The Dixon Hughes Goodman exec and New Memphis Institute grad on relationships, partnerships, and Ronald Reagan.
photographs by Amie Vanderford
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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.”