Rainmaker Adrian Grant of Aarons, Grant & Habif

by & filed under All Articles, Growth Leadership.

Rainmaker Series – Sponsored by the GSCPAs MAP Section
rain·mak·er: a person (as a partner in a law firm) who brings in new business,Merriam Webster Dictionary
Sometimes the ability to make rain – to create business, to fashion new demand for one’s services – seems to be in the blood. Adrian Grant, resident rainmaker at Aarons, Grant & Habif, a 28-year-old accounting firm with 40 employees, likely falls into this category. He began his “selling” career early, hawking items such as doughnuts, flower seeds, and light bulbs as early as the 3rd grade.

His early efforts bore fruit, and his knack grew. When Adrian went off to college, he was able to sell diamond rings from his father’s jewelry business to his fraternity brothers at the University of Alabama. In fact, Adrian credits the successful beginnings of his rainmaking career to the active leadership positions he assumed in college.

Adrian’s engaging personality and sense of humor are immediately apparent to new acquaintances. When I inquired about the success of his firm, he pointed to a strong team of professionals, the ability to consult in various specialties, and a network of skilled outside specialists on call for the firm.

Fear? What’s that?

The first article in this series addressed the fear of failure that often haunts CPAs, hindering their ability to pursue opportunities aggressively enough. Adrian seems absolutely fearless in this area – in fact, he calls it the fun part of life.

How did he learn to overcome rejection? “Easy,” he explained. “It was 1969, I was young and single in Atlanta, and on Sunday night I would start asking girls out for the next Saturday. Sometimes it would take six or seven tries!”

Thirty-plus years later that lack of self-consciousness is still apparent. “The most important attributes are honesty and a true interest in the client’s success,” Adrian insists. “There is no room for jealously or selfishness.” In that vein, Adrian reports that his biggest satisfaction comes from helping others, especially when he’s able to introduce people to job opportunities he hears about through his community involvement. He devotes hours every week to these efforts, always keeping his ears open for new opportunities.

The payoffs can be substantial. “I was working out at the gym,” Adrian relates,” and started playing racquetball with a new acquaintance. After several months I found an opportunity to introduce him to another friend. They clicked immediately, and eventually struck a $180 million deal! Deals like this drive revenue for our firm as we assist clients in the financial aspects of their businesses. That’s what makes this profession worth it.”

Problem clients and diplomacy

Like many accounting firms, Aarons, Grant & Habif has “many colorful, offbeat clients who are creative and entrepreneurial.” A smaller subset of clients, however, lacks an understanding of some of the very basic facts of life. “Some don’t want to pay any taxes,” Adrian reports, “so our job is to educate them about what is reasonable and not.” This process is not always an easy one, and involves mutual give and take.

“To be effective,” Adrian says, “they must know and trust us intimately, but this sometimes takes a long time.” Even then, clients don’t always listen. “Many years ago,” Adrian confided, “I lost my largest client because we weren’t aggressive enough with the numbers. However, five years later, the client came back because, in the interim, he’d received some bad investment advice.”

“I made sure,” Adrian emphasizes, “that when he left, it didn’t impact our personal relationship. Burning a bridge never works. In conflict situations, setting emotions aside has usually enabled me to preserve relationships.”

It’s all about the money – sometimes!

It’s frustrating, Adrian acknowledges, when a prospect selects another CPA firm based on fees, especially when the prospect is a really obvious fit for his firm. “Price shopping is difficult to overcome,” he admits. “We are usually up against another firm of qualified CPAs, and the difference is not perceptible enough to the client. It’s our responsibility to communicate what makes us the best choice.”

Of course, in order to remain vital, accounting firms, like all other businesses, constantly need new blood. “New business is dependent upon a constant flow of leads. But,” Adrian points out, “the number of leads is subject to economic conditions, over which we have no control.” So what’s the solution?

Guess what? It’s more personal involvement on the part of the firm’s rainmakers.

“My job,” Adrian relates, “is to be out in the community, meeting and greeting, establishing opportunities to build name recognition and credibility.” Client referrals can’t safely be left to current clients or to chance, because that stance is far too risky.

“We actively encourage current clients to refer us to others,” Adrian says. “But I [also] look for opportunities everywhere.” Overhearing a conversation at the airport recently, Adrian learned that a Coke employee was planning to move back to Atlanta. Adrian approached the fellow, telling him that several other Coke employees are on the Aarons, Grant & Habif client list.

“You never know,” Adrian says. “This person might be a client someday.”

Comprehensive service

Clients offer different kinds of challenges. One of Adrian’s specialties, from the beginning, has been in the area of closely held companies. Adrian launched this firm, with Michael Aarons and a single secretary, after spending a few years in a “Big Eight”, as well as a local firm. Leaving the “Big Eight” environment made it possible for him to help clients comprehensively, instead of becoming stuck in a narrow area. “If we can provide tax efficiency to closely held businesses, and help them with strategic planning, we can really help them grow to the next level,” he explains.

This emphasis on comprehensive service is at the heart of the firm’s philosophy. “Have no fear,” Adrian advises. “Practice until there is no fear. Be honest, trustworthy…. Over-serve your clients, being responsive to phone calls, and making sure you are totally accessible when they really need you. These are my words of advice to up and coming CPAs.”

Gale Crosley

About Gale Crosley

Gale Crosley, CPA, has been awarded The Advisory Board Hall of Fame. She was selected one of the Most Recommended Consultants in the Inside Public Accounting BEST OF THE BEST Annual Survey of Firms for fifteen years, and one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting by AccountingToday for fourteen years. She is an honors accounting graduate from the University of Akron, Ohio, winner of the Simonetti Distinguished Business Alumni Award, and an Editorial Advisor for the Journal of Accountancy. Gale is founder and principal of Crosley+Company, providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. She brings more than 30 years of experience, featuring a unique combination as a practicing CPA in two national accounting firms, along with significant experience in business development in the cutting edge technology environment with such firms as IBM and MCI.

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