One on One with Carr, Riggs & Ingram’s Chas Hoyman
by Eric Wright
Since the 1970’s, Charles “Chas” Hoyman, the managing director of Hoyman Dobson, and their staff of over 40 CPAs and accounting specialists, have served central Florida. Recently, they merged with Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC, the third largest accounting firm in the Southeast and the 32nd largest firm in the nation, with 28 offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, and 650 professionals. We sat down with Chas to get his insight on the merger, developing the next generation of leaders, and building a company with a commitment to the community.
SCB: The big news seems to be your merger with Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC (CRI). What went into that decision?
CH: There were many factors; we’ve been in this area for quite some time and have built a pretty good reputation. As we looked at our strategic plan for the future, having gone through one of the worst economies in our business history, we realized that we stayed about the same size and we replaced the work that was lost; however, we wanted to not only grow, but also to provide opportunities for growth to our younger employees.
I was aware of CRI for a number of years. We helped form an association of CPA firms, starting with seven firms in Florida, which grew to over eighty firms throughout the United States. About nine years ago, one of the association’s original firms merged with CRI. I stayed in contact with them and monitored their experience. About three years ago, a second founding member of that association merged with CRI and suggested we talk with them. Early last year CRI contacted us and we said we would like to explore it further.
SCB: Was this association you formed like the Home Builders Association, or was it a referral association?
CH: It didn’t fall into either of those categories actually; it was primarily formed to provide ongoing training and education for our younger employees, so they stay current on tax issues along with business and professional practices. Plus, I met once a year with the directors and we had national speakers come in to address current trends and changes. It gave us the resources of a national firm, while allowing us to maintain our autonomy.
SCB: So CRI was the initiator?
CH: Yes they were looking to expand their Central Florida presence. We were known by other firms that had merged with them and they recommended us.
SCB: Walk us through that process.
CH: CRI developed a system to merge with CPA firms in smaller markets, where they leave the key management and day-to-day operations in place. We continue to set billing rates and make the hiring and compensation decisions for our people. That is important to our place and contribution to this community. One of the biggest factors was the training and enrichment opportunities for our young people that CRI provided. They do two nationwide training events a year – one is for technical training and the second is in soft skills, which can be equally important.
We were, of course, concerned with how our team would interpret this move so that is what we explained to them. Also there are a number of companies in this area that require specialized expertise, which a national firm can supply or supplement. Then we asked, “Will this allow us to grow as a firm and expand the services we can provide for our clients?” We determined the answer was “yes.” And then we had to answer the two questions our clients were asking: 1) Will I be dealing with the same people? Yes. And, 2) Is your rate structure going to change? No.
SCB: How has your position or role changed?
CH: Being the managing director of a local firm, your responsibility covers everything from employee insurance and benefits, to software and computer choices. Some of those responsibilities can now be handled and negotiated at a corporate level and I am free to better manage my employees, serve my clients and expand my community development activities.
SCB: Community development? You once described volunteerism as a part of your business’ ‘culture.’ How did you do that?
CH: Our partners from the beginning agreed, “This is our community and we want to be involved.” The way we approached that, with all of our team members, is by encouraging them to find something they have a passion for and get involved – by not only providing service, but by providing leadership to that organization. Historically, the people in our firm have not been on every board; we select a couple of organizations that we can have a meaningful impact on. That is why we won the Volunteer Recognition Award; it wasn’t just the involvement of our directors or any one individual, but of all the team members and the hours the firm gave to the community.
SCB: If you were to look at your industry, during your career, what would you say has changed the most?
CH: The first thing is, of course, technology – not only the technology that we use, but that all of our clients use, which we are able to integrate with. The way clients provide the information we utilize has totally changed. We used to have an “accounting services department” that checked bank statements and receipts to generate monthly financials; now that is all done electronically and clients have reports almost immediately. The audit techniques had to change and therefore it takes more training, more supervision and more guidance to put a younger team member in the field than before. But once they are past that learning curve their capability and productivity is much greater. Also the analytical tools, which now are readily available, enable us to devote more time to providing our clients with critical insight.
The other change is the impact of this economic downturn of the last four years. I think we are extremely fortunate to have leadership in the EDC and the County Commission to promote and fund economic development and give us a fighting chance to entice new companies, or to provide support for companies in our area, to get started or to get to the next level.
SCB: What are the major adjustments you made in your company?
CH: When we started, it was the “Field of Dreams” approach: “If you build it they will come.” Six or seven years ago we realized we needed to adjust our marketing plan, so we hired a marketing coordinator and began to develop niche marking plans. The first two we focused on were in the government contracting arena, which required very specialized reporting and unique skill sets in contracts, financing and legal issues. Secondly we focused on construction and engineering, which was booming at the time, of course we didn’t see the downturn that was to come. Nevertheless, we positioned our people to be seen as experts in those fields as we anticipate both will pick up over time. We now are doing the same thing in the manufacturing sector.
SCB: What segment of your business hasn’t changed and shouldn’t change?
CH: Client relationship, client contact and building the confidence level clients have in you – that you understand what they are going through and you are there to help them solve problems or to position themselves better. That has not and will not change.
SCB: If Florida Tech asked you to lecture their MBA students on the key components in your business philosophy, what would you talk about?
CH: First, it is all about the client. If you are going to build any business you have to understand what the client’s need is and how you can provide for that need. Secondly, to develop the systems and then train your people to consistently give outstanding service; in other words, ensuring every touch is a positive touch. At the beginning of our busy season, we remind everyone, “Smile when you answer the phone,” it communicates to them you care. Finally, you have to figure out what you want to accomplish; set some goals and work towards those goals every day.
SCB: Does the “global economy” or “shrinking world” impact your company?
CH: Yes it does in multiple ways. Primarily we have clients who started their businesses here but have developed locations and sales channels throughout the United States and the world. With that, there are unique issues, or I should say “opportunities.” How they handle the taxability and the way they structure their business to be as efficient and effective, from a tax position, is critical. We’re also getting more referrals from foreign investors interested in investing in our real estate market.
SCB: Your company was recognized as a “Top 100 Best Companies to Work For” by Florida Trend Magazine in 2011. What makes a company desirable to work for and why should a business set that as a goal?
CH: One of the core values of our company was “Family and Friends First.” When we started we all had young families. So we decided we know we need to get our work done, but if your kids are involved in this or that we need to be there. Be the coach, even if you have to come back at 9 p.m. to finish your work. Even though the partners no longer have young families that philosophy has stayed with us. Also, we recognize that in life we all have family situations, so we try to rally around each other. We also encourage our people toward self discovery. In other words, identifying what are your professional and what are your philanthropic passions and how can you channel that passion to your fulfillment and maximum impact. Finding and aligning with those passions is what makes happy employees and makes them happy when they go home at night.
SCB: If you were Treasury Secretary and the President said, “We need to reform the IRS,” what is the first or most important thing you would do?
CH: Oh, my gosh. Well, somehow create tax laws and policies that don’t have an expiration date every year or few years. It is so difficult for individuals and businesses to plan when the tax code is constantly changing. Clients ask me questions sometimes, but I can’t answer them immediately because the laws continually change or expire.
SCB: You graduated from Eau Gallie High and went to college in Florida; what kept you in this area?
CH: Not only the beauty of the area, but being in Brevard County in the mid 60’s was an exciting time; no one felt like an outsider and the sense of potential was so high. Though in the early 70’s when we moved back, times were tough, but we loved the area and knew after living in Tampa that we wanted this type of environment to raise our family.
A respected author and speaker, Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine.