Hey folks! It’s a pleasure to have you join us for another insightful episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. With us today is David Kessler, CEO of CohnReznick, an advisory, assurance, and tax firm that aids in reducing tax obligations for private businesses and individuals.
In this episode, Lou and David discuss CohnReznick’s leadership and its recognition as a Most Loved Workplace®. So, without any further delay, let’s jump in!
Lou gets the ball rolling by congratulating David Kessler on his long career at CohnReznick and asks him what makes the company a “Most Loved Workplace®”. David highlights that the organization cares about its employees and clients and fosters collaboration through various communities within the organization.
CohnReznick hires hundreds of people every year, including new graduates and lateral positions. David emphasizes that its strength lies in the expertise of its employees in various industries and specialties and the diversity within the firm. Despite the perceived lack of interest in accounting, he believes it is an exciting career with many opportunities, and he is just one example of this within the company.
According to David, new employees joining the company get to learn technical skills and gain industry expertise while also managing engagements and working with various teams and clients.
CohnReznick encourages employees to have a wide range of experiences, including elective opportunities in technology, recruiting, marketing, learning and development. David expresses the satisfaction of working with different clients, including large public companies and startups, and the support from mentors and colleagues for personal and professional growth.
When asked how a junior employee can find success at CohnReznick, David highlights the key to success is to care about clients and find solutions that exceed their expectations. For him, an ideal employee should also care about their colleagues and support their initiatives.
He describes the company’s pyramid values, which include: a passion for excellence, yearning for knowledge, respect for everyone, adaptability, making a difference, integrity, and developing opportunities. These values guide everything CohnReznick does and contribute to creating a special place.
Moving on, the speakers discuss the company’s programs for young professionals, including Focus Fridays and on-the-job learning. Like everyone else, CohnReznick had to adapt and reinvent itself because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has successfully used video technology and various platforms to maintain relationships and connectivity with colleagues and clients.
Focus Fridays were created to give employees time for reflection and uninterrupted work, and the company also prioritizes mental health with various programs and solutions. Presently, it operates under a hybrid work environment and encourages collaboration in person when valuable.
Next, David talks about how CohnReznick values community involvement and encourages employees to spend time outside of work contributing to various community activities. The company supports lower-middle-income families by making lunch packs for school-going children and offering various other community services.
Lou notes that committing to the community and helping others is not only a wise choice but also the right thing to do. David agrees, stating that integrity is one of the most important characteristics of the advisory profession.
CohnReznick also values forward thinking, creativity, drive, hard work, and fun, which helps employees build strong personal connections at the workplace. David mentions that it is not uncommon for them to go on vacations together and enjoy spending quality time outside of work.
Lou is curious about what type of employee CohnReznick is looking for and how one can apply for a position in the company. David mentions that CohnReznick is looking for talented, motivated, driven professionals from a wide range of backgrounds who want to make a difference and know how to work with a team.
The company offers a variety of opportunities in assurance and tax, advisory services, technology, cybersecurity, ERP systems implementation, data analytics, finance, valuation, transaction advisory services, bankruptcy, litigation, and government services. He encourages young professionals to seek out CohnReznick as there are enormous opportunities in the accounting profession that offer a new job every month, quarter, or year.
David strongly believes that working at CohnReznick offers exposure and experience across different industries and sizes of clients, traveling across the country and the world, meeting new people, and learning new skills. On that note, he advises young professionals to consider a career in accounting as it can create opportunities for a lifetime.
Moving on, the speakers discuss the importance of creating an inclusive and welcoming work environment where employees feel a sense of belonging and make an impact. They compare their experiences working at different companies and highlight the unique culture of CohnReznick that values inclusiveness.
David mentions the company’s commitment to helping employees develop their careers and find opportunities to make a difference both within the company and in the community. He also mentions taking pride in the company’s growth and expansion while maintaining a strong sense of community and family.
When asked about his vision for CohnReznick, David highlights that it is to continue expanding the firm’s geographies, services, and partnerships. He wants to grow in areas where the firm is not currently actively operating, such as the South East and the middle parts of the country, and to expand on the West Coast.
He wants to understand what clients need the most within the industries they practice in and continue to build out their services. David Kessler looks forward to creating life-changing experiences for his employees and clients and making CohnReznick the best accounting and advisory firm that it can be.
Lou and David go into much greater detail throughout this conversation. Thank you for listening!
Louis Carter : Hey, it's great to have David Kessler here today, CEO of CohnReznick. And Dave, welcome, welcome, welcome.
David Kessler : It's great to see you. Thanks for having me. It's so good to be here.
LC : Well, it's terrific. I can't wait to hear more about CohnReznick you and your leadership and what makes you a Most Loved Workplace. Congratulations on becoming a top most loved workplace this year.
DK : Oh, thank you.
LC : Oh, you're quite welcome. Well, David, it's amazing your career at CohnReznick, coming in as a young professional coming on 37 years now, and really creating this culture where it's great for young professionals to come in and knowing what that's like.
And you hire 350 to 400 people every year right? Right out of college, which is amazing. And I just want to know, first of all, just jump into it, what makes you a most loved workplace?
DK : Thanks. And you know, the people we hire directly out of college, I address each year and I say, look, I started in the same seat that you guys started in, and we hire hundreds more in, at lateral positions, various levels of experience throughout, you know, all of our offices around the country and all of our practice areas. But we really care about each other and we care about our clients. And it all starts with communities and the communities within inside our organization. And that helps us to really create a lot of collaboration. And it starts as a team sport when you join CohnReznick. And you're assigned to an office, whether you sit in an office or you sit at home, you're attached to service lines, you're attached to so many different industries that you're involved with.
We excel in the industries that we service, and that's one of the things that makes us different and special tactical skills and specialties and backgrounds and different ethnicities in the groups that we have within our firm that collaborate together. And everyone can learn about so much and all these things. So we, you know, try to integrate all this together and allow for strong connections throughout these many communities within CohnReznick.
And then there's so many communities outside of CohnReznick that everybody's a part of. So that's what makes it so exciting. And, you know, I tell people, accounting may not have the most sex appeal, but man, it is one exciting career and there are so many opportunities, and I'm just one example of that. And we have so many within our firm of 300 partners and 3000 employees in the US and 700 employees in India who are all part of our firm who experienced the journey. And not everybody has the same journey, but it sure is an exciting one.
LC : It sounds that, you know, this concept is of hiring so many young professionals right out of college that's so extraordinary, and helping them to lead up to the higher levels, giving them succession plans, career opportunities, this opportunity to be heard, as you said, understanding the diverse landscape and having psychological safety inside the environment. Tell us more about what that's like for a young professional to come into CohnReznick. What does it look like? What does the culture look like and, you know, what makes them excited about it?
DK : Yeah, absolutely, well, you know, the culture, you know, is one of, you know, belonging inclusiveness. And the really, the joy in the experience that, that people have kind of runs along a spectrum. And, you know, first there's technical skills, you know, you really hone your craft on whether it's assurance, tax, so many different advisory practice areas within our firm. You learn so much about technical skills. You learn about managing people, about managing client assignments, about working with different people, both inside and outside the firm.
There's the industry depth and experience and the expertise. And I always enjoyed that. I liked going into a client and the client knew that you guys specialize in this particular industry, regardless of the industry. There's 15 or so wide ranging industries, we have specialties in. And I always appreciated how we were recognized as experts and leaders.
And I might be asked a question, and I might not know the answer, but my partners, my colleagues that had much more experience than me, I could corral them and say, this is the problem. Let's help find a solution. And you build relationships with stakeholders inside the firm and outside the firm that are lifelong. Colleagues and friends, whether you stay within our firm, join another company, join a client, join some company within the industry, you know, we have these relationships that are longstanding and then the contributions that our people make to our firm.
You know, so you've got the technical skills, you've got your managing of your engagements, you've got your industry experience. Then the contributions that you can make that I call 'em electives. And I always was so excited about all of these electives, whether it's being on the technology committee in our innovation office, being involved with recruiting or on campus at colleges across the US, business development, marketing super users with technology, learning and development, creating and teaching a course for others.
All of these things create so much professional and personal development. And, you know, we encourage everybody to have a wide range of experiences at CohnReznick. And then, you know, the other thing is being a part of various different teams along your service lines and industries where you can have so much satisfaction in working with different people and working with different clients.
And what I always enjoyed was one minute I could be working with a large public company with a sophisticated accounting department, finance group, going through M&A activities and very technical tax accounting advisory. And then the very next day I could be working with a startup of a company of three people that really need help creating the backbone of their company. And those are wide ranging experiences and everything in between, you know, so that's what always kept me motivated and excited and, the receptiveness to creating new and different experiences and having the support from the people that I work for and my mentors in wanting to see me thrive and grow.
And, I try to give that back. That's one of the most rewarding things is when somebody you've worked with since they've been an intern, is promoted to a partner within our firm. And that's so exciting.
LC : Yeah. The promotion too, but everyone will probably want to know, how do you succeed at CohnReznick, you know, especially from you. How, what, yeah. How do you do it?
DK : You know, it's really about caring about our clients, helping find solutions, exceeding their expectations, and also caring about each other. You know, through my 36 plus years at the firm, you know, your life changes. You get married, you have children, you're involved in external organizations and activities that you're passionate about.
And to be able to have the support, to be able to excel based on your lifestyle as it changes is, you know, what really provides the support system. And then, you know, the other thing is our pyramid values. We really believe in our pyramid values, which are passion for excellence, yearning for knowledge, respect for everyone, adaptability, making a difference, integrity, and developing opportunities. And, you know, that's so critical in everything we do. How we treat each other, how we treat our clients, and it creates a special place.
LC : It's wonderful. I mean, the question I also had for you is, I've heard great things about your focus Fridays, your HR team's doing a great job on this. Your coursework on the job learning, they're doing just a wonderful job. You have a great team doing this with you. Tell me about these great programs for young professionals, must love this stuff. It sounds so cool.
DK : The one thing we had to do was, you know, part of our pyramid values is adaptability. And with what's happened in the world with COVID, we've had to reinvent ourselves. And we were able to successfully do that through a whole bunch of different programs. And, you know, the challenges of, you know, working from home are made much easier with technology recreating the relationships and the connectivity that we have with each other and our clients through the video technology, streaming, chatting, and so many different platforms to be able to communicate, interact, mentor, and create learning groups has been very successful for us. You know, so we continue to do that and thrive on that. We created Focus Fridays because everyone is so, you know, glued to their computer, their videos. We found, you know, that your calendar fills up with meeting after meeting.
So we said, look, you know, let's take Fridays and use that time for yourself, if you want to reflect, get some work done without interruptions. And for the most part that's worked great. We've had group bingos, Halloween parties, you know, all kinds of things like that. So mental health is very important. We have a lot of different mental health programs and solutions for our employees to take advantage of.
And, you know, we closed down for the week of Thanksgiving this past year. We know how hard it is for people to unglue themselves from their computers. We have a hybrid work environment. We're encouraging people to come in and collaborate within our offices. We believe that we operate under our CohnReznick purpose, and, you know, we can collaborate with each other virtually. And there's times where it's much more valuable to collaborate in person. So, you know, that's important for us.
And next year, we're gonna close down July 4th week and Thanksgiving week to allow people time to decompress. Now we have client demands and deadlines. So for the most part, you know, the majority of our company is able to do that. Mm-hmm. [affirmative].
LC : Yeah. So a lot of care is given to rest, to also focus and also to give freedom to connect to customers on each other.
DK : Yeah. And you know, we think, you know, that, you know, together we're part of something greater and we spend a lot of time with each other at work, but we also spend a lot of time on community activities. And, you know, we're very proud of that, whether it's buying and filling backpacks for kids that are of lower middle income families within our communities that we can contribute, whether it's making lunches. Recently we made lunch packs out of one of our offices, and we've done that throughout various different offices, you know, so we're very involved.
Each of our offices has a community focused group to determine which things are most important within our local communities to contribute to. And, not only our financial support, but our time as well. And, we believe in that.
LC : Yeah. To give that kind of commitment to the community as well as the interest of not just young professionals, but I think everyone really to help others is not just a wise choice. It's the right thing to do, right? It sounds like doing the right thing is important at CohnReznick.
DK : Doing the right thing is extremely important. You know, it's the backbone of our profession. Integrity is, you know, one of the most important characteristics you could have in the work that we do, but, you know, with each other. And so important. And, you know, we believe integrity, forward thinking, being creative, being driven, hard work and having fun is the most important thing.
And you know, what's amazing to me is not only the professional connections that a lot of our people have, but the personal connections. You know, when I talk to some of our people and the teams that I've worked with, and we go on vacations together, we like being with each other, you know, which is a little strange since we spend so much time together at work. But you create these strong relationships.
LC : Sort of going places together, being with each other, and also belongings is important. You know, part of your pillars that you discussed, and, you know, feeling like there's a sense of belonging, isn't there? Like, when people come in. So I'm a young professional, I'm out of college, and I'm thinking to myself, well, I have other opportunities, but I really love accounting and I really want to be in the field. Who are you looking for? How can people not just find you, website, HR, like that, but who are you really looking for?
If you were to speak out to them today and hear you, what would you say to them? You know, why they should come to you, and what should they do to get a job with you?
DK : Yeah. Well, you know, we look for people, you know, of wide ranging backgrounds. We're about 80% assurance and tax, and 20% advisory services. So technology, cyber security, ERP systems implementation, data analytics, all these skills, finance skills, valuation, transaction advisory services, bankruptcy, litigation, government services. All these are, you know, folks that we're looking for because of our growth. We've experienced 20% growth over the last year, largely due to the expansion of services and our client base.
And we look for people who are talented, who are motivated, who are driven, who want to make a difference, who know how to work with a wide range of people. Teamwork environment, and the accounting profession is so exciting. And there's so many opportunities within not only public accounting, not only CohnReznick, but just, you know, at large. And I've always been amazed at the amount of opportunities that are available.
And so please seek us out. We're open for business and we're open for hiring. And there's just an enormous amount of opportunity. I've always, you know, as I said before, like, you know, the variety, not only in the size of the clients, but you know, traveling across the country, traveling across the world, meeting with new people, working in many different industries, and you really get to learn so much.
It's almost like it's a new job every month, quarter, or year. And, you know, I've always enjoyed experiences that were thrust upon me that I never anticipated or expected or even wanted. And it's turned out to be life-changing with the relationships and the skills that I've learned, but also being able to navigate my career into the areas where I wanted to have exposure and experience. Whether it would be transactional due diligence with M&A activity, whether it's working in the finance industries or nonprofit industries, working in forensic assignments, you know, uncovering fraud and you know, being available to testify in court and all these different types of experiences that create such a wealth of knowledge where you can determine, well I really want to do more of that, or, that was great. I enjoyed doing that for three months, nine months a year, and now I'll go back to my core practice. So I encourage, you know, everyone to really consider younger folks, you know, consider a career in accounting and the opportunity that it can create for a lifetime.
LC : Now, David, undergrad, I was a government and economics major. And, I remember my friends, there was two, it's kind of like they were in two buckets. The two buckets were who were in my government economics. They were number one people who just wanted to make a lot of money. The second bucket was people who wanted to make a huge difference in the world.
DK : Mm- hmm [affirmative].
LC : So this is what happened. I had several of my friends, I won't speak to exactly who, several of my friends went to do the money aspect first. These are lawyers and some accountants as well. So they went into the big law firms, huge law firms. And then they went in places like Department of Justice and the usual, you know, the SEC, larger Washington sort of institutions.
And they did real well there, got up into the higher ranks. And the question I have for them is, what would you rather do? So they say to me, some of both, cause I want to make the money and I also want to make a difference [laugh]. So what I'm hearing you're saying is people can have a lucrative career and they can still do things like work uncover fraud and affordable housing. Sort of like, you get best of both worlds.
DK : No question about it. And you know, when you started down that path, my initial thought was, why not both? You know, you can do both and, you know, you can make a good living certainly in the accounting profession, you know, but you can also give back so much, whether it's in the work that you actually do. You know, we do a lot of work with affordable housing, community development. I've been personally involved in that practice. It's so rewarding. You really are making a difference for families and for America in that work.
And it was always so prideful for me to be able to work on a deal, a project. And what's actually happening is you're creating a place for people to live. You're working on creating services for people, whether it's tutorial, healthcare, mental health services, before and after school care and things like that. And then even at large, changing whole communities through various different grant programs that exist that just develop whole blocks in major cities, you know.
Renewable energy, which is another area that we're involved with. You know, being able to work on wind and solar farms to create clean energy. You know, so wide ranging, you know, certainly with our not-for-profit practice, and then that's the work that we do, but also just giving back your time into the community. I've been involved with junior achievement and, you know, have had so much personal reward in teaching kids in the inner city of all different ages. You know, creating a platform to be able to give back, you know, and that's in the financial literacy area. But, you know, we support so many of our employees and what they want to do and the organizations that they're attached to and associated with.
And then there's ESG, environmental, social, and governance. And, you know, we spend a lot of time as a firm in that area. You know, we've undergone an assessment on our carbon emissions. We've undertaken a study to determine how to reduce our carbon emissions. We're investing dollars in that. We're looking at our supply chain. We're looking at providing scholarships for lower middle income, first generation college students that we can support, that are interested in going into accounting and a wide range, you know, of other areas.
Plus, we're creating services for our clients to help them navigate how to increase their integrity, you know, with ESG. So, you know, that's a whole new exciting area, and it's an area that matches well with our firm because we've been so community-oriented and driven. And, I haven't mentioned yet our government services practice, you know, which provides a specialty, federal, state, local governments.
But one area of specialty is emergency management, where we run service centers for hurricane relief throughout the country, Southeast and New Jersey. And we've done a lot of great work there, providing funds through federal government assistance, qualifications, to literally thousands of families and other work with the government that really does help and change lives. And we're so proud of that.
LC : It's a lot to be proud of. And what I'm hearing is that the very work that you do, you live within your company, so you're living the values that you espouse, you're actually doing them. And what better environment to do that than your company? You know? It's really what I call no-brainer, [laugh], to go in your company, you know?
DK : I appreciate that. It was a no-brainer for me.
LC : Yeah. It sounds that you came right out and knew it. I worked at a Big Five right out of college.
DK : Oh, no kidding.
LC : Yeah, I did. Is it fortune, you know, for Big five? And I'll tell you, it didn't feel like how you're describing at all. You know how you're describing, it's like immediate belonging.
DK : Mm-hmm. [affirmative],
LC : Immediate impact, you know? And, I just didn't, I definitely didn't feel that. I feel like if, and you know, I've talked about this before on other shows and other discussions I've had, is that I really, I was excluded not to say, you know, I'm not the coolest guy, right? [laugh], It wasn't about me being the coolest guy or the best guy or person or gal. It's not about that. It should never be about that. It should be, you're now a part of us.
DK : Yeah, yeah.
LC : You're us, you're with us. Look what we're doing together. And there's no exclusion at all. And that's what you're talking about. There's no need for it on a logical, rational level.
DK : No, there really isn't. And that's what we espouse. And that's what I always felt. And, you know, when I joined the company, we had two offices and, you know, we had eight partners and we all, you know, kind of pretty much worked on the, did the same type of work and, you know, we grew from that. And within that growth created so many different industries, so many different services and offices throughout the country, 25 offices on the West coast and the East Coast in the middle. And it still feels the same to me. Still feels like people care. We care about each other, we care about our clients. You know, we're very strategic and we're not everything to everybody, but we want to be the best at what we do and who we do it for. That to me, you know, gives you a lot of pride, you know, so I can help a business and I can say, we do that, we do it well or we don't do that.
But I know several firms that I'm close with that do that well, and I'm happy to bring them in as part of the team because we want to find solutions and it's really about helping others, whether they're in our firm or out to be the best that they can be. So, you know, you talked about, you know, together, I mean, we call it CohnReznick Together, and together we're better. And we look at things from the lens of CohnReznick Pride and our CohnReznick family
LC : CohnReznick Pride to CohnReznick Together. That, I mean, that's what it's about. Nobody said that when I entered the building [laugh] So I certainly…
DK : I wish they would've said that.
LC : I wish I would've met you because I [laugh] it would've been a lot different. And at the same time, you know, we find our own paths and it sounds like finding your path is a lot easier at CohnReznick. And you're given opportunities to find your path. You're given a path itself and development and great work sustainability, and you're connected to your larger career vision and purpose in life. And I can't say that about a lot of places at all. Obviously yours is definitely one of them.
DK : I appreciate that.
LC : Well, this is great. You said it all, David, any, you know, you said wonderful things and I always give this opportunity. What else do you want to say that perhaps what's next in your vision for CohnReznick? People want to know about the kind of the vision. What's next? What do you want everybody to know about what's next for you for CohnReznick?
DK : You know, for me it's continuing along this journey, helping us expand, making new partners, bringing on new partners and growing in the areas that we want to grow in. We are really focused on building out our geographies, growing in geographic locations that, that we're not now heavier in the southeast, heavier in the middle part of the country, expanding on the west coast, doing that organically and through acquisitions, building out our services and really understanding within our industries that we practice, what our clients need the most. And, you know, we continue to build out there and it's really continuing along our path of being the best accounting firm that we can be, being the best advisory firm that we can be, and, you know, creating life-changing experiences for our people, for our clients. And we'll continue on that journey. And it's been a wonderful journey.
You know, I'm so proud of what everyone within our firm has been able to accomplish over the many years, but particularly over the last two years with this COVID environment that we're in and how we've been able to reinvent ourselves in the services that we provide and how we interact with clients and how we go about getting new business.
And, you know, there's so much capital available in the marketplace and we pride ourselves on being able to provide services throughout the entire capital stack and really support the growth. That's what we've seen, so much activity within, within the US and we're continuing to expand globally as well. And we're connected with a lot of clients and with a lot of other CPA firms through our international organization where we can work internationally and we can support other companies and firms throughout the world that have activities in the US. So that's also very exciting for us.
LC : Outstanding. A lot of great vision, a lot of great leadership that you have provided, and it's awesome. I'm so glad to have met you, to talk with you today. Learn more in depth why CohnReznick is a most loved workplace. Great talking with you David.
DK : Fantastic talking with you. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.