This year, Topel Forman is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The firm has grown significantly to 11 partners and nearly 100 professional and administrative staff. This growth has encouraged a need to create structure within the larger departments. The Tax and Audit departments have new leadership by two of the partners, Jessica Schulman and John Rozek. Jessica is overseeing the Tax Department, and John is leading the Audit Department. Both of them shared insights into their transition into the roles and what the move means for Topel Forman’s future.
Jessica explained that the formal creation of these department heads has been implemented to help the teams run efficiently and effectively and to make strategic decisions as the firm continues to grow. She expects that organizing the team of managers and partners will improve efficiency in the department’s administrative work and the quality of service for clients.
What are your plans for the Tax Department?
First, I will continue developing processes and procedures so that our department runs smoothly and effectively. Second, our training program will become more defined to ensure every member of our team is growing their technical and soft skills for client management and employee development. Finally, I want to facilitate a forum to improve idea sharing so that Topel Forman can provide proactive, creative, and applicable tax planning to our clients. As we increase our client base, and as our clients’ tax situations become more complex, we want to ensure that we are still providing world-class client service.
Our firm has grown tremendously, so our ability to allocate and manage projects will be crucial. John Rozek and I have been working closely for years, and I am confident that we will continue to work together to help lead our firm into the future.
What has your journey been like that has culminated in you taking on this role? What excited you about this new role?
Starting early in my career, I spent a great deal of time in two areas because I was interested in them and found I excelled in them. At each of my prior firms, I was involved in creating and refining procedures and processes. Also, I have always been active in helping to develop my co-workers; watching them grow and develop as professionals and individuals is one of the primary reasons I have remained in public accounting for more than 20 years. The day that one of my hires made partner at another firm was actually more exciting for me than the day I made partner.
When I joined Topel Forman nine years ago, I immediately became involved in personnel development and processes and procedures. I was active in the administration, planning, interviewing, and technical development of the team. When the Head of Tax role was created, it made sense for me to apply because it involves duties that I excel and enjoy… and I was already very familiar with much of the work.
It excites me to watch Topel Forman continue to evolve and expand, and I love that I have an active role. The Tax Department is a large portion of our business, and I am excited to see more opportunities for advisory services which is another step in accomplishing our goal of world-class client service.
How have you had to shift your mindset during the pandemic while taking on the new role?
I had to learn how to balance my client responsibilities with my new administrative responsibilities. This has only been made more difficult by the pandemic and figuring out how to work in a remote environment. With all of us working remotely, it has been easier to focus on processes and procedures that have been crucial to the department’s success. This April was one of our most productive and efficient tax seasons ever. I believe my role helped with this accomplishment.
Working remotely has challenged me to make strategic decisions instead of simply reacting quickly due to the immediacy of issues. This new role has encouraged me to be more thoughtful because of the long-term impact that may occur to the team and the firm as a whole.
The pandemic and remote environment have made it difficult to build relationships with our new employees and ensure that they feel included and that they learn the firm’s culture. I have realized that as a firm we need to set goals on how we will continue to build our culture, strengthen our relationships, and develop our employees as we eventually implement a hybrid return to the office strategy. Our team will help develop these goals — I hope that everyone is aware of my efforts in maintaining the culture of the firm.
What challenges do you anticipate experiencing?
As we increase our number of clients and the complexity of their needs, we will need to adapt our ideal client profile and service models. As we adjust and modify what we do, the progress will alleviate growing pains, which can affect any expanding company. We will continue to provide our compliance services, but we are going to highlight and strengthen the advisory services. Moving from compliance-based services to advisory-based services will be a challenge, but we know it will help us develop into a firm of the future and continue to remain an independent accounting firm.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next twelve months?
Our training program for all employees will be strengthened. I hope to review individual workloads to ensure that people have the appropriate number of clients and the support needed to provide world-class client service while having a better work-life balance. My biggest hope is that we will successfully integrate all our new employees so that the team feels cohesive, and our firm’s culture is preserved.