The B.S.:

A CPA’s life: In a small firm, personal relationships are key

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

Sun archives

It wasn’t so long ago that Landry’s Seafood was one of the real power lunch spots in the city. But the lunch crowd got spread out when so many new dining venues opened over the past 15 years, and longtime local favorites like Landry’s gradually found they were not the only place to see or be seen.

I hadn’t been there in a while, so it felt good to be back at Landry’s for a lunch with Adam Hodson, who got one of our “Forty Under 40” awards last year. For some time and some reason, I’d been wondering what life was like for an accountant who had avoided the corporate path.

It being tax season, I pictured a harried fellow who might have trouble pulling himself away from piles of paper. But Adam arrived right on time, and seemed calm when he did.

In his operation, there are two certified public accountants — Hodson and his partner-spouse Karen Stephenson, who made a previous “Forty Under 40” list — along with two bookkeepers and a marketer. That’s the entire workforce.

The couple established their firm only after paying serious dues, which included ridiculously long hours and intense preparation to meet Nevada’s tough CPA requirements. Hodson was willing to invest the effort.

“If you want to make any money as an accountant, it’s very difficult to do it if you’re not a CPA,” he said.

Hodson said he initially pursued a career in accounting primarily because he felt there’d always be employment, but he also felt it would fit with his introverted personality, since it seemed accountants rarely had to speak with other people. Once in his own firm, though, he figured out he couldn’t be a recluse.

“For me now, everything is talking to clients and getting out in public. It’s much more of a people business.”

To briefly summarize their jobs, a bookkeeper collects financial information and then presents it to the client without recommendations or suggestions based on the data. A CPA, on the other hand, forms an analysis actually based on financial information, and then submits recommendations to the client. That’s a big difference in roles and contributions.

“A lot of the time, I see owners who use bookkeepers and don’t know what to do with the information,” he said. “As far as using the numbers to change the way a client does business, that’s something you just don’t see very often with bookkeepers.”

He noted that some businesses simply have to use one of the Big Four accounting firms, the organizations that typically handle audits for large or publicly traded companies. The big guys play a role when certain types of research are necessary, or when there are multistate or international matters — areas in which smaller firms simply cannot always afford to invest and thus may lack sufficient expertise.

“It’s hard to be an expert in more than one field,” Hodson said.

At the same time, he can easily itemize the benefits of working with a more compact firm, generally lower rates being just one. He feels both pricing and reliable service help keep clients loyal — along with the fact that many people prefer to deal directly with a decision-maker, like him.

“When you work with my firm, you’re pretty much always working with an owner. And owners like to talk to owners.”

A relationship with a CPA is based heavily on trust, and many potential clients want to get to know him or his staff before granting access to sacred financial information, seeking assurance he’s going to be there for them. With the heavier economic pressures of recent years, Hodson has found he has to be accessible almost all of the time.

“The way the economy is now, the owners are doing everything. They don’t have time to play phone tag, go back and forth. They just need an answer so they can move on.”

In fact, he says he actually enjoys the additional level of responsibility he has as an owner of a firm, even though it always seems like there’s deadline to meet.

“I could work seven days a week almost the entire year and still have plenty to do,” he said. “That’s the difference between our firm and working for somebody else.”

We’d agreed during our conversation that restaurants are one barometer of an economy, and by the time we had finished lunch, Landry’s was hopping. I even recognized a few movers and shakers engaged in conversation. It was sort of nostalgic.

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