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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 7, 2022 7 months ago

Next-gen accountants forge new identity for merged firm

A mashup of two companies, Spoor Bunch Franz is run by the scions of the predecessors’ founders. With growth accelerating due to recent acquisitions, corporate identity and culture are priorities.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Company: St. Petersburg accounting firm Spoor Bunch Franz (SBF) was founded in 2016, but its roots stretch back decades. It’s the result of the merger of two venerable, family-owned accounting businesses: Spence Marston Bunch & Morris and Spoor & Associates. And, in a unique twist, it’s owned and operated by second-generation representatives of both predecessor firms: Stephen Bunch, 45, Richard Franz III, 47, and W.G. Spoor II, 46.

In putting their imprimatur on SBF, the three principals, equal partners in the business, have upended the look and feel of an accounting firm. Walking into the company’s bright, modern office on the northside of St. Pete, a visitor could be forgiven for thinking it’s the home of a hip, cool advertising agency.

Bunch, Franz and Spoor have gone to great lengths to establish and grow the SBF brand via social media and community engagement, and, as a result, the firm has been named to the Tampa Bay Times 101 Top Workplaces list for three consecutive years (it’s No. 12 in the 2022 rankings, released March 27). It’s an impressive achievement, especially when you consider SBF’s rapid growth from 45 to 92 employees since 2016, an increase of 104%. 

“When we first merged the two firms,” Bunch says, “we were trying to figure out who we are, and now we know who we are. We know exactly who we are, what we stand for and our philosophies.”

Succession plan: Although the SBF principals are in their mid-40s, they’re already developing a succession plan.

"One of our big priorities right now is creating and growing the next generation of leaders. We want people to have opportunities here. Ultimately, we would love to create a firm that has a legacy beyond us." – W.G. Spoor II, Spoor Bunch Franz

“You can never start too soon,” Spoor says. “One of our big priorities right now is creating and growing the next generation of leaders. We want people to have opportunities here. Hopefully, we'll have some more partners that are brought up through this firm in the relatively near future. That’s a big goal of ours. Ultimately, we would love to create a firm that has a legacy beyond us.”

The eldest child of the SBF partners is in high school, so it’s still unclear whether a third generation will show an interest in running the firm. That’s why the three leaders are focused on developing talent and promoting from within. Also, as accountants who are deeply involved in their clients’ business plans and finances,  they’re keenly aware of the importance of succession planning.

“It’s literally the favorite part of my job,” Spoor says. “Succession planning, whether it’s to a third party or the next generation, means someone has accomplished their dreams.”

Challenges: In SBF’s early days, one of the firm’s biggest challenges was integrating the organizational cultures of two companies founded in the early 1970s. A key decision, the principals say, was to forge ahead with a brand-new identity and develop policies and practices that weren’t based on what did or didn’t work in the past.

“We cherish a lot of things that made the two predecessor firms successful,” Bunch says, “but once we took over, I think, in some ways, you have to make the firm your own. That way, there’s not a winner or loser. It’s not, ‘we’re doing it this way from this firm and this way from that firm.’ It’s our way — together.”

The partners say that process wasn’t easy, nor was it quick.

“We spent a lot of time changing people’s vocabulary,” Spoor says. “That change is difficult, and it took the better part of a year and half to achieve that mindset shift.”

That process resulted in a blueprint that SBF was able to apply when it acquired two additional family-owned accounting firms: St. Pete-based Strawn, Marshall, Cunningham, Condon & Sweat, in 2018, and Tampa-based Dwight Darby & Co., a deal that closed on Jan. 1 and extended SBF’s footprint to the other side of the bay.

What the company will look like in five years: SBF expects to add several partners in the coming years to keep up with growth (the firm declines to disclose specific revenue numbers but says gross income has doubled since 2016) and de-leverage the three founders’ positions.

“With the size of our firm and only three equity partners, we have a tremendous amount of leverage, too much leverage,” Bunch says. “We’re trying to bring up new partners to spread that around. We see it as a long-term thing for succession, but also a short-term thing to ensure the continued growth of the firm.”

(This story has been updated to correct the number of employees Spoor Bunch Franz had when it was founded in 2016 and to clarify that the firm's revenue has doubled from 2016 to 2022, not every year since 2016.)

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