The Dixon Hughes Goodman exec and New Memphis Institute grad on relationships, partnerships, and Ronald Reagan.
photographs by Amie Vanderford
Anthony Clark’s father managed a clothing store in the small town of Ripley, Mississippi. From a young age, Clark had a sense of the business world — rights and wrongs, successes and failures — many don’t achieve until their college days are behind them. Upon enrolling at Ole Miss, Clark was told a degree in accounting would be of value in any number of pursuits.
With his interest in business as a starting point, Clark had found a career path. Bachelor’s degree in hand (in 1983), Clark made Memphis home and was hired by Rhea & Ivy, where he was a partner by the time the company merged with Dixon Hughes (now Dixon Hughes Goodman) in 2008. “I played tennis in high school and college,” says Clark, “but came to the realization it would not make a career. Business was it.”
Today, Clark is the regional managing partner of the Memphis/Dallas region for the south’s largest CPA firm (and 15th-largest in the country). Clark oversees 100 employees in DHG’s Memphis office and another 25 in the Dallas office, which specializes in dealerships (autos, trucks, etc.) Working primarily with businesses in the hospitality, manufacturing, wholesale, and distribution industries, Clark could receive a call from any of his 250 clients on a given day, each with a question, problem, or solution for business growth. And it’s those conversations — with the human beings behind the brands his firm represents — that fuel Anthony Clark’s engine.
“I like the relationship side,” says Clark. “I spend 60 percent of my time on firm-related business and about 40 percent on clients. But I love the client relationships and the interaction. The [financial] numbers are information. It’s what you do with that information that makes a difference. A lot of people in the world can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. But what does all that mean [for a business]? What do we do to achieve a different result?”
Clark and his team offer a variety of services: compliance, audit, tax, cost-segregation studies, operational reviews. But it’s consulting on strategy with a business partner that energizes Clark. “Whether or not a client should buy a portfolio of hotels, reposition in a market place, change a [corporate] flag . . . those are the kind of things I love,” says Clark. “The deal side gets me going.”
Clark went through New Memphis Institute’s Leadership Development Intensive class in October 2010, an experience that, he says, brought clarity to his own self-awareness, and helped reshape his views on productive leaders. “Everybody’s got strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “It’s important for us to be aware of what we do well, and where we need work. There’s an assessment process [with NMI], and they’re pretty dead-on. You can’t trick them. You get some great feedback.”
Recognizing when and how to tackle new challenges — particularly on a personal level — are among the lasting impressions of Clark’s NMI experience. “Our tendencies are to migrate toward what we do well, our comfort zone,” he says. “As a leader, you cannot let that happen.”
When asked about leaders who have influenced him, Clark cites Ronald Reagan. The 40th U.S. president personified two qualities of leadership worth emulating, Clark says. “My approach has always been collaborative,” says Clark, “to get a good sense of what folks have on their minds. And to understand why. But once you’ve gathered the information — through collaboration — and sized things up, a decision has to be made. When you understand what the ramifications are and it’s time to make a decision … make the decision. It’s a leader’s responsibility. And it’s not always a democracy.”
When confronted with a conflict or crisis — one that will ultimately require that solitary decision — Clark emphasizes a right and proper way to seek solutions. “We’re surrounded by bright people, very smart people,” he says. “I tell young folks [when they join the firm], it’s not about always having the answer. It’s more about having all the questions. If you’ve got the questions, chances are — with the resources you have — finding the answer will not be that terribly difficult.”
Clark and his wife (both only children) have raised five kids in Memphis, so his personal investment in the city’s growth couldn’t be greater. He feels more must be done to prepare young Memphians as a work force for the community they call home.
“First of all,” he says, “look at all the positives: We have rail accessibility, water accessibility, and highway accessibility. I don’t know how you could have a better location. But the place where we’re falling short, in terms of attracting new businesses, is the skill set of our workforce. We have to find a way to train and provide people in our community with the skill sets to fill these job openings that are out there. There are thousands of jobs unfilled in Memphis because the skilled labor isn’t here.”
It’s not so much that schools need to improve, according to Clark, but the approach to what kind of school best suits a young person must be considered fully. “We’ve grown up with the notion that you go to high school, then four years of college, then you go to work,” he says. “Four years of college may not be for everybody. A vocational flavor might be beneficial in arming a certain student with the right skill set. Imagine filling 10,000 local jobs that pay $50,000-plus, and what kind of economic impact that would have. And it would go a long way toward attracting new businesses.”
Clark says the local Dixon Hughes Goodman office draws its most significant number of recruits from three local universities: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Rhodes.
All of them arrive armed with master’s degrees (in accounting or taxation). Clark points out, though, that many of the graduates hired are from other parts of the country, but found their way to the Mid-South for college. Which points again to the pressing need for stimulating and training this region’s “next generation” toward careers where leadership will be a prerequisite and not an accident of time and place.
“The pace has quickened,” stresses Clark. “Expectations are higher. Competitive pressures are as much, or more, than they’ve ever been. You’ve got to be in position to respond to that. If you don’t respond to those, you’re going to be left behind.”
For more information, go to dhgllp.com.