By Pamela Doherty –
It was 1994 when CPAs Carla Keegan, Chris Linscott and Tony Kenon saw the writing on the wall. Their employer, accounting giant Coopers & Lybrand – now PricewaterhouseCoopers – was closing offices around the country.
As a pre-emptive strike, the three banded together to form their own firm before the doors did shut and their colleagues were compelled to relocate. They, however, were determined to stay in Tucson.
This year, Keegan, Linscott & Kenon celebrates two decades in business. KLK is the third largest accounting firm in Southern Arizona with about 50 employees.
The three founding partners continue to lead the company, together with Bret Berry, who assumed a director’s position for the audit department in 2012. KLK has had a continual presence downtown at 33 N. Stone Ave.
KLK offers audit and tax services and support and expertise for litigation, bankruptcy and fraud. The firm provides other corporate offerings such as business planning, payroll and interim controller services and audits in conjunction with federal contracts.
Clients include for-profit and nonprofit entities, family-owned businesses and individuals. KLK works with a variety of industries, including mining, high-tech, real estate, hospitality and healthcare. Many clients have a multistate and international presence.
“Public accounting is not for the faint-hearted,” said Keegan, director of taxation.
Filing deadlines, meticulous audits and oncoming court dates may require as much as 80 hours a week in the office.
“Life as we know it ceases to exist for periods of time,” Keegan said.
The allure? It’s the opportunity to problem-solve, said Keegan, who articulates a sentiment echoed by her partners.
“We’re not just doing debits and credits. We are a resource for what works and what doesn’t work in business,” she said.
Even in a rule-laden industry like accounting, there is opportunity to be creative.
“We can be innovative in recommending how clients should structure real estate deals and other business transactions, and how they can maximize returns and minimize taxes,” said Linscott, director of litigation, forensic accounting and bankruptcy support services.
Linscott has led numerous companies through reorganizations during his tenure, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson in 2005 and Bashas’ Grocery Stores in 2010.
“It’s gratifying when a client emerges healthier and stronger than before,” he said.
Kenon is a director of the audit department and the administrator in charge of the firm’s quality control, staff training programs, healthcare and government contracts.
“We’ve had a few bumps during the years, but we have always believed that if we work hard, we will be successful,” Kenon said.
Kenon attributes his firm’s longevity to some luck, the supportive nature of Tucson’s business community, and the caliber of staff KLK has attracted and retained.
KLK has enjoyed a 10-year alliance with McGladrey, one of the top accounting firms in the country. This gives KLK the ability to tap national and international experts, take advantage of training and advances in technology and to stay abreast of ever-changing regulations and standards. KLK is one of 90 member firms and the only one in Southern Arizona.
As for governance, the KLK partners run their operation by consensus. The four senior executives gather weekly and make critical decisions as a committee.
“We are philosophically congruent, and we agree to agree,” Kenon said.
This model makes for some long meetings on occasion, but the founders describe their collaborative approach with enthusiasm.
“We have very different styles, and we focus on different practice areas, but we respect and admire each other, and that’s important,” Keegan said.
The partners also place a high priority on creating a team-oriented culture and on a succession planning process that brings up the next generation of employees. The company’s strategic planning committee is comprised of staff members who formulate direction for the future, but it does not include any of the founders. KLK holds annual retreats and invests heavily in professional development.
“We want everyone to be part of this firm, and we want to hear about ideas that are percolating from within the firm,” Linscott said.
During the recent recession, KLK faced a decline in workload as some clients – particularly in the area of real estate – went out of business. Rather than lay off employees, KLK paid professional staff to take on pro-bono assignments for local charities. Current business practices allow all staff to carve out 60 hours a year in the community while on the KLK clock. As a collective, employees participate in daylong service projects.
Keegan, Linscott and Kenon are well known for their own civic engagement. Each has served on several boards of directors, and each contributes expertise to the nonprofit community, all while running a company that has endured and prospered for 20 years.