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#21 Small Company on the 2008 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America List
January through April is crunch time for tax accountants -- they compute clients’ returns almost every waking hour. But managers discourage hellacious hours at Clark Nuber, a regional accounting and consulting firm in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle. It’s a matter of culture.
Clark Nuber’s leaders prefer that tax specialists limit peak-period hours to about 55 per week -- low by accountants’ standards -- to prevent burnout and stay sharp for clients. It’s “opportunity season,” a time to engage with clients, not crush season, says David E. Katri, president and chief executive officer.
Clark Nuber, a $25 million company with about 150 employees and a pervasive people-centered culture, has been named one of the Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second straight year -- at No. 21 on the list for 2008.
The firm provides tax and audit services for businesses, high-net-worth individuals and nonprofit organizations. It also provides a lot for employees -- from attractive compensation and benefits to open-door interaction among people at all levels in the organization.
Katri, a certified public accountant (CPA) with a management background, brought his strong employee focus to Clark Nuber seven years ago after having run the Fluke Corp., a testing-equipment supplier. “People before clients,” he says. “We’re a professional services firm. Our people are what drive the business, and we need happy and excited people in the workforce to provide great results for our clients.”
He adds, “We have shifted quite a bit of emphasis to fostering an environment where employees want to be part of a team that really accomplishes things bigger than they could ever accomplish by themselves.”
Julie Eisenhauer, a senior manager in the audit department, has 21 years of experience in public accounting, including four at Clark Nuber. She examines organizations’ 401(k) plans, compliance with retirement plan rules and adherence to federal regulations. What sets the firm apart “is how they value their employees,” she says. “It’s the tone at the top.”
Thank-yous are the norm. They range from a $10,000 bonus for bringing a new manager on board, to themed get-togethers in the snack room, to “Bob bucks” that employees hand one another for jobs well done. The “bucks,” named for founder Bob Nuber, convert to retail gift cards.
“Appreciation for me is just a smile,” says Administrative Assistant Wendy Cummings, who views “Bob bucks” as a symbol of the firm’s regard for its people. She returned to Clark Nuber five years ago after raising her children. She missed the place. “I like the integrity here.” A published poet, she carefully crafts business letters because they “represent our company.”
Tax Associate Paul Ung did the books for his father’s two 7-Eleven stores while he earned an accounting degree from Seattle University. Now, two years later, he prepares tax returns for individuals and partnerships under the guidance of senior accountants. He also helps train new employees and recruits on campuses, telling students about the easy communication with the firm’s leaders and the friendly milieu: “It’s a fun environment -- from a tax perspective.”
Kathryn Ong, a tax manager with three years at the firm and a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Washington, oversees projects and does “compliance work and preparation of returns,” mainly for nonprofits and partnerships. She tracks others’ work and makes sure they have work to do. Clark Nuber was an easy choice: “When I walked in, I felt right at home.”
That’s what Tracy White, SPHR, likes to hear. As senior director of human resources, she fosters an atmosphere of cordiality. She wants the office to convey “a very warm feeling, a very welcoming feeling.” Her six-member HR team oversees culture-enhancing customs and characteristics -- from lunches and latte carts, to 401(k) matches and fully paid employee health premiums, to an office design that bespeaks professionalism.
White joined Clark Nuber six years ago, fully acclimated to the accounting culture. She had been an executive with the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants but was drawn to HR. Katri recalls that she “came in to the interview with a five-year plan of what she wanted to accomplish at Clark Nuber” if she got the job. “She understood our strategy, and she understood how the HR function can complement the actual implementation of that strategy.”
“I came on board and started from scratch,” with credibility aided by experience working with CPAs, White says. She creates “a formal HR strategy plan” each year and has implemented several management systems.
Initially, White did all candidate screening -- “I wanted to make sure every person we added fit well with the culture.” Now, she does second interviews. She notes that the firm sometimes hires strong candidates even when there are no openings -- confident that it pays off in the long run to have a top professional in place when needs change.
“It’s so nice,” White says, “to work for an organization that truly values human resources.”
List of Best Small Companies to Work for in America, 2008
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