- Career background
- Transferring to Advisory - internal vs. external
- Financial Due Diligence practice
- Breaking down business development roles
Jack began his career with EY in the tax practice before pivoting to M&A Advisory with CLA. He has since carved out a career in business development focused in the PE & employee benefits sector with CBIZ. Read on!
I grew up in St. Louis and went to the University of Missouri where I graduated with my Master's in Accounting and got my CPA shortly thereafter. I moved to Chicago after college to start my career at Ernst and Young. I worked in what they called the diversified staff group within the tax practice. The premise there is that they move you around the different tax functions so you can see what may be interesting for a long-term career move.
I saw four or five different functions over the course of 18 months and just didn’t find anything that I was passionate about. I finally got the opportunity to do a little M&A tax work and became interested in that world. Once I was able to do a little more research, my opinion was that the financial due diligence (FDD) group was going to be the best place to get M&A experience from an accountant’s perspective. I started talking to EY in January 2020 about a transfer, but unfortunately the world was put on pause starting in March and the firm implemented a hiring freeze, which included internal transfers.
I hung around for six more months, but ultimately got an offer to join CliftonLarsonAllen in their FDD group and accepted. I did that for about a year and in that role, I was representing our private equity clients on buy-side and sell-side transactions doing quality of earnings work. It was an awesome opportunity and I learned a lot about the PE industry. You get exposure to a lot of different strategies that PE firms are using in the M&A markets.
That role put me in a great position to move on to where I am now, which is currently with CBIZ on the employee benefits team. I work specifically in our financial sponsors group where I’m focused on working alongside PE firms in both transaction due diligence and post-close processes to implement employee benefit packages into their portfolio.
When I first started having those conversations with EY in January 2020, I knew I needed to stay until June to satisfy my CPA working requirements so that gave me a 6-month window to figure it out internally before looking elsewhere.
There was a group focused on real estate valuations I was having serious conservations with and had a final interview scheduled for late March. Unfortunately, due to COVID that got shut down, but I stayed in touch with the hiring manager every six weeks or so just to touch base and see if any progress had been made. The answer I typically got was that I was still on their list but there was nothing they could do for me to make the transition at that time.
Once I was able to fulfill my CPA requirements, I decided it was a good time to open up to other opportunities. I talked to a lot of firms but was very transparent that if I was to leave EY, I wanted to be in the FDD group. Some firms were hesitant about my tax background and whether I could make the switch. CliftonLarsonAllen believed in my ability to pick up the technical side after I was able to lay out the financial accounting background I had from my college classes and taking the CPA, so I took the opportunity to join their firm.
I listed some of my larger clients and talked about some of the demands I had met to better lay out that I know how to work hard, and I’m committed to this.
Microsoft Excel is obviously a huge component of the role, so I explained how I had evolved in that skillset over the past 18 months. I’d learned all the different hot key which I think separated me from other applicants.
CLA has a vertical geared towards the private equity industry and we’re focused on performing financial due diligence work for lower middle market firms that were targeting companies with $2 - $15m in EBITDA.
We would be engaged by the PE firm on the buy-side after a Letter of Intent (LOI) was signed. From there, it would typically be about a six-week process of connecting with the target, getting a preliminary data request list filled, digging through the data and financials, and ultimately coming up with a list of questions to address with management. The management meetings would be half-day sessions where we are digging through their accounting and asking questions about initial findings as well as learning more about their overall business. The end goal would be to produce a report covering the ins and outs of the business, the finance and accounting function, and any potential risks we thought the PE firm should be aware of.
It was a big transition coming from Ernst and Young where you’re working with large publicly traded companies and then going to work with these much smaller family-owned businesses that haven’t had much more than a compilation or review done by a CPA firm. You uncover a lot of problems that can drive material adjustments in an acquisition. Our job was to come in and get the true picture for what earnings looked like in a normal environment.
In my experience it’s outsourced entirely. When I came on as an associate, I was really learning the ins and outs of the projects and business. It wasn't until the last couple of months of my time there where I was involved in the communication with the private equity firms.
I have a couple of friends who went the due diligence route within Big 4 and a lot of them would spend years working on the same client. I had a friend who worked on the T-Mobile/Sprint deal and there were years where he was traveling every week down to KC working through that transaction. Whereas I would be working on two or three deals at a time, learning about the different industries and how PE firms viewed potential investments.
For anybody looking to get into middle market or lower middle market private equity from the seat of an accountant, I would highly recommend a career at CliftonLarsonAllen.
I knew I wanted a role where I could rely heavily on my background and the skills that I gained at EY and CLA, maintain the consultative nature of the work, but ultimately have a more exposure to the client relationship.
I met the team at CBIZ, heard about the nature of their work, and learned about the rising cost of healthcare and the importance of having consultants in the industry who are analytical problem solvers. I saw a great opportunity that matched my personality and the skillset, and decided it was the right move.
My number one fear of this career a year ago was cold calling, and while that’s certainly a strategy, I haven’t done much of it at all. I’ve sent my fair share of cold e-mails and do a lot of networking, which is what I enjoy.
For the first 6 months of the role, it was trying to build up that book of initial clients, but now I have quite a few engaged firms and the role has transitioned to be much more consultative. I’m working with the PE firms and their acquisition targets to understand their current benefit package and then working with our CBIZ teams to figure out how we can find different ways to make plans efficient and cost effective. Our goal is to make plans efficient without diluting benefits received by employees.
I wish I would have been more relaxed. When I was in public accounting, I was constantly comparing myself to my peers. A large part of my friend group in Chicago was in public accounting in one form or another. I was constantly hearing things like audit was a better career path for a well-rounded business education, if you want to do consulting you shouldn’t be in tax, etc. It left me questioning whether I was getting the right type of experience and constantly worried I wasn’t making the most out my opportunity.
I never relaxed and trusted the process that if you work in public accounting, you are going to develop a fantastic skillset that’s transferable to a lot of different career paths.
In the short-term, I’m in what we call the validation period of my career at CBIZ. It’s where I prove to the firm that I can be successful in my role. This process typically takes between three and five years, and I’m focused on getting through that.
I’m leaving the long-term open at the moment. I’ve found an industry that I’m passionate about and am surrounded by colleagues that I greatly enjoy, and I’m excited to see how my career unfolds as I progress at CBIZ.