When Partners Retire: A Case Study in Practice Continuation

by Henry Rinder CPA, ABV, CFF, CGMA, CFE, DABFA, Smolin, Lupin & Co., LLC | March 5, 2024

In the dynamic world of the CPA profession, regulations are evolving and client expectations are on the rise. A CPA firm’s succession plan is paramount to its continuing existence in this environment. By definition, this succession planning refers to the strategic process of preparing for the transition of leadership and ownership within a CPA firm. This process becomes particularly critical as founding partners and seasoned professionals approach retirement age, leaving firms to the challenge of preserving the legacy and adapting to a leadership change.

Let’s delve into the story of the CPA firm, Smolin Lupin & Co., as it illustrates the intricate steps of succession planning and continuation of a CPA firm. Aaron Smolin and Herman Holzer founded the practice in 1947. They were both CPAs and former IRS revenue agents. Years later, Saul Lupin merged in his practice, and the firm was renamed Smolin Lupin & Co. 

Aaron was considered a visionary in the field, and the firm had grown to become a symbol of tax and accounting excellence. As Aaron got older and neared retirement, the firm, made of five partners, faced a crucial question: how could the firm ensure its enduring continuation?

Aaron had been a leader, a mentor, and a source of inspiration to the firm’s partners and staff. He tirelessly served clients and nurtured the careers of many young CPAs. As the years passed, it was clear that the firm needed a strategic plan to continue its legacy and secure its future.

Identifying a Successor

Smolin Lupin partners recognized the importance of addressing the imminent leadership transition. They knew that the first step was to plan for Aaron’s retirement. Aaron was not ready to walk after dedicating his life to the firm, so the partners devised a contractual process that would allow him to continue in a reduced capacity as a senior advisor, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with the firm’s staff and clients.

As Aaron’s retirement approached, the firm partners developed additional partners from within. A talented young partner, Ted Dudek, was eventually named a managing partner and became Aaron’s de facto successor. Over several years, Aaron worked closely with Ted and other younger partners, gradually transferring his knowledge and experience.

To ensure the firm’s continued success, the leadership team looked at the various age classes of staff and partners. Recognizing the importance of grooming the next generation, the firm invested heavily in professional development programs and mentorship initiatives. They nurtured emerging leaders and professionals, ensuring the firm’s expertise and management team remained unmatched.

Positive Results

The approach of strategic planning, leadership training and contractual requirements secured the firm’s future and maintained client trust, continuity and retention. Clients appreciated the firm’s dedication to preserving their relationships. Ted Dudek’s commitment and competence ensured a seamless leadership transition. This was evidenced by the most recent leadership change in the firm as two younger partners, Paul Fried and Sal Bursese, took over as CEO and COO.

In the end, Smolin Lupin & Co. successfully developed and navigated the challenges of partner retirement, contractual processes, planning strategies and staff development. The partners embraced management changes while preserving the firm’s legacy and reputation. By allowing Aaron and other retired partners to continue as senior advisors and developing future partners from within, the firm ensured a bright and enduring future for its accounting and tax practice.

This story is an example for other CPA firms, illustrating that a legacy could endure with thoughtful planning and a commitment to best practices. The journey of Smolin partners serves as a compelling reminder to all CPA firms to embrace similar practices, fostering continuity and excellence in our profession. By investing in mentorship, leadership training, planning strategies and a commitment to retaining expertise, we collectively shape a bright and enduring future for the CPA profession.  

Henry  Rinder

Henry Rinder

Henry Rinder, CPA, ABV, CFE, CFF, CGMA, DABFA, is a member of the firm at Smolin, Lupin & Co., LLC. He is a past president of the NJCPA.

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