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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gratitude
December 9, 2013

The holiday season brings an annual opportunity to share our gratitude for the people and things we have.  I’ve always believed that the reason people look forward to this time of year is not because of the gifts, decorations or holiday festivities, but because it’s the only time of year that really encourages us to be effusive in our thanks.

I’ve been thinking about gratitude a great deal lately.

Just this week, I found myself thanking a ParenteBeard team member for a job well done throughout this past year.  We have a wonderful team at ParenteBeard and I know that I am lucky to lead them as CEO.  Every day, I feel gratitude, but perhaps I need to express it more frequently.

I recently heard a story of a team member who spent the week of Thanksgiving on a tropical island.  People thought it was an odd choice and I understood that.  Turkey with all the trimmings on a beach?  But when asked about it, her answer was quite simple, “I really strive to practice gratitude every single day.  Not just on, or around the holidays, but 365 days a year.”

I’m guessing she may not fit it in every day, but it made me think of what a great goal it is to work towards. It’s important to give thanks all year, not just during the holidays.

In 2014, I will be making an effort to express my gratitude day-in and day-out.

How often do you express your gratitude? And do you feel it’s enough?

Thanks for stopping by – and Happy Holidays!

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The Art of Leadership and the Discipline of Management
November 25, 2013

On Tuesday, November 19, we hosted a wide range of presenters, which included CEOs, industry leaders and topic experts at our annual Corporate Governance & Audit Committee Forum.  It was a terrific afternoon of robust professional conversation, providing keen insights into how organizations must answer the critical questions, “What are you doing? More importantly, what are you not doing?”

As a CEO, these questions keep me up at night. Certainly, the answers are not only foundational to outstanding corporate governance, but they can also define the leadership of an organization to clients, team members and other key stakeholders.  All of our guests spoke eloquently to these questions and I was grateful to each of them for sharing their time and expertise.  Our keynote speaker, Douglas Shulman, former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, captured my attention with his vivid articulation of leadership as a core element of good governance.

Shulman’s remarks resonated because he’s mastered the difference between leadership and management.  As I can attest, and likely as so many reading this can too, there is a very thin line between the two.  For effective governance, you need to strike a balance between leadership and management. If one trumps the other, what you are not doing becomes all the more apparent.

In examining that fine line, Shulman talked about leadership as an “art” and management as a “discipline.”  Both are apt descriptors and it helped crystalize my thoughts about the role I play at ParenteBeard.  As CEO, I know how much I want to master both the art and the discipline of what I do, but I also know what a challenge that is.  As Shulman said, it’s about knowing when to “give a daring goal” but also when to demand that team members “own their decisions.”

How do you balance the “art of leadership” and the “discipline of management” in your organization?  What challenges have you have faced doing so and how have you overcome them?

Thanks for stopping by.

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The Hardest Ask
November 4, 2013

People often discuss the hardest things in life to ask for – and recently, I’ve heard the same two answers: money and help. While I agree, from my vantage point, the hardest ask is for someone’s time.

I have been reminded of this in recent weeks as we planned ParenteBeard’s Corporate Governance and Audit Committee Forum.  This year, we built a dynamic panel of speakers – a real “wow!” – with former FBI Director, Louis Freeh, serving as our Keynote Speaker. Other contributors include Jeanette Franzel, Board Member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board; Lon Greenberg, Chairman of UGI; Eileen McDonnell, CEO of Penn Mutual Life; Robert Schimek, CEO of the Americas for AIG Property Casualty; Tom Smith, Vice President of Corporate Audit at Campbell Soup Company and Alan Stone, Practice Group Leader of Litigation & Arbitration Group with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

In securing this panel of speakers, the final “ask” for many of them was on me.  And when you ask someone to give their time, you immediately feel a different sense of responsibility.  You want the experience to be worth their time.  You want to be sure that it’s a “wow” for them too.  You realize that you are asking for something that there’s just too little of for all of us these days.

I feel fortunate that all of those we asked to participate in our Forum saw the value of this event and graciously agreed to share their time and expertise.  But it isn’t lost on me that there might have been other “asks” of them for that afternoon.  I am deeply grateful but I am also relieved that I don’t have to make this “ask” again until 2014!

What asks do you struggle with?  What have been your experiences in asking for a person’s time or perhaps, in being asked to give of your time?

Thanks for stopping by.

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Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone
October 14, 2013

If you had told me two years ago that ParenteBeard would be using Twitter as a way to educate and connect our team members with current and prospective clients, I likely wouldn’t have believed you.  When Twitter burst onto the scene, I’ll be honest, I didn’t see the potential or use for an accounting firm.  Slowly but surely, though, that changed.  I found myself in conversations with team members who would mention news items – about tax audit, no less! – from their Twitter feed.  Clients would send me links to industry news and trade features that no longer came just from the NYT.com or WSJ.com but were exclusive to @nytimes and @WSJ.

I realize now that my initial feeling about ParenteBeard not needing to have a place in the “Twitterverse” was rooted in the fact that I just wasn’t comfortable with what it was or how to use it.  For a time, I let my personal hesitation about Twitter and the fear of breaking out of my comfort zone keep the firm from using this important engagement tool.  But I knew I couldn’t let the firm be held back because I didn’t have a full mastery of re-tweets, at replies and hashtags (#StillSlightlyConfused).  Sometimes, you just have to dive into the deep end of the pool.

Today, I’m thrilled that ParenteBeard took the important step to be on Twitter.  We recently hosted our first TweetChat with Bob Gray, a partner based in Dallas, TX, who spent an hour answering questions from across the country about forensic accounting.  It was incredible to see questions come from students, professionals and even companies seeking advice.  And what made it so gratifying for me, as I followed the chat from @RJCiaruffoli, was the fact that our team was so invigorated by this company first – a first we may not have had if I hadn’t broken out of my comfort zone.

How have you broken out of your comfort zone and how has it made an impact?  Hearing about the many ways – both big and small – that people challenge themselves to be better can inspire all of us to do something we never thought we would do.

If you decide to take the leap on Twitter, please feel free to follow @ParenteBeard.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Who We Are – Inside and Out
September 9, 2013

Today, we launched a new video, “My Balance,” which highlights several ParenteBeard team members and how they strike work-life balance.  From a love for classic cars to coaching t-ball to training for marathons, our team knows how to work hard and play hard.  And at ParenteBeard, we couldn’t encourage that approach more.

To me, work-life balance is important – and that isn’t just lip-service from the CEO.  Our team works unbelievably long hours and each team member is deeply passionate about what they do.  As Jason Bernard rightly says in the video, our team is “talented enough to execute on a high level and driven to do even more than they do today.”  But the reason our team is so productive and able to continually deliver for our clients is because they have rich and fulfilling lives away from the office.  When people are given the flexibility to pursue their personal passions, it makes each of us better professionally.

How do you find your balance?  I’d love to hear about what you’re passionate about outside the office and how you make the time to enjoy it.

Thanks for stopping by.

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