Dixon Hughes Goodman helps keep companies on top of their bottom line.
photograph by Amie Vanderford
Anthony Clark has essentially been with the same firm for the nearly three decades he has worked in accounting. After graduating with a bachelor’s in accountancy from Ole Miss in May 1983, the Ripley, Mississippi, native moved to the big city and took a position at Rhea & Ivy in Memphis that July. Clark worked his way up the ranks of Rhea & Ivy — a storied Memphis firm founded by S. Herbert Rhea and Jack Ivy — becoming a partner in 1990 and managing partner in 2000.
Rhea & Ivy merged with large national firm Dixon Hughes in 2008. But because the two companies had such similar cultures despite their size differential, and because Clark and his fellow Rhea & Ivy alums have continued to work with the same clients they had all along, it’s felt like one big ride.
One of the reasons the transition from Rhea & Ivy to Dixon Hughes (which, following a merger with Goodman & Company in 2011, became Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP) wasn’t turbulent was that the Memphis firm had been working toward being a much bigger firm for some time. “We had been working diligently to form a firm mentality rather than an individual partner mentality,” the soft-spoken Clark says. “Clients weren’t partner clients, they were firm clients.”
Rhea & Ivy asked itself, “What’s the best way to get where we want to be?” The firm could make investments in niche practices, deepen its bench, and widen its menu of services and grow internally. Or, it could look externally and see who was out there already doing what the firm wanted to do that might make a good fit. Dixon Hughes and Rhea & Ivy had known each other for years, as they were members of the same accountancy association. The two firms recognized much of themselves in each other and had goals that matched up. Among those, Dixon Hughes had industry specialties that were relevant to the Memphis market, such as healthcare, financial institutions, and financial services, that weren’t being addressed by Rhea & Ivy. It sounded like an immediate opportunity for both.
Once it began, the technological transition, too, was relatively seamless because Rhea & Ivy had already upgraded their software applications. “We weren’t on the bleeding edge but we certainly were on the leading edge,” Clark says.
“With our size and depth, it’s positioned us to do work for folks that at Rhea & Ivy we didn’t have the resources and capability of doing,” Clark continues. “Now it’s a different playing field.”
One of the advantages of Dixon Hughes Goodman over Rhea & Ivy, Clark says, is the talents and expertise he can now call upon for his clients. “When you’ve got a pool of 1,700 people in your footprint, chances are you’ve got that expertise and depth of resources when you need to deploy a significant number for resolution. As a firm of 75 at Rhea and Ivy, it was much more difficult to do that.”
One of the things a good firm brings to the client is helping them connect the dots to find a solution to a particular problem. “Many times, the client has the answer but it’s not evident,” Clark says. “Sometimes it may not be as evident because it’s a subject matter that’s not easy to address or talk about. A client is more knowledgeable about their business than anyone else, so they just need a little direction. Sometimes we’re able to bring insights about outside pressures coming, where the industry may be headed. That’s where you bring your values, not just corroborating what they already know but prompting new thoughts and ideas.
“I tell young folks when they come to the firm, it’s not about having the right answer, it’s more important to have the right question,” he says.
As regional managing partner, Clark oversees Memphis and Dallas offices. Dallas, he says, is a niche practice that does almost 100 percent auto, heavy truck, and motorsports dealership work, but there’s a lot of growth potential in that market to expand service lines. He says he spends about 60 percent of his time devoted to firm administration — which can look different day to day — and the rest of the time mostly in his capacity as firm leader of the Hospitality and Resorts practice.
Clark says working with a hospitality client is different from working with, say, a healthcare or manufacturing client, but that there are baseline similarities: “Good business fundamentals are the same regardless of what a company is doing or making. The place you make a difference is the nuances of where operations can go from marginal to exceptional. Those can be very little differences.”
When Dixon Hughes merged with Goodman last year, the firm instantly became the dominant player in Virginia and expanded its Washington, D.C., practice. Goodman also added to the mix strong practices in employee-benefit plans, nonprofits, and government-contracting— an addition that is already reaping benefits in the Memphis/Dallas region.
As was the case with the Rhea & Ivy/Dixon Hughes merger, Goodman had many similar philosophies to the existing firm and had been a known quantity for years, fellow members of the accounting association Moore Stephens North America. From Rhea & Ivy to Dixon Hughes and now Dixon Hughes Goodman: an uninterrupted string of able accounting in the Memphis market.
Profile: Dixon Hughes Goodman
Annual revenue: $280 million
SEC/public audit clients: 62
Audit clients: 3,000
Rankings: 13th largest firm in U.S., Top 15 auditor of large public companies in U.S.
Offices: 30, in 11 states and Washington, D.C.
Personnel: 1,700 employees company-wide
Memphis office: 90 employees
Profile: Anthony Clark
Title: Regional Managing Partner, Memphis/Dallas Region, Dixon Hughes Goodman
Education: Bachelor of Accountancy, University of Mississippi
Work History: Former Chief Manager, Rhea & Ivy
Specialty: Industry leader for firm’s Hospitality and Resorts practice
Memberships: Advisory Council, University of Mississippi Patterson School of Accountancy; American Institute of CPAs; and Tennessee and Florida Society of CPAs
Personal: Married to Myra, and together they have five children ages 18 to 23. Enjoys playing golf, duck hunting, and traveling.
Anthony Clark On:
On what a CPA firm like Dixon Hughes Goodman does: “A large part of the practice is traditional: tax compliance work, individual tax, corporate entity tax, and partnerships. On the audit side, compilations, reviews, and audits. I call it the blocking and tackling. In Memphis, we have a small business group dedicated to small businesses. Services include everything up to the outsourcing of all of their accounting activities to specific needs on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis; staff outsourcing of internal audit functions; co-sourcing, or working alongside a company’s resources; consulting advisory, which can be about mergers and acquisitions, entity structuring, strategic planning, feasibility studies.”
On client relationships: “Technology has reduced the need for travel compared to 10 years ago. But you can’t replace the value of sitting across the table and establishing that relationship. I hope none of us relies so heavily on technology that we lose that somewhere along the way. I have many long relationships with clients that go beyond the debits and credits and the accounting. The relationships run very deep.”
On fraud prevention: “It’s incredibly important to have a good process, knowledgeable people, client and industry knowledge, and a good quality control system in place to monitor and assure adherence to firm policy. We also rely on client acceptance and continuance. Prevention is the first line of defense against taking on a client situation that may be outside of your risk tolerance or problematic.”
On tax law changes: “We haven’t had a significant tax reform in quite a while. You wonder when that’s coming. Given all our dynamics in our economy, you’d think that would be sooner rather than later. When they do come, compliance to those can change a business’ thoughts toward doing a certain thing such as expansion or relocation. What’s frustrating on the tax side right now is the unknown of what’s coming. As long as people know what the rules are going to be and how to proceed, then you can plan accordingly. Most of us would like to pay fewer taxes than more taxes, and I do believe that if you have significant increase in our taxes, it will be detrimental at least in the short term to the economy. But I’m not sure that the unknown isn’t even more detrimental.”
On S. Herbert Rhea (who passed away in 2010): “He had retired when I joined Rhea & Ivy, but I had the privilege of working with him on some projects over the years. That was quite a learning experience. He was a special guy, a phenomenal person, not just a great businessman.”
On the Memphis CPA industry: “It’s competitive. Three of the big four firms are here, and there are a lot of very good small generalist CPA firms. There are great firms in Memphis. Great service wins out at the end of the day versus having the cheapest price.”