Plante Moran’s newly elected managing partner, Jason Drake, will be taking the helm next July, and hopes to grow it into a $2 billion firm.
“We need to continue to grow,” he said. “We do have target growth rates, just from an organic perspective. We’re a billion-dollar firm. We’re going to be a $2 billion firm not too far in the distant future. To me, that’s all working together as partners and staff and team members to help grow the business. And part of that growth is bringing in new clients. But a lot of it is providing the right solutions and adding value to clients as well will get us that growth.”
Right now, the Southfield, Michigan-based firm ranks No. 15 on Accounting Today‘s 2023 list of the Top 100 Firms. Drake was elected earlier this month to succeed Jim Proppe, who has been managing partner for the past seven years (see story). Drake will be only the eighth managing partner in the firm’s 100-year history.
He has a long history of his own at Plante Moran. “I’ve been with the firm since 1999,” he said. “I interned with the firm between my junior and senior year of university. I went to Michigan State University, and in my senior year of college, I also worked part-time in our East Lansing office and started full time after I graduated from MSU in 2000.”
His current role is group managing partner of the firm’s Chicagoland, Ohio and international region. “What I do on a day-to-day basis is work with our offices on office-related strategies, implement firm-wide initiatives, and really around people-related items,” said Drake. “What are we doing to attract, retain and recruit the best and brightest?”
Prior to joining the management team, he led the international practice at the firm and has stayed involved with it. “That’s a practice area that I’ve been involved with from when I interned with the firm,” said Drake. “I spent most of my career between our audit practices and our consulting practices. We have a consulting practice called Global Services that helps our middle-market clients as they expand overseas. During my career, a lot of my time is spent with our internationally active clients, helping them understand how to do business internationally and simplify the complexity of doing international business. I’ve done on-the-ground work in about 50 countries, helping U.S. middle-market companies expand around the globe. And I also have spent a lot of time with foreign-owned companies as they set up operations in the U.S.”
Among his greatest experiences at Plante Moran is helping open up its consulting offices in China, Mexico, India and Japan. When he’s not working, he likes spending time with his family and just celebrated his 20th anniversary with his wife Jessica. Together, they have three children and one dog.
Even though Drake has worked at expanding the firm internationally, that isn’t one of his main goals ahead.
“We rely heavily on our partners internationally through Praxity,” he said. “We have many boutique firms in many countries that we partner with in those countries as well. We’ve looked at our international practice as really a platform to help our clients where they need it. We know how to do business internationally. We know how U.S. companies want to do business, so how can we partner with firms internationally to make that an easy connection, make it a lot easier to do work internationally? We’ve grown into those office locations because that’s where we’ve had clients that have had needs. We’re always looking at different international locations. We would love to have something in Europe at some point. But again, it’s very client driven. Where do our clients have those needs and need the help?”
He feels similarly about expanding in the U.S. “It’s the same thing with the U.S. marketplace,” said Drake. “As a professional service firm, we need growth just to invest in our people and find opportunities for our people. If you look at just the marketplace, the fortunate thing about us, and our practices is we go to where clients need our help. We already do work in pretty much all 50 states in the U.S. We have clients in Hawaii. Even though we don’t have bricks and mortar on the ground, we have clients all over. And our teams travel and work with our clients wherever they need and operate. Do we want to continue to grow our geography? Yes, we do. But again, it’s really dependent on where our clients need help. Fortunately, with the use of technology and traveling, we can help clients really wherever they have a need.”
The firm is nevertheless continuing to look at merger opportunities. “To me, that’s not our primary growth objective, through mergers, just because we care so much about our culture, and our culture is what is very important to us,” said Drake. “Our culture is what got us to 100 years, and our culture is what’s going to get us to the next 100-plus years. To me, it’s culture first, people first, client service first. And if we find the right opportunities from a merger perspective from a growth perspective, that’s an added benefit, but it’s not our primary driver.”
In terms of services, he sees the firm continuing to invest in areas like technology consulting and environmental, social and governance reporting.
“Where do we see clients that have needs right now? A lot of it is around the digital landscape, around cybersecurity, around data analytics and machine learning, and how we can help clients in that space,” said Drake. “That’s something that we’re investing in now, around innovation. We have a Client Solution Center as well. And a lot of things that are coming up in our Innovation Center and Client Solution Center are around the digital landscape, and how we can help our clients in that area. We’re investing in ESG as well. ESG right now in the U.S. landscape is heavily dependent and driven by what’s happening in Europe. We’re continuing to invest in that area, but a lot of that depends on the adoption rates from our clients in the U.S.”
Unlike many accounting firms, Plante Moran has been able to keep hiring enough young accountants to fill its pipeline. “Fortunately, to date, we’ve been very successful in that area and continue to be,” said Drake. “We have a very strong pipeline. If you asked me to take over this position, and we didn’t have the firm that we have, I would be hesitant, but fortunately, we have a great team, and we have a great pipeline of future partners and future candidates.”
He believes the firm’s culture helps attract and retain young accountants. “Part of it is just our involvement around our culture and investing in people, giving them meaningful experiences and meaningful opportunities,” said Drake. “That ‘we care’ culture has helped us retain people. Even during the heart of the pandemic, we didn’t have the turnover that many accounting firms had, just because of our model and investing in that long-term nature for our people. When you look at the accounting profession overall, and the reduction of talent going into that pipeline, part of it is just us going into the community, working with the profession on getting to high schools, to show some excitement around the industry.”
Plante Moran partners have been involved in campus recruiting efforts. “The other thing that we’re doing is really getting partner involvement on campuses to help recruit the top talent,” said Drake. “To date we’ve been successful. Is that going to be a challenge and will it continue to be a challenge? Yes, but to me if we’re intentional and meaningful, providing those meaningful experiences, getting on campus, showing the benefits of the profession and doing a good job recruiting, I think we’ll be successful. But the flip side of it is, we’re going to continue investing in technology and innovation as well so that we can make things more efficient for clients and leverage technology. If we leverage technology together, we can focus on what’s important to our clients, and that’s adding value.”
The partners have also been visiting historically Black colleges and universities to build a more diverse firm. “We continue to see progress from a diversity perspective,” said Drake. “We need to continue to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion. Some of the ways that we’re doing that is we’re looking at different universities to continue to recruit at. Part of it is that recruiting piece, and can we get access to more diverse talent. We’re recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities. We’re going to continue doing that. So it’s bringing in the right team. But the other piece that’s so important is that retention piece, making sure we’re investing in our diverse talent. We’re giving that talent those opportunities, giving them meaningful experiences, and also sponsoring them, giving them leadership opportunities, showing the long term-progression that they can envision within a public accounting firm.”
He hopes to continue to build the firm to provide opportunities for young accountants who began as interns and worked their way up the ranks.
“What’s special at Plante Moran is our culture and that ‘we care’ attitude,” said Drake. “We’re very driven by our values and principles, and that’s what got us here. A lot of people have invested in me and got me here. To me, our stewardship model, investing in others so we can create a better opportunity for others in the profession is the route we’re going in and will continue.”
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