Both spe­cialty ser­vices — lit­i­ga­tion sup­port and busi­ness man­age­ment — cater to a sim­i­lar clien­tele of high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als, pro­vid­ing am­ple opportunit­y for cross-sell­ing, Wasser­man said. Gursey | Schneider: Hit­ting on all cylin­ders in Los An­ge­les

Accounting Today - - Special Report: Inside The Top 100 - — Danielle Lee

As Gursey | Schneider marks 40 years in busi­ness this year, the Los An­ge­les-based firm can also cel­e­brate its in­au­gu­ral rank­ing on Ac­count­ing To­day’s Top 100 Firm’s list, with its $44.88 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue vault­ing the firm to No. 96. Much of this is owed to the firm’s most suc­cess­ful niche ser­vice line, which man­ag­ing part­ner Steve Wasser­man calls its “claim to fame.”

The firm’s lit­i­ga­tion sup­port ser­vices prac­tice was es­tab­lished by found­ing part­ner Donald Gursey when he formed the firm with Stan­ley Schneider in 1979. Gursey was a pi­o­neer in fam­ily law foren­sic ac­count­ing and the prac­tice, which ac­counts for 55 per­cent of the firm’s busi­ness, has flour­ished for the four decades since, with the firm re­cently open­ing new Cal­i­for­nia of­fices to sup­port its growth.

The firm also pro­vides tax, ac­count­ing and a small amount of au­dit ser­vices, though Wasser­man said the firm’s his­tory of con­sul­ta­tive ser­vices is a large fac­tor in its growth, which has been pri­mar­ily or­ganic, though sup­ported by a few ac­qui­si­tions over the years.

“A ma­jor por­tion of our busi­ness is not in a com­mod­ity busi­ness such as au­dit,” Wasser­man ex­plained. “A lot of tra­di­tional firms have a higher per­cent­age in au­dit ser­vices and tax com­pli­ance. We have very lit­tle on the au­dit side, [which] from a firm per­spec­tive, from an eco­nomics per­spec­tive, is a good thing. There is sig­nif­i­cant price pressures on the com­mod­ity side of our busi­ness, and less pres­sure on the con­sult­ing side.”

The firm’s con­sult­ing ser­vices also in­clude busi­ness man­age­ment, which was Schneider’s spe­cialty when his prac­tice merged with Gursey’s to form Gursey | Schneider. The busi­ness man­age­ment ser­vice line is now led by part­ner Marie Am­brosino, an en­ter­tain­ment-in­dus­try busi­ness man­ager who joined the firm when her prac­tice was ac­quired in 2005.

A por­tion of these wealthy in­di­vid­u­als are celebri­ties and pub­lic fig­ures, mean­ing the firm han­dles “very high-pro­file cases you read about in Peo­ple mag­a­zine,” Wasser­man ex­plained. Cases range from di­vorce pro­ceed­ings to the ex-spouse of a celebrity hir­ing the firm to pro­vide busi­ness man­age­ment ser­vices, he shared.

The firm’s ex­per­tise in this area makes it an es­pe­cially at­trac­tive op­tion for clients re­quir­ing fi­nan­cial help in fam­ily law mat­ters. “We have lots of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wasser­man said. “Prob­a­bly no other firm in the coun­try, on a com­bined ba­sis, has as much ex­pe­ri­ence as us. We have lots of knowledge — we don’t dab­ble in this area. We have 90 full-time peo­ple ded­i­cated to this. We can as­sist at­tor­neys, bring ideas and value add — it’s all

The tabloid-wor­thy clients com­pose a frac­tion of the roughly 300 to 500 fam­ily-law cases the firm han­dles in a year, and in ev­ery one, Gursey | Schneider re­lies on main­tain­ing a strong re­fer­ral net­work. “Typ­i­cally all part­ners have re­la­tion­ships, work­ing re­la­tion­ships, with var­i­ous at­tor­neys who have re­ferred work to us,” he ex­plained. “Tax and ac­count­ing, au­dit, an­nu­ity-based work, serves the same func­tion year af­ter year. On the fam­ily law side, it’s pro­ject-based work, one di­vorce, you do the work, you have to be hired on the next mat­ter. At the end of the day, at­tor­neys make rec­om­men­da­tions to clients on who to hire as a foren­sic ac­coun­tant. If we pro­vide good ser­vice, they hire us next time. That’s al­ways what we’re try­ing to do, be­cause we know it’s the at­tor­ney’s de­ci­sion on who to hire on the next mat­ter.”

Un­der a fam­ily law at­tor­ney’s di­rec­tion, Gursey | Schneider as­sists on the many tax and ac­count­ing is­sues that arise out of a di­vorce. These can in­clude de­ter­min­ing the cash flow avail­able for sup­port, do­ing busi­ness val­u­a­tions, pre­par­ing a com­mu­nity prop­erty as­set sheet, de­ter­min­ing mar­i­tal stan­dard of liv­ing, trac­ing as­sets, and ap­ply­ing com­mu­nity prop­erty law.

The last is­sue is rel­e­vant to the firm’s op­er­a­tions in a com­mu­nity-prop­erty state, and in fact, “back in the early 1970s, Don Gursey was one of the first CPAs in Cal­i­for­nia — when Cal­i­for­nia be­came a com­mu­nity-prop­erty state — to pro­vide foren­sic ac­count­ing for di­vorces,” Wasser­man re­called.

Plac­ing the right peo­ple

That legacy lives on, with con­tin­ued suc­cess that re­cently ex­panded the firm from its Stu­dio City head­quar­ters to a to­tal of six of­fices.

“We didn’t open a new of­fice for the first 30 years,” Wasser­man said. “We’ve ex­panded now, in San Diego, [a satel­lite of­fice in] Tor­rance, En­cino and San Fran­cisco. The open­ing of the of­fices was not a plan, that we wanted to have of­fices in all big cities, but was driven by client de­mand. On the fam­ily law side, there are fam­ily law at­tor­neys in San Diego, Irvine and San Fran­cisco. It got to the point where it made busi­ness sense to have of­fice lo­ca­tions to serve the busi­nesses we al­ready had.”

While those ex­pan­sions — in­clud­ing a move of the firm’s Irvine of­fice to a big­ger space — have sup­ported staff growth, iden­ti­fy­ing and re­cruit­ing those em­ploy­ees has been a chal­lenge, Wasser­man re­ported.

One ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion was open­ing the En­cino of­fice, which caters to em­ploy­ees the firm re­cruited in Cal­i­for­nia’s San Fer­nando Val­ley who were re­luc­tant to com­mute “over the hill” to LA in the city’s no­to­ri­ously bad traf­fic. An­other so­lu­tion was hir­ing an in­ter­nal re­cruiter. Gursey | Schneider brought two oth­ers on board be­fore find­ing the right fit with its cur­rent re­cruiter, who Wasser­man said has been “very ef­fec­tive.”

Find­ing the right peo­ple is the first step of many, Wasser­man ac­knowl­edged, in build­ing a strong work­force.

“We try to hire ta­lented peo­ple, and then train them, men­tor them,” he said. “On the lit­i­ga­tion side, what we do, and our com­peti­tors don’t do, is I’ll take pro­fes­sion­als to court with me, even when I don’t bill time. I take them to set­tle­ment con­fer­ences, meet­ings — even if they’re not billing time, it helps them grow and de­velop. We could keep them in the of­fice billing, mak­ing money on the short term, but we are try­ing to grow and de­velop the firm. We in­vest in giv­ing them this ex­pe­ri­ence, make them per­form jobs bet­ter now, with the opportunit­y to grow into lead­ers in the firm.”

Fur­ther down the line, those lead­ers will have a manda­tory re­tire­ment age of 70, which is just one way Gursey | Schneider is ad­dress­ing an­other ma­jor chal­lenge fac­ing all ac­count­ing firms.

“I ex­pect the firm to last — on my list is suc­ces­sion, you never com­plete suc­ces­sion plan­ning,” Wasser­man said. “Ev­ery year, the ex­ist­ing part­ner group is a year older. We have an­nual part­ner re­treats in June, and we’re talk­ing about suc­ces­sion, who is in the pipeline, when we’re ready to make a com­mit­ment, what we do to grow, and to get them ready. Over­all, we’ve done a re­ally good job of suc­ces­sion plan­ning. Don Gursey re­tired 12 to 13 years ago, and we’ve grown; we didn’t miss a beat. Nu­mer­ous part­ners have re­tired — Stan Schneider re­tired. We are grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing peo­ple to carry on the busi­ness, and grow the busi­ness.”

The firm’s sig­nif­i­cant ser­vice-line growth, of­fice ex­pan­sions, and strate­gic plan­ning are all mile­stones in its con­tin­ued up­ward tra­jec­tory, ac­cord­ing to Wasser­man: “In the past year, in all busi­ness lines, we’re hit­ting on all cylin­ders.”

STEVE WASSER­MAN about ser­vice.”

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