In a world of national and international consolidations and acquisitions, particularly in the accounting industry, Berman Hopkins Wright & LaHam has been able to maintain its unique, independent, regional focus, while enabling its clients to literally reach around the world. With three offices in Central Florida, including Melbourne, Titusville and Orlando – the full-service CPA firm has assisted the business community and clients through its relational and solution-oriented approach to financial, accounting and tax services for more than 60 years.

Phillip (Phil) Hayes, who has been with the firm for more than 20 years, serving the last ten as Managing Partner, is a familiar face to many in Brevard. He is a recent past chair of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, having served the EDC during one of the county’s most dynamic periods of growth. And he has guided the steady progress of the firm as they strengthened and expanded their Melbourne presence, expanded north to Titusville and developed a marquee brand in metro Orlando.

Hayes thinks of Berman Hopkins as a firm that has all the assets and resources of larger accounting practices, without the cumbersome bureaucracy. “We are able to be face to face with our clients, and… still can handle the most complicated issues arising from tax legislation and reform,” he said.

Playing on Strengths

Hayes has lived in Brevard since he was a kindergartener, leaving only to attend college in California. After graduating, he returned to Florida to begin a career in banking, starting with SunTrust and next on to Huntington Bank. Gilbert (Gil) Russell recruited him to Berman Hopkins when Russell was leaving the firm to return to banking.

“I suppose my strength has been that I look at our company and other companies from my MBA perspective, which I am, and not [from the perspective of] a CPA, which I’m not. I think about how to effectively scale the business, build processes and make strategic alliances and acquisitions, versus the very important nuisances of tax law, which our CPA’s do amazingly well,” he said.

The fit was ideal for both Hayes and Berman Hopkins. With his freshly minted MBA, he fashioned an effective business plan and set in motion a series of steps that would help position the firm to where it is today.

As the firm grew, Hayes was the organization’s strategic leader and manager, but also developed invaluable skills as a business consultant – particularly in succession planning. As the sun sets on the World War II generation and millions of business-owning Baby Boomers want a transition plan into retirement, the time seems right for a new direction for Hayes and Berman Hopkins.

A New National Focus

In 2020, Hayes plans to move out of the Managing Partner role and develop a nationwide arm of the firm, focusing on positioning businesses for acquisition. One method called ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership/Employee Share Ownership, this process allows a company’s employees to purchase shares in the company, and is a viable way for the original owners to exit while employees gain a financial stake in the company’s future success.

Much of this approach grew out of Hayes work with Berman Hopkin’s clients. CPA’s, often more than attorneys or banks, are the most trusted advisors a business owner seeks for advice and assistance.

Hayes is a C.V.A., a Certified Valuation Analyst, which facilitates the first step any company must take in a transitional plan. Calculating the actual value of a company or organization, based upon the Department of Labor’s evaluation methodologies, is the starting point. Next, clients are guided through a process the creates a road map for the goals the owner(s) has identified for themselves, their business and their employees.

Drawing experience from the company’s successful foray into the commercial business tax sector, and the work they did to launch branches in Orlando and Titusville, those steps have laid the groundwork for the next phase of the company’s future.

“We learned a lot in the Orlando move, particularly that you can’t just blend cultures in an acquisition,” Hayes shared. “Now, Orlando could grow to be as big as Melbourne for us and as everyone knows, the Titusville area is set to launch.”

Keeping control of the company with steady growth and thoughtful planning, Hayes explains that Berman Hopkins is focused on providing excellence in CPA services to its valued base of local clients. “We don’t want to spread out more geographically, other than this business consulting dimension I will be doing, which is national in scale. There is enough dynamic growth to sustain us right here in Central Florida,” he concluded.