Here’s a twist on the work remote trend giving many executives headaches: a St. Petersburg accounting firm decided to open an office in Tennessee rather than lose a valued manager to the Volunteer State.
The story is a bit more complicated, but that is essentially what Spoor Bunch Franz did when faced with the possible departure of tax manager Alexia Pappas.
It’s a trend you could see more of. Employers, especially ones historically troubled with recruitment challenges, are loath to see valued workers leave without a fight. And COVID-19 only accelerated the retirements of some Baby Boomers, who decided to perhaps hit the beaches and shuffleboards five years early.
In the case of SBF, the ball got rolling before Covid. Rich Franz, SBF managing partner, says Pappas broke the news in late 2019. Pappas’ husband, a U.S. Air Force airman, was being transferred to Knoxville, Tennessee from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
SBF, a 2016 merger of two accounting companies founded in 1971 and 1976, has 100 employees; 1,500 relationships; performs 5,000 tax returns; and projects $17 million in revenue in 2023. But its industry has been racked with shortages of number-crunchers, and that made Pappas even more valuable even in a mid-size firm.
“If you lose an Alexia, good luck replacing her,” says Franz. A replacement of her caliber could take “months and months,” he said, maybe years.
So Franz wanted to keep Pappas happy and working remotely in Knoxville, but the St. Petersburg business only had experience running extra offices in Tampa and Clearwater. Franz was determined to make it work. Pappas was too.
“You really can’t replicate that (SBF) culture,” says Pappas, who has been with the firm eight years. “I really could not picture myself giving that up.”
Franz says the process to set Pappas up in Knoxville would later aid SBF manage the COVID-19 shutdowns and work-from-home policies. Software like Zoom and virtual private networks (that encrypt data as it is transmitted via the web) were familiar to SBF by the time 2020 arrived, with its non-stop news about work slowdowns and home-office policies.
“By luck, we were already set up,” says Franz. “We had learned … how to do it the right way. How to make Zoom meetings work efficiently."
Once SBF agreed to set Pappas up in Knoxville, recruiting a support staff was the next focus. The firm decided to do more than just allow remote work for Pappas. SBF decided to expand into Knoxville and grow its client list.
Pappas moved in summer 2020, as COVID-19 shutdowns and work-from-home policies were well underway. Franz says knowing Pappas for years, he knew the only way for the plan to work was to create a team around Pappas in Knoxville. That would mean a new office, although Pappas could work for her clients anywhere.
By early 2021, a new manager joined Pappas in Knoxville. By summer 2022, the Knoxville office started hiring on a wider basis. Pappas is now tax manager/Knoxville office leader.
The firm’s Knoxville operations also moved into a 2,700-square-foot office in the city’s downtown. The Knoxville office now has six people, with a few dozen regional clients. The Knoxville office still does work for some of SBF’s Florida and national clients, too.
Pappas, who worked for a time from her Knoxville home, is happy to be out of her house, with most of the COVID-19 work-from-home policies over, and working back in an SBF office.
“It definitely gets old,” says Pappas, who adds she needs human interaction … in-person.