Beth Kieffer Leonard has been managing partner since 2008 of Minneapolis-based accounting firm Lurie. Leonard, the first female partner, presides over a firm that was formed in the 1940s by Jewish partners whose opportunities were limited by anti-Semitism.
Q: Why did you change the name of the firm from Lurie Besikof Lapidus & Co. to Lurie last fall?
A: It was a long name. Over 75 years, the name changed multiple times. It’s not about any [named] people. It’s about an organization with a future.
Q: You were the first woman to make partner at Lurie. What is your history with the firm?
A: I joined the firm after two years at a national firm, a very typical progression in those days. Originally, I had no intention of remaining in public accounting. The running story is that I joined the firm smiling and haven’t stopped since then. I have been with the firm 31 years and I am in my eighth year as managing partner.
Q: What are your responsibilities?
A: As managing partner, the responsibilities run the gamut from overall responsibility for running the business, client service, partner cohesiveness and succession planning, firm governance and strategy. Most important, it is making sure that we all have a ‘‘firm-first’’ point of view.
Q: How do the roots of your firm — from its Jewish history and the business climate in the 1940s — manifest themselves today?
A: Our firm, like a number of other institutions in the Twin Cities during the 1940s, grew out of the limited opportunities due to rampant anti-Semitism. Mount Sinai Hospital and a number of law firms are other examples. One of the commitments our firm has always had because of this was to be the place to help our clients achieve their goals, not just a compliance focus. In the early years of the firm, a significant impediment to starting businesses was access to capital. Our firm developed relationships with many different alternative financing sources, from asset-based lending to leasing companies. The other equally important impact is on our commitment to giving back. Specifically, we target organizations that provide education and assistance on the road to entrepreneurship. We feel that it is our responsibility to help others help themselves. We have about 150 employees. We are in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood [of north Minneapolis]. We’re all part of the community, celebrate together, support Anwatin [Middle] School in the neighborhood.
Q: What’s a signature standard for which you strive?
A: We have always strived to be the “first call” for help. Being more than an accountant, and due to our longevity and growth, we feel that we are well-positioned to be “entrepreneurs serving entrepreneurs.” We have taken our experiences in building and sustaining our business and translated them into a client-service point of view that truly is unique.
Q: Who makes up Lurie’s client base?
A: Our client base resembles the face of Minnesota and Upper Midwest businesses. We often say that if you take a business continuum from raw materials through sale, we represent businesses at each point of the cycle, including the service industries supporting them. Our clients are mostly [individuals] and privately held companies.
Q: How do firms your size compete for talent and find new ways to utilize technology?
A: We are fortunate to be large enough to be an attractive [and acknowledged] place for people to spend their careers. When I became managing partner, I had the vision for us to become known as a “best place to work” and a destination for clients. We’ve done that.
Over the past seven years, we have focused on attracting, retaining and developing unique ways to engage our team. Our view that we are one big family is part of the secret sauce. The investment in technology is also a constant way that we become increasingly more efficient and effective at delivering services to our clients. For example our “YOURBOOKS’’ outsourced accounting service is one of our fastest growing, combining accounting service and a comprehensive cloud-based solution.
Q: What’s the greatest value proposition you make to clients?
A: We make everyone accessible. The more experience you have, the more value you add. We want clients to call our partners. We don’t want to price a partner out of a phone call and we don’t charge for every phone call.
Q: What unexpected changes have you seen in the industry or with client needs in your years as managing partner?
A: The biggest changes have come from the impact of the [2008-09] recession. It impacted our clients and us. Our response was the reason that today, we are well-positioned for the future. Other unexpected changes included how rapidly technology has advanced. Not just inside our firm but across our interactions with clients and with the tax authorities. Another is the later and later dates for tax legislation, [so-called] tax extenders and guidance at both federal and state levels. Finally, there is an evolving need for speed and agility in service to stay ahead and provide proactive advice and service in highly complex situations.