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Sunday, 25 May 2014 22:00

Cripps’ leadership, lean and green initiatives position Hungerford Nichols for growth

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Tom Cripps, CFO, Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors Tom Cripps, CFO, Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors PHOTO: KATY BATDORFF

Professional service providers face a constant struggle in getting clients to pay for services in a timely manner.

That was a challenge that reached its peak in the recession and spurred Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors to seek out innovations to ensure the firm remained competitive.

Led by CFO Tom Cripps, the firm’s journey to embrace a new “lean and green” initiative not only moved it into the digital era, but also helped improve its performance. Cripps, the winner of the MiBiz CFO of the Year Award in the small business category, tapped into the expertise of Sustainable Research Group LLC, a Grand Rapids-based consultancy that typically works with manufacturers, to help the firm think differently about its processes.

“Fee pressures are the biggest challenge,” Cripps said.

The partnership with SRG resulted in Hungerford Nichols taking a hard look at its overall timeline and cycle for billing clients. The project transitioned the firm from billing clients once a month to billing them on a daily basis, which sped up collections and positively affected cash flow.

While Cripps acknowledged that there are some challenges with being a CFO in a firm full of accountants, his role involves more day-to-day managerial functions. As such, he focuses on training, on-boarding new employees and other administrative tasks, more so than actual accounting.

“As a key man in a small organization, (Cripps) wears many hats and is actively involved with Hungerford Nichols and our three affiliate organizations, serving strategic planning, administration, financial oversight, human resources and operational leadership roles,” Richard Chrisman, managing shareholder of Hungerford Nichols, said in nominating Cripps for the award.

In particular, Cripps implemented the Hungerford Leadership Academy that provides managers with training and a track into executive-level positions in return for a three-year commitment. That program, combined with other efforts focused on preserving work-life balance and promotion opportunities, has helped keep turnover below 10 percent annually, which led in turn to a reduction in costs associated with training new employees.

“Tom’s value is not in business development, but in human resources and firm administration,” Chrisman said. “(Cripps) is kind of my right-hand man — for sure. Over the last several years, he has blossomed into his role. He’s a guy who gets things done and digs right in. He’s not afraid of confrontation.”

While technological advances have helped Hungerford Nichols be leaner in its operations, Cripps has also made it a priority to implement green practices to reduce the firm’s overall footprint. That’s proven to be quite challenging given the amount of paper accounting firms have traditionally used, he said.

“(Going paperless) is a goal we strive for, but I don’t think it’s 100-percent possible,” Cripps said.

SRG helped Cripps and his colleagues at Hungerford Nichols root out other kinds of waste in the organization. There are a number of areas that could help the firm be more environmentally conscious as well as cut costs, Cripps said.

In particular, the firm has cut its energy use by 15 to 20 percent since the initiative started by installing efficient new lighting and building systems, he said. The firm upgraded its HVAC systems to a new, high-efficiency air conditioning unit and implemented a no-trash can policy, replacing them with recycling bins that are divided by compost, recycling and landfill.

While some of the lean and green projects had sizeable upfront costs for Hungerford Nichols, they will pay off for the company over time and in various ways, Cripps said.

“Going forward (these policies) bring us recognition that we are doing more to be sustainable,” Cripps said. “A big aspect is the new generation coming into our company. … For younger generations, they grew up with this. It works as a recruiting tool.”

Many of the lean and green processes have been implemented at a time of broader change for the company, said Chrisman. The firm has had some transition in its leadership and key shareholders have begun to retire or leave in recent years. Additionally, the firm also engaged in a corporate rebranding process for the first time in 30 years to modernize its logo and overall design.

Last year, Cripps also provided “key leadership and support” in the firm’s launch of Hungerford Valuation, a new affiliate that provides business valuation services, Chrisman said.

Cripps serves as CFO of the new division, as well as for Hungerford Financial and SourcIT, a managed technology service provider.

While much of the lean and green initiative has hinged on big picture actions for Hungerford Nichols, Cripps said his main role is day-to-day managing of staff at the firm and its affiliate organizations. To make that job as simple as possible, he has attempted to make sure that workplace culture is the most important aspect of the company.

“(Culture) is important to keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same goal and working together,” Cripps said, adding that flexibility is very important to his employees. It is not uncommon for Hungerford Nichols employees to work from home at times if they have family functions or if children are sick.

That culture and Cripps’ focus on “making sure we have the right people on the bus” has helped the firm realize 10 percent organic growth in 2013 compared to the previous year, Chrisman said.

“You cannot achieve growth unless you have the people and the processes in place to absorb the growth. This is where Tom shines,” he said. 


Tom Cripps

  • Organization: Hungerford Nichols
  • Sales: $6 million
  • Mission critical: Cripps sees managing staff and the company’s affiliate organizations as his most important tasks. He works as the manager of the company’s Grand Rapids facility and handles the costs associated with the operation.
  • Academic degree: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University
  • Community involvement: Cripps is the chairman of the endowment fund for Saint Charles Catholic Church in Greenville and also serves on the finance council for the Knights of Columbus.
  • Adviser companies: Schnelker, Rassi & McConnell PLC for legal services; Huntington Bank for banking
  • Personal: Wife, Sally; three children
Read 5209 times Last modified on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 07:45

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