According to Paul Thorstenson, Partner and CEO of Ketel Thorstenson, LLP (KTLLP) it is…industry expertise, leadership and relationships. Think about it, people build a relationship and a level of trust with their accountant much like they do with their doctor. To maintain financial health, people have questions and need assistance with their personal and business lives. A new situation in life can leave one uneasy or perhaps confused as to the next step to take. If you find a resource that provides the services and answers you need in a timely and friendly way, chances are you will stay a client. That is the foundation of KTLLP, started in 1936. It rings true today, hence the motto, “Friends for Life.” Some KTLLP clients have relationships dating back over many decades.
A new client just told me today, “I learned more from you in twenty minutes than I have in ten years with my previous accountant,” stated Thorstenson. Not a surprising response if you have spent any time with Thorstenson. He has a passion for learning, strategizing and passing that along to help others.
Given Congress’ complex decisions on tax laws, gaining knowledge and experience in today’s accounting world is not as easy as it once was. It forces Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) to specialize in certain subspecialties and industries. The days of being a generalist and having all the answers are gone. There is too much to know for one person. This is a benefit to the seventeen partner structure at KTLLP. The knowledge is divided and shared. The benefit to clients is having a go-to source for all the answers which is increasingly becoming obsolete in smaller firms.
“Magical” is how Thorstenson describes the relationships among the KTLLP partners. The partner group gets along and has structured itself in a way that makes it favorable for younger staff moving up to want to become owners in the firm. Each KTLLP partner started as a “wet behind the ears” employee of the firm, and each earned their way towards owning the firm. By not having client quotas the focus is to put the client first. The partners, being accessible and taking an active role in mentoring staff, lends to the supportive culture KTLLP has built. Rich Siekman, a retired partner, still comes in to work regularly, arriving early to set a good example for other employees.
Customer service is not sacrificed, a concern some might have when using a larger firm. The focus of getting to know your clients and their businesses has become KTLLP’s hallmark. Thorstenson grew up with these staple ideals. His father, A.C. (Bud) Thorstenson, joined the firm in 1950 and became partner/owner in 1958. His philosophy was to treat the clients’ money like it was his own. That is Paul’s approach too. “Stand in the shoes of the client, think and look from their vantage point,” said Thorstenson. His experiences investing in the stock market, other businesses, and real estate have shaped his perspective. All “hobbies” he grew up doing with his father.
“They are fun,” is a typical statement among those who know any partners or staff at KTLLP. A word not stereotypically used in describing accountants. KTLLP subscribes to a mixture of hard work, dedication and fun. The four principles of the FISH! Philosophy, outlined in a book series by John Christensen, is a guide to the KTLLP culture: make their day, be playful, be present, and choose your attitude. Not only do KTLLP’s employees enjoy their jobs but clients get a great experience through their client-focused philosophy.
In a banner anniversary year it is typical to reflect on proudest moments. “Creating jobs” was Thorstenson’s response. There have been hundreds, not only at KTLLP but through the growth of the client businesses he counsels.
Thorstenson is also proud of how the firm has been able to grow as the western Dakota community has grown. The synergy of how the two have grown together feels special to all involved. That may be the reason the firm is so passionate about giving back, and does so through: multiple Jeans Fridays, fundraisers, volunteering and sponsorship activities throughout the year.
At the heart of what has been built in 80 years is an employee-owned firm that started and maintains the traditional value of being client-focused, building a relationship, putting the client first….putting people first.