It was August 2010 when Lori Davis took on the biggest role she’s had in more than 22 years of public accounting: office managing partner for Grant Thornton’s Wichita office.
The appointment put Davis in charge of an office that employs 55 people.
It wasn’t that long ago that Davis wouldn’t have expected to be a managing partner. When she started her public accounting career at PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Oklahoma City office after graduating from the University of Oklahoma, she planned to forge her career specialization in tax accounting. That’s the position she hired into more than six years ago at Grant Thornton in Wichita.
“I always saw myself as a tax professional,” Davis said. “I do think I have some natural leadership qualities that make me successful in this role.”
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How was Grant Thornton’s 2011 in Wichita?
“It was, from a business perspective, a pretty good year for our office.
We exceeded our financial goals, our employees were probably more engaged in the community this year than in the past. We started a community action committee. Basically we had done community activities and it wasn’t a focused effort. So we had more of a committee around that to make sure we are not duplicating efforts, that we were more focused. And employees loved it.
They get a say with what volunteer activities we are doing and our sponsorships.”
How was the firm’s year from a personal perspective?
“We lost one of our promising tax associates in a car accident this summer. That’s why I couldn’t say we had a great year. That’s a really difficult thing to go through, but I think it brought us closer together as an office. We had a private, internal memorial service and a lot of us drove out to the memorial service in Dodge City together.”
How did you figure out what a leader should do when there is an unexpected death of an employee?
“I called HR (human resources) and said, ‘OK, what do I do?’ The primary advice they gave me is to spend as much time together as possible. You just have to make sure that you spend time with everybody.”
What are your expectations for the Wichita office in 2012?
“We have an exciting 2012 ahead of us. We have 10 new people starting with us this month as we gear up for busy season. The CEO of our firm will be here in our office this month, which is always inspiring and a good way to kick off our new year. We have some aggressive goals for this year and are really focused on growing our office and our people, in addition to helping our clients grow.”
How would you characterize your first full year as office managing partner?
“It was obviously a year of transition and learning.”
What did you do to help you through the transition?
“That’s when I started with an executive coach. I’ve been meeting with them monthly. I have learned so much about leadership in general and using resources that I have at my disposal because I was initially focused on (using the resources I had) here.”
So that gave you the idea to tap into the firm’s resources outside of Wichita?
“Which is a completely different approach than I would have taken on my own.”
How often do you meet with your coaches?
“I meet with them personally once a month and a phone call every two weeks. And I have them at my disposal if I need them to help me work through an issue.”
What else have you learned from your coaches?
“Probably better communication styles, focus on my communication style and adjusting that based on who my audience is. Another thing they harped on, which I really was not good at, was preparing for meetings, making sure that I have a goal for what I want them (employees or clients) to take away from that meeting. That’s been hugely helpful.”
Are you still doing a lot of work as a tax partner?
“I will always be a tax partner. I still have tax clients. I have to learn to delegate a little better, but it’s coming, a little bit slowly. I really like helping my clients so it’s a struggle.”
Are you able to balance your duties effectively between tax partner and managing partner?
“I don’t feel like I’m working any more than I did but I struggle with being as focused throughout the day. I think it’s just the challenge of focusing for long periods of time on technical work, difficult work. I have to set aside quiet time, coming in early or shutting my door for two hours.”
How has being managing partner turned out differently than you thought it might be?
“I thought that it would be somewhat outside my comfort zone, which is what my boss said it should be. I’m surprised how comfortable I am in this role after this first year. I feel a lot more comfortable than I thought I would a year ago.”