GR Is Technology Launch Pad

June 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now why would a growing Chicago-based firm with an international reach pick this town as the place to launch a whole new information technology enterprise?

“West Michigan is our launch market,” Valerie Kozikowski says, “because BDO Seidman’s history is very much tied up in West Michigan. West Michigan for us is a cornerstone and a lot of depth and capability is available to us here.”

The short story is that the company is launching the BDO Seidman Alliance of Technology, with Sagestone as the first partner in the alliance.

By way of background, Seidman has been operating in two divisions: one focused on taxes, the other performing accounting and a host of other financial functions (with, naturally, tax implications).

Now the firm is establishing the technology leg of the tripod, which will, to a degree, intertwine with the other two functions.

But, like the other two, it will lead its own life.

The launch commander is Kozikowski, a relative newcomer to (and lover of) West Michigan.

She said the new alliance’s function will be to help Seidman client companies determine the best possible fit of information technology to their operations and how to extract the greatest value from their investments therein. And she stressed that a CPA won’t be making those determinations.   

Though a CPA for 17 years, Kozikowski oversees Seidman’s Great Lakes Consulting Division. She also is the executive director of the firm’s Center for Information Management, the entity from whence sprang an infant Internet firm named mindpepper early this year.

And speaking of that new firm leads her to explain: “BDO Seidman is really committed to serving closely held and privately held entrepreneurial businesses in West Michigan. And we believe we need to deliver tech services to our middle market clients.”

One important characteristic of middle-market firms, she added, is that most of them want to deal with local technology providers. “Generally, they don’t want people flying in from cities all over the country. They want a company they can trust, that’s in their market, and who has a good reputation.”

Which implies that she and her colleagues will be very busy trying to locate and invite into its alliance other Sagestones of the land.

This kind of search is not new for Seidman.

The company has 40 offices across the country that provide assurance services —  public accounting, financial analysis, business strategies and the like. Its client base has grown so large, however, that over the years it had to form assurance service alliances with 80 smaller companies. Now it’s setting out to do the same in IT services.

And in terms of those services, she implied that Seidman will pick and choose carefully the other firms it invites to join its alliance.

“The (alliance’s) approach,” she said, “ is to deliver a whole suite of technology solutions to those middle market companies by putting together a strategic alliance with leading technology companies.”

Part of the reason for selecting Sagestone, she said, was that the Grand Rapids-based firm is one of the 30 companies that comprise Microsoft’s .Net Partner Advisory Council.

Moreover, she noted, Sagestone has more than made its mark locally, having developed software for a very large range of businesses from mindpepper, as it so happens, to Amway-turned-Alticor.

More than that, though, she said the leadership shown by Keith Brophy, Sagestone’s president, was a critical element in Seidman’s decision.

And most appealing, she said, is the fact that Sagestone is comprised of a group of businessmen with expertise in the IT world. “When they deal with a business,” she said, “they set out to learn about the business first, then fit a system to its needs. That’s exactly the way BDO Siedman does it and the way its technology alliance is doing it.”

She said she believes the current Internet service study by Michigan Economic Development Corp. will reveal that the Grand Rapids area, relatively speaking, is in pretty good information technology shape. And part of the reason for that, she believes, is that “Keith has been a leader for the community. We’ve also seen the leadership and interest he has taken in trying to incubate new enterprises,” she said. 

“And our whole mantra,” she stressed, “is to help entrepreneurial enterprises and middle level businesses.”

Brophy, who was named runner-up for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award for both 1999 and 2000, told the Business Journal he’s delighted with the arrangement.

“Teaming up with BDO Seidman allows us to focus on our strengths as a technology provider while opening up a new channel for distribution of our services.

“As the first firm in the alliance, we look forward to coordinating our products and expertise with BDO Seidman to build a strong network in this region.”

He pointed out that in addition to being a Microsoft Gold partner, Sagestone also is one of the software giant’s strategic partners.

Seidman, now 91 years old and headquartered in Chicago, announced the launch of the network Nov. 12 as another of its steps beyond its traditional specialization in accounting and financial services.

Kozikowski, who says she lived all over the country during her youth, has undergraduate degrees in both accounting and information technology from Central Michigan University.

She smilingly leaves little doubt that she prefers the IT world to that of taxes and finance, but most of all enjoys applying the former to the latter.

She completed Harvard Business School’s three-year Owner President Management program and is involved in a number of IT research organizations.

In 1997, Crain’s Detroit Business named her as one of its “40 Under 40” recipients, an award that highlights that community’s best and brightest under age 40.

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