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May 18, 2009

Snyder profile: Helping firms

PKF North America Network will adopt a three-pronged strategy that focuses on building infrastructure, helping member firms handle growth and improving service capabilities. New president Terry Snyder discusses his vision with Arvind Hickman.

PKF North America Network (PKF NAN) is at a crossroads following 28 years of leadership under Rudolf Beilfuss. The association of firms is developing a strategy, which includes attracting larger member firms.

To lead this transition, Terry Snyder, an accountant with more than 25 years experience, will take on the role as PKF NAN president. Snyder has worked in firms of all sizes, from a small 15-person entity to a former Big Eight firm. His professional career began with Arthur Andersen in the mid-1980s. He has also worked at RSM McGladrey, former regional firm Olive LLP as well as Clifton Gunderson, where he was both managing partner of the downstate Illinois region and partner-in-charge of the Peoria, Illinois office.

Outside of the profession, Snyder has managed a software business to profitability, steered a technology business through a turnaround and most recently served as president of Commerce Bank in Champaign, Illinois.

Focusing on success

In his new role, Snyder will be responsible for strategic planning, financial performance and the overall success of the association.

“It’s a chance to blend my true love, which is the accounting profession, with my industry experience. Those skills allow me to refocus our efforts and move us upstream into a more progressive practice group,” he says.

Snyder will lead a team of 19 associates, including six directors, at the PKF NAN secretariat. This includes vice-president/director of international support Job Dieleman. The team spends a lot of time visiting member firms and engaging with their issues on site.

“We focus not only on training and HR, but on marketing, and we’ve got over 170 different events that we take to our membership so we can make sure that they are briefed in strategic areas,” Snyder explains.

PKF NAN is building infrastructure to help member firms grow their domestic and international service capabilities. This includes setting up a committee to co-ordinate corporate finance opportunities when the economy recovers.

“Last year, we established a corporate finance committee representing member firms in major regions around the world,” Snyder says. “This committee and its initiatives position us to capitalise on imminent opportunities and will remain in force even through this worldwide economic downturn in anticipation of a recovering market and a return to higher levels of cross-border M&A activity.”

A question of brand

An important aspect of marketing that is currently under the spotlight is branding. In the US, large regional firms are often reticent to adopt global brands because of the perception it could devalue the firm’s goodwill in the domestic market.

“Just in the last year we had 150 requests for international work and up to 70 percent of those are outbound from our membership,” Snyder explains. “Our theory is that there are members who are of the size and who want to be branded and understand the importance of a global brand. Then there are others that simply want to protect their client base no matter what else.”

At present, the PKF NAN membership is made up of 86 member firms in the US, Canada and Mexico. The combined annual revenue of these firms is $712 million. Snyder explains PKF NAN is seeking to attract larger firms while at the same time helping current members grow.

“At the moment our sweet spot is probably the $7 million to $10 million firm – over half of our 86 are in that group,” he says. “Even among those members that are at the $25 million to $30 million in size, we find that everybody aspires to be the next group above.

“Looking forward, our strategic journey will be focussed on targeted growth: continuing to secure as members leading firms in key markets. Some of our firms will be larger than those currently in our group, and we are excited about that.

“We are aware of many firms within the ranks of the top 100 in the US that are underserved and looking for additional resources from their associations. We offer the best of both worlds: a full-service association support at the domestic/PKF NAN level and access to a global network via our alliance with PKF International.”

Perhaps the largest issue facing a lot of PKF NAN firms is steering through the economic downturn. Consolidation within the US is picking up as firms attempt to bolster their practices to cope with lower demand or move up-stream to serve larger clients.

Snyder believes the recession will not hit firms as badly as some doomsayers predict but it is important for members to not lose sight of the medium- to long-term picture.

“Over the last three to seven years, accounting firms have enjoyed incredible growth and opportunities. When the roll back happens, it is not going to roll back towards what firms were 10 years ago, it will probably roll back towards how they were two to three years ago,” he says.

“We are trying to coach people into not overreacting to changes in their market and start releasing staff but to plan more strategically on how to handle it and what the implications are. There maybe even opportunities to create a staff sharing effort because I think the thing they have to realise is where there are some areas that are faltering there are other areas that are building.

“There are some firms that are experiencing some decreases but most of our firms are staying the course right now.”

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