Tuesday, June 25, 2024 Jun 25, 2024
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Conversation With: Chris Clark, Forvis Mazars

The Dallas market leader talks about AI, the competition for talent, and the just-closed deal to create the $5 billion global Forvis Mazars network.

June has been a big month for Forvis, the country’s eighth-largest accounting firm, as it marks the formal closing of its deal with Paris-based Mazars, creating a new, top 10 global network. It will operate under a single brand, Forvis Mazars, worldwide. And with about $5 billion in revenue, it’s a new top 10 industry player globally.

Forvis CEO Tom Watson, who is based in Dallas, will continue in that role and oversee U.S. operations. Hervé Hélias, former head of Mazars Group, will chair the company’s global network board. The deal took effect June 1, which kicked off a new fiscal year for the firm.

D CEO talked with Dallas Managing Partner Chris Clark about the big news and what it means for Forvis Mazars and the accounting industry. Here’s a recap of the conversation:

D CEO: Why did forming a new global network make sense for both parties?

CHRIS CLARK: “Forvis was created just two years ago through the merger of BKD and DHG, which gave us a larger national footprint. There were many markets that DHG was in that we, as BKD, were not in, and vice versa. The merger gave us the national platform that we were looking for.

“The two firms were also very complementary in terms of the industries they served and the service lines that were offered, particularly in the consulting arena. There was not a lot of duplicity. But the one thing it didn’t achieve for us was to help us be able to serve our clients with international needs in a seamless fashion. Not having a global presence was also a barrier as we attempted to move upstream as a larger firm.

“That’s what the creation of Forvis Mazars does. And for Mazars, it helps give them that significant presence they wanted in the United States. They had an office here in Dallas but were mostly present in the Northeast. This really achieves what both firms were looking for.”

D CEO: What makes the deal unique?

CLARK: “It forms a two-firm global network. When you look at the other major firms like Deloitte or KPMG, they are branded as KPMG or Deloitte around the globe. But it is not one firm—it is a network of many firms. We’re going to be structured very similarly, except it’s just two firms—Forvis and Mazars—globally. The new logo is very consistent with what the Mazars logo was before. That was important because Mazars has a very strong name and reputation in other parts of the world. Forvis was a relatively new name.

“From a service delivery standpoint, having a two-firm network is much simpler than having 40 or 50 different partnerships combined as a network around the globe. We believe we are unique in this structure, and from a client experience standpoint, we think we’re going to be able to deliver better results.

D CEO: What has been the initial reaction among clients?

CLARK: “There were initially a lot of questions about ‘What does this mean for us? Is there going to be a change in team members? Will it change how you do business?’ But the reality is, it doesn’t change anything. We have a strong commitment to the client experience, and that’s not going to change; it should be seamless from the client standpoint. There has just been general curiosity and understanding that the dynamics of the public accounting industry have changed. This is something we needed to do to continue to be a relevant solution for the types of clients that we want to want to work with.”

D CEO: What is the role of the organization’s North Texas operations within the broader scheme of things?

CLARK: “Our DFW practice covers Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco. We have about 300 to 350 folks in those three offices. For fiscal year 2024, DFW was the largest practice unit in the firm. We’ve seen a remarkable trajectory in the last decade in this market, with double-digit growth for many years in a row. It’s attributable to the dynamic business environment we have here and the resources that we’ve been able to bring in, because people want to live and work in the north Texas region.

“Since becoming Forvis Mazars, our New York practice is now the largest practice unit. But that gives us that gives us a goal to climb back into that No. 1 spot.

“But when you look at North Texas from a leadership standpoint, our CEO, Tom Watson, is based here and will continue to be based here. I’ve been named managing partner of DFW, and because of the size and complexity of our practice unit, we also named an assistant managing partner, Rob Optiz. In addition to that, Ashley Ensley, a partner in our Fort Worth office, has been named the national industry leader over financial services. One of our Dallas-based partners is relocating to become the managing partner of the Boston practice unit.

“So, a lot of leadership is being pulled from the North Texas region. Dallas has long been a breeding ground for firm leadership and will continue to be. Dallas also is a hub for a lot of internal meetings, with different groups from around the country coming in to meet here. It’s easy to get to because of our airports, and from an expense standpoint, it’s still a reasonable place to stay. And, so, in the coming years, I really see North Texas as a bright spot for our firm and a leader in the charge of growth.”

CLARK: “There are a lot of changing dynamics. Some of the bigger firms are trying to figure out how to organize their firms. You’re starting to see a change in the structure and ownership of firms. Private equity has invested in firms like Grant Thornton and Baker Tilly. BDO transitioned into an ESOP. These things are happening, I think, because of the pressure that is occurring within the industry and the competition that exists; firms are taking action to continue to be relevant.

“Our firm is taking a different approach. We don’t have an interest in private equity investment. We have been very strategic about how we have grown. We think that these last two transactions—the creation of Forvis and the creation of Forvis Mazars— put us in a position to be very successful in the long term without having to take other types of actions to have the necessary capital to be able to compete.

“The other factor is people. As has been reported, there has been a decline in the number of students who are going into accounting programs. Fortunately, in North Texas, we have consistently been able to achieve our hiring targets because people want to be here, and we have great schools in this city and surrounding areas that have strong accounting programs. But it’s getting harder and harder, with fewer people going into this profession.

D CEO: Why is that, and how are you responding?

CLARK: “Some of it’s just because of the perception of public accounting and what it means and the grind in terms of the number of hours that you might have to work. We’re responding by offering a different experience to people. You’ve got to be more flexible in how you allow people to work and how you engage with people; you must be more appreciative of what they are looking for in terms of career satisfaction and deliver on that. And I think that we have, over the last two years, especially since the creation of Forvis, been very focused on delivering a different experience for employees, providing the flexibility that they’re looking for, and providing a reasonable level of work-life balance.

“We’ve also found that our employees are interested in social issues and in giving back to the community. This summer, we’ll have a week where the entire firm will collectively participate in different volunteer efforts. Here in Dallas, we’ve identified three community organizations that our employees will be able to serve. So, we’re trying to be proactive in helping our employees engage with the community because we feel like that’s all part of the employee experience.

“Another solution to the people issue is AI, another thing impacting every industry. We’re not immune to that. I believe AI is going to be complementary to what we do; we’re already starting to use some of those tools in our internal communications and audit methodology. AI is emerging as a solution to help us have our people spend more time on things that are more meaningful and less time on the mundane task. And that’s going to help us with the issue of resources that we’re all facing.

D CEO: What led you, personally, to get into accounting?

CLARK: “I wanted to be an FBI agent. I had done a mentor program in high school with an FBI agent. He told me that if I wanted to be part of the Bureau, get an accounting degree, and work for two years, then I could get hired. So, I went into public accounting with that intent. But when push came to shove, I went through the interview cycle with the FBI but ultimately chose to stay in public accounting because as I got into it, I liked it and felt that it would be a good long-term career choice.

D CEO: That’s interesting! Looking ahead, what’s next for the firm locally?

CLARK: “Well, unrelated to the formation of Forvis Mazars, we are moving to new office space in Dallas, which we’re really excited about. We’re in International Plaza in building three, and in August, we’re moving to building two. We’ll have plenty of room to grow and more collaborative workspace. We’re excited about being in a space that we think will draw people back to the office.”

D CEO: Good deal. Thanks for taking the time to give us an update and share your insights.


Christine Perez

Christine Perez

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Christine is the editor of D CEO magazine and its online platforms. She’s a national award-winning business journalist who has…