Nineteen Years of Insights: Marty Fox Shares His Thoughts on Culture, Trust, and the Future

By Martin Fox, CPA/ABV, CVA

June 8, 2022

When I interviewed for a position at Grimbleby Coleman 19 years ago, I knew this wasn’t an ordinary firm. 

Our then-CEO, Clive Grimbleby, had a clear vision. Grimbleby Coleman wouldn’t just provide traditional CPA services; instead, we would help entrepreneurs gain financial insights to ultimately make better business decisions. 

That’s where I came in. I had the business advisory and analytic skills to complement the solid tax and accounting foundation that was in place at the time. Now, on the brink of retirement, I can see how well Clive’s vision has played out. We’ve come a long way by keeping the focus on our clients.

Growing a client-first culture

Clients are the linchpin of our company culture — they bring us together to do our very best work. This culture didn’t just happen. It was created and fostered by Clive and then by the rest of us who were fortunate enough to join the team. 

We have managed to preserve our strong client-focused culture through periods of significant change and expansion, such as mergers and COVID-19. We embraced remote work long before the coronavirus came to our shores, so when the lockdown was announced, we became a firm of work-from-home employees overnight. 

We quickly became experts in new programs that could help our clients, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Employee Retention Credits. While some firms were struggling with just getting through tax season, we were helping businesses stay afloat during very turbulent times. 

As a result, we had many new opportunities for growth. Because we could hire people located anywhere, our recruiting efforts expanded to the entire country. We hired people in Fresno, Sacramento, Reno, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and, yes, even some in Modesto and Stockton. We had several staff members relocate out of state and continue working for us. We have seen more growth in the past two years than anytime I can remember.

Now, we have a nationwide team that puts clients first. All because we had leadership, vision, and a client-focused mindset.

Changing with the times — and clients

The pandemic provided a huge and unexpected leap forward, but the most considerable evolution I’ve seen has been in our Client Accounting Services (CAS) area. Traditionally, CPA firms provided CAS such as monthly bookkeeping and financial statements, payroll and sales tax reports, and other reports required by governmental agencies. Almost all of CAS work was “after the fact.” 

As better technology became available, we began to think differently about how we could support our clients’ back-office needs. Traditional bookkeeping work was morphing to real-time financial information that allowed us to discuss issues and concerns with clients —many times before they were even aware of them. 

Those discussions are now part of a consultative approach with business owners and have opened dialogues to address larger concerns. CAS has become one of the most requested services we provide as businesses look for more timely and accurate financial information. 

In many cases, we have become an outsourced company controller or chief financial officer for our clients. Many of the professionals on our CAS team hold certified public accountant credentials or master’s degrees in business administration. Others have gained valuable experience in private industry.

At the same time, the businesses we serve have become larger and more sophisticated; their issues have become more complex. We have always had a can-do attitude about helping clients, which led us to join the BDO Alliance network of firms many years ago. The Alliance gives us access to a network of more than 750 independent firms across the country and access to many of BDO’s experts worldwide. Even though we have very talented people, there are times when something comes up that we’ve never seen or occurs in a different part of the country or world. It’s extremely helpful to call on the expertise of our network.

Living our advice

As our clients’ businesses have become larger and more complex, business owners have had more opportunities to transition their ownership. As a firm, we knew we had to take our own advice and model an excellent transition for our clients. In 2010, we made the decision to bring on new partners who would be our connection to the next generation of business owners and expand our resources and expertise in niches like agriculture and construction. 

By bringing in younger partners early in the game, we were also able to maximize the likelihood of eventually transitioning our clients to experienced pros when the time came for us to retire. Although Clive relished his leadership role in the firm, he had suggested several years earlier that, at some point, the CEO position needed to transition to a younger partner in order to open up new opportunities. When the time came to vote a few years ago, we unanimously selected his son, Ian, to be his successor. 

Based on what he’s shown us so far, Ian will do a fantastic job leading the firm through the next couple of decades. And he’s had to cut his teeth through the COVID pandemic turbulence—my hat’s off to both Clive and Ian.

We are very glad now that we decided to transition 12 years ago. I’ve seen many CPA firm owners reach retirement age with no one there to continue the client relationship. 

A few words of advice 

Now that I’m about to retire, I can share a career’s worth of wisdom with up-and-coming employees. I tell them curiosity is critical in this business. When you think about it, business and personal finances are areas that people are not quick to open up about — it takes time and trust to build relationships. 

I tell the next generation to always listen to clients. Ask questions, and ask yourself questions: Why did one business succeed when a similar one failed? What did the successful business do differently? What part did we, as accountants, have in the outcome? Am I an accountant, a business advisor, or both? What impact can I have on the lives of my clients and their families? What can I learn from others? 

The opportunities for growth and knowledge are endless. There are thousands of books and podcasts by business owners and consultants eager to tell their stories of success and failures. There is always more to learn. 

For example, large agricultural companies have been using data analysis to improve their production, quality, and efficiencies for many years. Our local farmers now have access to tools that allow them to gather and analyze vast amounts of information so they can improve their processes for better results. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are in the very early stages of development and application but will also have tremendous impacts on the industries we serve in the future. 

That said, it’s impossible to know everything. I suggest picking something and learning it well, rather than trying to learn a little about a lot.

It’s all about our clients

I’ve had the privilege of earning clients’ trust for over 40 years. Together, we’ve walked through some great times and some very rocky times, excitement and sorrow, life and death. I cherish those relationships and will miss them.

Because of the vision and leadership that began many years ago, I’m confident our team, the Grimbleby Coleman culture, and relationships will continue to grow with the involvement of caring, professional, and talented people who have our clients’ interests at the heart of what they do. And that leaves me free to walk away without worrying about what will happen when I’m gone. I’m excited about the future!

If you have more questions about this article or are seeking advice for your business, we are here for you. Email our team at contactus@gccpas.net or call us at 209-527-4220. We wish Marty great joy and happiness as he moves into the next chapter – retirement!