An internet ad and a bit of fate brought Dennis Najjar, CPA and Bill Gerber together in 2004. Within days of their first phone conversation, they met in person and agreed to build a business together. Eighteen years later, they are at the helm of what may be the longest-running virtual accounting company, AccountingDepartment.com.

With a team of 175 and counting U.S.-based employees, AccountingDepartment.com offers businesses a "complete takeover of the accounting function," Najjar explains. Najjar and Gerber share a vision and values, but they are markedly different. Najjar, a certified public accountant by background, excels at operations and process. Gerber, a gifted salesman, dreams big and moves fast. Yet, building a family-first culture came naturally to them both. Culture, coupled with their complementary talents--a medley they call the "magic sauce"--has facilitated revenue growth year after year, and now serves as a launching pad for the company's biggest leap yet.

AN ONLINE ORIGIN STORY

Getting it done and getting it done right are different things, Najjar notes. He co-founded the company in part because he had encountered too many businesses with subpar books. "Accountants would end up doing tax returns on incorrect data," he says. The more he worked with businesses, the more he realized the need for accounting support-- something Gerber, a serial entrepreneur, had experienced firsthand. Like many founders, he knew how to sell, and how to deliver what he was selling, but he never knew where he was on the numbers. This shortfall had led his prior company to bankruptcy.

When Gerber met Najjar, he was determined to create something huge, because he needed to provide for his son, who has special needs. He had been planning to start an accounting services business because of the struggles accounting had caused him in the past when he came across the online ad Najjar had posted for a virtual accounting sales position. Najjar had personal reasons for building a remote business: he wanted the option to move from his hometown in New Jersey to someplace warmer once his kids were grown.

Operating virtually had business advantages, too. The co-founders could work with clients and employees from anywhere. But they had to convince the market their business was legit, as remote work was less common in 2004. To attract skilled, personable bookkeepers, they offered full-time positions with benefits and no overtime. Prospective accounting hires accustomed to long hours, especially during tax season, thought the opportunity too good to be true. One person even asked how much they had to pay to work there. 

A REMOTE WORKPLACE AS GOOD, OR BETTER, THAN THE OFFICE

Remote workplaces are ubiquitous now, but few accounting companies can say they have nearly two decades of experience crafting a virtual culture. AccountingDepartment.com strives to create a work-life balance that is as good, if not better, than the office experience. From book clubs and recipe clubs to March Madness brackets and pumpkin-carving contests, the founders prioritize human connection. They celebrate hard work, for example, with an annual pizza party the first Friday in February. (Coordinating the delivery of 175-plus pizzas across the country is a logistical feat, Gerber notes.) Because a virtual work environment can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, they focus on fitness, Najjar says, with initiatives such as an annual summer walking challenge hosted on the virtual race platform Racery.

Perhaps most important is the company's foundational value: family first. The founders make a point to share how they prioritize family commitments and encourage employees to do the same. They urge employees to be open with clients, as well, to build genuine connection. "We're not a vendor, we're a partner. And partners understand what you're really going through in life," Gerber says.

Najjar and Gerber describe their roles as support functions. During the onboarding process, they visualize the company hierarchy with an inverted pyramid: accounting specialists are at the top; the founders are at the bottom. (When Gerber is running this training, he draws the diagram by hand, while Najjar shares a professionally designed version, encapsulating their different styles.)

A PIVOTAL POINT

Career growth is important, too--to employees and leadership. "There's no churn-and-burn mentality. It's all about keeping the staff and helping them mature," Najjar says. The business provides training and mentorship so members can advance their careers and company goals. And the goals are big. Demand for client accounting services (CAS) has exploded since the pandemic. AccountingDepartment. com has been mindful of preserving its flagship approach to service while laying the groundwork for expansion.

Using Cameron Herold's Vivid Vision framework, the founders have created a three-year, five-year, and ten-year roadmap and have shared them with the team. Both founders are confident they have the people, processes, and technology to achieve their vision, which includes building the infrastructure and workforce to support NetSuite solutions in addition to QuickBooks products. They worked with a firm to implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), a set of concepts and tools for clarifying and achieving a vision, and they have invested in additional leadership training for managers. The adoption of EOS was driven in part by the early influence of organizational expert Les McKeown, who inspired Najjar and Gerber to strive to have the right people in the right seats as the company grows.

Because Najjar and Gerber have never taken venture capital dollars, they are not beholden to stakeholders--they can grow their own way, Gerber says. For these founders, that means continuing to cultivate a family-first workplace that charms employees and clients alike, while providing proactive accounting services that help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

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