How Time Flies…
July 23, 2014

I have recently found myself engaged in small talk – whether around the office or in my daily travels – where someone has expressed the sentiment, “Can you believe it’s already…?”  Invariably that question ends with one of the following:

  • “…the middle of summer?”
  • “…past the Fourth of July?”
  • “…halfway through 2014?”

My guess is that these questions stand out because they show how little we focus on enjoying the present.  We either think about seasons, events and moments as being “over” before they even truly begin or we find ourselves so busy in the day-to-day that we rarely realize how quickly time passes.  Our schedules fill quickly with meetings, projects and deadlines and before we know it, we’re fully booked for October, despite the fact that Labor Day is still six weeks away.

I may be especially guilty of this. And perhaps that’s why these questions of time resonate so much with me. I’ll be honest: I sometimes find myself thinking about what I will come back to after vacation during the first day I am out of the office.  I find myself scheduling – and overscheduling – myself months ahead because that’s when I have “time.”  I imagine that many of our ParenteBeard team members are doing exactly the same.

But when we focus on “what’s next” and not “what’s here,” I wonder whether we can ever be the best versions of ourselves.  Are we providing the best possible service and our most creative and strategic thinking to our clients when we feel that our time is limited?  When we think of all we wanted to accomplish in 2014 and realize that we are nearly seven full months into the year, where do we stand? As individuals and as a firm?

These are the deeper questions that “Can you believe it’s already…” trigger for me. And I’m grateful because it encourages me to reevaluate and make real and necessary adjustments. Are there certain types of questions that trigger you to reevaluate and adjust? If so, which ones and how?

Thanks for stopping by.

Unexpected Heroes
July 3, 2014

The passion and excitement of the 2014 World Cup is contagious.  Not only have the games been thrilling but they’ve also provided a wonderful opportunity to see teamwork in motion.  Soccer is nothing if not a team sport.  And the action of the past few weeks has reminded me that to win everyone needs to play their role.

But what the World Cup has also reminded me is that while we all must play our respective roles, nothing is more exhilarating than the emergence of an “unexpected hero.”  For all of the joy Americans felt when Clint Dempsey scored in the first five minutes of the Ghana game, it didn’t compare to the euphoria of John Brooks’ header in the 86th minute.  It wasn’t just because Brooks put the U.S. ahead.  It was because he wasn’t expected to score that goal.  He wasn’t expected to seize that moment.

And in that 86th minute, John Brooks was the “unexpected hero.”

Just as in sports, there are often “unexpected heroes” on business teams.  As a CEO, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this happen many times.  When a client has needed a great idea or when a crisis has emerged, it’s inspiring to see a new and different member of our ParenteBeard team step forward – and step up.  While we have superstars like Clint Dempsey that consistently deliver for us, I take special pride in the number of John Brooks that have emerged for us too.  That’s what makes teams special and memorable.  Everyone plays their role, but anyone can be an “unexpected hero.” And for me, when unexpected effort, unexpected thinking and unexpected dedication shine through, that’s when our team is at its best.

Has there been a time when someone unexpected on your team stepped up and made the difference? Did it change the way you viewed and/or managed that person?  If so, how?

Thanks for stopping by.

A Piece of Advice…
June 2, 2014

World leaders, CEOs, media pundits and even Hollywood celebrities take to podiums across the United States every year at college commencements, offering pieces of wisdom on life, careers and even love.

  • “Follow your passion.”
  • “Strike a balance between your professional and personal life.”
  • “Take risks.”
  • “Never stop learning.”

While these are all excellent pieces of advice, I sometimes wish that graduation speakers would offer a bit more “practical” advice.  Now, that might be the CPA in me, but as the CEO of a firm that hires nearly 70 college graduates every year, I am sometimes struck by the lack of practical advice young professionals receive.

This blog isn’t about reminding graduates that “u” is not a substitute for “you” in client emails or letting them in on the secret that everyone knows what’s in the red Solo cup in their Facebook photos.  Rather, here are a few practical pieces of advice that I wish were shared more often at graduations:

Knowing which fork to use matters
Social graces can affect the way you are perceived in the business world.  Your “potential” can be decided on the way you dress or interact at a client dinner.  I’ve often heard young professionals talk about “selling out” when wardrobe or etiquette are discussed or critiqued.  It isn’t selling out.  It’s buying into how good you can be – and want to be.

Tell me what you’re doing to fix the problem before you tell me it isn’t your fault
Frequently our initial reaction to a crisis or a problem is to assign blame.  But in the moment I learn of a problem, I rarely care whose fault it is.  I take action to solve the problem.  And most clients feel the same.  Respect is given to those who “own” the problem – and solve it – regardless of who caused it.

Effort can – and does – often trump natural talent
I find that team members who work hard often surpass team members who are naturally talented.  And rarely does that surprise me.  Nothing replaces effort because it often manifests itself as diligence and great thinking, both of which are crucial to client, corporate and personal success.

So as graduation season winds down, what’s the best piece of practical piece you’ve given or received?  Why has it stayed with you and how have you used it in your professional life?

Thanks for stopping by.

Evolving as a CEO
May 5, 2014

I was reviewing my calendar for May and noticed how much travel I have planned in the next few weeks. Through my roles as CEO and chair of Baker Tilly International’s North American Regional Council, I’m accustomed to spending quality time in airports around the world, but with key spring meetings for both ParenteBeard (All Team) and Baker Tilly International upcoming, my suitcase and I will be inseparable for the next month.

There are many people who might be exhausted at the prospect of all of this travel but I’m invigorated.  These upcoming meetings are some of my favorite annual events.  It’s rare to even talk about meetings in terms of favorites, but when I think about the opportunity to meet with all the ParenteBeard team members as well as with CEOs from around the world, I’m excited to hear their insights.  Books and articles are great, but nothing beats first-person discussions about how others lead, the challenges they face and opportunities that lie ahead.

Becoming a CEO might be considered the top of the mountain by some, but honestly, it’s just the beginning of the journey.  In this role, you always want to improve and continue to evolve.  CEOs that don’t find ways to adapt often find themselves in struggling organizations.  They stagnate and don’t challenge the status quo.  That’s why ParenteBeard’s All Team Meetings and Baker Tilly International’s meetings are invaluable to me.  The conversations I’ve had in these settings – away from the hustle and bustle of daily work – allow me to evaluate how I’ve led and where we’ve been as an organization.  But more importantly, these conversations help to illuminate the path forward.  What will it take to move the needle and how can I evolve as a CEO to ensure we do?

So as I prepare for a few whirlwind weeks of travel, I look forward to all that I will learn and I ask – how do you continue to evolve in your own roles?  What are the steps that you take to ensure that you don’t stagnate professionally?

Thanks for stopping by.

Joyful Pilgrims
April 21, 2014

The title of this blog might seem odd outside the context of Thanksgiving.  But these words from Father Bill Donovan, which served as the front page headline of The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 27, might perfectly describe one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Beyond my role as chairman and CEO of ParenteBeard, I am also privileged to serve as president of the World Meeting of Families. This Vatican event occurs every three years (Milan hosted in 2012) and is coming to the United States – specifically Philadelphia – for the first time in September 2015.   With it traditionally comes a visit from the pope. A few weeks ago, I was part of a delegation that traveled to Rome to ask Pope Francis to attend the World Meeting in Philadelphia.

Meeting Pope Francis – or any pope for that matter – wasn’t something I ever envisioned happening in my life. The thought of it was awe-inspiring but in reality, it was so much more.  One of the most surreal moments of the visit to Rome was when the Pennsylvania delegation – led by Archbishop Chaput, Governor Corbett and Mayor Nutter – was escorted through the front doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and greeted by 75,000 cheering people from around the world, all awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis on the square.

Not many CEOs would admit to their knees shaking before meeting someone but mine did before meeting him.  And I wasn’t alone.  Although many of us in the delegation of 24 had only met each other for the first time a few days earlier, we shared an incomparable experience.  It didn’t matter if we were Republican or Democrat, Catholic or non-Catholic.  We were united – and now bonded – by the same sentiment, “Is this really happening?”

It did and that’s why “Joyful Pilgrims” is a perfect descriptor.  We were exactly that in Rome.  But being home, I now realize that we must sustain that same joyfulness in planning the World Meeting of Families over the next 18 months.  I am confident that Pope Francis will come here but I realize that if he does, Philadelphia will be center stage for the world and we must deliver.  As spectacular a scene as it was in Rome, nothing will compare to the scene we are all working toward – when Philadelphia welcomes Pope Francis.

For more information about the World Meeting of Families, visit www.WorldMeeting2015.org. And if you’re interested in learning more or helping, let me know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Deadlines, Deadlines
April 10, 2014

As we are in the heart of our late winter/early spring busy season, I’ve been thinking often about deadlines.   Personally, I like deadlines and the structure they give projects.  I see deadlines as benchmarks and I like the feeling of achievement that comes from meeting them.  Perhaps that’s why I chose a profession defined by deadlines.  As our team members can attest, we have many dates circled on the calendar at ParenteBeard – all of which are critical to the success of our clients’ businesses.  These deadlines drive much of what we do as a firm.

Yet, Nolan Bushnell, the legendary entrepreneur who invented Atari and founded the successful Chuck E. Cheese children’s restaurant and arcade chain, once said, “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”  I’m not sure if that’s wholly true.  I respect that certain people work best under the feverish pressure of an impending deadline but I don’t believe that every great idea is thought of 24 hours before it’s due.  Many take months to develop into an idea that’s fully formed, vetted and ready for presentation. I know that because I see it here.  There is outstanding work that takes months, not hours, to deliver for our clients – and that’s a good thing.

No matter how often we talk about the importance of meeting deadlines and not procrastinating, we still live in a culture that lauds the last minute nature of nearly everything.  It’s a culture that thrives on a “Will I make it?” mentality and feels vindicated by the last second achievement.  For instance you can always find a line at the post office at 11:59 p.m. on April 15.

I am not one for the excitement of waiting until the last second and I work to instill that same discipline in our team members.  But I’m interested in why deadlines seem to scare us into delay.  And why is it that many find inspiration when up against the clock?

Are you a procrastinator or someone who prefers to work well in advance of deadlines?  Why? And if a procrastinator, do you think there is wisdom in Bushnell’s quote?

Thanks for stopping by.

World Meeting of Families can reinvigorate Philadelphia Archdiocese
March 24, 2014

Since Archbishop Charles Chaput announced a special delegation to Rome this coming week to meet with Pope Francis regarding the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, I have overheard conversations on the street, received e-mails from colleagues around the world, and even have had my own family ask the same question: “Do you think he will come?”

Certainly, that is the question. And, obviously, the entire delegation traveling to Rome will do all that we can to ensure that the answer is a resounding yes.

But there’s another question I’ve frequently been asked that merits some personal reflection:

“Why was Philadelphia chosen as the host city for the World Meeting of Families?”

It’s a great question, but I have no real answer. The archbishop has said the same thing.

But from the moment it was made known that Philadelphia would host the meeting, the archbishop’s words about the event have resonated with me. He has spoken about it as an opportunity filled with grace. He has often remarked that the meeting “has the power to transform, in deeply positive ways, not just the spirit of Catholic life in our area, but our entire community.”

I agree. The gathering will have that power, thanks especially to the extraordinary personal warmth of Pope Francis. His papacy is defined by mercy, a deep commitment to the poor, and a willingness to engage in tough conversations facing Catholics around the world. He is a transformational world figure, and yet he seems to relish the simplest moments of ministry – embracing the recovering drug addict, washing the feet of prisoners, and comforting the sick and suffering. What his actions clearly say is, “This is our church.” That purity of mission is both refreshing and inspiring to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The chance to welcome any pope to our city is a joyous experience. To have an opportunity to welcome this pope – with all of his humility, grace, and vision – would be a once-in-a-lifetime gift. If graced with his presence, the World Meeting of Families would be momentous for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. It would put Philadelphia on a global stage, bringing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, from around the world. It would draw different faith traditions together to share in meaningful dialogue about the role of family as the cornerstone of our society. It would be an event unlike any other Philadelphia has hosted in size and scope. And though only six days in length, its long-term effect would be immense. It would make so many other major events “thinkable.”

What can’t be underestimated in all this excitement and planning is the power of this gathering, and the promise of Pope Francis’ presence, for this archdiocese.

No one would dispute that this last decade has tested many Catholics’ resolve. Nor would anyone deny that it’s been filled with challenges, heartache, and, at times, anguish. But these challenges might be exactly why Philadelphia was chosen for the meeting next year – and why Francis’ presence would mean so much. Isn’t Philadelphia exactly the type of place the pope would seek out for ministry? Isn’t this a local church that could flourish again through his healing presence?

Whatever the reason Philadelphia was chosen, I’m deeply grateful it was. As we ready ourselves to meet the Holy Father in Rome this week, we do so knowing that as wonderful as the meeting will be for our city and state, its real power may be in providing us all with a profound spiritual moment – a true catalyst for community-building in the most significant way.

That fact alone is enough reason to host the World Meeting of Families next year.

Robert J. Ciaruffoli is president of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, and chairman and CEO of ParenteBeard L.L.C. For more information, visit http://worldmeeting2015.org

Tell Me More
February 27, 2014

On a recent business trip to London, I used my time on the long flight to catch up on a few business publications which regularly offer a few good thoughts on leadership. I happened to come across a recent column from Inc. entitled “9 Things Great Leaders Say Every Day.”  Typically, I’m not one for lists, but as a CEO, I was curious if any of my favorite phrases made the cut.

While not exactly as I say it, No. 4 on the list was a phrase I recognized immediately: “Tell me more.”

I don’t believe in being the only voice in the room as my leadership style is rooted in collaboration.  However, I have found that sometimes team members are reticent to share their opinions or thoughts with me simply because I’m the CEO.  I suppose that might be expected, but it shouldn’t be the norm. The greatest loss in any business is when people don’t say what they think because they fear it isn’t helpful, interesting or valid.

So, how do I make sure that our team members tell me more?  Surprisingly, silence stimulates conversation.

If we’re honest, no one likes silence.  It makes people feel uncomfortable.  But what I’ve come to realize in leading a team of 1,000 professionals is that silence is often the best way to invite people to share their thoughts.  Implicitly, my silence says exactly what I am thinking, which is “Tell me more.” My voice shouldn’t be the only one heard.  And many times, the thoughts that come from our team members “filling the void” are insightful, smart and transformative.

Silence is a risk, but it can encourage people to speak up, which I believe is empowering within organizations.  It can also demonstrate that, as a leader, you don’t have to be the only voice ever heard.  Sometimes, that is the most important lesson you can share with your team.

How do you create an environment that encourages people to share their opinions?  Also, what is something you say/hear every day within your organization that helps to motivate?

Thanks for stopping by.

Worth Doing
February 17, 2014

At the beginning of a recent ParenteBeard partner call, I shared a quotation that I’ve been giving much thought to of late: “Sometimes the hardest things in life are the things most worth doing.

Rarely a day goes by that we don’t read in the news about a company that shutters a plant, a layoff that occurs in an effort to keep a business alive or a high profile change in company benefits that aims at strengthening a business long-term.  Sometimes these decisions, no matter how difficult, are the right decisions for the greater good, as much as we hate to admit it.

I am lucky that ParenteBeard isn’t in a position to have to make such decisions but it doesn’t mean that as a CEO, I don’t think about “what ifs.”  How can I not?  But a nearly 20 year old business case study reminds me of the importance of making decisions for the greater good, even when it’s hard and even when others say you should not.   

In 1995, two weeks before Christmas, a fire destroyed 90-year old Malden Mills, a textile manufacturer in Massachusetts and left 3,000 people out of work.  Its CEO, Aaron Feuerstein, could have used this as a perfect reason to outsource his manufacturing offshore.  He could have simply said, “I’m sorry but it’s been a good run.”

He didn’t. Two days after the fire, Feuerstein announced plans to rebuild the plant in Massachusetts.  He also announced that he would pay his employees their full wages for 30 days and eventually he extended that offer to 90 days for  paychecks and 180 days for benefits. His decision cost Malden Mills $25 million before it even rebuilt.

His decision was viewed as “crazy” among some business leaders.  But his employees repaid Feuerstein with great loyalty and productivity for a decade after the re-build.  Business grew 40 percent from pre-fire levels, customer and employee retention stood at 95 percent and production increased from 130,000 to 200,000 yards per week.

While Malden Mills eventually suffered the fate of many manufacturing plants in the United States, its ending shouldn’t obscure the lesson: “Sometimes the hardest things in life are the things most worth doing.

Has there been a time when you’ve had to make a hard choice for the benefit of others?  If so, how did you know it was the right choice?

Thanks for stopping by.

Great Expectations
December 31, 2013

When Charles Dickens wrote his epic novel, “Great Expectations,” he included the line: “…and to-morrow looked in my face more steadily than I could look at it.”

There is one day a year when that line resonates most: December 31.

The unsteady gaze cast toward “to-morrow” (January 1) is often mistaken as having had one too many glasses of celebratory champagne.  Frequently though, the bubbly has little to do with it.  We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our New Year’s resolutions – all in an effort to be “better” than we were last year – but we rarely take the time to think about why we need to make a resolution at all.

The idea of an annual clean slate is nice, but I find that setting “great expectations” on January 1 often leads to great frustration by February 1.  That’s not because people can’t change or aren’t trying hard enough.  It’s because we can’t start with a clean slate.  We can’t pretend that yesterday, last year or the last decade hasn’t happened.  It’s that history that precipitates our desire for change.

Inherently, I think we all know that resolutions are just a distraction from having to think about what has happened in the recent – or even distant – past.  This isn’t just personally.  It’s professionally too.   There’s never a year that passes without my thinking about a decision I’ve made as CEO and whether it was the right one.  Sometimes, those decisions happened last week.  Other times, they happened in 2004.

But I know that by making myself look back, rather than rushing into a resolution, I am a better person and ultimately, a better leader.  It’s hard to do, but you can’t truly set “great expectations” for yourself or your company without the self-awareness and knowledge of what has happened in the past to drive these new expectations.

How do you take lessons from the past and integrate them into your expectation setting for the New Year?  Is it easier/better to do this personally or professionally?

Thanks for stopping by – and Happy New Year.