James “Jim” L. Francis, CPA, B.S. ’88, M.B.A. ’96, is a director with the Sparks, Md.-based accounting firm SC&H. He is a director in the firm’s state and local tax practice. Francis recently shared with The Merrick Exchange some thoughtsabout his career and the new Honors Accounting program that the School of Business will launch this fall.
Merrick Exchange: How did you decide upon a career in accounting?
Jim Francis: My mother suggested the career choice to me when I was in high school and I needed to research a career for a class that I was taking at Loch Raven High School. As a result of that project, I decided to take accounting classes during my first two years of college (Essex Community College) and then major in accounting when I transferred to UB.
ME: What were your expectations in pursuing accounting as a career?
Francis: I went into the industry with an open mind, as I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in my professional accounting career. I didn’t have a goal to stay in public accounting for my entire working life, but there are so many different career paths in the profession that I was able to find something I really enjoy at a great company. I have had the pleasure to work with great clients and a group of highly motivated and outstanding people.
ME: What led you to your current position?
Francis: In February of 1992, I joined three of my former colleagues who had recently founded SC&H Group – I was their first employee. While the experience that we obtained at our previous employer was outstanding, we thought we could deliver better service and more value to our clients than they were receiving from traditional accounting and consulting firms. We started small, but we had a vision to grow. All of us sought to create a firm that values teamwork, knowledge sharing, professional satisfaction for employees and exceptional client service. Since those early days, we have never wavered from our original values; we have always sought to hire the best and brightest people and provide them with opportunities to grow and advance with SC&H. Today our team has grown to about 280 employees with offices in Sparks, Tysons Corner, Va. and Atlanta, Ga.
ME: How would you describe your current position with SC&H?
Francis: I have been involved in growing many of our firm’s practice areas, including audit, income tax, and state and local tax consulting. For the past 10 years my main area of focus has been our State and Local Tax (SALT) practice. Our SALT services include:
- real and personal property tax
- sales and use tax
- gross receipts tax
- location, credits and incentives
- cost segregation
- multi-state income and franchise tax
- unclaimed property
- employment tax
Today, our SALT group is the largest practice of its kind in the mid-Atlantic and one of the largest in the United States. We employ around 60 SALT professionals among our three offices. We represent clients ranging from start-up companies to many of the Fortune 500 throughout the U.S.
ME: What are some current challenges that you, your department or company are currently facing?
Francis: When we were a small firm, all the employees knew each other well. As we have grown so rapidly, a challenge we face is that we don’t know everyone the way we used to. To remedy this, we do our best to provide opportunities for employees to get to know one another. We sponsor an annual firm trip and numerous team building events during the year such as a community service day, recreational sports, and a summer picnic.
ME: You’ve been a leader in developing the Accounting Honors program at the Merrick School. How do you think this program will impact the accounting profession in the region?
Francis: I believe this is the first program of its kind in the Baltimore area. It is a natural step for UB, which has been a leader in producing many talented accounting professionals over the years. This program will help to showcase the best and brightest students in our accounting program to prospective employers.
ME: Why did you choose to attend UB?
Francis: First, I attended UB because of the outstanding education I could obtain. Also, like many students at UB, I worked while going to school and had to pay for my education; UB was a great value when compared to many other universities. UB also has a great reputation in the accounting community – many of the largest public accounting firms in the region were started by UB alumni and/or have partners who attended UB.
I enjoyed my experience so much as an undergraduate I also obtained my M.B.A. from UB.
ME: How has attending UB helped you in your career?
Francis: The University provided many of the tools that I needed to be successful once I began my career. In addition to the knowledge that I needed to be successful in the field of accounting, the classes I took helped me improve my written and verbal communication skills. My professors were also great resources and offered advice to me as I went through the recruiting process as an undergraduate student.
ME: What advice would you give to students who might want to pursue a career in your field but are undecided?
Francis: Accounting offers many different career opportunities through the tools that you develop while in school and once you begin your career. If you think in a logical manner, are detail oriented and have strong communication skills (written and verbal) then the field of accounting will provide many opportunities to you in the business world.
ME: What's the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
Francis: Be proactive. It is your career and your life and you can’t wait for opportunities to find you.
ME: Why do you donate to the Merrick School?
Francis: The best investment I ever made was paying for my education at the Merrick School. The school was instrumental in helping me obtain my first job and I believe that by giving a portion of my time and money back to it, my resources can be used to help those who are looking to begin or further their careers.
ME: What does your future look like?
Francis: Professionally, I plan to continue to develop the next generation of leaders at SC&H, and work to help our firm grow locally and in other regions of the country. At some point in time I could see helping the firm expand to an area where it’s warm and sunny during the winter.
Personally, I hope for more of the same – continuing to be active in the community and spending more time with my wife, children, family and friends.