Decision Vision Episode 125: Should I Take Over the Family Business? – An Interview with Dan Erling, Accountants One, Inc.
Dan Erling became CEO of Accountants One suddenly when his father died in 2010. As the sales director, Dan was embedded in the business but without a plan to take over. He and host Mike Blake chart the course of Accountants One from that point, and Dan shares his insights on what it takes to inherit a business, lucky breaks, things he would have done differently, how the business eventually flourished, and much more. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Accountants One, Inc.
Accountants One is a full-service accounting and finance recruiting firm specializing in direct hire and contract placements.
Since 1973, they have been recognized as industry experts who align as trusted staffing partners with the organizations we serve. Their relationship-driven focus consistently leads to the highest rate of placement success in the industry. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Accountants One has the infrastructure in place to serve clients across the Southeast.
The CEO of Accountants One, Dan Erling, wrote the book on hiring – literally. The book is called MATCH: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time. The book details uniqueness of our approach.
Key points include:
Recognizing that a great hire is 75% culture fit, 25% skill fit. What this means for you: they get to know you and the unique culture of your company. They find candidates who not only have the right skills, they are also the right fit for your department and company.
Finding the right person requires a coordinated project management team. What this means for you: evaluating stacks of resumes, interviewing candidates, testing them, checking references, preparing them, following up – they utilize an entire team to work on your job order.
Understanding that mis-hire can cost a company up to 15 times their salary. What this means for you: they’re objective. They get to know you, and they know their candidates. They’ve interviewed thousands of people. They’re not fooled by someone who is great at interviewing but doesn’t have what it takes to work for your company. They have the highest success rate in the industry for a reason: they have the tools to match candidates with clients.
Working a consistent, proven process ensures success. What this means for you: the right process allows them to move forward methodically and ensures that all the angles are covered, so by the time the candidate gets to you, there are no surprises. No one ‘slips through the cracks.’
Developing meaningful long-term relationships with both clients and candidates makes the difference. What this means for you: They invest in getting to know you so that they can understand the intangibles – those qualities that go beyond an email or job write-up. They are your partner. They are with you for the long haul. They develop the same deep relationships with our candidates; they have access to excellent people who work with them exclusively and confidentially on their job search.
Dan Erling, President, Accountants One
Dan Erling is the President of Accountants One. He is in the Georgia Association of Personnel Services (GAPS) Million Dollar Hall of Fame and was recognized as one of Atlanta’s Up and Comers by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Under Dan’s leadership, Accountants One was named one of Atlanta’s Best Places to Work. Dan is the creator of the Search for the South’s Funniest Accountant. This combination fundraiser/stereotype debunker has become an annual favorite in the accounting community – consistently bringing in over 800 people to cheer for Funny Accountants. Through the Search Accountants One has helped raise over a quarter of a million dollars for Junior Achievement of Georgia.
He earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Georgia State University and his Masters from Emory University. Before joining Accountants One, Dan was an inner-city math teacher for 8 years. In 1996, he was named the Academic Achievement Incentive Teacher of the Year for Middle Schools. In 1998, Dan had the opportunity to join his father, Bert Erling, at Accountants One. This followed several summers of working as an IT Project Manager for the firm. While Dan unexpectedly lost his dad on May 2, 2010, he considered the opportunity to work with his dad as one of the highlights of his life.
Dan’s wife, Michelle, is an art educator and painter (she painted the two pieces that hang in the lobby of the main office). He has two sons that he is very proud of. Dan’s personal interests include abstract art and music. While dedicated to working a recruiting desk, Dan spends a great deal of time consulting with companies on Hiring Best Practices. The result of this work led to his book: MATCH, A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time. The book was published in December 2010 by Wiley Publishing and is available wherever books and ebooks are sold. You can learn more about Dan’s philosophy of hiring as well as read his blog by visiting www.danerling.com.
Dan is on the board of Junior Achievement of Georgia. Through this non-profit, he is able to be part of making a difference in the lives of children. Something that remains incredibly important to him. Dan is also on the board of the Georgia State Panther Athletic Committee. As a Georgia State University alum, he is incredibly proud of what is going on with Panther Sports. The impact of the sports community on the downtown area also inspires him. The opportunity to serve people and bring value in an authentic way continues to motivate and inspire Dan every day. He truly loves his job.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
Connect with Brady Ware & Company:
Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:42] My name is Mike Blake and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you would like to engage with me in social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:18] So, today’s topic is, Should I take over the family business? And before I get into this, I apologize for publishing this a day later than we normally do. Just some, frankly, scheduling difficulties. Now, that everybody is allowed to go back on vacation, I took for granted the fact that people basically had nothing better to do – literally, nothing better to do than to come on my podcast. And I got into a habit of not being aggressive enough in scheduling. And so, this is coming out a day later than we normally do. I would normally just blame it on technical difficulties, but I’m just going to own it and say I got into some bad habits. But this should be the only one that gets published late. It’s only a day late, so I’m sure everybody survived.
Mike Blake: [00:02:02] But today’s topic is, Should I take over the family business? And, you know, this topic is kind of interesting from a timing standpoint. About 15 years ago, we read all over the place that there was going to be a massive wave of baby boomers handing off their businesses to Generation X and – gasp – millennials. And we thought for sure that that was going to happen. And everybody said business brokers, M&A people, investment bankers, they’re going to make a killing. Business appraisers – like myself – are going to make a killing. There was going to be this massive transfer of wealth.
Mike Blake: [00:02:45] And kind of something interesting happened was really that nothing happened. I mean, it’s still happening on an ad hoc basis. But this wave of businesses that are being transferred just really has not happened 15 years later. And I think that’s happening for a lot of reasons. I think it’s happening, one, because people had a lot of ground to make up after the wealth they lost in the ’08, ’09 recession. And I think the other thing that’s happened is because healthcare and nutrition have become so good, is that a lot of people, frankly, have a lot of juice, they have a lot of gas left in the tank at age 65. And they don’t necessarily want to go off into the sunset unless their health just starts to prevent it.
Mike Blake: [00:03:33] But the reality is – and I’m a big advocate for this – you know, this notion of retiring at 65, if you want to do it, can do it, great. But our healthcare technology and nutrition is able to keep people viable for much longer. And that’s happening with businesses. And so, the transfer of a business from one generation to another, I think, is still a very special event and it’s an important event. It’s an important event because, you know, companies that are multigenerational, they’re hard to come by because they’re hard to do. And the track record of multigenerational businesses, frankly, is not all that awesome.
Mike Blake: [00:04:17] There’s a term called shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves, that wealth that’s transferred in generation one is 90 percent gone on average by generation three. And so, the numbers are really stacked against generational wealth really being successful. And that’s why when I see a scenario under which generational transfer is somewhat successful, I think that’s something to be highlighted because there are probably lessons that we can learn from it.
Mike Blake: [00:04:49] And joining us today is a friend of mine who I’ve known a lot of years before he took over his company, actually, is Dan Erling of Accountants One, which is a full service accounting and finance recruiting firm specializing in direct hiring and contract placements. Since 1973, they have been recognized as industry experts who aligns trust and staffing partners with the organizations they serve. Their relationship driven focus consistently leads to the highest rate of placement success in the industry.
Mike Blake: [00:05:21] Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Accountants One has the infrastructure in place to serve clients across the southeast. Dan Erling is the President of Accountants One. He is the Georgia Association of Personnel Services Million Dollar Hall of Fame, and was recognized as one of Atlanta’s Up and Comers by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Under Dan’s leadership, Accountants One was named one of Atlanta’s best places to work.
Mike Blake: [00:05:44] And I can see that. The things I observe him doing with his company are so fascinating, and groundbreaking, and authentic. I’m not surprised. In fact, I steal a lot of his ideas.
Mike Blake: [00:05:56] Dan is the creator for the Search for the Souths Funniest Accountant. This combination fundraiser stereotype debunker has become an annual favorite in the accounting community, consistently bringing in over 800 people to cheer for funny accountants. So, the Search for Accountants One has helped raise over a-quarter-of-a-million dollars for junior achievement of Georgia.
Mike Blake: [00:06:16] I’ve got to do that one year. I’m not technically an accountant, but I’m sort of accounting adjacent. And the funny thing is, by the way, for those of you who are listening, you think accountants to be funny. Well, Bob Newhart started as an accountant, actually. He was a CPA before he moved over into that. Bob Newhart, even today, is still a laugh. I mean, when he’s on the Big Bang Theory, I sit up and take notice.
Mike Blake: [00:06:37] Dan wrote the book on hiring, literally. The book is called Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time. The book details the uniqueness of their approach. And, finally, Dan is a member with me of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce. I think he’s a Swedish descent. I am not. I’m just an interloper, but I like meatballs. Dan, welcome to the program.
Dan Erling: [00:06:58] Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much. What an honor to be here today. I feel very, very lucky to be talking with one of Atlanta’s cultural icons, the legend, Mike Blake.
Mike Blake: [00:07:15] Well, we’ll change your mind halfway through the podcast.
Dan Erling: [00:07:17] All right. You got it.
Mike Blake: [00:07:17] But I don’t think you’re too much of a flight risk. So, Accountants One was founded in 1973. I didn’t realize it was that old. Tell me the origin story. What’s the lore of the history of Accountants One?
Dan Erling: [00:07:33] All right. Quick story, my dad’s a jazz musician. He has me, he says, “Boy, I need to do something where I can make money.” And so, he becomes an accountant. Rides up the org chart, really works for mostly the same company as he went from senior accountant to regional controller. And then, said, “You know, I really am an entrepreneur at heart. I am that jazz musician.” So, when I was in high school, he bought a two person bookkeeping search firm, started doing controller searches, and ran it for years. So, there’s your origin story of Accountants One.
Mike Blake: [00:08:22] And I forgot that your father was a jazz musician. I can see that. Typically jazz musician is not the fast way to wealth. What did he play? Was it saxophone?
Dan Erling: [00:08:34] No. His stand up bass. He was a bass player.
Mike Blake: [00:08:36] Stand up bass, okay. The upright bass. Yeah. And bass players don’t make a lot in any event.
Dan Erling: [00:08:42] Oh. No. No.
Mike Blake: [00:08:43] Unless you’re Getty Lee of Rush. That’s pretty much the only one I think so.
Dan Erling: [00:08:48] That’s a good one. Sure.
Mike Blake: [00:08:48] When did you start to work in the business?
Dan Erling: [00:08:50] All right. So, in my previous life, I’ve had two jobs. I was an inner city math teacher. I was the middle school teacher of the year at APS, and loved the kids, loved that experience. I was there for eight years. But along the way, I recognized that I belonged in an entrepreneurial world, and was working summers with my dad at the three person recruiting staffing firm.
Dan Erling: [00:09:24] And one summer, when I knew it was starting to become time where I went out and established myself, I went to him and said, “Hey, Dad. You know, I’d like to join you. Can I come to Accountants One next year after I finish this group of children I had promised that I would come back?” And he said, “Yeah. But there’ll be no nepotism here.”
Dan Erling: [00:09:49] And so, in 1998 with a two year old and a four year old, I joined Accountants One. And I’ve been here ever since. It’s been a great experience. And I quickly became our top sales guy. And, now, I’m very lucky that I’m the CEO.
Mike Blake: [00:10:13] I’m fascinated by the transition. I can see why you’d be a teacher who would resonate with kids and, of course, that explains your junior achievement.
Dan Erling: [00:10:21] Yes. Oh, absolutely. I still want to give back, especially we’ve created a fund or a nonprofit to serve inner city youth. Yes.
Mike Blake: [00:10:32] I mean, that’s a big change, from APS into accounting and recruiting firm. What was it that you saw from outside and said, “You know what? I want to do that. I want to drop what I’m doing,” that clearly had a lot of meaning for you. You’re clearly very dedicated, I can tell by your voice. I just don’t know how you’re wired. What did you see from afar that made you want to get involved in that?
Dan Erling: [00:11:01] I’ve never looked at sales as trying to control people. I don’t like the manipulative aspect of sales. But I did think, “You know, if I can sell inner city kids on math and coming in here and being excited about doing math and that’s fulfilling, what can I do from a sales standpoint in terms of bringing value to people as they change jobs?” And so, it was that sales aspect and the best use of sales in terms of motivating people and helping them to achieve more and bringing true value that motivated me.
Mike Blake: [00:11:53] So, I’m going to go off the script here because I think that’s so fascinating. I speculate – and you tell me if I’m wrong – I think when you’re going to teach math to kids in APS, unless they’re unusually motivated, I mean, isn’t there a sales job in there somewhere, too, to get them engaged and get one to do the work and do hard things and grow nerve endings?
Dan Erling: [00:12:16] Yeah. Oh, this job is a lot easier than the job at APS. I mean, selling math to inner city kids, that’s a lifetime achievement. And I really, really respect teachers and always want to give back, because trying to make that happen is not only so important for our society, but it’s also so difficult and hard to do on a day to day basis. So, bless those teachers that do it. I only did it for eight years.
Mike Blake: [00:12:50] Now, most people I know who do what you do, that is recruiting and accounting, have an accounting background, I think, anyway. Is that accurate? And if so, was it hard for you to kind of get in and learn the vocabulary? Or maybe being an outsider made it easy? I don’t know. You tell me.
Dan Erling: [00:13:08] So, we’re about half and half. We’ve got Big Four CPAs on the team and we’ve got people who really never did accounting or finance. But in my case, I grew up with it, listening to my dad, understanding what he did. And, you know, if you do this long enough – I mean, you do not want me to do your books, but we probably can have a pretty deep conversation about mergers and acquisitions, and we play CFOs all the time – you learn about how it all fits together, even though you’re probably not an expert in doing.
Mike Blake: [00:13:52] So, how long did you work in the business until you started to have thoughts of, “You know what? I’d like to make a go of this when it’s my dad’s time to hang them up and move on?”
Dan Erling: [00:14:05] All right. So, I thought a lot about this interview, and I decided that if people were going to get value out of this, I needed to come clean and to tell the real story. So, I hope that I don’t later on regret anything that I’m about to say. Because if I can be of help to anybody that’s listening to this, I would be delighted.
Dan Erling: [00:14:34] So, the answer to your question as to how did I make that decision was, I absolutely did not. And if I can help anybody to be prepared for that decision, then I would feel great. And I’d be delighted to talk to anybody who’s in this space. So, in 2010, I became the CEO for the worst reason, and that is that my dad passed away. I mean, he was mowing the grass, he had a heart attack, and the paramedic said he was dead in 30 seconds.
Dan Erling: [00:15:12] So, I went from sales manager to CEO in a day. With, we had just landed a major, major account, which had a hundred contractors. And my dad was working with a bank on how to figure that out. And this is 2010, which, things were upside down economically, we just had a collapse, the banks were falling apart, they were trying to figure out how to hold themselves together. And I wound up inheriting the company at just the worst time that one could ask for.
Mike Blake: [00:16:01] And so, I want to come back to that, because I knew part of that story, I didn’t know he literally just passing away mowing the lawn. With the reason I should never mow my lawn again.
Dan Erling: [00:16:16] It’s a great reason to not mow your lawn, definitely love that.
Mike Blake: [00:16:19] Especially in the Atlanta heat. But if you’d had to do over differently, what might you have done in terms of planning? Or what did you wish might have been done in advance that would have saved headaches down the road?
Dan Erling: [00:16:37] So, the timing for this was perfect, because what I am doing right now is what I wish that I would have done back then with my dad, which is clarifying everything. It is working with a lawyer. It is working with a CPA firm. It is discussing how the transaction should happen, the tax implications, getting people that are much smarter than I. And right now, I’m working with a financial coach. My goal is that, by the end of the year – and we’re in a transition right now. Let me explain that in a moment, because I think this is important. It’s important to do it now and it’s important to do it in three years because the company will be in a much different spot.
Dan Erling: [00:17:35] But I have set a goal of delivering to my financial coach, my CPA firm, my lawyer, and key people on the Accounts One team so that they’re hearing what exactly our wishes are, how things are going to be turned over if I happen to pass away mowing my grass. This is what I wish that my dad and I would have done. I wish we would have been more disciplined to have gone through that process so that we had a documentation in place. So that it was clear, instead of me inheriting all of these problems, all of these questions on top of the stress of losing your dad.
Dan Erling: [00:18:26] And I just wanted to add that, we also have plans for doing this in three more years, because if your company is growing – I mean, if my company wasn’t growing, I probably would be fine for a ten year plan. But we’ve already put into place some things where we know where we are now. We’re going to have to relook at this again in three years as the company changes.
Mike Blake: [00:18:55] So, knowing that story, I kind of reorganized my thoughts here a little bit. Was it clear that you would be the one taking it over when that happened? In other words, was there anybody else in the company who thought, “I mean, Dan’s great, but he’s just in sales. And I’m the one who has been here for 30 years or something. I really should be running the firm. I should be the obvious successor. I’ve been the number two.” Frankly, were there other pretenders to the throne?
Dan Erling: [00:19:30] No. No.
Mike Blake: [00:19:33] Good. That made it easier then.
Dan Erling: [00:19:33] Well, in this case, because nobody would have wanted that responsibility. And I told you, I was going to tell the truth. My dad was an awesome businessman. He died at the wrong spot. Again, I went into this saying I’m going to share some things that are embarrassing. But if somebody can learn from them, I’m fine with it. Because I’m just going to say my dad was a guru businessman. I love my dad. He was an excellent dad and a great business partner. But because of the time that he died, and he was the sole owner of the company, he had some real estate that was underwater because of 2010 – it didn’t have anything to do with him – that was connected to the business.
Dan Erling: [00:20:38] So, what I wound up inheriting – isn’t this a wonderful inheritance? – is a major debt. Because it’s just like concrete galoshes here that are pulling you down. But I think it is funny, the one disagreement that my dad and I ever had in business was, “I don’t want to be an owner of property. If you want to do it, go ahead.” We did not think through the fact that if he died, what was going to happen was if those buildings were underwater, they would start to sink the company. My lawyer, my wonderful lawyer said, “Dan, you should declare bankruptcy.”
Mike Blake: [00:21:22] No kidding.
Dan Erling: [00:21:23] “Because this isn’t your fault. This is just the way things are. It’s tied to those buildings.” So, the answer to your question is, nobody else would have been crazy enough to have wanted to inherit that organization at that time.
Dan Erling: [00:21:41] Which, by the way, I’m going to throw this out here right now, my dad would be incredibly proud of us. In fact, I would say that I was very honored – I’m going to say this because I want you to know where we started. And I’m a modest person, I won the award for Most Admired CEO in Atlanta in Accounting through the Atlanta Business Chronicle. And I say that because I want you to know where we’ve come from, to where we’ve gone to, and how proud my dad would be of that change.
Dan Erling: [00:22:22] I don’t know many scenarios that could have been worse than the one that I’m painting. And if you fight through them, then you can make it. But we would have been so much better off if we would have had more planning in place for the loss of my dad.
Mike Blake: [00:22:43] So, that brings me to something I really want to get into with you, and that is that, I suspect and other clients I’ve advised, they feel sort of a push and pull of how much do you want to keep out of respect for the traditions of the firm? And how much do you want to make change, because I’m younger, I’m closer to the younger generation, I have new ideas that maybe the older generation was either reluctant to implement or really didn’t even think about? Did you have that tug of war? And if so, how did you make peace with that?
Dan Erling: [00:23:24] I think that it is critical that best idea wins whether you’re the son of the owner or not. And I think that that’s the rule of our firm. And I think that as a leader in the firm, whether you’re the CEO or not, that it is imperative in a family business to make it clear that the one rule of the business is that even the son or the daughter can be fired if they’re not good at their job. And if that’s not in place, then you wind up with a weaker organization that can be dragged down by dumb ideas that are owned by somebody who has clout because they’re a family member versus a great idea that brings value regardless of who you are.
Mike Blake: [00:24:28] So, I just thought of the question I should have asked, so I’m going to ask it now, which is, you paint a pretty bleak picture of the business when you had it fall in your lap for better or worse, right?
Dan Erling: [00:24:41] Right.
Mike Blake: [00:24:44] Why did you take it over? Was there an alternative of declaring bankruptcy, trying to sell it, doing something else with it? Why did you take it over? What was in your decision calculus to get you to that point?
Dan Erling: [00:24:57] There’s two reasons. Number one, I love the job. Now, in fairness to me, I was the sales manager. That was the responsibility that I wanted. I had two kids that I wanted to spend time with. I didn’t want to be the CEO. So, I love the job. I just didn’t have all of that responsibility. That was my dad’s thing. So, there was never any reluctance in terms of loving the job.
Dan Erling: [00:25:29] And then, the thing that really motivated me to want to keep it going was the people that this organization serves. And as I looked at myself and the others, I knew it was the right thing to do to keep it going. So, passion for the job and then love of people motivated me to keep it going. And, gosh, there’s very few people that were here then that aren’t here now.
Mike Blake: [00:26:05] So, what were some of the changes that you’ve made as a result of you taking this over and running it? Did you resist making changes? First of all, was it hard to make changes?
Dan Erling: [00:26:25] Well, especially when you didn’t have any money, yes, yes. It’s a lot easier to make changes when you’ve got some money in the bank. It’s so much easier, because you can afford to make mistakes, too, right? That is one of the benefits of having some money in the bank. But, I mean, this was a wonderful, flexible job that had great earning potential and the ability to be flexible, to match with my my schedule as I was taking care of my family.
Dan Erling: [00:27:04] What happened after I became the CEO was, I realized that in order to scale it up, it needed more processes. So, we added a COO, we added structure to the organization, we added a controller, we have a director of recruitment now. So, a lot of structural changes. The biggest change would be the addition of a COO. That was our first executive that wasn’t a salesperson.
Dan Erling: [00:27:36] And the impact that Tom Kapish, our COO, has had on the organization has been huge. And he’s been just a great partner. And the reason that over the past five years, we’ve increased three fold. We’re now up to 40 people on the team. All of that has to do with Tom in some of the structures that he’s put into place. But then, also, just adding great people to support the organization as a whole.
Dan Erling: [00:28:06] I’ll give you one one cool thing that we’ve added to the organization as you’ve had to get more sophisticated. Back in the day, when we would get a job, it would be a nice siloed recruiter working on that role. Now, we have a whole project management system, where multiple people, you have marketing, and sourcing, and a junior recruiter, and a senior recruiter, how all of those people are interconnected. We have daily scrum meetings on our searches so that we can identify where we are. That was unheard of in 2010, it wasn’t because we were unsophisticated. It was just a simple system of an individual recruiter being able to meet the needs of multiple clients. We’ve come a long way because of the growth.
Mike Blake: [00:29:12] So, you know, again, going back to the circumstances under which you literally inherited the company, did you have any kind of mental fights with yourself in terms of, you know, can I do this? Should I do this? Because I think you were so unprepared for it mentally. How could you have been otherwise? Was it hard to mentally wrap your head around the magnitude of the responsibility you are now taking on and the learning curve that you had in front of you?
Dan Erling: [00:29:47] You know, I think I’m not a very smart person, which helps a lot in situations like this. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. So, I think that was one of my strengths. If I would have known what I was doing, I would never have done it. But it did. I will tell you this, I now am such a better business leader because of all of the lessons that were learned through this and embracing those lessons. And I’m just going to say, wonderful team that I could rely on when things got really tough, wonderful family situation.
Dan Erling: [00:30:33] My wife was very, very supportive. I, to this day, remember her saying, “Well, the worst thing that could happen is we would lose the house and we’d have to move into some kind of an apartment somewhere, but we’d still be together.” When your wife says that, man, that gives you all of the intestinal fortitude needed to go fight the battle the next day.
Dan Erling: [00:30:57] And I learned a lot about deep breathing exercises. I’m serious, that saved my butt. So many times I’m like, I’ve got the bank calling me. I’ve got clients calling me. I’ve got problems. All of these things, what do you work on? I learned how to do some deep breathing exercises that would get me through that and then emerge from that exercise and know, “Okay. Let’s just go solve this one problem.”
Mike Blake: [00:31:35] So, when you took over the business, did you feel like it was your business right away? Or did you go through any kind of period where you felt like, you know, “I’m sort of a caretaker.” And if there was that sort of transition, how long did it take for you to really feel like the business was yours?
Dan Erling: [00:31:56] It took me five years to rid myself of the debt. After the five years, I felt it was mine. Because I knew how to read a financial, kind of, when I inherited the business. I sure do know how to read a financial now. And just big shoutout to my CPA firm who really came in. CPA firms are so much help in cases like this. This guy just really, really helped me to organize myself and run the business from an accounting standpoint.
Mike Blake: [00:32:37] So, you know, you mentioned that you changed some things, the team oriented process. What about things like branding? And actually more to the point, here’s the right question to ask, how long did it take for people to get comfortable looking at you as the face of Accountants One CEO and not kind of referencing your father?
Dan Erling: [00:33:04] Yeah. That’s a good one. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m bragging, but I was the sales leader of the organization already.
Mike Blake: [00:33:18] That probably helped a lot.
Dan Erling: [00:33:19] It helped a lot. Exactly. Because I’m not a one dimensional sales CEO by any means. Meaning that, some CEOs, it’s all about sales. For us, it’s about many things. And sales is critical. I mean, you can’t run a business without sales. But coming out of the loss of my dad, sales was the most important thing. That was the thing that was going to keep our payroll running. It was going to keep us moving forward. So, the fact that I was an expert in sales really helped with that transition from my dad being the CEO to me now being a CEO, because I knew what buttons to push on the sales side.
Mike Blake: [00:34:17] Yeah. And I don’t want to use the term – it sounds lucky, but that’s not quite the right term. I think that somewhere along the line there is just a good match that you happen to be what your company needed most because it was underwater from a debt standpoint. Revenue is the most important thing. That wouldn’t be the case in every scenario. If you’ve been a manufacturing company, operations might have been much more paramount. Or in some other area, like if you’re running a software company, it’s writing code or might be writing code that’s paramount.
Mike Blake: [00:34:59] And I don’t know if this is by design or by fate or maybe just a subconscious match, but it sounds like, I mean, a lot of ways you have the right skillset in the right place at the right time. Whereas, maybe if you’ve been a CEO as opposed to a market facing person, it might have been a much more difficult path.
Dan Erling: [00:35:20] So, you said it. I’m going to just agree with you wholeheartedly. Complete luck.
Mike Blake: [00:35:27] That’s why you’re my favorite guest, but thank you.
Dan Erling: [00:35:30] But luck, I can’t believe how lucky we were. So many times, there could have been things that happened that would have taken us down. I have no idea how we made it through. There was several lucky things that all came together. But, you know, I talked to a lot of people in business that have been through tough times. Luck matters. I think Jim Collins talks about this all the time, the fortitude of luck. And I happen to be the right guy with the right amount of energy to get us through. And we’ve become an incredibly strong true organization now because of what we’ve been through.
Mike Blake: [00:36:18] You know, I like that. And I’ve been a big proponent of the role of luck in business as well. In fact, Scientific American published a great blog about two years ago that talked about an Italian research paper that talks about the role of luck in business and economic outcomes. That doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to try to manufacture a better outcome. But the reality is, is that, who you’re born to may give you a head start or not. The country you’re born in, are you born in a stable economy that respects the rule of law and capitalism versus – I don’t know – Somalia, the war zone. There’s luck involved in that. You can’t deny there’s luck involved in that.
Dan Erling: [00:37:06] So, I really like the fact that you acknowledge that because I think, candidly, it shows a lot of self-awareness. And I think that’s probably a big reason why you’ve become the – not to suck up to you but that’s documented – admired CEO that you are is an acknowledgement that it’s really not about you and your brilliance. And, you know, by sheer force of will, with my bare hands, like Paul Bunyan, I took the thing. I think that humility of the limitations of all our abilities, you know, I think that probably played a big role.
Dan Erling: [00:37:44] Thank you.
Mike Blake: [00:37:47] Let me ask you this, I mean, you know, since your father had run that business – I’m doing the math in my head – 37 years, were there any clients, were there any people resources that simply couldn’t accept you as the new CEO and decided that they needed to change their relationship with the firm?
Dan Erling: [00:38:10] You know, you asked earlier what changes we made at Accountants One. One change that we never have made is this is a relationship driven firm. And so, the good thing, again, probably in the luck category, is that, we still have clients today that I knew when I was in high school because of the way my dad treated his clients and his candidates. So, I don’t think we lost a single client during that transition. Because most of my friends, they watched me grow up. So, that was the benefit of my dad, and that is still the culture. And the thing that we talk about all the time, we still have Bert’s office here, we still remember Bert, we still talk about the way he did business.
Dan Erling: [00:39:06] We’ve just added some levels of sophistication in how we deal with people, but we never forget that this is the people business. This is about connecting individuals and making a difference in their lives. And that was what my dad brought every day. And I was just lucky enough to be around. And so, when it came time to me inheriting those relationships, it was really easy because I knew him and they were my friends.
Mike Blake: [00:39:35] So, I mean, first of all, it’s really cool you still actually maintain his office.
Dan Erling: [00:39:39] Oh, yeah.
Mike Blake: [00:39:40] That’s great. You know, I think it’s helpful. I’ve been to other offices where they’ve maintained the founder’s office even after he’s left, either retirement or passing away. And I think that’s important to sort of maintain that continuity. That’s a good decision for what it’s worth.
Dan Erling: [00:39:59] Thank you.
Mike Blake: [00:40:06] You said something a couple of times, and I’m going to go back and I’m going to offer an alternative viewpoint, because you said that you’d done no preparation, you weren’t prepared to take over the business. But as you described your experience leading up to it, I actually disagree with you. You may not have had, “In case my dad dies of a heart attack, mowing the lawn, break glass plan.” Number one, I’m sure he made good on his promise that he was not going to be easy on you because you’re his kid. But number two, because he gave you the role or because you assumed the role that you did, you are getting on the job training for that role. You probably just didn’t necessarily realize it as such at that point.
Dan Erling: [00:40:51] I’m going to agree with you. I am not going to be a difficult host. I’m going to agree with you whole heartedly and say you are right. And probably the most important thing is, preparing you for – look, I’ve seen a lot of companies where the son inherits the company and is a terrible leader. Gosh, I didn’t mean to paint myself as different than that. But I’m just going to say, I think that the thing that my dad taught me day to day the important parts of business.
Dan Erling: [00:41:31] And, certainly, my message to anybody listening is, work with an organization like Brady Ware, work with professionals like Mike, to help prepare. Because it’s already hard enough when that inheritance happens, so the documentation, the tax implications, how the entity moves through the loss, and how that succession planning works, it’s so important to talk through with professionals and it will just make the job easier. So, even somebody who is prepared as I was in the nuts and bolts of the business, I had a very difficult time working through that because those pieces, the documentation, the clarity was not there. Does that make sense? Did I make my point well?
Mike Blake: [00:42:29] Yeah. It does. It does. And a much different outcome, I mean, they don’t really have mailrooms anymore, but if they did, if you’ve been working in the mailroom just to give you a job, you really would not have had any preparation and probably a different outcome.
Dan Erling: [00:42:49] We’re talking with Dan Erling, who is President of Accountants One. And the topic is, Should I take over the family business? And I want to ask you something about your title. Because I noticed that it’s not CEO. I noticed that it’s not managing partner, whatever, grand poobah. Is your dad still the CEO in your mind and you’re president? Or am I getting too psychological here?
Dan Erling: [00:43:15] I think, yes. I think I’m the president and the CEO. And I think Bert would be extremely, extremely proud that I’m wearing that.
Mike Blake: [00:43:26] So, given what you’ve learned, I know you’re doing some long term strategic planning, so good for you. And your firm, obviously, will, of course, benefit from that. In your strategic planning, are you thinking now about your children potentially being involved in the family business and paving the way or a path for them to assume your role as owner, co-owners, what have you, when that time comes?
Dan Erling: [00:43:54] That’s a great question. My philosophy with my kids was to allow them the space to make their own decisions. And they’ve both done just an exceptional job, one is a nuclear engineer and the other one is an underwater welder. And so, I don’t see them coming back, which is fine. I love them dearly, and I just wish them the best, and want them to establish themselves as they want to define themselves. So, I’ve never given them any pressure and never have I expected them to want to be part of the organization.
Mike Blake: [00:44:48] Dan, this has been a great conversation, but I want to be respectful of your time. In case somebody wants to ask a question that we didn’t ask or go deeper on something that we did, would you be willing to make yourself available if they want to follow up with you? And if so, what’s the best way for them to contact you?
Dan Erling: [00:45:05] Probably the best way to get in touch with me is through LinkedIn, and it’s just Dan Erling. I enjoy the LinkedIn format and I will certainly respond. And I would be delighted to start conversations there. Or you can reach me at email@example.com or call me at the office, 770-395-6969.
Mike Blake: [00:45:30] Thank you, Dan. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. And I’d like to thank Dan Erling so much for sharing his expertise with us today.
Mike Blake: [00:45:37] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you would like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.