Planning Means More Than NumberCrunching
GRAND RAPIDS — The term “accounting” and its derivative “accountability” imply confronting facts that people sometimes would rather not face.
And when the local office of the Rehman Group works with client firms in their strategic planning, Don Burke says there’s occasionally some reluctance to confront facts with respect to customers.
Burke — Rehman’s managing partner for Grand Rapids — says customers at times take a backseat in such planning because finding real facts about customer views can be difficult. Too, he said, the prospect of finding out what customers think sometimes can be scary, particularly after a management team has exhausted its energy and creativity trying to please customers.
“But the idea,” Burke told the Business Journal, “is to look at your business from several balanced perspectives.
“You go into and do your strategic planning, but you don’t forget about finding out what your customer thinks about you.”
And he stressed that obtaining such information has become simpler.
“One thing that sets Rehman apart right now,” he said, “is that we have a customer satisfaction survey product that I stumbled onto in Chicago about three years ago.”
He said the survey is particularly good in the manufacturing setting for firms that are working on ISO certification.
“They have to have a measure of customer satisfaction,” he said, “and usually they don’t do a very good job of it, so we’ve got this thing we’ve been using. And it gives us a 75 and 80 percent response rate instead of 10 to 15 percent.
“That kind of response can be scary,” he said. “You’re taking a risk, particularly because once you do it, the customers expect you to do it again.”
But he stressed that the results are as valuable as those of the other components of the so-called balanced scorecard. “That’s the nomenclature that’s gotten to be a little more popular lately, particularly in the manufacturing arena.”
He explained that the scorecard’s other components are internal processes, finance, innovation and strategic vision.
“The idea is that you don’t want to head off on some strategic idea,” he said, “ that’s going to have a negative impact upon your customers, for instance, or your staff.
“And taking those different perspectives and setting benchmarks in things you can measure, so that everybody within the organization can kind of see things kind of tied together — that ‘Here’s where we want to go, and here are the kind of things that get us there’ — so that everybody can track their priorities.
“We definitely lead clients along that kind of path,” he said.
He sees strategic planning industry-wide seems to have brought two important trends into view.
“Companies are trying to get a much broader range of people involved in the process,” he said, “and they’re trying to get more real-world people into the process.”
Burke says that in his own thinking, he tends to migrate to manufacturing because, before joining Rehman 31/2 years ago, he spent seven years as vice president of manufacturing with a Detroit area supplier of auto industry adhesive.
“For a time we also were the sole supplier of corrosive inhibitors to Boeing,” Burke said. “But the bulk of our work was for the automotive industry.
“That was my time in the real world after leaving one of the Big Five,” he chuckled.
He noted that Rehman, headquartered and founded in Saginaw, has been in Grand Rapids 11 years. The local office has 60 professionals. The firm has 10 other offices with 400-some professionals. The Norton Shores office, with a staff of 20, is about to move into new quarters there.
“We have no offices outside Michigan, but we do have clients in other states. In fact, a few months ago I was in Mexico helping with acquisition and implementation of a plant there.”
He said Rehman’s CPA practice is diverse, but its clients tend to average in the $25 million to $75 million range.
The firm reorganized and changed its name from Rehman-Robson because the company wanted to create a better career path for some of its officers who are not CPAs, and that can’t happen in firms solely owned by CPA practitioners.
The Rehman Group, he explained, now is a holding company for five firms, only one being a traditional accounting firm.
The company also has a consulting corporation, a financial group that deals with everything from 401K administration to insurance, an investigations and security agency, and a receivables management firm.