontent with our performance. It is an antidote to smugness.” These words, written by David Ogilvy, Founder of Ogilvy and Mather International Advertising Company, are the company’s guiding philosophy – one that shapes the corporate culture instilling a passion for creativity, innovation and performance excellence. The company and people embrace Ogilvy’s eight habits that inspire and sustain this creative spirit and passion to achieve excellence. He says that these are agnostic habits “required in all our disciplines and are, by no means, proprietary to advertising.”

  • Courage – Standing up for what you believe (this habit is the foundation for the others creating a strong foundation for trust).
  • Idealism – How great you become depends on the size of your dreams.
  • Curiosity – Explain, dream and create.
  • Playfulness – Be childlike; have fun; enjoy life.
  • Candor – Be terribly, terribly honest and dedicated to the truth.
  • Intuition – Listen to the invisible guru inside of you; go beyond pure logic.
  • Free-Spiritedness – Two rules: Rule #1: There are no rules; Rule #2: Never forget Rule #1. Be a free-thinker; be an alchemist.
  • Persistence – Persistence and determination are omnipotent, always making it better, in search of the best.

I hope this list of admirable habits inspires your inner “divine discontentment” to move you in a positive, upward direction… in your career and in life.

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I am pleased to share some really exciting news today. The partners of Walsh, Jastrem & Brown, LLP (WJB), a highly respected public accounting firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, have signed agreements to merge their practice with WithumSmith+Brown. Indeed, this is a very big milestone for our firm, expanding our presence in the Northeast, up through the New England corridor.

We have been seeking the right strategic partner to expand our geographic reach to the Greater Boston area, and we found the perfect match with Walsh, Jastrem & Browne in terms of expertise, location and culture. Boston and the New England region are at the forefront of industries such as healthcare, financial services, technology and life sciences, aligning perfectly with some of our fastest growing practice niches.  They are equally excited to now have direct access to the metro New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia marketplace, as well as an expanded suite of services we can offer their clients. Both firms are thrilled with the endless possibilities this merger creates.

With WJB on board, we will add about a dozen professionals to Withum’s roster, including three partners: Thomas F. Walsh, CPA, who has been serving as WJB’s managing partner since 2000, James D. Browne, CPA and Stephen R. Yardumian, CPA.  WJB has a solid reputation in their marketplace, with expertise in financial services, professional services, private investment partnerships, employee benefit plans, nonprofit organizations, individuals and estates.

Their office is located at 155 Seaport Boulevard, Boston, and will remain at that location under the WithumSmith+Brown name. As our firm’s brand is not well known in Boston, we have outlined a marketing and advertising strategy which will be executed in the coming weeks to include digital and print ads appearing in the Boston Business Journal and other local traditional media, in addition to other interactive digital campaigns. Letters and emails to WJB clients and contacts will also be sent.

Please join me in welcoming our newest team members.  We look forward to having you all meet them personally at future firm events.

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I just want to send a quick message wishing you all Happy Holidays!  One of the themes you frequently hear describing our culture is “Work Hard-Play Hard”.  I hope you are able to take a few days in the coming week to ‘shut off’ and enjoy time with the people who are most special in your life.  They are likely the very people who you work so hard for in the first place.  On behalf of all of our Partners, I wish you an abundance of joy and peace this season, and sincerely thank you for all you do throughout the year…  for our clients, for our communities and for each other.

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Today, I’d like to continue discussing Pat Williams’ book, Leadership Excellence: the Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century, covering the fifth side of leadership:

  1. Competence. “A leader of competence displays the attitudes, skills, abilities, and behaviors needed to function at a very high level and to take the organization to increasingly higher levels of success. Competence is not a static condition.  It’s a state of one’s continual dynamic growth, both as a person and a leader.” – Pat Williams

The book outlines fifteen leadership competencies:

  1. The competency of problem solving – “If you want to be a leader, then you need to show that you are a problem solver.  Problems just come with the job.”
  2. The competency of selling – Leadership is selling.  And the first thing you must sell is yourself.
  3. The competency of continuous learning – John F. Kenney reminded us, “Learning and leadership are indispensable to each other.  If we stop learning today, we will stop leading tomorrow.”  Invest time in reading an hour a day about great lives, great events and great ideas.
  4. The competency of teaching – Our job is to take the complex and make it simple… if they don’t ‘get it,’ it’s because we failed to teach them properly.
  5. The competency of team-building – “Industrialist entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie said, ‘Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision – the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.’”
  6. The competency of organizing and planning – “A leader of excellence starts with a vision and creates a plan to achieve that vision.”  That plan is the roadmap for teams to follow, while also pinpointing potential obstacles and strategizing around them.
  7. The competency of managing change – “A leader proves his or her mettle not in calm, stable circumstances, but in times of uncertainty and rapid change when the ground is shifting underfoot.”
  8. The competency of balance – Balance is “keeping all things in perspective, maintaining self-control, and avoiding excessive highs or lows that occur because of luck or misfortune.”
  9. The competency of charisma – “Charismatic leaders are personable and outgoing, carry themselves with an air of confidence, and are positive and optimistic in the face of adversity.”
  10. The competency of poise – “Poise is the ability to remain cool, calm and collected in emotional or stressful situations. A poised leader keeps such emotions as anger, frustration, impatience, and panic under control.”
  11. The competency of historical awareness – “History is filled with patterns that have a way of repeating themselves. The better we understand the cycles of past history, the more quickly we recognize the events that come our way.”
  12. The competency of authority – “Followers grant authority to leaders by agreeing to follow – and they can withdraw that authority by simply refusing to follow.”
  13. The competency of good judgment – “…the capacity for making wise, moral, effective decisions.”
  14. The competency of authenticity – “What does it mean to be authentic? Very simply, it means be yourself.” You are who you are. Embrace it.
  15. The competency of patience – “Pay your dues. Learn the ropes. You can’t come into a new situation and jump right to the top.”

I know there’s a lot to digest here, but these fifteen points certainly underscore the importance of being a competent leader. As it relates to our profession, I’d have to add a 16th competency – the competency of technical skills, which we as a firm strive to help you through our CPE programs, training programs, and technology and software tools. Those who are really great at what they do not only enjoy their careers the most, but also gain the respect of their clients and colleagues as experts, as well.  Continuing to grow in your competencies both personally and professionally will inevitably bring you to your pinnacle of leadership.

Have a great week.

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I am a big fan of Zappos, a mega-online retailer who truly understands the value of great customer service. I recently read an article referencing Zappos, “Want a Competitive Advantage? Focus on Customer Experience.”  One thought particularly resonated with me:

“Today, whether you’re selling online or off, focusing on customer experience should be as important a part of your integrated marketing strategies as anything you’re doing with regard to search engine optimization, social, content, lead gen and the like. If you do all these other things without focusing on delivering a great customer experience, chances are good it won’t matter.”

We certainly have a strong marketing culture here at our firm, with proven results of increased brand awareness and new business.  However, as pointed out in the above statement, all of our marketing efforts won’t matter if we don’t retain our clients.  Remember, they need and require the services we provide, but choose to remain our clients.  Here are a few tips to help you make a positive impression with our highly valued clients:

  • Respond to client calls or emails as quickly as possible.  A timely response makes them feel they are top priority to you, and everyone likes to feel that way.
  • Take the time to actually speak with them at least once a month, if not more often.  Pick up the phone and make a call.  Or arrange a time to stop by their offices just to see how things are.
  • Take clients out to breakfast or lunch (I call this a meeting without an agenda) besides getting to know our client better personally use this time  to discuss what is keeping them up at night, and see if you can help find a solution. We have a deep well of talent of expertise at our firm, as well as a vast network of resources of those services we do not directly provide (insurance, investments, payroll, etc.).  We can likely help solve any problematic issue they have. Be a problem solver for our clients and elevate yourself to a trusted professional.
  • Make it a point to let our client know you value their business, and are genuinely interested in their business. Check out their website on a regular basis to see what they are up to. Share an article you just read that pertains to their industry. Let them know you truly care.
  • Don’t be afraid to get to know our clients on a personal level. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how much you have in common.  Ask about their family; ask about their interests.  Consider sending a note on their birthday, or a gift when a new grandbaby has arrived. Be a friend in business.

It’s the little things that go a long way in preserving our client relationships and solidifying your role as trusted advisor.  Frequent touches with our clients helps to ensure they are our clients for many years to come.

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In case you were not able to attend our recent New Partner Reception, I’d like to share a few great announcements worth repeating regarding our firm and our people that you missed:

  • INSIDE Public Accounting released its Top 100 Accounting Firms list for 2014. The IPA independent rankings are among the longest-running, most accurate and up-to-date for the nation’s largest accounting firms. WithumSmith+Brown moved up two spots from 31st to the 29th largest firm in the nation, breaking the Top 30 list!  We attribute this move not only to a couple of recent mergers of competing firms, but also to our own organic growth.
  • Accounting Today released its “100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Profession” list and we again have TWO people from our firm being honored, the only firm on the list with more than one person.  Jim Bourke, partner and practice leader of our Technology Services Group, makes an appearance for a seventh year in a row.  Jim tirelessly travels around the country and the world, presenting and discussing all things tech, quoted and published in a variety of magazines, blogs and websites.  He truly is an influencer in our profession. The second person is Sarah Cirelli, interactive marketing manager, her second appearance on the list and most certainly the youngest person on the list!  Sarah has done extraordinary things to showcase our firm through our videos which contribute to our unbelievably great morale that defines and strengthens our culture.  The profession has taken notice of her work and has followed her trendsetting efforts.  Click here to view the list; Jim is on page 62 and Sarah is on page 64.
  • I also want to share the news that Chris DeMayo, our newly inducted partner, was listed as a 2014 honoree in the national 40 Under 40 program for CPA Advisor magazine.  Honorees are described as “trailblazers who are changing the accounting profession,” and that certainly befits Chris, who has spearheaded several firm initiatives to expand market share in various industries as well as continue to enhance the firm’s reputation as a regionally and nationally recognized provider of services to emerging growth companies. Click here for the official list of honorees from around the country.

Please join me in congratulating these talented professionals who are out there making a substantial impact on our profession… and making us all very proud.

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