Accounting Firm Aims To Promote More Women

By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.

Gordon Krater, Plante Moran’s managing partner, seeks to be a good steward of the metro Detroit accounting firm that he leads — and eventually leave it a little better than he found it.

One improvement Krater wants to make: Putting more women in leadership positions.

“We can’t afford to lose as much talent as the profession has been losing,” Krater, 56, said during an interview in the firm’s downtown Detroit offices. “There are really smart, really good people who either opt out or we haven’t trained, developed and mentored enough.”

Too often, he said, unconscious bias leads to unrealized talent, a lesson he learned his first day on the job nearly 35 years ago.

Krater rose through the ranks to become managing partner in 2009, and is set to be feted by the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan at a March 26 dinner. The club named Krater, along with Sandra Pierce of FirstMerit, as business leaders of the year.

Krater, the club said, guided the firm through the recession, and in 2012, a merger with Chicago-based Blackman Kallick.

But, when the award award came up in the interview, Krater redirected the attention.

“I personally don’t like that kind of spotlight,” he said. “As long as it highlights the firm, I feel good about it. I also feel good Sandy Pierce is a co-winner. She’s certainly a wonderful community leader — and I feel honored to be in the same breath with her.”

Attracting, retaining talent
Founded by Elorion Plante in Detroit in 1924, Plante Moran is now the nation’s 13th-largest accounting firm.

In 2002, it was tasked with investigating Enron, a Texas energy company that collapsed in the face of accounting fraud.

The Plante Moran moved its headquarters to Southfield in 1968, but in 2013, it re-established its Detroit presence, opening offices in the Compuware building.

The same year, the company started a program to attract and retain more women to leadership positions.

In the past two decades, the firm’s workplace culture has been recognized with national and regional awards.

It was named one of the top five workplaces in Michigan in the 2014 Detroit Free Press Top Workplaces survey, the fourth time in a row it made the cut.

On Thursday, the firm announced Fortune Magazine identified it as one of the 100 best companies to work in the country, the 17th consecutive time the company has held this distinction.

The 2,200-employee firm now has 23 offices in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, and in China, Mexico and India. Its annual revenues are about $450 million. It services about 12,000 clients, and has 280 partners, of which 21% are women.

A look at accounting trends in 2011 by the American Institute of CPAs found the percentage of female partners in firms nationally with more than 200 partners was 18%.

Plante Moran is seeking to increase the percentage of female partners every year, aiming for a goal of 35%.

Dianne Wells, who runs the firm’s office in Detroit, said Krater is passionate about increasing opportunities and development for women, and sees how his efforts are making a difference.

“Had they begun this program 20 years ago, we might have had even more partners my age,” the 53-year-old said, reflecting on her own experience. “When I became a partner, there were probably about 100 partners, and only 10 or 15 were women.”

Never underestimate others
Krater grew up in Taylor and went to the University of Michigan. Initially, he thought he would become a dentist. His basketball coach, he said, told him that it was a good job. But, before long, Krater said, he realized chemistry wasn’t his strongest subject, and switched to accounting.

After graduation, he took a job at Plante Moran.

On his first day, Krater said, he learned a lesson from partner Frank Moran about leadership and people that has helped guide him:
Moran popped into Krater’s office, welcomed him to the company — and invited him to play racquetball.

Krater accepted.

But, the new employee found himself wondering what sort of opponent Moran, who at the time was 62, would be, and whether it would be better for his career if he just let the firm’s top leader — the guy whose name was on the building — win.

When they stepped on the court, Moran threw down a challenge. He said: We’ll play to 21 and I’ll spot you 15 points. At that point, Krater remembered thinking: “Bring it on, old man!”

Despite the big lead and playing his hardest, Moran still won.

“You underestimated me, didn’t you?” Krater recalled his former boss telling him. “Never underestimate people by the way they look. They are so much more than you think they are — and they are so much more than they think they are.”

Gordon Krater
Title: Managing partner
Age: 56
Hobbies: Reading, hiking, biking, golf (15 handicap)
Family: Wife, Mary; children, Katie Dwan, 30; Benjamin, 28; Timothy, 26; Kelly, 21
Education: University of Michigan, bachelor’s degree in business administration
Boards: Detroit Economic Club, Detroit Regional Chamber, New Detroit, Citizens Research Council, Camp Sancta Maria, global accounting network of Praxity, United Way Campaign Cabinet in Michigan.
Car: 2009 Cadillac CTS
Plante Moran
The firm was founded in Detroit by Elorion Plante in 1924. Frank Moran joined Plante in 1950, and the company became Plante & Moran. Since then, other firms have merged with it, and it dropped the ampersand in its name. Plante Moran bills itself as the 13th-largest certified public accounting and consulting firm in the nation, with offices in throughout Illinois, Michigan and Ohio and other countries.
Partners: 280
Employees: 2,200
Clients: 12,000
Revenues: $450 million

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