MCM, Kentucky’s largest accounting firm, succeeds by being different

By Debra Gibson Isaacs

They are in the midst of re-branding at Mountjoy Chilton Medley LLP (MCM), trying to tell the story of the state’s largest accounting firm — the first and only Kentucky firm in the top 100 nationwide by net revenue, and the largest Kentucky firm by far with approximately 270 employees.

Diane Medley is managing partner of Mountjoy Chilton Medley.
Diane Medley is managing partner of Mountjoy Chilton Medley.

Re-branding occurs about every five years at Mountjoy Chilton Medley, in part because the business world inevitably changes, but even more so because the firm itself is constantly evolving. In the past year alone, the Louisville-based company – with offices in five cities – added two new services within its consulting department, itself the newest addition to the firm, joining the traditional assurance and tax departments.

The new IT Consulting & Strategy Services include: IT security and business risk analysis; IT systems review, assessment and selection; vendor review, assessment and selection; strategic project planning for IT initiatives; disaster recovery planning and advisement; evaluation and coordination of IT service providers; and IT staffing assessment and advisory services. Six months prior, MCM added HR Advisory Services to help clients with talent acquisition and management, training, employee relations, total rewards and HR compliance.

The re-branding is nothing new to Diane Medley, MCM’s managing partner. The only female managing partner in any of the Top 100 accounting firms nationwide, Medley has been an integral part of the company’s growth that began when she and John Chilton founded Chilton & Medley LLP with five people and a revenue budget of $350,000 back in 1988.

Trending growth

Just eight years earlier, Michael Mountjoy and Jerry Bressler had started Mountjoy and Bressler LLP. For several years, both Louisville-based firms grew, all but mirroring each other in the important measures of growth. They were two among several thriving accounting firms in the state, all basically focused on providing bookkeeping services and doing corporate tax returns.

Then two things happened. The first was an inevitable fact of business.

“We reached a plateau,” Medley said. “When you hit a plateau in business, you either have to do something different to continue growing or you go down. You can’t sit still.” Mountjoy and Bressler had found themselves in a similar situation.

The second was a result of the times, which were changing rapidly as one century turned into another. State borders became less important as companies expanded internationally. These companies now needed expertise they had not required before.

“Clients also began expecting more,” Medley said. “They didn’t just want a solid tax return or accounting services. They expected industry knowledge and wanted us to bring ideas to the table.”

Accounting firms needed to hire experts, and these experts didn’t come cheap. Smaller firms simply couldn’t afford to make those hires. At the time, Kentucky did not have a dominant CPA firm like those in Indiana, Cincinnati and Nashville. Opportunity and necessity called simultaneously.

In 2009, Chilton & Medley LLP merged with Mountjoy and Bressler LLP, becoming Mountjoy Chilton Medley LLP (MCM) and creating the state’s largest CPA firm.

“Our timing was good,” Medley said. “People still preferred to hire an in-state firm,” Medley said. “They wanted to be able to get in the car and meet face to face. They wanted to be able to discuss work over a meal. But they also needed different expertise.”

MCM established offices in Cincinnati, Lexington and Jeffersonville. It brought in new experts, such as international tax partner Kevin Heyde. They reorganized with no layoffs and little redundancy.

They even dodged the bane of many mergers – a culture clash.

“Mike (Mountjoy) and I had the same vision,” Medley said. “We took best practices from both firms and were able to get the rest of the partners to share our vision quickly. We had hardly any turnover in clients or employees.”

That’s not to say there weren’t any bumps along the way.

“We’ve had our hiccups, of course,” Medley said. “How to get started in China,” for instance, “but nothing that all companies don’t experience.”

Then two other CPAs joined the firm: in 2010, Henry Hawkins, founder of Hawkins Co. LLC, a Louisville firm with expertise in the financial institution industry, and in 2011, a Cincinnati-based accounting practice owned by CPA Pat McCafferty, who brought expertise in the hospitality and restaurant franchise industry.

In September 2012, MCM acquired McCauley Nicolas & Co. LLC, a Southern Indiana accounting firm. This added another 40 employees, a presence in Indiana and expertise in public housing partnerships, the trucking industry, nonprofits and construction firms. The merger also combined the firms’ wealth-management operations. Together, they formed a full-service registered investment adviser and financial-services firm. It was the fourth merger in three years.

Today, MCM has a regional presence with offices in three Kentucky locations – Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort – as well as offices in Cincinnati and Jeffersonville, Ind. The trade publication INSIDE Public Accounting ranked MCM as the 83rd largest accounting firm in 2013 based on net revenues of $37.237 million, a 2 percent increase from the previous year when it was ranked No. 102.

The firm now has eight industry areas (see chart) and Meritrust Wealth Management, created during the merger with McCauley Nicolas & Co. LLC, which provides investment advice and financial services.

Looking back, Medley said the mergers proved to not just be smart but to be absolutely essential to success.

“In today’s climate, it takes a firm of this size to serve clients well,” Medley said. “You have to have both depth and breadth today.”

Branding is also essential

Being the biggest in the region with the largest number of services certainly helps make MCM more visible, but the company continues to believe in the necessity and importance of branding and marketing.

“We have to be good at telling our story and making sure our brand is recognized,” Medley said. “There are firms that are 50 or 100 years old. They have legacy clients. We started from scratch.”

MCM also continues to brand itself in a way few others can with solid creative messages across platforms.

Much of that comes from a strong company culture, according to Beth Geiser, director of practice growth and the leader of the company’s branding efforts. Geiser joined MCM in August 2013.

“The environment here is so refreshing,” Geiser said. “The people here are brilliantly smart, but they are very unassuming. This is a low-ego environment.”

That people-centric approach shows up in the new brand. For example, rather than a list of partners and department heads on the company’s new website (mcmcpa.com), there are photos of each person. Geiser calls the brand “fresh, optimistic and innovative.”

“Our brand is not braggy or divisive,” she said. “We don’t need to say anything negative about anyone else.”

The company’s vision of itself is even reflected in its business cards, which illuminate the intention behind the branding now coming together with a re-tooled website, new advertisements and new strategies for social media. More importantly, the differences show the latest evolution of the firm itself.

The changes begin with appearance. The new cards read vertically, a more progressive style and part of the firm’s intention not to get mired in formality. In addition, names are larger and bolder on the new card. “You see the person you are talking to first,” she says. “People matter.”

It is the firm’s top core value.

Flip the cards over and an even bigger difference is evident. The older cards simply list the address. The new ones have a running list of what the firm considers its brand attributes such as: adaptive, progressive, resourceful …

As with most companies, MCM also is trying to figure out the best strategy when it comes to social media. Geiser said they are using Facebook now to try to attract younger people, particularly potential employees. It also is the primary place for information about company events.

Twitter is where MCM plans to share industry expertise with articles designed for specific industries.

“We are committed to thought leadership and advice for our clients,” Geiser said.

But she also acknowledged how difficult it can be to find the right pace with social media.

“It can become noise quickly,” she said. “We want to be thoughtful, timely and intentional. But we know it is tough to find the right pace.”

The company’s branding efforts have gone through several generations, Geiser said.

“At first we were branding what we do,” she said. That included branding practice groups as well as the overall brand. “Then we focused on who we are. Now our branding is focused on what makes us unique.”

Work hard. Play hard.

And that often goes back to company culture.

Each employee has a personal growth plan. Employees routinely go through professional development programs such as those by the late efficiency and best practices guru Stephen Covey. And there are sports teams and Wii competitions and participation in quirky activities such as the Louisville Acronym Bee.

Much of the culture revolves around getting to know each other in a huge company.

“Every week, each employee gets the name of another employee,” Geiser said. “At the end of the week, you have to report your findings. You get to know everyone quickly.”

The collegial atmosphere is no doubt why MCM has been awarded Best Place to Work in Kentucky by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce for several years and named a Top Workplace by the Courier-Journal for the past three years.

Back in the on-going branding meetings, employees are trying to decide what color a group of pencils should be in a new advertisement. The decision might seem trivial but it shows the level of intention each decision receives within the company. One pencil, they know, will be red and stand out from the others. In meetings across the company, everyone is making sure MCM continues to be the red pencil.

Debra Gibson Isaacs is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]

Leaders inspire

MCMDiane Medley suddenly emerges from an office and welcomes me to a corner meeting room on the top floor of Meidinger Tower with a spectacular view of downtown Louisville. She looks the part of an executive — slim, immaculately groomed, quietly charismatic.

But Medley calls herself a “farm girl.” She has driven 45 minutes to get to work today, coming from the family farm in Meade County where she raised four children and still lives. These experiences are what permeates her approach to business, she says, an approach built on a high level of respect for each person.

“Mike Mountjoy (MCM chairman) and I are both from small towns,” she says. “I think that taught us about what it takes to achieve.
“You have to be focused,” she says when asked what success requires. “You have to be willing to put your heart and soul into something and you have to love it.”

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