Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to make the most of busy season

Zahra Lalani
Consulting Senior Associate
Chicago, IL

Tell me a bit about your background with RSM.
My career with RSM began while I was in college when I interned with the financial services audit team during my junior year of college. After graduation, I started working with the audit team full time as an associate. This summer, after 3 years with the audit team, I transitioned to RSM’s consulting practice in M&A transaction advisory. Although I’ve technically moved to a consulting role, I continue to help out the audit team this busy season.

What do you think makes an auditor most successful during busy season?

There are quite a few habits and qualities that contribute to being successful on individual engagements and the overall busy season. While it’s true that a great amount of learning and work is condensed in a short, four month period, the skills to success (and mindset to succeed) is an ongoing process throughout the year.

As a new associate, it can be overwhelming to decipher what it is that you are actually responsible for doing. You’re just figuring your way out, learning what different acronyms stand for and mentally cataloging the specific terminology used in your industry. It’s almost like learning a whole new language, and on top of that you also need to produce quality work product!

This can leave you stressed out, not knowing where to begin.

There were several times during my first year where I felt the same way. Looking back through my four busy seasons, I’ve identified five actionable focus-areas for incoming associates to utilize as we begin this busy season:

1. Ask questions
Everyone says this, right? RSM’s culture focuses on personal growth and development as much as it prioritizes quality client service. This meant that I was able to ask anyone above me a question, knowing they would take out time to answer it or point me in the right direction if they couldn’t.

Let’s take this one step further: Once you’ve been given instructions, evaluate which parts you do understand and which parts you don’t. For the parts that are unclear, do some research, dig around on the intranet and read through the relevant documentation. Then approach your in-charge or manager with your question indicating what you’ve considered through your own research. You could be totally off base with the solution you come up with, but developing the “evaluate-research-ask” habit really helped me process new information and absorb new concepts quickly. Pro-tip: Keep a Q&A document on your desktop so you can reference this in the future, so you won’t have to ask again!

2. Understand expectations
At the beginning of an engagement, write down what you want to have learned by the time the engagement is over. If you haven’t worked on any engagements yet, it is reasonable for you to ask your in-charge what their expectations are of you. (E.g. How long should assigned tasks take? What would doing a good job on this project look like?) Write this down! Doing this will allow you to see exactly what you need to work on; it’s much easier for you to self-evaluate your progress when you have clear expectations. Every so often during my first busy season, my peers and I would discuss the types of tasks we’ve completed (read: “Am I being given the same or similar responsibilities as those around me?”); doing this helped me identify if I was on track towards becoming an efficient in-charge. Writing down what you already know how to do will help you identify new areas to focus on in your next engagement.

3. Understand “why?”
Your in-charge asked you to pick a sample five revenue items for testing. Do you know why? Is it because this is standard firm practice? Perhaps this type of selection is only applicable for this particular client? Well, a good way to build your knowledge base is to understand what you’re doing and how it applies to the overall audit objectives. As an associate you’ll most likely be responsible for carrying out detailed testing that was already designed by your in-charge. A great way to demonstrate enthusiasm is to figure out the purpose behind the tasks you’re assigned. Once you understand why you’re doing the testing you’ve been assigned, you’ll be able to add value to your engagement. You’ll also be able to add appropriate conclusions to your workpapers.

4. Focus by listening

The beauty of working at RSM is that you’re exposed to every part of an audit engagement from the very beginning of your career. This means being looped in on emails to clients as well as being present during walkthroughs, conference calls and face-to-face meetings with top level officers. While you may not be asked to lead meetings, you can still actively participate by listening to what’s being said and taking notes on anything you don’t understand. The content of these meetings usually provide a good context for how the company has performed in the past year, the major operations or revenue streams of their business, and any changes that may have occurred. For example, once I understood how a broker-dealer was recognizing revenue, I was better able to complete the revenue testing assigned to me. Observing these interactions as an associate prepared me to be an efficient and effective in-charge when I was responsible for leading meetings and walkthroughs.

5. Get involved
RSM invests in the communities in which its people work and live. This means there are plenty of service opportunities (i.e. walks, runs, industry outreach). Participate, raise your hand, and say “yes” to internal networking opportunities. Informal social settings often lead to the most interesting conversations. The more people that know you, the more likely new opportunities are to come your way.

How did you find time to recharge? What are some of your best practices to recharge during busy season?
Balance is key. We’re not machines, and even if we were – we’d eventually need a reboot. For me balance, meant engaging the parts of myself that were disengaged during the week.

Here are some things I did during busy season to recharge:

Physical activity
I played volleyball on the weekends to counter the hours of sitting and I spent at least one hour every day at the gym running, even if it was only at 4.5 mph; some days were better than other days. If I had been working at my desk for 3 or 4 hours without moving, I would get up. 

Finish easy tasks before the weekend
It’s hard to enjoy time off when you have lingering tasks, for example signing off without coding your time. I used Saturday mornings to wrap up lingering administrative tasks, so that I could enjoy Sunday with my family without the worry of missing a deadline.

Disconnect to reconnect
I planned dinner with friends for Saturday night and/or brunch with other friends on Sunday mornings. This meant I would be away from my computer, active and maintaining my relationships outside of work.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Living our values: Respect

Joseph Mazza
Office Managing Partner
Los Angeles, CA

One of RSM’s values is respect, which is defined as; a feeling of deep admiration for someone or  something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. We show our respect for our fellow RSM colleagues in many ways, by thinking before we act, by being polite or timely and by listening to others as much as we talk or just saying “Good morning” or “Hello” when we see people. Respect is also displayed by offering others coaching and feedback.

Over the years, I have participated in many employee career coaching conversations, focus groups and exit interviews. One of the things that has always stood out to me in these sessions is that our people usually want and need more feedback. They like to be coached. This is something I have observed of people at all levels and why RSM has made investments in our feedback tools in the last year. But I have often thought to myself, “If everyone wants more feedback and coaching, then why aren’t people giving more feedback and coaching?”

Which brings me to my interpretation of respect; treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you feel you would like more feedback and coaching, then give more feedback and coaching to others. It is kind of a pay it forward, or good karma concept. If we all give more of it, we will all receive more of it. Additionally, coaching and feedback is a way of showing people we care, and has been proven to reduce employee turnover.

 So, as we start this new year, I’m asking my team to  show how much we care about our colleagues across RSM by providing more timely feedback and coaching. It demonstrates our respect for each other; our people will feel good; and we will have happy colleagues.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why I love RSM

Maddy Kranz
RSM Campus Ambassador and Consulting Intern
Minneapolis, MN
RSM prides itself on its values of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and stewardship; and RSM employees experience these principles directly from colleagues, as well as within the RSM culture on a daily basis. As a part-time employee and full-time student with a double-major in Management Information Systems and Accounting, flexibility and understanding are vital to my academic and professional success. Working at RSM this fall on a part-time basis, I have been able to alter my workload in order to cater to my situation. Achievement is important to me, where I aim to perform at maximum capacity in all facets of my life. RSM’s flexibility with my situation has allowed me to leverage my capabilities in order to elicit a maximum return in my school work and professional experience. With  this level of flexibility and control over my work, comes a large amount of responsibility, which I must manage efficiently as well.

One aspect of working at RSM that I enjoy is how they value women in the workplace. It is hard to come across a business that truly practices what it preaches in regard to gender equality in the organic interactions and indirect regard for women operating in the business world. I think that there is a strong presence of “girl power” in the RSM culture, and I have experienced this firsthand. I really look up to the women around me and find myself reaching to be more like them every day. In addition to providing strong influences in my career path, working at RSM has also allowed me to foster relationships with colleagues who are genuine, trusting, and caring. The people I have worked with throughout my experience are more than just co-workers. It is evident that the individuals I work with have a genuine concern for the well-being of others and seek to foster lasting relationships beyond work.

RSM’s culture clearly plays a critical role in the success of its employees. The environment in which you work can greatly affect your performance in both a negative or positive way. I think that the general culture of RSM, and the atmosphere of the Minneapolis office specifically have wildly influenced my experience and work in positive way, and have allowed me to be the best version of myself possible in a professional and personal manner. Without a solid foundation of culture, business performance can truly crumble. Where consultative work is primarily team-based, relationship management is a key success factor when it comes to colleagues as well as clients. It is important for individuals to be able to maximize their capabilities in the work they perform, and I believe RSM has mastered the framework for an exceptional culture in the workplace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How is RSM different than the other firms?

Bahana Ashraf
Talent Acquisition Sourcing Specialist
Irvine, CA
As a Recruiter, I think the one question we are asked the most is: What makes RSM different than all of the other firms out there? And let's face it - there is a lot of competition that for the most part do the exact same thing we do.

So I decided to do a little research and asked our current employees and the candidates that are applying, why they were interested in coming to our firm, and this is what I heard almost every time-

1. Culture Fit
2. Work/Life Balance

Almost every single time, I heard the exact same answers. So you may be thinking - what is so great about the culture fit, and what is your definition of work/life balance? Well, here it is -

The Culture Fit - Although I cannot speak for every single office - for the most part the culture fit at RSM is one that is very down to earth, where everyone seems to really be friends at work, but even outside of work. Partners plan camping trips with their families, and invite the office and their families to attend. The tax staff eat lunch together - EVERY SINGLE DAY, and the others plan trips to Vegas, or weekend getaways all the time. There is probably happy hours going on every week, and almost always a reason to get together. With RSM you have the opportunity to work directly with the Partners, and yes just walk into their office if you have a question - regardless of your level. RSM is a large, internationally recognized firm that has a lot of resources, but when you walk in, you won’t just feel like a number. RSM acts more like a “mom and pop business” - where everyone really knows everyone, and great friendships are made.

The Work/Life Balance - When you’re starting your career in public accounting, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. Yes, you will go through busy season and regardless of which firm you go to, you will work a lot of hours. However I can tell you this, it is typically A LOT LESS than you would if you worked at a larger firm. That is why we are recognized for the “Best Places to Work for New Dads”, “Mother’s Best Companies List” etc.

So here is my advice to you whether you’re a Partner, or even a recent college grad looking to get your foot in the door - take some time to do your research. If all CPA firms do the same thing, understand what their differences are, and make that the reason to start your career with that firm.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Q&A with a First Year Associate

Eric Anzelone
Consulting Associate
Chicago, IL
Briefly describe your role within RSM.
I work in the Transaction Advisory Services group at RSM.  This line of work primarily focuses around performing buy-side/sell-side due diligence for potential mergers and acquisitions.  As a member of the due diligence team, my responsibilities include, but are not limited to, identifying potential earnings and working capital adjustments, client communications, building an excel-based workbook that features several financial statements and schedules, and preparing a report for the client.  In addition to this role, I am also a part of the Business Performance Analytics (“BPA”) team, which is a recently added service for our team.  BPA seeks to perform more extensive levels of analysis of a company’s operations overall, and can ultimately lead to providing our clients with better information for decision-making.

What have been the most exciting things you’ve experienced/learned since beginning your career within RSM?
In my 15 month career with RSM, my most exciting/valuable experiences have revolved around working with several great people within, and outside of the firm, and tremendously increasing my accounting and business knowledge.  In retrospect, it’s remarkable to see how far I’ve come in terms of skillsets and knowledge, and it’s exciting to know that I will continue to improve.  Every individual I have worked with along the way has willingly contributed to my growth.

How have you successfully balanced your career while studying for the CPA?
Since passing the CPA exam had been a goal of mine throughout college, I kept it atop my priority list after graduation and upon entry into RSM.  When I spoke with my Career Advisor at RSM, I made mention of that right away and he strongly encouraged it.  Before studying for any of the sections, I probably had a conversation about the CPA exam with 20-30 different colleagues.  I especially sought commonalities in each of their experiences to better grasp the nature of the exam and how studying for it impacted both their personal and professional lives.  Soon after I began studying, I realized how important it was to hold yourself accountable and to remove distractions throughout the entire process.  The key was communication.  I communicated with friends and family about the level of commitment the exams require, and they supported and respected it.  RSM supported it 100% and I maintained a balance by devoting work hours to client/internal work, and would switch gears to studying. In the early part of my career, I had a considerably more time to study during normal work hours and continue into the night.  Although studying was a priority, I prioritized any teamwork first at work. Achieving the balance is certainly not easy, nor is it the same for every individual.  I found my balance by learning what worked best for me and testing my own limits.  Each test was unique and there are many times where you might not be able to stick to your study regiment.  In addition to communication, confidence was the other key.  Maintaining confidence in what I was doing, even though it required making sacrifices along the way, really helped me strike the balance and ultimately pass the exams.

Any tips for new first year associates? 
Absolutely. Just a brief background - as a first year in the TAS group, I was made aware of being the first associate to be directly hired into the group. I was both excited and nervous.  In order to adjust to such circumstances, I focused on establishing professional relationships right away, gaining insight and knowledge from others, and equipping myself with helpful advice.  I knew I couldn’t learn everything about the line of work overnight, so I would read through some reports, resources, and articles I could find to help kick start my level of understanding.  I was also very eager to learn and contribute, which I’m sure is very common amongst accounting graduates.  My advice for first years is to possess and maintain enthusiasm and curiosity each and every day, and continue asking lots of questions.  Be patient at the same time.  Although this might seem contradictory, it’s important you are also aware skillsets and knowledge will take time to develop, despite how eager you are.  Also, do not beat yourselves up for mistakes you make.  You will find yourself making mistakes on multiple occasions which is completely normal because each project you are tasked with is unique and presents its own set of complications.  With all of this in mind, don’t forget to let yourself have some fun, too! Engage in work activities, and be social with friends [unless you’re studying for the CPA exams too…ha!].

RSM interns quench thirsts for a good cause

RSM takes pride in giving back to the communities where we live and work, and that we have a 90-year tradition of stewardship. But did you know that our interns have embraced the value of stewardship, as well?

In 2009, RSM interns started raising money for the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, an American pediatric cancer charitable organization that raises money to fight childhood cancer. In seven short years, our summer and winter interns have done a phenomenal job of engaging their local offices in support of this worthwhile cause, raising more than $92,000 for Alex's Lemonade Stand.

"We're incredibly proud of the leadership and giving nature our interns have and continue to show each year," said Donna Osteraas – manager of corporate social responsibility. "Clearly, our interns view stewardship as a core value, one that they demonstrate so visibly through their enthusiastic support of Alex's Lemonade Stand. We thank them for their contributions to our firm, and to their communities."

We are truly proud and inspired by our intern classes over the last few years, and can't wait to see what our interns will be able to do for our communities in the coming classes!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lighting Up the Night in Uganda

Dave Campbell - RSM's 90-90-9
Pursue Your Passion Winner
I knew my trip to Bwibere Primary School would be a special one. I was getting the opportunity to see first-hand the completion of the lighting system, where a month before, there had only been candlelight or darkness. But I never could have imagined the feeling I experienced when walking through the school’s entrance on a sunny Saturday morning in July, being greeted by many of Bwibere’s 1,400 students dancing and singing, forming a type of runway into the center courtyard. The energy and excitement were contagious, and I, along with a few of the innovation:Africa team members, danced our way through the crowd to settle in for a full day of speeches, performances, ribbon cutting and demonstrations.

The sub-Saharan region of Africa includes the majority of the continent, and many of the countries within it struggle with poverty, disease, and a lack of clean water and electricity, resources that the developed world often takes for granted. Located in East Africa is Uganda, one of the poorest countries in the world and where roughly 20-percent of inhabitants have access to electricity. Much of that access is concentrated in Uganda’s urban areas, so for those in more rural areas, including the students of Bwibere, the only light comes from daylight, candles and kerosene lamps, which are expensive, often unsafe to operate, and harmful to the environment. The flat-wick type most often used can easily start a fire if broken or spilled, and the inefficiency of such lamps results in an incredible amount of carbon dioxide emissions for what is relatively an inadequate source of light.

It was this issue that got my attention, and when I became aware of RSM US LLP (“RSM”)’s 90-90-9-Puruse Your Passion program, I saw it as a way to get involved and make a real difference on whatever scale I could. The solution was solar power, which through incredible advancements in the technology has become more and more affordable and effective. The benefits are not limited to the reduced carbon emissions; because the capital requirements are so much lower than traditional fossil fuels, solar power is a near-perfect alternative in the developing world where the resources do not exist to build costly coal or nuclear plants. Incredible engineering efforts by a number of for-profit and non-profit organizations have driven the cost down to a competitive range, and the task now is to bring this technology to people in need.

After some initial research, it became evident that I would not be able to do this alone, due to the technical expertise required to install and test the system, as well as the logistics of identifying a community in need and getting the equipment on site. More importantly, for development efforts such as the one I had in mind to be successful and sustainable, there is a degree of ongoing monitoring required which I would not be able to accomplish from across the world. My research led to me to a fairly small but very impactful organization, innovation:Africa, which I was fortunate to find. The issue of improving electricity access is just one that the team at innovation:Africa is focused on, and with 124 solar, water and agricultural projects completed in seven different countries, I could not have found a better partner for my initiative. By the time I got in touch, the team had already identified Bwibere as a great candidate for such a project, and with the funding I was able to provide courtesy of RSM, we were able to provide solar-powered electricity to each of the school’s classrooms and dorm buildings.

One occasionally overlooked aspect of projects in the region, however, is how and whether the local community will be able to sustain the fixtures and technology (i.e., replacing batteries, repairing panels, etc.).  To that end, we spent much of the time at Bwibere meeting with faculty and administrators to teach the mechanics of the system and some basic troubleshooting. One advantage of the system: a portion of the energy generated by the solar panels mounted on the school’s roof feeds a cell phone charging station, which community members are welcome to use for a very small fee, which is collected by the school. The funds are used to pay for any equipment repairs or replacements.

Clearly this was an important project to me, but after spending time with the students and faculty at Bwibere, it became clear their excitement exceeded even mine, as we were treated to hours of a genuine outpouring of appreciation and gratitude. These students, some of them as young as five years old, so prized their educational opportunities that they viewed the newfound light not only as a convenience, but as a way of extending the number of hours per day that they could spend learning, and from the looks of it there was no better gift in the world. We returned on the evening of the first day to see the lights “in action.” What I did not expect was that every seat in the classroom would still be full at 8 p.m., and that I would walk into a room of students no less eager and excited than they were 12 hours earlier, making the most of their new tool. What was intended to be a quick tour turned into an hour-long geography and politics lesson, as I fielded questions about America from the curious and enthusiastic group. This was not something they would be taking for granted, and I was humbled by their boundless acknowledgement and appreciation. Days before, I was a short-tempered traveler, half-sleeping my way through a six-hour Amsterdam layover and wondering if it would all be worth it. No moment could have more effectively put everything in perspective for me.

After spending some time at Bwibere, I traveled for a few days with Robbs and David, two members of the innovation:Africa’s team, to a number of other past and potential project sites to get a sense of both the group’s capabilities and the immense needs of the region. The quantity and reach of the team’s projects are inspiring and impactful; but the needs remain extraordinary. To see first-hand the dirty and often diseased swamp water that many local residents use for everything from drinking to washing, it is clear there is a long way to go. But it is the innovation, generosity and capabilities of organizations such as innovation:Africa and that helped make my dream, and that of 1,400 students at Bwibere Primary School, a reality. Let’s not stop here.