BDO Managing Partner Focuses on Brand Growth



Kevin Dehner

Photography by Tracy Doyle

 

When it was announced in November 2014 that SS&G, Inc., one of the largest accounting practices in Greater Cincinnati at the time, was merging with BDO – then the country’s seventh largest – there were, as might be expected when discussing accounting, a lot of numbers reported as news of the two financial firms’ fusion spread.

 

BDO was seven times larger than SS&G, with $683 million in revenue the year before, compared to SS&G’s $90 million, reports noted. The number of CPAs, employees to be retained, offices changing names, etc. – all the numerical information that could possibly be presented was highlighted. This strategic deal was BDO’s 10th transaction in two years in its drive to expand.

Today, as Greater Cincinnati’s 14th largest accounting firm with 24 local CPAs and 70 local employees, BDO touts its U.S. revenue (2017) at $1.41 billion, with 563 partners across the country, 60-plus offices and 5,394 professional staff across the nation. It’s now ranked fifth globally, with 1,401 global offices and 67,000-plus employees in 158 countries.

But it’s the stories behind the numbers, not merely the numbers themselves, that drive Kevin Dehner’s passion in his role as BDO’s Cincinnati tax office managing partner. He was exposed to the business world early on, inheriting a love and respect for all things numerical from his father, a bank accountant.

“I was always a big stats/back-of-the-baseball card kid,” recalls Dehner, who grew up on Cincinnati’s east side. “I’ve got a semi-photographic memory when it comes to numbers. My dad would give me financial reports, I’d ‘analyze’ them and they piqued my curiosity. What did the numbers mean? What was the story they were telling? Accounting, it seemed, was the language of business. It’s been in my blood ever since.”

Dehner spent 18 years with Ernst & Young in its Cincinnati office before joining the BDO team as a tax partner here in January. He sees his new mission – which he has gladly accepted – as entrepreneurial in spirit.

“My role is to grow our office,” Dehner says, matter-of-factly. “If you think about BDO and how it even arrived here in Cincinnati – they acquired another regional firm – the BDO name and brand, although globally-known, are still relatively new to the Cincinnati market. There’s a lot of transition that needs to happen. We need to get the word out and grow proactively. My job is to take this office where it needs to go.”

That can seem like a mighty daunting destination when viewed through a panoramic scope, Dehner admits. But he remains focused on the process. “You have to look at the big picture, but if you spend too much time thinking about that picture, it becomes overwhelming because it is so complex,” he says. “You have to back yourself off that ledge and remember it takes a team of people to rally around your ideas. So, it’s not just you. I’ve got a great team of people, so that’s my job – to rally the team. To develop people as business advisors.”

 

The Four E’s

Kindling the evolving BDO team and growing the brand takes energy, enthusiasm, experience and empathy – four of Dehner’s strongest professional traits. He views empathy as perhaps the most integral.

“Empathy is a word that I think people always give weight to, but as a weakness,” Dehner says. “I think it’s really a strength, particularly in a position like mine. I am dealing with so many different people, from so many different backgrounds – whether it’s race, gender or, in Cincinnati, even East and West sides. It’s imperative you can put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and understand them. Empathy helps you connect, create a team, place everyone in the same boat and row together. As a team, you just can’t do that without empathy. We need to empower people to get in the BDO boat and row with us. That will determine success or failure.”

Dehner, a respected business advisor and demonstrated leader with a diverse background and significantly impressive experience in financial and tax matters, launched his career in audit and has also worked in mergers and acquisitions. He describes accounting as a building-block profession, a career path with the most “exit doors and points of arrival.” He has worked with public, private/domestic and multinational companies involved in everything from consumer products and technology to power and utilities and industrial products.

“I decided that if I pursued accounting, I could do a lot of things, not just accounting,” he recalls. “I’ve always liked the idea of using different parts of my brain. Some people are okay working professionally under one label, but that always bothered me.” His accounting background and subsequent experience in the field have allowed him to engage in problem solving, interact with a variety of people and build marketing plans. Now Dehner is helping build and expand the BDO brand. It appears to be a perfect fit.

“I know this is where I need to be,” he adds. “BDO and I share the same vision, the same values.”

 

The BDO Entrepreneurial Spirit

The 100-year-old-plus accounting firm began in a single room on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where its 22-year-old founder, M.L. Seidman, founded Seidman & Seidman in 1910. At that time, there were just over 2,000 accountants in the entire country. The firm, through its commitment to exceptional client service, immediately expanded its services and its geographic reach nationwide. In the early 1960s, alliances were formed with like-minded firms in Canada and throughout Europe. By the 1980s, the firm’s global network was firmly built, and the company was renamed BDO Seidman.

With Dehner currently leading the charge for BDO’s growth in the Cincinnati market, the firm remains committed to its original purpose – to help people thrive every day. BDO’s long-established core values guide Dehner and the rest of the BDO team daily as they assist their clients in navigating the accounting/tax/finance landscape, which is always, and will continue to be, rife with complex issues.

 

Embracing Change

At BDO, it’s people first, says Dehner. It’s delivering the industry’s highest standards of service with integrity; technical excellence; depth and sharing of knowledge; valuable analytic insight; and respect, trust and transparency.

At the end of the day, BDO is about embracing change, he notes. Dehner and the BDO team are always learning and growing, as individuals and professionals, while they remain focused on delivering on their promises and obligations to their clients. That requires staying atop and ahead of the myriad of changes coming down the tax/financial pipeline, making sure advisors are abreast of these changes to best advise their clients and grow their client base.

“I think that whenever you come into a new place and the goal is to grow, we tend to automatically think that that growth has to come from the outside, and certainly some of it does,” Dehner says. “One of the things I am trying to make sure I do, however, is help the people I already have here, helping them grow and develop their own skills and careers.”

People often think of “taxes” as mainly “tax returns,” and that that’s what BDO does, Dehner continues. But BDO’s expertise and services stretch far beyond that. “There is barely a transaction in our daily lives that doesn’t have some sort of tax associated with it. Income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes – taxes are pervasive. There are a lot of different aspects, and financial numbers must be taken, analyzed and the many different complex rules between jurisdictions considered. It can be an administrative nightmare. When I talk to small- and medium-sized businesses who may not have the depth of a team of 25 tax accountants to work on these things, to help a business stay compliant, it’s not easy.”

Hence, Dehner’s job right now is to train his BDO team to be better advisers to their clients.

“From a branding standpoint, a lot of it is just good old-fashioned networking,” Dehner says. “That’s been a refreshing exercise for me. A lot of branding is just getting out, meeting people and listening to what they’re doing. My approach is, it’s a long game. There are elements that are sprints, but [growing BDO] is very much a marathon. A lot of it is saying, ‘BDO is here, I am new in this role and here’s how we want to serve you.’ It’s about the process of building trust and goodwill.”

 

Technology’s Taxing Role

BDO, like most accounting firms today, utilizes cutting-edge technology to do a lot of the work people used to perform. “Now, it often just shows up on a desk as a number, but sometimes the story behind that number isn’t clear because there is no frame of reference, no experiences creating that number, so it’s hard to see the story because a person was not involved in that process.

And therein lies the hurdle.

“The challenge with technology is, sometimes we are so used to it changing at lightning speed that it’s hard to know how quickly we need to deal with a particular trend. Quite honestly, the idea of filling out a tax return, for example, or even electronic filing, could be gone in the next five to 10 years, in effect removing the middle man. A part of the role we at BDO play today is that of middle man, with the tax code on our one side, and the taxpayer on our other. We must be cognizant of that. The tax code will continue to be complex, however – that won’t change. We’re still going to need people to interpret the tax code, analyze the numbers and advise, but the way people gain that advisory and consulting knowledge will have to change. Technology gives us so much information, but it will still come down to the human story behind the numbers, the meaning and the perspective.”

 

More About Kevin

Dehner received his BBA, Accounting, from the University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner School of Business in 1999. In between growing Cincinnati’s BDO office and spending time with his family, Dehner also serves as Emmanuel Community Center Board treasurer. As the board’s chair in 2012-13, he helped lead the center – which has served Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood for more than 140 years – via a rebranding and significant repurposing of its mission. The center is now known as the
Cincinnati Squash Academy, serving OTR youth through Urban Squash, an education/athletic program. The program is one of 15 such programs established across the country, including locations in New York City, Boston and San Francisco. The Cincinnati Squash Academy partners with OTR schools to use the game of Squash as a way to encourage academic excellence, Dehner notes. In addition to after-school Squash instruction, the academy provides academic mentoring and tutoring to the
enrolled students.

 

BDO Cincinnati is located at 221 E. 4th Street, Suite 2600, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, please call 513.592.2400 or visit www.bdo.com.