By David Serchuk — Source: Louisville Business First
Diane Medley wheels into a conference room on the 26th floor of downtown’s Meidinger Tower, where MCM CPAs & Advisors occupies 2-1/2 floors.
It turns out she broke her ankle a few weeks prior — she slipped on a dog bed — and in lieu of crutches, she’s using one of those scooter-like devices with a padded platform for her leg.
But don’t think that the injury has slowed Medley. The managing partner of Louisville’s biggest accounting firm always has a packed schedule.
She mentions an upcoming trip to Hardin County, Ky., where she’s on the Hardin Memorial Health Foundation board, the day after we meet. Then she’ll be in Lexington, where MCM has an office, and the day after in Cincinnati, where her firm recently completed a merger with Cooney Faulkner & Stevens LLC.
Medley helped start MCM’s predecessor firm, Chilton & Medley, in 1988 with five employees and a revenue budget of $350,000.
Today MCM has 303 employees and about $43 million in annual revenue. It has offices in Louisville, Southern Indiana, Lexington and Cincinnati. With 116 CPAs in the Louisville area, the firm tops our List of the area’s largest accounting firms.
And Medley is one of only three female managing partners among the 100 largest U.S. based accounting firms.
Not bad for a girl raised on a cattle farm in Meade County, Ky., where she still lives today.
Growing up, she was “the child that was different” and always had her nose in a book, especially history.
“I’m always a person who wants to figure out why this is happening and what caused it,” she said. “Even to this day, that’s what drives me.”
In person, she is friendly, calm and poised, which is all the more impressive given her routine 12-hour work days.
She also involves herself in municipal leadership. She’s the immediate past chair of Greater Louisville Inc.; a board member at Nucleus: Kentucky’s Life Science and Innovation Park; and a board member of the University of Louisville Entrepreneurship Council.
In addition to her professional success, what struck me about Medley was how, at the end of the interview, she turned the tables and started to ask about my history. This was completely unexpected, as I simply assumed such a busy exec would have to roll on to what’s next.
But that’s not how she operates. Though her business is all about transactions, she doesn’t treat people in a transactional way.
That mindset is reflected in her current favorite quote, from the motivational speaker and writer Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
“One of his quotes is, ‘isn’t our role in life to make life easier for each other?’ ” she said. “And that really applies all the way through. It applies to your family but also applies to your clients.”
What are the advantages of being the biggest firm in this market?
We have a lot of resources, and we can ask people to specialize. We’ve got people who come in here every day and all they do is state and local tax. Or all they do is international tax. Or all they do is IT security testing. So it’s not like they have to do a little of several things, they can really specialize.
My job as managing partner (is) like an orchestra leader. It’s to make sure all that works together, that we don’t compete with each other and we all go to market together. And feel like it’s a team approach. What I’ve done since day one is build a healthy culture where people want to work together and want to work toward the firm’s goals.
What creates a healthy culture?
We communicate it by teaching people what that means. We teach “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to everyone in the firm. I teach it. And if you know those seven habits and you live them, that pretty much takes care of things.
(The habits are): be proactive, think with the end in mind, do first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand before you’re understood, synergize and sharpen the saw.
So if you teach that, and that’s part of your so-called top culture, then everybody knows that’s how we get along.
Each person here has their own personal game plan where they know what they’re going to try to do this year. It’s mutually agreed upon, it’s a win-win agreement. In other words, we sit down with you and go, ‘What would you like to do? This is what the firm needs. Does that fit?’ And then they have a sponsor at the firm who helps them throughout the year achieve those goals.
That’s a rigorous program.
It is. People say, what’s the secret here? First of all, we’re very strong in what we do, but when you marry it with that health of the culture, then it’s pretty unbeatable.
Looking into 2016, what are some things you’d like MCM to do?
The things we’re going to be working on are leadership development; we’ve got a program we’re rolling out for our up-and-coming leaders on what it means to be a leader, what it means to serve clients and find what they need. We’re also going to update our strategic plan. In other words, making sure that we’re working with the latest technology, that we’re making it easy on our clients.
What were the signal achievements of 2015?
Merging with Cooney Faulkner, that was the big one. Continued growth in Southern Indiana. We merged with a firm over there about four years ago and we’ve seen significant growth. We’ve picked up some key clients. There are certain clients that just fit our sweet spot and we’ve picked up some of those.
You are one of only three female managing partners among the 100 largest accounting firms. What does that say about the accounting industry?
I’ve had a lot of discussions about that with other firms across the country. I go to the national meetings. And we talk about where are the women? They’re there, they’re typically at the smaller firms right now. I think it’s a matter of time until they get to the larger firms. But it’s a big job doing what I do, and there were sacrifices I had to make.
What kind of sacrifices?
The (long) work hours in the days when I was at my desk working. And maybe I wasn’t home when I would like to be. My kids all turned out fine, they’re all very independent. They’ve all got interesting lives. I’m still married to the same husband (William Medley, her spouse of 42 years), so it all worked. But there are times when you have to work if you’re doing what I do.
Were the sacrifices worth it?
What made you want to get into accounting?
I think accounting provides you a window into the world of business that you don’t get otherwise. It’s fascinating. I enjoy the people piece of this. But the numbers tell a story. And it just was fun to see what other people were doing with their money, with their business, with their lives.
Describe a typical day.
Most of my day now is about strategizing with our other leaders within the firm. We have industry leaders, we have location leaders, department leaders. We have specialty leaders. So I meet with them, talk about what they’re doing, strategize on solutions for the clients. I have a lot of community involvement. So probably a third of my time is community involvement, and I love that. Louisville has been really good to me. I wasn’t born here — didn’t go to high school here — but Louisville has accepted me, and I love it. So I come in every day here thinking let’s go, what’s going to happen today? I enjoy talking to my partners and other team members about what they’re doing with their clients, helping them figure out solutions. My background is tax, also management consulting. A lot of days I’ll be helping them with a problem or a client issue. It’s pretty much non-stop.
What’s the most important lesson you learned the hard way?
I’m not perfect. So I accept my own shortcomings and move on. Work on your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses by having good people around you.
Managing partner, MCM CPAs & Advisors
Residence: A farm near Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area in Meade County
Family: Husband, William E. Medley; four children: Rachel Corum, Eugene Medley, Leah Medley and Rebekah Doran
Education: Bachelor’s degree in commerce with a focus on accounting, University of Louisville, 1980
Work history: Cotton & Allen, partner, 1981-88; Chilton & Medley, managing partner, 1988-2009; Mountjoy Chilton Medley LLP, managing partner, 2010-present
Favorite lunch restaurants: Mayan Café; Lilly’s Bistro or Jack Fry’s (“the old standards”) and Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant (a given)