Over the last couple of years, we've talked to, polled, interviewed, and surveyed the new generation of accounting graduates to find out what they look for in a firm during recruiting season. What we found is that company culture has begun to play a vital role in a new accountant's decision to pursue or accept an offer from a firm. Understandably, a firm's company culture is especially important because it reflects and defines both the working environment and the personality of a firm. Plus, it's where many hours per week are spent apart from one's personal life.
As company culture becomes more important to new accountants, we decided to start a series where we interview different accounting firms and showcase their individual company cultures. This month, we're featuring Plante Moran.
Plante Moran, founded in 1924, is among the largest public accounting and management consulting firms in the nation. They are headquartered in Southfield, Michigan and employ 3,100+ staff who specialize in audit, tax, consulting, and wealth management.
Roger CPA Review: Plante Moran has been named to Fortune Magazine’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ the last 20 consecutive years. What is it about your culture that sets you apart? What is Plante Moran doing that cannot be found elsewhere in the profession?
Jim Proppe: What sets us apart? To put it simply, our people. They’re at the core of everything we do. And their success isn’t just a goal; like our dedication to client service, it’s a crucial part of our culture. We go to great lengths to make sure that — no matter how large our firm is — staff understand that we’re one team all working toward the same goal.
RCPAR: Plante Moran was awarded the ‘Best Workplaces for Women’ in September 2018, by Fortune.com and Great Place to Work®. And named to the 2018 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women list, where firms were “ranked on the range, depth, and success of programs and workplace culture proven to remove barriers to women's success, especially at mid level and above.” Obviously, these awards do not come without focus and effort. Can you please share specific strategies and/or initiatives that have resulted in such lofty recognition?
JP: We’re humbled to be recognized as a leader in the accounting profession for our firm's commitment to women’s success. We’ve always focused on supporting the development of women in the profession, and we do this in a number of ways, including:
- Women in Leadership. The goal of this committee is to increase the visibility of female leaders externally and internally, provide targeted developmental career opportunities to retain and advance women leaders, and develop customized career and life integration strategies that complement the firm’s existing successful work-life programs.
- Female mentoring program. Aimed at partner-track females, this 18-month career development program prepares high-performing women for new leadership opportunities.
- WorkFlex. Developed to support staff in their ongoing quest for work-life balance, this has been the catalyst for a number of initiatives, including alternative working arrangements.
- A newly updated benefits package. Flexible time off (staff can take as much time as they need without banking hours, provided that all work objectives are met, of course) and a more generous leave of absence policy (including paid parental leave for all new parents, including moms, dads, and adoptive parents).
RCPAR: Are you able to share measures/statistics that validate the growth of women in leadership positions? Also, has Plante Moran’s inclusive working environment helped overall client relations? If so, how?
JP: Since our Women in Leadership program began in 2012, 34 women (35 percent of new partner admissions) have been promoted to partner and, currently, 24 percent of our firm’s partners are women — up nearly 6 percent since WIL began.
As we began to notice the demographics of the communities we serve becoming more diverse — and we saw the growth of more women- and minority-owned businesses — it became obvious that if we didn’t embrace diversity and inclusion, then we wouldn’t be able to retain and engage the top talent necessary to serve our clients. In fact, one of the keys to our firm’s success is the ability to effectively incorporate multiple perspectives into how we solve problems, make decisions, and resolve conflicts in the workplace and with our clients.
RCPAR: How are your diversity initiatives incorporated within the recruiting process? For those recruits that accept offers with Plante Moran, do you have insights into the level of importance your awards and diversity initiatives factored into their decisions?
JP: When it comes to diversity, we start our recruiting process early — before these students even begin considering what career they’re best suited for. That’s why our high school recruiting efforts — with various national organizations and within local cities — provide opportunities that allow multicultural youth to explore a career in professional services. At the college level, we offer Track, an internship that encourages multicultural business students to experience working at a public accounting firm. In addition, we actively partner with many diversity groups to sponsor, host, and engage with a variety of potential staff.
While we don’t have hard data to demonstrate how our diversity initiatives factor into a staff member’s decision to join the firm, it’s our hope that our efforts not only give recruits a sense of the importance Plante Moran places on diversity, but also enables them to see a future where their career path is visible, regardless of gender, race, age, or other diverse backgrounds.
RCPAR: Plante Moran is doing its part with respect to advancing women in the professions. What do you think the profession as a whole could or should be doing to also help with this important initiative?
JP: It takes a sustained commitment and deliberate, intentional focus to develop more women leaders in the accounting profession. And it requires deliberate and intentional leadership to move the agenda forward.
After launching our Women in Leadership committee, some of the team’s first actions were (1) helping leaders at the firm understand and address unconscious bias, (2) making sure that women at the firm had exposure to successful female role models, and (3) encouraging staff to celebrate successful alternative work arrangements while recognizing that there can be more than one career path (and some journeys may take a little longer than others). I think many firms could benefit from a similar approach.
RCPAR: Gender diversity is just one element of any diversity initiative. Do other diversity initiatives, e.g., racial, socio-economic, etc., exist within Plante Moran? If so, can you share any details on those initiatives?
JP: The goals of our diversity initiatives are to help everyone build support networks and to give women and other diverse staff clear opportunities that help them advance within the firm. Here are some of the ways we do that:
- Diversity manager. We recently hired a firm-wide diversity & inclusion manager to help guide the firm toward becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace.
- Diversity Council. Composed of a cross-section of staff and partners, the DC guides the firm on diverse recruitment and outreach efforts.
- Staff resource groups. Our African American SRG and PM Pride provide a forum for networking, career development, and problem-solving.
- A formal orientation program. Aimed at the partners and buddies of existing or incoming diverse staff, the goal is to help them understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for developing staff.
- Emerging Professionals Summit. This event helps African American incoming staff bridge the gap between college and their careers.
RCPAR: Plante Moran hosts Plante Moran Cares, a charity contest aimed at helping Colorado not-for-profits increase their visibility while vying for $30,000 in prizes. How does this type of charity contest help Plante Moran engage with the local community? How did the charity contest come about and how has it been received?
JP: Plante Moran hosted its Plante Moran Cares contest as a way to celebrate its recent combination with EKS&H, one of the largest CPA firms in the Rocky Mountain region. The contest, which awarded $30,000 across three Colorado non-profits, was intended to not only thank the community for its support, but also to offer new opportunities and provide visibility to deserving not-for-profit organizations in Plante Moran’s new Colorado home.
The goal of the contest was for members of the community to vote for the participating not-for-profit organization they felt was deserving of the monetary award. 150 nonprofits participated, and more than 1,000 votes were cast. Our firm was really excited to see this kind of participation and to be able to help shine a light on the services these organizations provide.
RCPAR: If you could sum up Plante Moran’s culture in one word, what would it be?
JP: I don’t know if I can do it in a word, but I can certainly do it in one phrase: “We care.” This sentiment is one of our core values, and it underscores our philosophy for how we structure many of our policies and programs. We care about our clients, we care about each other, and we care about the communities in which we live and work.
Thank you to Jim Proppe for the time he took for this interview about company culture at Plante Moran.