insight magazine

IN PLAY: Brian E. Daniell, CPA

Personal connections and endless “carrots” have grounded this Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors member in his local, downstate community. By Amy Sanchez | Fall 2022

Located in the heart of eastern Central Illinois, known for its lakes, parks, and small-town feel, is Mattoon—a place Brian E. Daniell, CPA, managing partner of West & Company LLC (an AICPA G400 firm), and member of the Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors, has cherished and called home his entire life.

While most 20-somethings jump at the chance to flee small hometowns after college graduation, Daniell found his footing early on at a local firm where a number of opportunities—or “carrots” as Daniell says—would come his way: “Over the course of my career, there’s always been that carrot where I had the opportunity to advance and grow.”

Starting off as a staff accountant in 1983 at West & Company, Daniell gradually worked his way up to audit manager, then to audit partner, and now to managing partner. A key piece to Daniell’s success has been his ability to pour himself into being a resource for the firm and its clients. He notes, “The key to being where you want to be, wherever you are, is to be a resource that people look to for expertise.”

While numerous carrots have kept Daniell at the same downstate firm for the long haul, the people of the community have also played a part in planting him there. Working for a local firm has allowed Daniell to develop one-on-one relationships with his clients. “These are the same people you see at the local ballpark, community theatre, and other civic events,” he says. “Our clients know they can come in and talk to me or someone else at the firm that knows and cares about them, their businesses, and their goals and knows what they’re trying to do to succeed.”

While these personal connections are, in his eyes, a distinct difference between big city firms and his downstate firm, Daniell has found that many of the issues his firm is facing are universal. Since joining the Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors in April 2022, talking with fellow board members and leaders of other firms has revealed that they’re all dealing with the same greatest challenge of the moment—staffing. “You’d be amazed by how many of our staff have been approached by firms in St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Chicago, offering them well-paid positions for pretty much 100% remote work,” Daniell says.

While hearing firsthand experiences from his board peers and other firm leaders across the state has been a tremendous value for learning how to combat some staffing-related issues, Daniell shares with them the advantages of talking with staff directly, something that’s often easier in a smaller firm like his. Last year, Daniell’s team faced the retention issue head on by surveying the firm’s entire staff to learn what they liked and didn’t like about working for the firm: “There was some feedback about needing more communication, especially during the pandemic. We learned how critically important it was to staff that they knew how the firm was doing. So, we implemented meetings to provide ongoing firm updates.”

Another staffing-related issue Daniell has learned of that’s seemingly universal to firms is succession planning. Daniell’s simplified solution to his fellow firm leaders is to keep looking to the future. “It’s so important for firms to always be thinking about transition,” he says. “Despite the value of the one-on-one client relationships I can develop in my community-focused firm, it’s important to remember that a client is a client of the firm, not a client of Brian Daniell.”

As a managing partner, Daniell stresses that his value to the firm comes from building relationships with clients that his up-and-coming staff can work with and further build as well. “We have always operated our firm with the understanding that the firm is number one. While we have our own personal goals, the number one goal is perpetuity,” he says, which is a goal firms of all sizes, in all locales, can work toward and benefit from.

Related Content:

  • IN PLAY: William K. Flowers, CPA: The Illinois CPA Society’s 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award winner has built a legacy by creating harmony between his passions and his profession.
  • IN Play: Q&A With Timothy Watson, CPA: Watson, a partner with Benford Brown & Associates LLC, looks back on his father's legacy and looks forward to the Black CPAs who will follow in his footsteps.
  • IN PLAY: Maria Tabrizi, CPA: Inside her path to EVP, chief risk officer, and chief technology officer at the only women-founded, women-owned, and women-led U.S. commercial bank formed to serve the women’s economy.

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