Written By: Rennay Craats
In 1986, four accountants set out to create something a bit different in the Calgary marketplace. Bruce Kenway, Ray Mack, Barry Slusarchuk and Cal Stewart lent their vast expertise and their names to a new firm, and for the past 30 years Kenway Mack Slusarchuk Stewart LLP (KMSS) has been providing exceptional accounting knowledge to local businesses.
The firm began with its four founders and eight team members, all dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of the city’s business owners. The firm grew steadily over the years and today it is proud to have 15 partners (including all four founding partners) and 65 team members. While the firm grew and the industry changed around it, the firm’s philosophy never wavered. It remained focused on building meaningful client relationships and developing in-house expertise to best serve its clients.
“We made a decision to be a full-service accounting firm from the beginning,” says Bryce Eidsness, managing partner at KMSS.
The firm has continued with this vision. KMSS offers service in general accounting and bookkeeping as well as tax services, business consulting and auditing out of its Calgary and Canmore offices. Whether clients require financial statements for shareholders or debt financing, tax preparation, or profit and not-for-profit audits, they know the professionals at KMSS have the job handled.
“Our clients are local owner-managed entrepreneurial business people across many different sectors,” Eidsness says. The mid-tier firm has clients with sales ranging from under $1 million to more than $100 million. Regardless of the size, KMSS treats each client the same way: as a valued and respected partner whose needs are its priority. Team members are dedicated to exceeding their clients’ expectations, and that can entail tapping into KMSS’s solid network of other professionals in the city including lawyers, bankers and accountants who are available to address more specialized issues for clients. The firm also has a long-standing affiliation with DFK International, one of the largest accounting associations in Canada and one of the 10 largest accounting associations in the world.
“We’re not afraid to tackle things, but we recognize when we need to engage additional expertise for the benefit of our clients,” he says.
But there aren’t many industries that KMSS hasn’t tackled over the past three decades. These accounting professionals have developed long-lasting relationships with clients in a variety of areas ranging from retail to construction, tourism to agriculture, health care to manufacturing. And for KMSS, it’s those relationships that have allowed the firm to thrive over the decades.
The one-firm approach of KMSS helps enhance the service levels for clients. Rather than having partners operating independently of the rest of the group, KMSS’s team members work together to ensure clients have access to the best expertise available. The tax group, which consists of two partners and six tax specialists, provides tax expertise to the firm’s entire client base, freeing up the others to address additional accounting and business needs. It has proven to be a great system, and KMSS is proud to have clients who have been with the firm since its inception.
“It has worked out well and has served our clients well. Our goal is to keep our clients happy,” Eidsness says.
The partners agree that in order to have happy clients the firm first needs happy team members. They work hard to recruit the right people who will fit with the firm’s philosophy and culture. The partners look for people with the skill set to do the job, a strong work ethic to get through the gruelling months preceding tax-filing deadlines, and a positive can-do attitude. Viewing candidates through this filter has allowed KMSS to build a strong team.
In return, KMSS provides a positive workplace with a healthy work/life balance and encourages team members to take full advantage. Employees can choose to reduce their hours or take an extended leave during non-peak times of the year. Some take summers off to alleviate childcare issues while others travel or pursue their passion, and partners are happy to adjust processes to accommodate these requests. This practice helps reduce staff costs in downtimes and helps keep the team’s morale high and has resulted in KMSS consistently being recognized as one of Alberta’s Top Employers. Employees appreciate the consideration and respect shown to them. Eighteen team members have been with the firm for more than 10 years with nine of those being there for more than 15. “We accommodate work/life balance as long as the needs of our clients are being served,” he says. “We walk the talk.” KMSS hires eight to 10 new team members from post-secondary programs every year. The firm is a recognized CPA training office and mentors its students in not only obtaining their CPA designation but also continues to support their growth and development as they progress in the firm. In fact, six of the current partners started out as students who articled, got their designations, and worked up through management to become partners.
Growing and developing these younger team members into partners who will be poised to run the firm has given KMSS a solid foundation for the future. And the future is looking positive for Kenway Mack Slusarchuk Stewart. With a strong client base and a multigenerational complement of partners and team members to lead them into the future, KMSS is ready for anything.
“We feel there’s a bright future for the firm,” says Eidsness. As KMSS enters its fourth decade in business with the support of its remarkable team members and successful clients, that future is sure to be exciting.
Find a hard copy of the article and more in the December 2016 issue of Business in Calgary.