IPA MP Profile: Don Mellott, Jr. Mellott & Mellott PLL


Leading Partner, Mellott & Mellott PLL (a 2020 IPA Best of the Best firm)

Years in Business: 65

Main Office: Cincinnati

Staff Size: 40

What is the single biggest challenge facing your firm right now? Succession is probably number one, because we want to find the right people to lead this organization and we want to have them in place ten years from now. Although we’re doing a much better job in this area since we split ourselves between audit, accounting and tax – with the idea that people can become experts much more quickly when they’re specialists than they can when they’re generalists – I still think we need to stay focused on this going forward.

Where do you expect to be focusing most of your attention in the next two to three years? Retaining business as it drops down from one generation to the next is something that we’ll certainly be focusing on. We also need to continue to make sure we’re finding good people. We’re fully staffed right now – which is unusual for firms in this profession – but as we bring in more business, we’re going to continue to have a need here.

I also think shifting away from compliance and toward management advisory services to a larger extent will be a focus area. We’ve already done a pretty good job with this, but it’s definitely where the profession is going, so we need to make sure we keep up.

For decades, the profession has encouraged a move toward partners delivering advisory services beyond compliance. What has been your biggest success in this endeavor? I think the partners here are just committed to meeting with clients and passing the compliance work down to free themselves up to do more consulting. Compliance is still a need for our clients, but it’s no longer what they value as much from us compared to consulting and helping them move forward.

What’s the best advice you have ever received from another leader? The first idea is that you can’t leave until you replace yourself. Another is to make sure you spend enough time on your business and not in your business. A firm of our size can’t afford to pay a managing partner just to manage – you still have to maintain a book of business, and that’s a balancing act.

What one piece of advice do you wish someone told you before you stepped into your current leadership role? There are many more things than I had envisioned that take place in the day of a managing partner beyond billable hours. There are so many more responsibilities that are hard to enumerate. We don’t have a separate HR department, so I do a lot of that. We don’t have people who just take care of our insurance needs and applications, so those go through me. Sales and promotion stuff usually goes through me. There’s an awful lot of work besides my book of business that runs through this office.

How has the MP role changed over the past five years? Technology is such a big piece of what we’re doing now, so we have to make sure we have the technical expertise either on staff or from the outside. It’s just such a major part of everything we do now, and things continue to change so rapidly. And as we go forward possibly working with some clients remotely, the technology piece is going to continue to be a challenge.

What advice would you offer to someone entering the accounting profession today? This profession is all about communication – that’s where relationships start and that’s where they can fail. I think a lot of the younger folks coming in are really good at writing emails and texting, but sometimes they’re hesitant to reach out and call or meet with clients in person or online. Those relationships start with face-to-face meetings, and even though that’s harder right now, the next level down is talking – either over the phone or through a Zoom meeting – and I think people need to be better prepared for that. I wish the colleges would spend more time making that part of the curriculum. We’ll teach you the rest. But the people who come in with solid communication skills and good technical abilities are going to be the ones who really rise in this profession.

How do you stay on top of the profession?  We’re part of DFK International, so I try to attend the managing partner conferences that they offer. Best practice sharing is something that you don’t get unless you’re communicating with other firms. We think we do things awfully well, but we also need to hear what other people are doing – whether it’s the five-man shop or the 350-partner firm. If we want to be nimbler, how do we do it? If we want to get bigger, how do we do that?

We’re also very tied into our state CPA society and the AICPA. I just rolled off as president of the Ohio Society of CPAs, and that keeps us very well-connected with the political environment and the regulatory environment.

Where do you see the accounting profession in five years? How do you see it changing/developing and/or how would you like it to change? I’d like to see the profession become more diverse – I think we look a lot like we did thirty years ago. We’re making efforts, but we have to accelerate everything. We need to spend more time introducing accounting to students at a young age who might not be exposed to the profession otherwise.

And diversity can be across ethnic groups, but it also encompasses the gender gap as well. We’ve been working on it, but it just doesn’t seem to change much. We’re very even when it comes to graduating from school and entering the profession, but when we get to 35-year-olds in the business it becomes much more male-oriented. We have to find ways to bring women back into the profession after they’ve had children – it has to become more user-friendly.

What is your proudest achievement? It’s always hardest to start a firm, so I give credit to my father and grandfather who put the structure in place for this firm and built it up over the years. But I do think myself, my brother and some of the other longer-term partners have really worked hard to take it to the next level by focusing on what we’re really good at. There are a lot of different directions that a CPA firm can go in terms of getting into other revenue streams, but we do best with fairly traditional accounting and consulting. Sticking with those values and strengths has worked well for us, and I’m glad we’ve been able to stay focused on continuing to build on them.