From the age of 15, Chris Blees knew he wanted to help entrepreneurs find a way to monetize their passions.
He grew up in St. Louis, watching his father – a piano technician – work endless hours earning high accolades in his industry, yet bringing home very little financial reward. The younger Blees believed people should be able to earn a lot of money for something they are good at, so he focused on the challenges of profitability by studying economics in high school and learning from business owners.
He earned a business degree from Western State in Gunnison and took a job with BiggsKofford straight out of college.
Today, he’s president and CEO of BiggsKofford, a CPA firm that offers tax, audit and business solutions. He is celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company this year. Under his leadership, the firm launched its mergers and acquisitions arm in 2002. Blees assumed his current role in 2007, when co-founder Jerry Biggs retired.
Question: How does?BiggsKofford differ from the standard CPA firm model?
Answer: BiggsKofford is two parts CPA firm and one part investment banking firm. The traditional CPA part does financial statement work, taxes and audits. Our investment banking division accounts for 35 percent of our revenue, which is far from the industry average of 7 percent. Both arms serve our niche customers, which are closely held businesses with 10 or fewer owners.
Unique elements of our firm are we’re consultive and we run our business differently because we don’t have a managing partner. We are a business that happens to perform CPA services. As the president and CEO, my functional area is much less chargeable than a managing partner. It frees me up to focus on the management and strategy planning of the firm.
Q: What is the fastest growing part of your business?
A: In the last two years, the mergers and acquisitions part has really come back; 2008 and 2009 was a big downturn and 2010 and 2011 was the doldrums nationwide. We’re back to a fairly good pace at this point. In our traditional CPA firm, our niche has been physician groups and medical practices. We’ve had more than 25 percent growth there in the last year.
Q: What are your plans for growth?
A: We have very strategic and nonaggressive growth plans. We target 10 percent growth per year. We don’t want more than that because we want to grow intelligently and profitably.
Q: How did the recession affect your business?
A: It was hard. We had a couple of years of single-digit retraction, meaning we had top line revenue reductions two years in a row that were 5 to 7 percent. That was still pretty good, however. We were working with homebuilders that were having huge reductions in revenue, so I shouldn’t complain. We rebounded and surpassed our previous highs within a couple years of that.
Q: What advice would you offer entrepreneurs?
A: Remaining self-sufficient in their own ability to make business decisions is critical. That stems from a financial self-sufficiency that allows you to remain in control, without debt or other capital that will negatively influence the control they have on their company. You need money to run your business and it’s a lot easier when it’s your money.
Q: Do you have a personal formula for success?
A: Confucius said, “A truly wise man surrounds himself with wiser men.” My goal in life is to see those people I impact as successful. My theory is that if I drive success in everyone around me, I myself will naturally be successful.
?Q: What are your thoughts on the Colorado Springs business climate?
A: We have an amazing business climate despite the inherent detriments that we were dealt. I’m a very strong supporter of nonprofits and participate on many nonprofit boards, but when it comes to economic measures, our climate is severely hampered by having 50 percent of our economy that is nonprofit motivated, meaning government and other nonprofit organizations. It makes us look like we are half as big as we really are and weaker in all per capita economic measures. Again, nothing against the nonprofits. They inherently bring lower wages, lower capital, less profit and earning ability, less liquidity per capita and less wealth per capita. So, in all those things that measure economic success, we’re going to have a 50 percent handicap. Withstanding that, there are some amazing brilliant business minds here.