Job: Owner and CPA, Brohl Tax & Accounting
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Steve and I were connected by a previous interviewee, Nick. Steve went to school at Hillsdale College with Nick, and also with Alex from my third interview. Hearing how Steve’s five-year plan turned into a much shorter plan that led him to going out on his own is exactly what a lot of people want to hear. Plans change, which has certainly been a constant throughout these interviews. Read more about Steve's career here.
Tell us how you ended up where you are today.
I started my own tax practice about 2 years ago. Before that, right after school at Hillsdale College, I worked for a first-tier automotive supplier called HGM Automotive for two years. During that time, I was in grad school at Walsh College back in Troy, in the east side of Michigan, which is where I’m originally from. After grad school, I used that degree to get into the public accounting world. At first I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I had a good mentor who told me to go get my CPA.
I heeded his advice and went to a firm called Iannuzzi Manetta & Co. and that is probably the best foundation I received because it is pretty much what I am trying to emulate now in my practice. This practice had about 25 accountants and I really liked how they operated. Their focus on the client, their well-organized methods, and their goals were great. After moving to the west side of Michigan in Grand Rapids, I joined a bigger firm and realized after a short while that I actually preferred the smaller firm style because I liked working with clients and being face to face. I liked helping clients with every facet of their business, not just one part. When you get into a bigger firm a lot of times, you get into one area, but I kind of like doing everything and being the clients’ sole resource. So I was there for a little bit and that was when I decided to start my own practice. While I built up my own book of business on the side, I went to work for a larger firm in their tax department. When I arrived, I had a five-year plan where I would build up my business and then transition full-time after those five years. Those five years turned into about nine months, and that’s when I decided to transfer over full-time. It has exceeded my expectations every day and it has been really rewarding.
What encouraged you to make the final jump to start your own practice?
When I decided to start Brohl Tax & Accounting, it was because I didn’t want to wait another ten to twelve years to be a partner in another firm. I felt like I had a lot of good ideas and I was excelling. It is a lot easier to take a risk when it is your name on the line. I find networking a lot easier when I network for myself rather than someone else. Maybe that’s just how it all happened and the timing was just right. I don’t mind attending networking events and talking about my own business because I know how I want it to look and I have my own ideas. When I was at my last firm before venturing out on my own, I decided to move because I realized corporate was not for me. I really like helping people and I didn’t really get that vibe at a large company, so I left.
What struggles did you encounter when you first entered the workplace that have helped you grow?
I think the original struggle was right after I got out of undergrad when I was pretty ignorant about the working world, probably like most recent grads. I thought to myself, “I am a likable person and have a great education, so I am going to get this great job and make a ton of money and go right up the corporate ladder quickly." Then, when the job applications started going out and I didn’t get as many hits as I would have liked, I think it put things in perspective a bit for me. Now what I would translate that to is you have to work hard and can’t take it for granted.
Can you talk to us about being self-employed?
It has been very rewarding, and it is going to be tough ever going back to a nine-to-five job if I ever do. I'll put it this way: you don’t do it to work less. There are times where I do work more, but it is nice to have that flexibility. At this time of the year, I think I am still over 40 hours a week. But I love what I do, so it really doesn’t feel like work. And as far as finding my own clients, I network a lot. Part of networking is just keeping your eyes open for a partnership, so I always keep my eyes open.
How has your age played a role in your career?
I try not to publicly announce my age too much because I think a lot of people would be hesitant to work for an advisor who is this young. I have always been an old soul, though, and a lot of my friends are older than I am. So, to answer your question, I don’t think it hurts me; in fact, I think it has benefited me later in my career in the way that I am willing to take on new tasks and I am not stuck in the old ways. While starting my firm, I had the ability to set up the processes and I never got stuck in the idea of “well, this is how we have always done it.” I think some people may be surprised by my age because it only took me a short while in public accounting to really "get" it. I enjoy learning more about it, reading articles, and just staying on top of things. I’m comfortable in offering my services and I know I can do it very well, so I think it comes across that way to my clients.
Which of your personal strengths has led to your success?
I would say probably two things. One is my dedication to customer service. I am just trying to make things easier for clients; it’s that simple. The personality trait that has led to my success would be my optimism. I try to shoot for the moon most times. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’, but I honestly don’t really think of them mostly and just keep pushing.
Where do you see yourself in the next 20 years?
What I am doing now is what I’d like to see myself doing in 40 years. I kind of have an entrepreneurial mindset, so I could see Brohl Tax & Accounting coupling with something else down the road. In the public accounting world, you have a lot of work that is done between January and April, but then things slow down in the summer months. Eventually, I’d like to couple that with another venture to make use of that extra time that I get during those months. Being in public accounting, I get to work with and learn from so many different businesses, where I feel like I have resources to do something else and do it well.
How have past leaders impacted your own leadership style?
I think I have been fortunate enough to have some really good leaders in my career so far and I have tried to take good traits from each of them and incorporate them into my own business. The plan is definitely to expand with staff, and a lot of what I like to do is help people. I’d like to be more on the business outreach side of things of my business, so I’d like to have a team behind me.
What is one word or phrase you would use to describe your time in the workplace thus far?
Take the risk, especially in your younger years. I think you learn a lot by venturing out and trying something new. I would never force something because you think it is something you should do. But if you’re passionate about it, do it. For me, I don’t think there was ever another option. I felt compelled to start my own practice ever since a young age. My parents are both small business owners, so growing up, that was always the goal.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- It is a lot easier to take a risk when it is your name on the line
- You aren't self-employed to work less
- Part of networking is just keeping your eyes open for a partnership, so I always keep my eyes open
- Take the risk, especially in your younger years