In a recent conversation, David Toth, Chief Growth Officer of Winding River Consulting, sat down with Ben Wilson, Managing Partner and CEO of Adams Brown and MPB | Leadership Accelerated alumni. Below is a summary of their conversation.
Since Ben Wilson first walked through the doors of Adams Brown in 2009, the firm has come a long way. In the fifteen years since, the firm has expanded significantly throughout Kansas and Arkansas, is on track to top $50 million in revenue, and has aspirations of becoming a Top 100 accounting firm in the nation.
Along the way, Ben has driven the firm’s growth in several roles, from leading a regional office to serving as the firm’s Vice President. We sat down with Ben to learn more about his journey and how Adams Brown has maintained a cohesive culture in a time of rapid growth.
Ben’s Path to Managing Partner
Joining Adams Brown after graduating from college in 2009, Ben’s first leadership role came in 2014 when he was tasked with managing Adams Brown’s Wichita, KS office – then a staff of seven. Today, Ben is still based in Wichita, but the office is a little bigger: nearly 100 of the firm’s 350 employees work out of the Wichita office.
After his success growing the Wichita office, Ben gradually took on more leadership responsibilities. He first served as a Regional Manager and then became Vice President of the firm where he took on a leadership role managing the leaders of the firm’s key industry verticals and practices.
In June of 2023, Ben took on the CEO and Managing Partner role, succeeding his mentor Brian Staats. Since then, he’s been focused on continuing the firm’s fast-paced growth while maintaining a one-firm culture.
Scaling Growth & Maintaining Culture
As a growing firm with hundreds of employees across Kansas and Arkansas, maintaining a strong culture at Adams Brown has required an intentional approach. With 14 offices, one of Ben’s key focuses is maintaining a consistent, one-firm culture.
One thing that’s been key for Ben is bringing all of the firm’s employees together regularly. He reflects:
“We just hosted a two-day leadership summit where we brought all of our leaders together, and a major focus of those conversations was culture. While we want to be highly specialized to provide value to our clients, we’re one firm. We want to share resources and experiences and bring everybody into the fold under one common culture.”
The firm had previously been organized on an office-by-office basis, with each office maintaining its own culture. But as the firm has grown, it’s pivoted to a new structure where it’s organized by practice area. For Ben, this has been both a challenge and an opportunity during his journey to the CEO and Managing Partner role:
“Breaking down the locational silos and working better across offices was important to us. But when we reorganized, we didn’t want to create new silos in our service teams. For us, it’s a constant drumbeat that we’re all on the same team, even as we focus heavily on specialization to provide value to our clients. We have to be very intentional about building a consistent culture”
Adams Brown has 14 offices spread across Kansas and Arkansas. As Ben sees it, these offices aren’t just important in allowing Adams Brown to be close to their clients – they’re also vital in attracting talent. Ben explains:
“Through a merger, we recently opened up an office with a fantastic group of professionals in Manhattan, KS – home to Kansas State University. We also opened up a Little Rock, AR office to be closer to the universities and colleges there. Our goals with new offices aren’t just related to business development – they’re also to create [a] culture that helps us win the talent war.”
Key Learning: a one-firm culture can be maintained across multiple offices, but it demands an intentional approach, an investment in bringing people together, and an explicit acknowledgment of what makes different offices and teams unique.
Building a Leadership Factory
Developing a reliable pipeline of leadership talent is key to the future of every firm, and it’s an area where Ben spends a lot of his time.
Adams Brown is very intentional about creating what Ben calls a “leadership factory,” investing in training programs, joining the BDO Alliance, and seeking out opportunities to help people at every level of the organization grow. Ben comments:
“Our leadership has done a very, very good job over the years of making sure we’re ahead of the curve on talent development. It’s been a huge part of our culture and history. We’re doing things our peers are not doing in the markets that we operate in. It’s not an accident. It comes from being diligent, paying attention, and investing the time and energy for our staff to be successful.”
Harvesting the knowledge of outside influencers to broaden the firm’s leadership knowledge and develop key personnel has been a major focus. Adams Brown works with a wide range of external advisors and consultants, and to Ben, it’s invaluable:
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you’re exposed to new concepts. We’re always trying to seek out those new perspectives and share them with our team.”
Key Learning: don’t rely solely on internal resources to develop your firm’s bench of talent. Invest in new initiatives with external advisors, build peer groups, and broaden your mind by seeking differing perspectives.
The Role of MBP | Leadership Accelerated
Ben took part in MBP: Leadership Accelerated in 2020, and it’s a program that he says continues to pay dividends in his career:
“The relationships you make in the program are so important: I stay in touch with the other leaders I went through the program with. The exposure I get to firms that are doing the things we want to do is so valuable.”
Another element of MPB: Leadership Accelerated Ben enjoyed particularly was the physical bootcamp run by Winding River Consulting’s Matt Terlop:
“The physical aspect of MPB: Leadership Accelerated is something that was really meaningful to me personally. Making sure you spend the time to take care of yourself impacts your ability to give back to your family, to lead your firm, and make sure you have the energy and focus you need to be successful.”
Applications for MPB | Leadership Accelerated 2024 are now open. Kicking off in May in Chicago, this rigorous bootcamp for aspiring leaders in the accounting industry addresses key leadership skills ranging from negotiation to executive presence, building culture, practice growth, and more.