Wall Street Journal Interview

Wall Street Journal freelance writer Thomas Fitzgerald interviewed Paul Yroz to obtain his perspective on the demand for tax professionals throughout the country. The following is the article as published.

Demand for Tax Pros Hits an All-Time High

By Thomas J. Fitzgerald – A freelance writer for the Wall Street Journal

Sparked by a hiring spree at large accounting firms, demand for tax professionals is soaring, sending a ripple effect throughout the tax profession, including corporate tax departments and smaller CPA firms.

“The Big -Four firms are in a hiring frenzy,” says Paul Yroz, President of Pro-Tax Executive Search, Inc. a national tax-recruiting firm based in San Francisco. “Candidates are in high demand at all levels.”

Corporate outsourcing, fueled by merger mania is driving the demand at the large accounting firms. Companies often outsource their tax departments for two to three years after a merger, says Mr. Yroz. The large accounting firms frequently hire their clients’ former employees.

Another factor contributing to the rising demand is globalization. As U.S. companies continue to expand, the need for experts in overseas tax laws has increased. Other tax professionals in demand include specialists in state and local taxes and mergers and acquisitions.

The greatest need is for corporate generalists, says Mike Burton, East Region Managing Partner of tax at Deloitte & Touche Tohmatsu in Boston. These consultants handle client relationships and coordinate the services of the firms’ specialists.

Ideal Candidates

The skills needed for this type of position at large accounting firms include creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, flexibility and teamwork says Mr. Burton.

Mr. Yroz, whose typical candidate works on the corporate side of the ledger, says such professionals with broad skills also are in high demand among his clients. Not satisfied with candidates with only solid technical skills, employers are “looking to hire people who are business-minded and good communicators who can interact with high-level management,” he says.

The big accounting firms also are seeking candidates with a broader range of experience and skills to meet the growing list of needs from large corporate clients.

Deloitte, for example, has been hiring lawyers, engineers, MBAs, and masters of science in taxation with backgrounds in such fields as financial planning and financial services, says Mr. Burton.

Large accounting firms are also looking for ways to make public accounting more attractive for tax professionals and address long-term career concerns, says Mr. Yroz.

This trend contrasts sharply with the up or out attitude that once prevailed at big accounting firms. “If you had any shortcomings or limitations, they would sort of counsel you out,” says Mr. Yroz. Ironically, the big firms now are hiring in record numbers from the corporate tax departments where their former employees once fled, he says.

The hiring binge has put upward pressure on salaries. Pay for mid-to upper-level professionals has risen by 15% to 30% in the past two to three years, according to Mr. Yroz.

“We call it a war for talent, and compensation has to go up accordingly to attract the kind of talent that’s necessary,” says Mr. Burton. His firm, which has 90,000 employees in 130 countries, hired about 1,300 tax professionals in 1999, and expects to hire 20% more this year, according to a firm spokeswoman.

“The Big Four are putting together comp packages that are really hard for people in corporate tax to turn away,” Mr. Yroz says. As a result, corporate tax departments are evaluating their compensation structures. “The ones who aren’t doing that are losing people,” he says.

Smaller Firms

Smaller CPA firms that work for smaller corporations, nonprofits and individuals are feeling the effects of rising salaries and a tight market.

“The market is extremely tight,” says Harry Beeson, a partner at Romberg, Wilson and Beeson, a CPA firm in Glendale, California with about 10 employees. The firm, which tends to hire recent college graduates, interviewed four candidates for two positions. “All of them turned us down because they had better offers,” he says.

The firm is reassessing its hiring strategy and is considering offering signing bonuses to attract applicants.

“Ten or fifteen years ago, there would always be a steady supply of tax professionals coming out of the big firms,” he says. “But now the big firms are holding on to their people. It’s very hard for small firms.”

Another factor contributing to the tight market is that fewer young professionals are entering the field, says Mr. Yroz.

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