From Intern To CEO: BerganKDV’s Dave Hinnenkamp

hinnenkampMany CEOs ascend to the top job after long tenures at their companies, but Dave Hinnenkamp, CEO of accounting and professional services firm BerganDKV, has really seen it all after starting out as the company’s first intern and staff accountant in 1984 and taking over as chief executive this year.

Hinnenkamp also an avid baseball player, playing upward of 50 games a year with multiple teams including the TC Twins in Minnesota and the South Dakota Jackalopes, participating in the Minnesota Twins Fantasy Camp and the Bob Wagner Wood Bat Classic in Florida, and even traveling to France and Italy on a “goodwill ambassador” tour to promote interest in baseball abroad.

Hinnenkamp spoke with Chief Executive about his rise from intern to CEO and the lessons he’s learned on the baseball diamond that have made an impact on his business career. Here’s what he had to say:

On his career and years of experience with BerganKDV

I have been with the firm for 34 years. And when I started with the firm, we had about 14 employees. And now, we’ve got approximately 360 spread across 7 geographies. So, yeah, it changed quite a bit. What it took and takes to lead a firm of 14 people is drastically different than what it’s going to take to lead a team of 360 people. And if you think about the 14 people, a very strong leader can almost will their way to making or getting a smaller team to come along with them. And a smaller team are all in the same geography, they’re all in the same office, which helps you to influence the culture directly.

From that perspective, that style, and a certain leadership style is needed to get a very small organization to grow. Thinking  that entrepreneurs are very small business, very similar is inaccurate. The style needed to get that small company to grow is one leadership style. But that same leadership style probably will not work with an organization in our size. You really transform from that smaller leadership style to what I would call more of a servant leadership style in that. I can certainly set the culture, set the energy, set the passion, etc., by addressing the firm on a firm-wide basis.

That can’t be done as consistently as can be with a very small organization. So what you really need to do is really need to rely on your team to carry on that energy, that passion, and make sure that culture permeates the entire organization, because if I want to lead in one direction but everyone behind me wants to go a different direction, guess what’s whatever going. So I need to make sure that I’m delivering an inspiring message vision that my team is on board with that vision and message. And that it ultimately, they also carry the passion, the energy to make sure that it permeates the entire organization.

On company culture at BerganKDV

When you look at our culture, we have five primary core values that we try to live by. The one thing that I really want to make sure permeates the organization is passion, and energy, and positive attitudes because people oftentimes, and companies oftentimes, focus internally on, “Hey, do we have the right structure? Who do I report to?” And really, their number one focus really should be on our clients and how do we provide the best client service to our clients.

From an internal perspective, the one thing that is going to make any type of organization regardless of their structure succeed is the energy that you put into making sure that organization or that structure works. So from a culture perspective, what I really want to see is that passion, energy, and care for our clients. Focusing on how we help the client not only with all of the resources that we have within the firm, but even resources beyond that if they require.

Lessons from the baseball diamond

I’ve been an avid baseball fan for a long time, and I actually prefer playing more than I do watching. So if I can participate, that’s great. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just kept playing with people my own age, so I don’t even realize my skills declining because everyone else is declining at the same rate. But the lessons that I’ve learned, when you look at team sports in general there are some very close correlations to the business world, and when you look at your team inside of the office, the best teams win. It’s not always those teams that have the most talent.

We see that in sports because you can have a team of superstars, but if none of them can put their egos aside and do what’s best for the team they won’t necessarily win. Whereas a team that truly works together and truly likes each other, they truly are looking out for each other, and they’re putting the team first, they’re always coming prepared, they’re energized, they pick up their teammates when they’re having a particularly bad day.

From a team perspective, there are a lot of the tenets of the sports side carry over to the business world. And it’s really the team concept because as a team, when they’re all working together, even if they have less raw talent on another team, they’re able to win because they support each other and work together to achieve a common goal.

The evolution of the accounting industry

What is happening in our industry is that that machines learning a specific skill and the different technologies out there are starting to take what has been our traditional product, if you will, which is of a compliance nature—tax returns, audit or assurance type of work. And gradually, and over time, those product offerings are being replaced by technology.

And so what we, as a firm, need to do is to make sure that our people continue to level up our skills and become more consultative in nature because a lot of what has been valued by our clients in the past is, it’s still valuable but it doesn’t have the same level of perceived value because so much of it is being done by technology, and that will only increase as years go on.

I think the same is true for our clients, and it might impact our clients before it impacts us. A lot of the things that our clients are doing for their customers are going to be replaced by machine learning, as well. And they need to adapt, and we need to be there to help them figure out how to do that and let them know what impact that’s going to have on their business, and how they should prepare for it.

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