MNP LLP, Canada’s seventh largest accounting and consulting firm, began life in 1945 as a tiny practice in Brandon, Man. Now based in Calgary, it has 70 offices and almost 3,000 employees from British Columbia to Quebec and an annual growth rate of 14 per cent. It focuses on “mid-market” clients, but also has niche specialties such as farming, oil field services and Hutterite and first nations’ businesses. CEO Daryl Ritchie, who has worked his entire career at the company, has presided over MNPs dramatic expansion for the past 14 years.
How do you manage such rapid growth?
People talk about how much we have grown in the last five years, but it has really been a 40-year journey. It is almost like the musician who slaves away for 20 years, then they call him an overnight sensation. Our growth has been very consistent over those 40 years, but all of a sudden you get to a certain size and people start to notice you.
Is most of that growth from acquiring smaller firms?
Mergers and acquisitions get you [attention], but we don’t send out press releases saying, “We grew organically today.” In reality, organic expansion has always been the biggest driver of our growth.
But you have made dozens of acquisitions in recent years.
When we enter markets we have to assemble all the pieces, and it looks like there are so many mergers going on. But our business is about relationships, so when you enter a market, you look for firms to partner with. Once we get the pieces in place, we then focus on organic growth.
You have expanded all across Canada except the Atlantic provinces. Are they next?
Right now our focus is building Ontario and Quebec. We have places we want to add in Ontario. We would like to be in Ottawa, Hamilton/Burlington, and London. Ultimately we will expand into Atlantic Canada, but it is not something we are pursuing for the next few years.
What does it mean that you are a “mid-market” firm?
It is tough to define. We focus on small- and mid-cap public companies. In some of our more specialized consulting areas, however, we focus on quite large companies. But we are not targeting the largest global companies in the world, and we are not targeting the smallest small businesses.
How did you choose the specialty markets you are strong in, such as aboriginal communities and the farming industry?
It is a little bit of a history lesson on the firm. When you are a western Manitoba firm, the client groups are going to be those you see in western Manitoba. Coming out of Brandon, agriculture was going to be one of those. And as the firm has grown and expanded and gone into different markets, it is not surprising that oil and gas would be on the list. But after expanding into B.C., and into Ontario and Quebec, all of a sudden mining and forestry took on new significance. One of the areas we are now focusing on is food processing. It is a natural extension of agriculture.
Is it easier for a mid-market firm to tackle these niches, compared with the big multinationals?
I think we can be more nimble and move into areas quicker. And we are not as worried about picking niches that have global [significance].
Does your firm have global operations?
You have to have a global reach in today’s world. To meet the needs of your clients you have to be able to provide that expertise, where ever it may be. The international group we are in [called Praxity] is one of the largest accounting organizations in the world, but we maintain our independence.
Is there still room for the smallest accounting firms in Canada?
There haven’t been as many new firms created in the last 20 years as there used to be. What is happening is that the world is shrinking and it is getting more complex ... It is really difficult to serve all the needs of your clients. The most successful small firms are really focusing on specific areas.
How would you describe the culture at MNP?
It is all about “we.” It is very much a team culture. You don’t use the “I” word at our firm. We are very entrepreneurial. It is a culture where it is okay to try and fail. But it is not okay not to try. It is a business, and we run it like a business, but we also want a balanced lifestyle and we want to have fun.
Do accounting and fun really go together?
We spend so much of our life at work, and we spend so much time together, that we need to have some fun. When I walk down the hall, I want to see smiles on people’s faces, I want to hear laughter coming out of the coffee room. [We want people to] drive our business forward, but have fun doing it and have a balanced lifestyle.
How do you promote a balanced lifestyle?
We don’t want our people burning out when they are 35. If we see somebody who takes no vacation and who works a gazillion hours, we tell them to go home and get a life. At the same time it is certainly not a country club. They do need to work and produce.
This article was first printed in the Globe and Mail.