“We’ve kind of evolved and we’re getting it figured out as we go along,” Bridget Lujan, partner in Elgee Rehfeld Mertz, LLC said of her firm’s evolution to become ranked 13th in the nation as a place an accountant would very much like to work.
Earlier, the Juneau-based accounting firm earned the title of one of the 100 Best Accounting Firms to Work For in 2011. The list is compiled annually by the magazine Accounting Today and the survey company Best Companies Group and announced in October.
This survey and award program was designed to identify and honor the best places of employment in the accounting field, benefiting the nation’s economy, its workforce and businesses.
Elgee Rehfeld Mertz announced Jan. 23 it had placed in the top 15 percent of the nation’s small accounting firms. Small firms are defined as being 15 to 49 employees.
Lujan has been with Elgee Rehfeld Mertz from the beginning of her career.
“I started as a temp right out of college,” Lujan said.
Lujan said she was an employee at the firm for 15 years, making partner four years ago.
“So I’ve seen it from all levels,” Lujan said.
Lujan speaks about the inspiration of her senior partners, “the names on the door,” she said.
Including Lujan, Elgee Rehfeld Mertz has a total of five partners.
“It is incredibly inspiring,” Lujan said. “There is no one who works harder than the employers.”
As an example of commitment, Lujan said, “it’s pretty common to get emails time stamped 4 a.m. by Max (Mertz). Employers and employees equate the success of the firm with the work that has gone into it.”
“No one is sitting on their laurels,” Lujan said. “They are trying to grow. They take risks with technology, expand the market and develop new niches.”
And that strategy shows in job growth.
“When I started we had 11 employees,” Lujan said. Since, the staff has more than doubled, she said.
Employees respond well to respect and professionalism: give and receive.
“Everyone here is a professional,” Lujan said.
She said her firm naturally finds that when everyone is treated as a professional and is expected to have good professional judgment, you are going to get more out of employees.
“We allow for growth among the professionals, there is room to grow and make mistakes and develop relationships with clients. It is a testament to the expectations of the owners,” she said.
And good judgments are honed by continued personal and professional growth.
“Professional development and training in addition to routine updates, conferences and seminars to keep current,” we encourage our professionals to develop in areas of the profession that are of interest to them, that they perhaps might want to specialize in, or seek additional credentials, Lujan wrote in an email.
Everyone at ERM is a face of the firm, Lujan said.
“The low turnover is huge for our clients,” she said. “They appreciate the same faces, developing relationships, developing trust. Thankfully our people like to stay.”
Lujan said the firm’s competitive pay and benefits help keep folks happy too.
“We like our employees, we want them to stay, we try to make them happy because they are the reason we are successful.”
“Because the firm is so immersed in the community, we work with a lot of non-profits, as clients and board members. Part of our hiring and orientation process is to get on board, get your feet under you then “pick a cause, get on a board somewhere and get some experience. A lot of non-profits want CPAs on their boards,” Lujan said. “It is very rewarding to see our people out in the community.”
Elgee Rehfeld Mertz believes its success is related to its commitment to community.
“We like to think of ourselves as standard setters for (certified public accountants) and other businesses,” Lujan said.
Young workers at the firm say they enjoy new technology, especially high powered laptops with dual-screens for field work.
To make work accessible and portable, the firm is considering remote access and cloud computing
“Employees can work from home and remote,” Lujan said.
Young accountants have a lot of choices after university. Lujan said Elgee Rehfeld Mertz helps its employees find the right path in the firm and in the industry.
“Starting out, accountants may not know where they want to focus. What do they like? What is interesting to them? Maybe they are interested in the health care” or another branch of accounting, Lujan said.
When they find their passion, Lujan said, the firm gets its employee the training he or she needs.
“We do look for them to develop an area they want to focus on,” Lujan said.
Lujan said the national recognition is due to the comments of the firm’s employees.
“It was an interesting process to go through,” Lujan said. “We didn’t know where we’d end up.”
Employee submissions went to competition judges without review of the firm’s partners.
“It is very rewarding from the employer side,” she said.
She said the honor has already showed positive side effects with the firm’s most cherished critics.
“We’re gotten lots of ‘Atta boys’ from our clients,” Lujan said.
Elgee Rehfeld Mertz, LLC is the largest accounting firm in Southeast Alaska. It provides compliance, accounting and advisory services to more than 1,100 clients in both the public and private sectors.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.