Investing in People – Dustin Shaffer
When it came time to decide on a career path, Dustin Shaffer quickly realized that the field of accounting checked most of the boxes that were important to him. The opportunity to make a good living? Check. Consistently favorable levels of job security? Check. A business- and numbers-oriented profession that fit his right-brained mindset? Check. Moving into public accounting felt like the obvious choice once he became educated on the possibilities.
“Accounting is the language of business — I have been wired that way for a long time,” said Shaffer, who joined MCG in 2007 and specializes in tax compliance. “At the end of the day… it’s a service business that drives revenue and income.”
Shaffer went on to graduate with both a Bachelor and Masters of Accountancy from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 before deciding on Dallas to start his progression up the career ladder. After nearly two years at Arthur Andersen, he moved to KPMG with the majority of Andersen’s tax practice following the Enron fallout. As Shaffer made manager, the strong Andersen culture eventually transformed the middling KPMG group into the second-rated U.S. office.
The focus on internal administrative tasks and lack of autonomy that many national public accounting firms require led Shaffer to pursue an industry position with Neiman Marcus’ Dallas tax department. After a year, he tired of the repetitive work and the lack of advancement opportunities. Shaffer got wind of MCG through KPMG contacts that had moved over and were thriving at MCG. What he heard surprised and energized him. “They preached, ‘We’re different, public accounting isn’t all the same,’ Shaffer said. “I drank the Kool Aid and made the move.”
The differences in the approach at MCG that set the firm apart from other companies quickly became apparent to Shaffer: a nurturing environment that places just as much emphasis on developing employees as servicing clients. “I feel like MCG really does take a non-traditional approach to this very traditional and old line of business that is public accounting,” said Shaffer. “At the end of the day, I call it the common sense approach we use, and that’s one of the things I like. We keep it simple by focusing on our employees. Here we say, ‘Yeah, we have to have clients to make money, pay expenses and run the business — that’s Business 101 — but let’s try this other thing. Based on what we’ve learned in public accounting, let’s be picky about who we hire. Let’s find out what our people want to do within this industry and put them on that path.”
Once on the path, employees make MCG their home, fostering a spirit of comfort and accomplishment that is felt by their clients. “People don’t leave so you don’t have high turnover — consistent engagement teams remain from year to year,” Shaffer said. “Guess what? Clients love that. People are doing what they want to do so they’re happier to come to work. They take pride in their work. Guess what? That means they do a better job with their client work, they enjoy what they’re doing and don’t mind picking up the phone to talk to their clients. They’re working with people who are also smart, get it and are going after the same goals. Focusing on the employees, the byproduct of that is great customer service, a great product, then your clients are happy and they refer you. That’s how we’ve grown from seven people to 350 in a little over 10 years.”
Shaffer is currently handling a work engagement that embodies MCG’s focus on building relationships both internally within their employee base and externally to their clients. A nine-year relationship with a client who works as a matchmaker of sorts for businesses acquiring other businesses led to a referral for a company being sold. Ultimately, Shaffer was able to restructure the existing deal that left the purchase price in place, yet saved MCG’s new client about 1.4 million in cash tax. A long-term relationship led to a referral, which then resulted in an enormously positive outcome for the client.
“Being able to see and identify that reflects the experience aspect, the technical expertise, the training that we undergo and contributes to all that was involved,” said Shaffer. “Along the way, developing relationships with this new client — referred by an existing client — saved them a bunch of money.”
As a requirement of this strategy, the client also needed to have a third-party valuation done, thus pulling in Jeffrey Brewster, MCG’s valuation expert — a great cross-selling opportunity that provided value to the client and is supported by MCG’s one-firm ideology. Since the client is venturing into the high net worth world following the sale of their business, they want to take their personal work over to MCG. Partners at the firm who handle high net worth clients are being brought into the engagement to add onto the tax and valuation services.
“Take care of your clients, take care of your employees — it’s that simple.”
“It all just feeds itself. It’s inevitable in our world, the middle market — these people are entrepreneurs by heart,” Shaffer said. “The chances are that as long as we take care of them, take care of our employees and do a good job, they’re probably going to take that cash and start another venture and try and build it. They’re going to need some tax structuring, consulting and an audit — and the cycle continues.”
Shaffer has played a key role in the organic growth at MCG, but he readily admits that the formula is not complicated — growth and success are achieved through investing in people.
“That’s the key to any successful service business, so we look at ourselves as a service firm with a skill set, as opposed to an accounting firm. Instead of touting ourselves to be the best number crunchers — although we’re great at that — we would rather tout ourselves as the best relationship firm in the market. It’s really simple and common sense, but no one else is doing it.