Tetris Anyone?

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

We are entering an exciting time of the year with emphasis on family, holidays and camaraderie with friends and coworkers. At the same time, it can be a very stressful time as we approach year-end results and forward planning. Additionally, most of us are feeling bombarded with a steady stream of negative news and social discourse that at times make the world feel upside-down. The perfect time to change our thinking about how we define and achieve happiness.

Last quarter, I shared some valuable insight I had gained from several sources, particularly from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, about the effects of happiness on one’s self as well as on an entire enterprise. I also shared some startling statistics about how few employees feel happy and fulfilled at their jobs. The solution, it turns out, is changing our view of “the chicken or the egg.” By that I mean most business leaders and productivity pundits advise us that if we just work harder, we will achieve happiness. That is, thinking of happiness as a goal. In fact, the science of positive psychology has proven that it’s the other way around: Happiness is actually the catalyst that allows our brains to achieve goals—often incredible goals. This was eye-opening. Consider the various results of scientific studies of achieving a “positive brain”:

• Students do better on tests
• Employees do better at work
• Improves brain health
• Increases energy by up to 31%
• Decreases heart disease by up to 30%
• Decreases fatigue-related symptoms by up to 23%
• Reduces the chance of depression by up to 31%

This isn’t about irrational optimism. It turns out that we are not born with a predetermined positive or negative mindset. Neuroscience has shown us that our brain can change at any age. This was underscored by reading about Tetris. For those unfamiliar with Tetris, it is a game where four kinds of shapes fall from the top of the screen and the player works to arrange the shapes in a way to create an unbroken horizon line. And it’s addictive.

In a Harvard Medical School study, Tetris players played for multiple hours a day for three days in a row. Even after they stopped, their minds continued to see shapes everywhere—in the supermarket, sidewalks, skylines—that they could not stop trying to assemble to fill in the “gaps.” This was dubbed the “Tetris Effect.”

What I learned was that the brain can be rewired in just a few days to achieve a positive mindset. Where we typically operate with a two-option view: Maintain the status quo (safety), or fail and lose (vulnerability), there is a third option: Embrace failing knowing it will help catapult us to success (positivity). The latter is what Achor calls “falling up.” He defines it this way: “In the midst of defeat, stress and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope and succeed. If our Tetris Effect is to view all that has or could go wrong, then that is all we see. If, on the other hand, our Tetris Effect is to see the opportunity in it, then suddenly we see many other options to fall upward. Our mindset can create blind spots, or it can expand our vision.

This led to my epiphany that if I and others could train our brains to continually see things through a positive lens and continually share our positivity and enthusiasm with others, we could create our own version of the Tetris Effect leading to better success, better employee engagement and better mental health. The great news is this is contagious, and you can leverage one of the most important elements; creating a strong social support network in your workplace.

We are just at the beginning of this journey but excited about how well people are attracted to this approach. We are clearly better together. As we build more champions of positivity, we individually and collectively become better—and happier—every day. That’s the goal.

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to solve business challenges.
I would love to hear your thoughts!

TDO: 35 Years of Training for Manufacturing Success in CNY

By: Elizabeth Landry

Celebrating 35 years of support for local manufacturing businesses, TDO (Train, Develop,Optimize) is a not-for-profit in Central New York that provides coaching, consulting and training. The organization’s mission is to help local manufacturing and technology companies grow and prosper through operational excellence. TDO serves as the MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) center for the CNY region, which encompasses Madison, Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga and Oswego counties. With diverse talent on TDO’s team and a wealth of partners and resources, TDO can provide services to any kind of manufacturing company within the region, from aerospace and defense and precision machine shops to the food industry, medical device manufacturing and commercial manufacturers.

In the time since TDO was created in 1988, the specific needs of the varied manufacturers in CNY have evolved, and the organization has evolved alongside them in order to continue its mission. James A. D’Agostino, CEO and MEP Center Director at TDO, explained how the organization has changed over the decades while always remaining true to its focus on manufacturers.
“Over the years, TDO has evolved from an organization that focused mostly on training to an organization that is more all-encompassing in terms of consulting, coaching, training and being a conduit to resources in the community. I like to think that the TDO of today is very well-rounded with assisting manufacturers with their various needs. It really is the natural growth of the center,” he stated.
Productivity and Growth Assistance
When TDO helps a manufacturer optimize its productivity, there are many options that may best suit the manufacturer’s unique needs. Strategies include Kata coaching (a type of mindset-shift training and coaching aimed at better problem solving, scientific thinking, and daily continuous improvement), Lean Six Sigma training (strategies for waste reduction and project completion improvement) and other assistance with quality management systems, supply chain management, and health and safety systems.
D’Agostino expanded on the different strategies that are implemented based on each manufacturer’s goals. “We ask questions like, ‘Where does the company want to be over the next few years?’ and ‘What are their lofty goals?’ We then take those goals and work with managers, supervisors and technicians to break them down into bite-sized chunks and achievable target conditions we can help them strive for. Sometimes, that means we focus on training. Sometimes, training is an obstacle and we need to provide some type of Lean training or quality training to help achieve the next target condition that will ultimately help them get to their lofty goal. Sometimes, it requires us to do a formal, structured improvement event. There are a lot of ways we can help support manufacturers toward their productivity goals,” he said.
Similarly, TDO’s services aimed at manufacturing growth involve varied approaches based on each company’s individual needs. Lean Six Sigma training and coaching is necessary for more technical challenges. Many times, manufacturing companies want to become ISO 9001-certified or AS9100-certified, which are often required for the aerospace, defense and automotive industries, among others. To help achieve these goals, TDO’s team includes certified lead auditors who can guide manufacturers along the process for certifications that will then allow them to grow their businesses in meaningful ways.
Sometimes, manufacturers express a desire for improvement in areas that TDO’s team isn’t fully capable of supporting. In those instances, TDO relies on its robust network of partners and resources in the region. With partners who are sales and marketing strategists, brand experts, HR consultants, accountants and authorities on leadership development, among many other specialties, TDO offers connections with a wide range of support for the manufacturers they serve.
“We tell manufacturers that it doesn’t matter what the need is – if they have a question or need a resource, they can reach out to us. If their need doesn’t fall into TDO’s core competencies, we’ll find someone who can help,” D’Agostino emphasized.
Anti-consulting” Model for Documented Success
After TDO completes a project or a series of projects with a manufacturer, the manufacturer receives a third-party survey containing 10 questions aimed at measuring the efficacy of TDO’s services. The survey asks the manufacturer if TDO’s training helped them retain jobs, create jobs, retain sales or grow sales, make investments and save money. Based on aggregated survey results, TDO receives a quarterly report card with a score out of 100 total points. Over the last 17 quarters, a vast majority of TDO’s scores have been a perfect 100, and D’Agostino attributes this high level of success to what he terms the organization’s “anti-consulting” model that differs from the way traditional consulting firms operate.
“The unique thing about working with TDO is we’re unlike other consultants that can go in and do a job or a project and walk away regardless of actual results because they don’t really have any skin in the game, so to speak. That’s why consulting can sometimes get a bad reputation – employees see these high-paid consultants swoop in, shake things up and ultimately leave a mess,” D’Agostino explained. “We at TDO have skin in the game through the report card metrics. If we don’t deliver on whatever that scope of work is – if we don’t help them grow their business or be more productive – our report card will reflect that. We really have the ‘anti-consulting’ model in a lot of ways because of our well-documented and proven results. The report cards are a testament to the impactful nature of our work at TDO, creating jobs, sales, cost savings and investments.”
Along with the report card metrics, another aspect of TDO that contributes to the organization’s proven results and efficacy is the small yet incredibly talented and experienced team. With only seven full-time team members, TDO must remain extremely efficient and effective in its work to support the approximately 2,000 manufacturers in the five-county region it serves.
D’Agostino stated this need for efficiency is an important part of the “anti-consulting” model, as well. “We have to be very, very good at what we do for these manufacturers. We have to get them up and running, help them be more productive, grow as quickly as possible and make them self-sufficient so we can move onto the next manufacturer in our region who needs help. Most other consultants have an underlying personal goal of staying there with clients as long as possible in order to keep their revenue flowing, but it’s really the exact opposite at TDO,” he said.
Although the team at TDO is small, each staff member’s diverse talent and experience is crucial to the organization’s success. Prior to joining TDO in 2018, D’Agostino ran a high-volume automotive manufacturer for several years. Other team members have also held high-level professional roles in various capacities at manufacturing companies, such as plant managers, operations managers and general managers.
For D’Agostino, the wide range of skills and experience the TDO staff exhibits is what allows the organization to reach manufacturers on a human level and provide tangible support that matters most. “We love helping everyone from the company owners down to the technicians out on the floor. Sometimes that help means taking a phone call at nine o’clock at night because a business owner has nobody else to talk to and really wants to talk through decision-making strategy. I really pride myself on helping manufacturers, and it’s not just me – it’s the whole staff, because of our background and our professionalism. Everybody brings that same mission and assistance-type mindset to TDO’s work. We wouldn’t exist at TDO, and we wouldn’t be nearly as effective as we are, if it weren’t for our amazing staff,” said D’Agostino.
Connecting Manufacturers with Available Funding
One of the most important ways the TDO team supports local manufacturers is by helping them secure available funding through several sources. As the regional MEP for CNY, TDO has exclusive access to manufacturing funds through the two local utility companies, National Grid and NYSEG/RG&E, which are very lucrative grants ranging from 40-60% reimbursement for productivity and growth projects. 
Additional funding is available through the Workforce Development Institute (WDI), CNY Works, SUNY workforce grants, capital funds through Empire State Development, tax credits, and the list goes on. TDO has excellent relationships with contacts at these entities and can connect local manufacturers with the appropriate contacts and help guide them through the processes. Importantly, even if TDO can offer the services associated with the funding, manufacturers can choose to work with any consulting organization of their choosing, and TDO can simply serve as the connection to the funding.
When D’Agostino was leading a local automotive manufacturer several years ago, he never knew about TDO, nor did he know about the various funding opportunities available to manufacturers. Subsequently, he is very passionate about spreading awareness of the available funding in his role as CEO and MEP Center Director at TDO.
“I want folks to know that there’s money out there. If manufacturers are spending money on third-party resources, they should absolutely call TDO if they’d like some support. We serve as a conduit a lot of times, connecting manufacturers to the right folks and becoming a trusted advisor. We’ll make those warm introductions as necessary and coordinate meetings. It’s just another way we support manufacturers in our community,” said D’Agostino.
Preparing Manufacturers for the Future
Looking ahead to the next 35 years for TDO, the staff plans to continue carrying on the mission of the organization and spreading the word about the resources and funding that are available to manufacturers. “When people say that we’re the best kept secret, it’s a compliment, but it also shows we have a lot more work to do. There are still startups and mature organizations who are unaware of all that’s out there,” explained D’Agostino.
Additionally, D’Agostino hopes to help prepare manufacturers for the way the local technology landscape will change when Micron is established in the community. This change certainly presents new challenges for manufacturers, but it can also present new opportunities.
“All manufacturers need to prepare for the big Micron growth in the region,” he said. “Most are experiencing workforce shortages now, and that’s only going to accelerate when Micron starts its expansion. We’re starting to get manufacturers to think about ways they can automate, be more productive now and work on employee retention strategies by giving employees a reason why they would never think of leaving. We’re really trying to help manufacturers not get pushed to the sidelines and left behind.”
No matter how manufacturing continues to evolve in CNY, though, it’s certain that D’Agostino and the team at TDO will continue to be a trusted resource to help support manufacturers through it all. “We love what we do. Every one of us comes to work with a smile,” said D’Agostino. 
“We’ve made great relationships in the community, and it’s really rewarding to see the growth of the region and to know we were able to play a part in that.” Jim D’Agostino, CEO/MEP Center Director 

In Pursuit of Happiness

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

As business leaders facing new and evolving workforce challenges, we must focus on what research has been telling us for many years: Happiness at work increases productivity, creativity, and superior problem-solving abilities. It is also a solution for the attraction and retention of talent, which remains a high priority as most companies are working hard to find, develop and keep their employees. Easier said than done.

Consider these research statistics from data compiler, Gitnux:
• Worldwide, just 13% of employees reported being engaged at work.
• In the U.S., only 38% of employees reported being engaged at work.
• 56% of employees in the US feel that their employer is or could be doing more to prioritize happiness.
• 63% of employees believe that companies should offer mental health benefits.
With so few employees feeling engaged in their work, there appears to be a disconnect between employers and their employees. Our own internal surveys bear this out. These statistics are at direct odds with employers’ goals for hiring and retaining employees let alone employee productivity.

Why happiness in the workplace matters:

• Companies with happy employees outperform competition by 20%.
• 67% of employees say they are more productive when they are happy at work.
• Employees are 48% more likely to give excellent customer service if they’re happy at work.
• 60% of employees are attracted and stay at a company due to a better work-life balance.
• A happy employee is 31% more productive than an unhappy one.
• Employees who feel valued are 15 times more likely to report job satisfaction.

These statistics show that when employees feel fulfilled and happy in their work, their productivity increases significantly as does that of those around them. This points to the fact that investing in employee happiness is beneficial to both the employee and employer. We are acutely aware of the need to dramatically increase employee engagement and have undertaken a number of small- and large-scale initiatives to improve individual wellbeing and happiness. I will share this one significant effort in the hopes it might aid you in your own strategies.

For the second year following the pandemic, we closed all offices from Massachusetts to Florida and invited all employees to join us at the Turning Stone for a major event we dubbed Day of Learning. Actually, it turned into two days filled with events, breakout sessions, sidebars with various experts in finance, management, health, wellbeing and more. The entire focus was to show employees that they are important to themselves and to OneGroup. We planned the event around personal growth, fulfillment and achieving happiness—seeing the positive vs. the negative. Our post event surveys indicate we are truly moving the needle in the right direction.

Many of the concepts came from a book our management team recently read called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. His years of research into what happiness is and how one finds it is fascinating. At the heart of his work with humanity, the happiness formula is in reverse: that happiness leads to success and not the other way around. His research shows when you are happy, you see things in a positive light, you recognize opportunities and ultimately achieve greater success than those who are unhappy and negative. Achor posits societies instill a belief at an early age that happiness is your reward for success, but in fact, positive psychology research shows that happiness creates success.

We have taken this to heart at our company and although change is never easy, by focusing on happiness first, we are seeing steady improvement throughout the company as well as in our relationship with our clients.

Author Daniel Pink in his book Drive, explores motivation, a key element in achieving happiness. His message is that motivation today is acquired through autonomy, mastery and purpose—purpose over profit. He further recommends using a “now, that” method of rewarding vs. “if, then” (the historic carrot and stick process). He proposes approaching employees with: “Now that you’ve executed this work so well, you deserve a reward.”

There are many employee engagement ideas and processes for sure but the most important one is recognizing the importance of taking action—of beginning with achieving our own happiness in order to lead others.

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to solve business challenges. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The 3 Pieces of Secure Act 2.0 You Need to Consider NOW

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, President & Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

The Secure Act 2.0 clearly focuses on the belief that there is a real shortfall between what we have saved for retirement and what we need to have saved to retire. The new law has opened up some great opportunities for you to impact the financial decisions you have made in the past, influence decisions you can make now, and plan other decisions for the future. Here are the three key provisions you need to discuss with your advisor now to implement in your plan right away.
529 Conversion to Roth IRA 
You’ve done well in saving for your child’s college education utilizing a 529 plan. You have done so well that you have (or are projected to have) some left in the plan. In the past, we have typically talked to clients about what to do with those funds. Would you want to support your child’s advanced degree? What interest do you have in pursuing advanced personal education? What type of support would you want to give to grandchildren? Now, we can add a whole new layer of planning. What support would you want to give your child’s retirement savings? Under a new law, 529 assets can be converted by the beneficiary to a Roth IRA.
• Up to $35,000 can be converted from a 529 Plan to a Roth
• Tax-free growth in the Roth IRA
• It can be an early start for your child’s retirement savings.
• The conversion is taxable. You must pay tax on the accumulated earnings in the 529 when converted to the Roth.
• Limited to $35,000, lifetime
• The account must be open for 15 years.
• The conversion is subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limits.
This is one of my favorite tax changes in recent years; however, there is much room for improvement. None of these thoughts should keep you from considering this opportunity now. Key areas that can be improved in future laws: 
•Eliminate taxation of the conversion. If the funds in the 529 would come out tax-free if used for education, they should be allowed to transfer to a Roth tax-free. As long as the Roth owner abides by the rules, the funds can come out tax-free.
•Eliminate the $35,000 limit, or change it to allow for more conversion.
Higher Catch-Up Contributions 
Most of us are probably already aware that when we reach the BIG 5-0, we get to make additional contributions to retirement plans. Hopefully, those of you reading are doing that now. In the new law, you need to take advantage of a major expansion of this concept. Starting in 2025, those between the ages of 60-63 can make even higher catch-up contributions of $10,000.
The law is recognizing that we either need or want to work longer. We can supercharge our retirement savings in those later working years.
None. As an advisor, one of my key objectives with clients is to get them to save more money. 
I would like to see the age decrease to 50, like the current catch-up rules. I don’t see the magic of 60-63. We know how this math works. The earlier you save, the more compound earnings can work for you.
Required Distribution Age increased 
The age for required distributions from retirement plans was increased in 2023 to age 73. That age will further increase in 2033 to age 75.
More tax-deferred growth and more opportunity for tax planning opportunities around required distributions
Nothing comes to mind at the moment. Remember, these are required distributions we are talking about. You are still able to access funds at 59 1/2.
If people are working longer, then this change supports that by not requiring distributions until the later years. I think pre-retirees can now plan to save money in other ways (not in tax-deferred plans with a required distribution) to support cash flow if they retire before RMD age.
As you can see, this new law has been really focused on retirement savings. This article touches on three of the key provisions that can benefit your overall financial plan. If you want to learn more about these and how you might be able to implement them, join my free webinar on July 20th at noon for a little “lunch and learn.” Visit jgua.com/presentations to register.

What Our Customers Can Teach Us About Supplier Management

By: Don Lynch, Senior Project Manager, TDO

Are you struggling with increased component lead times, price increases, and quality issues? You’re not alone.  The COVID-19 pandemic has caused interruptions in staffing all over the world.  This has led to late supplier deliveries, increased commodity prices, and unpredictable transit times.  Some of these supply challenges are trending back toward pre-pandemic levels, but many challenges remain.
So, what can we do to improve the performance and predictability of our suppliers?  The answer will depend on each business’s unique needs; however, there may be a rich source of ideas within our midst. Please think for a moment about what makes a great customer.  Your list may be different than mine, but here are some of the things that have defined great customer relationships for me:
1. Clearly documented requirements.
2. Predictable demand.
3. Few expedite requests.
4. Collaborative approach to resolve delivery and quality issues.
5. On-time invoice payment.
6. Opportunities to win new business.
These attributes create and maintain relationships that are built on openness, collaboration, and trust.  Great customers not only allow our businesses to grow in revenue and profitability, but they also help us to improve our operations so that we can become even more competitive.  Keeping in mind that every buy-sell relationship has a customer and a supplier, how do your suppliers perceive you as a customer?
• Do our purchase orders and specification documents clearly provide all the information that your supplier needs to meet your expectations?
• Is our component demand predictable?
• Do we often ask suppliers to deliver within their stated lead times?
• How do we engage with suppliers to resolve delivery and quality issues?
• Do we pay our invoices on time?
• Do we invite our best suppliers to help us develop new products and services?
If great customers can help our businesses grow in revenue and profitability, are there similar opportunities with our suppliers?  Can our suppliers’ expertise help us become a great customer?  Will becoming a great customer help improve our suppliers’ performance?
This all sounds nice, but what about getting the best (lowest) price?  My list defining a great customer doesn’t include paying more than other customers.  Great customers want best-in-market value from their suppliers.  This helps them earn acceptable margins so that they can continue to make investments to innovate, improve, and grow.  We want the same thing for our businesses, and so do our suppliers.
Being a great customer doesn’t mean that you pay more than best-in-market value for products and services.  Instead, investing in supplier relationships can lead to maintaining best-in-market value while fully leveraging our suppliers’ capabilities to help us improve. Are you less than satisfied with your suppliers?  Consider asking yourself how becoming a great customer may improve their performance.
If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and would like to further the discussion, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation!

Construction Career Aspirations Are Achievable

By: Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

Long before governmental entities began to focus on “inclusivity” and other “workforce development” initiatives targeting minority, women and “disadvantaged” groups of people who may not have had a presence in particular segments of the economy, construction industry employers have tried for decades to include all people into the industry, including immigrants.
The United States of America provides all people equal opportunity to participate in the economy, including the regional construction industry.  Determination, self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed are human attributes necessary to be successful in life and business.  Gul Ahmad Hamidi is an example of how an Afghanistan immigrant successfully entered the local workforce and pursued a career in the construction industry.
Hamidi was born in Afghanistan, earned a degree in Civil Engineering in New Delhi, India, and was a civil engineer and a construction project manager in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  While his career accomplishments were impressive and his future full of opportunities, it all ended on August 31, 2021, when he escaped Afghanistan on a United States military C-17 cargo plane, leaving his family behind.  
As an interpreter for the United States military, Hamidi was taken by the United States military and hidden for the month of August, before being rushed to one of the final C-17 cargo planes leaving Afghanistan.  While on board, he assisted pilots by communicating important instructions and information to those on the plane, which was headed for Germany.  Hamidi would spend the next several months at United States military bases in Germany and in Philadelphia, preparing to begin his new life in the United States.
In March of 2022, InterFaith Works of Central New York introduced Hamidi to me via an email.  He expressed a strong interest in working in the construction industry as a project manager.  After meeting Hamidi during two different interviews, it was apparent that he had all the characteristics necessary to not only become a successful employee, but a productive member of society as he embraced the United States’ way of life, freedom, and culture.  
After interviewing with local construction companies and having nothing more than the clothes on his back and documents from the United States government, Hamidi was hired by one of the area’s premier general contractors.  Today, Hamidi is enjoying the infancy of his construction career and the many wonderful benefits of living in central New York.
Hamidi is a shining example of one’s ability to pursue the American dream by applying the human attributes necessary to be successful in life and in one’s career.  He escaped Afghanistan on the very last day before the Afghanistan government collapsed, now controlled by the Taliban.   Arriving in central New York with nothing, Hamidi today has a car, an apartment, clothes, and money to enjoy the many entertainment opportunities central New York has to offer.  He continues to send money back home to his parents in Afghanistan and saves money to someday own his own business or to buy a home.
Hamidi’s story reinforces the notion anyone can be successful in entering and participating in the construction workforce.  Being successful in a career is not a right – it is earned.  It is earned by self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed.  Overcoming adversity is something most people experience at some point in life, whether it is personal or career.  
Hamidi’s story is compelling and is a prime example of how citizens in New York who really desire to enter the construction industry workforce can do so, if they have the drive and commitment to be successful in life and with their chosen career.

Dannible & McKee, LLP:45 Years of Success

By: Elizabeth Landry

Front: (sitting left to right) Victor Vaccaro, Jr., CPA/ABV, CFF, CDA, Partner-in-Charge of Audit and Assurance Services; Nicholas Shires, CPA, Partner-in-Charge of Tax Services Back: (standing left to right) Christopher Didio, CPA, CFE, Managing Partner; Joseph Chemotti, CPA, CCIFP, Audit Partner and Chief Financial Officer; Peggy Rowe, CPA, CFE, Audit Partner and Partner-in-Charge of Accounting and Advisory Services

As the firm approaches its 45th anniversary this coming May, the team at Dannible & McKee, LLP is reflecting on the company’s evolution, growth and many successes over the years. Today, they are a leader among full-service CPA firms with headquarters in Syracuse, New York and additional offices in Schenectady, Binghamton and Auburn. The firm serves clients located not only in New York but across the United States and internationally. During its history, the team at Dannible & McKee has grown to over 100 professionals and support personnel, including 22 partners.

While the company has experienced much change and expansion throughout its history, the central foundational philosophy of providing high-quality service that places the client’s needs first was cultivated early on by the two founding partners, Anthony Dannible and Lance McKee. These pioneers in the CPA world broke away from a separate firm to begin their own company, because they saw that local businesses weren’t getting the quality of service they deserved. The client-centric service model they developed in 1978 laid the groundwork for success that has lasted decades into the future.

Christopher Didio, CPA, CFE and Managing Partner at Dannible & McKee, explained how the founding partners set up the firm for growth. “Lance was the audit partner, and Tony was the tax partner. They were a great combination, very hands-on workers with excellent marketing skills. Under their vision, they grew the firm to over 20 people in the first 10 years. Seven of our current partners have been with the firm for over 30 years, including Ken Gardiner and Mike Reilly, who served in key management roles that helped continue to grow the firm which they are still an important part of today. Tony and Lance also laid the foundation for key internal department meetings that we still maintain. We spend a lot of time making sure we keep people properly scheduled to balance the workload and effectively service our accounts. Many principles they brought into place 45 years ago are still followed today. That’s made our firm a great place to work,” he said.

Hands-On Service Model for Client Success

Similar to other international accounting firms, Dannible & McKee is structured into three separate departments: audit and assurance, tax and accounting, and advisory. Additionally, professionals in the firm focus on industry niches that allow them to provide specialized knowledge for each unique client engagement. Some specific areas of expertise include business valuations, ownership transition plans, mergers and acquisitions, forensic accounting, federal acquisition regulation (“FAR”) audits, employee benefit plans, trusts and estate planning, and many more.

Due to the wide array of services offered, the firm is able to serve a diverse client set of large and small entities in many different fields, including, but not limited to, manufacturing companies, construction contractors, architecture and engineering firms, professional service firms, auto dealerships and nonprofit organizations. As a registered firm with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”), Dannible & McKee has become a recognized leader among PCAOB accounting firms by providing accounting, auditing and tax services to publicly-traded companies.

Although Dannible & McKee offers many services to a plethora of organizations, the firm is diligent in ensuring its high quality of service and attention to each client’s unique needs remains the same regardless of which specific services clients utilize.

“The biggest differentiator for Dannible & McKee is the quality of our service and our dedication to our clients. It’s one of the things that every CPA firm likes to say and put on its website, but we see that for us, it’s true. The quality of the work we do for our clients is unmatched among the other CPA firms we compete against. We provide hands-on service, going out into the field as a team with our clients, and that level of service is really what sets us apart. We tell clients that they’ll receive this level of service, but then they’re surprised when they actually do,” explained Victor W. Vaccaro, Jr., CPA/ABV, CFF, CDA and Partner-in-Charge of Audit and Assurance Services.

The firm’s emphasis on hands-on service is demonstrated by the fact that every engagement involves both a tax partner and an audit partner. Additionally, the professionals in the tax department demonstrate a high level of partner engagement year-round, rather than only at the traditional “tax time.”

“Part of the client-centric approach is that we’re proactive throughout the year. Many folks think of accounting as ramping up only after year-end, preparing the financial statements and the tax returns, and that’s the end of it. However, that’s not the way we operate. For us, it’s a year-round approach. We take the time to understand the intricacies of a client’s business and the issues affecting their tax position. This allows us the opportunity to provide thorough, timely and tailored tax planning and compliance services,” said Nicholas L. Shires, CPA and Partner-in-Charge of Tax Services.

True Ownership Transition for Employee Success

Of course, without strong professionals on the team, Dannible & McKee wouldn’t be able to deliver a high level of value to its clients. Remaining true to another standard put forth by the firm’s two founding partners, Dannible & McKee offers a clear career path and follows through on the transition of ownership to reward and retain its strongest employees.

“Some of our competitors don’t transition ownership. They have people that grow through the firm and receive new titles, but they don’t make them equity owners in the firm. As a result, they just don’t retain the strongest people. By truly transitioning ownership, we’ve been able to maintain a really strong team, including those at the partner level and also those under the partner level that see the opportunity in the future to be owners in the business. It’s a plan that has a defined path that our personnel can move along so they know they’re making progress. That progress helps them to perform well for the firm and also shows them that they’re taking steps to achieve their professional goals,” said Vaccaro.

For the majority of the current partner group at Dannible & McKee, the beginning of their career path with the firm started right out of college. To continue this trend, the firm’s emphasis on recruiting and retention of strong, dedicated employees starts much earlier on than is traditionally seen among similar companies. Dannible & McKee’s college internship program is available to college students as early as the second year of their five-year-long education program.

Didio explained how the firm has seen much success from structuring the internship program in this way. “Last summer, we had seven interns on the accounting side that were in their fifth year of school. We gave job offers to all of them, and all seven accepted. That shows the strength and success of our internship program. We’re not just looking at college seniors for internships – we’re being a bit more proactive than other firms. We commit to that investment earlier on in the interns’ college careers,” he stated.

Once hired onto the team, employees at Dannible & McKee experience many benefits, such as flexible work schedules, remote work, continuing education support, employee gathering events and bonus opportunities.

Joseph Chemotti, CPA, CCIFP, Audit Partner and Chief Financial Officer at Dannible & McKee, shared how this emphasis on elevating the employee experience at the firm has been an intentional effort. “One thing we’ve truly focused on over the last five-plus years is our group of employees. It’s the employees that put us where we are. They are what has helped us grow to where we are today and are what help us continue to succeed and grow,” he explained.

Continued Expansion Into the Future

The firm’s focus on the well-being of its employees has contributed to much of Dannible & McKee’s continued success in the New York State community and beyond. In many ways, the flexibility enjoyed by the firm’s employees has led to a natural growth of the company’s physical locations outside the boundaries of Syracuse.

Peggy J. Rowe, CPA, CFE, Audit Partner and Partner-in-Charge of Accounting and Advisory Services, recalled how one employee’s journey led to the firm putting down roots in the Capital Region. “The expansion into Albany started with one of our tax managers wanting to move back to Albany because of personal family reasons but didn’t want to leave Dannible & McKee. She worked out of her home for quite a few years until she was able to grow the business in the capital region and eventually became a partner at the firm. As a result of that success, we now have an office in Schenectady with several key professionals on our audit and tax team,” Rowe said.

Another way Dannible & McKee continues to grow is through referrals from other local businesses and mergers with other CPA firms. The firm recently merged with Buffington & Hoatland CPAs, PLLC, a smaller firm based in Auburn, New York, gaining two new partners and five accountants in the process.

“Buffington & Hoatland could have picked any firm in Central New York to merge with. They came to us because of our reputation. They knew the quality of our work and how we treat our employees, and they picked us as the firm they wanted to merge with. They’re successful partners and now they’re members of our team. That’s the message out in the community – we’ve gotten several client referrals from other CPA firms, as well,” stated Didio.

Dannible & McKee has also received many referrals over the years via its affiliation with the GGI Global Alliance (“GGI”), a world-wide alliance of well-established and experienced accounting, consulting and law firms. The firm has been a member of GGI for over 10 years, and this membership has brought many opportunities to work on international engagements.

In the future, the team at Dannible & McKee hopes to participate in additional mergers and acquisitions, further expand into New York State and beyond, and continue to broaden the scope of its service offerings. The firm plans on growing its services provided to publicly-traded companies, specifically, since it is one of the only local CPA firms registered with the PCAOB.

Certainly, no matter what’s in store for Dannible & McKee over the next 45 years, the firm intends to remain firmly rooted in the philosophy of its founding partners that have delivered so much success already. As Didio puts it, “For our founders, there were two key principles: servicing your clients and technical expertise.” With these principles guiding the way, Dannible & McKee will continue to flourish for years to come.

Attracting & Retaining Top Talent

By: Mike Metzgar, Business Development Manager, TDO

Nationwide, the US manufacturing labor market is facing significant challenges. With approximately 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day until 2028, the situation is only set to worsen over the next five years, creating a significant skills gap, loss of tribal knowledge, and a shortage of experienced workers. This will result in fierce competition among companies for top talent and will make it more challenging for businesses to attract and retain employees. Here in Central New York with Micron moving in and the I-81 project getting underway, the future workforce challenges are arriving sooner. While compensation is important, it is not the only factor that motivates employees. Here are a few strategies to attract and retain employees that do not rely solely on money:

  1. Provide Opportunities for Growth and Development: Offering opportunities for growth and development is
    an effective way to attract and retain employees. This includes training, mentorship, and professional development programs that enable employees to enhance their skills and advance in their careers.
  2. Build a Positive Company Culture: A positive company culture is a critical factor in attracting and retaining employees. Building a culture that fosters teamwork, respect, and communication can make employees feel valued and engaged. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance and recognizing employee contributions can also help build a positive company culture.
  3. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible schedules, can be an effective way to attract and retain employees. This provides employees with greater flexibility and can help them achieve a better work-life balance.
  4. Focus on Work-Life Balance: Work-life balance is a top priority for many employees. Companies that prioritize
    work-life balance by offering generous vacation time, paid time off, and parental leave policies are more likely
    to attract and retain employees.
  5. Create Opportunities for Employee Engagement: Employees who feel connected to their work and company
    are more likely to stay. Creating opportunities for employee engagement, such as team-building activities
    social events, and volunteer opportunities, can help employees feel connected to their company and their

Obviously, the practicality of these strategies is highly contextual to your particular work environment. If remote or flexible work is impossible, there are always more strategies (e.g., prioritize communication and feedback, emphasize employee wellness, recognize and reward employee achievements, offer meaningful work, provide a sense of autonomy, etc.). However, the good folks at the Arbinger Institute would argue that deeper than any of these strategies is your mindset. If you consistently view your employees as individual people with lives, families, obligations, hopes, and dreams, things will generally have a way of working out even when you make mistakes. Conversely if you view your employees more as objects, even if you pay them well, you will find attraction and retention increasingly challenging in a worsening market.

In conclusion, attracting and retaining employees has always been important for the success of any business. However, over the next few years, this very well may be the biggest issue for your company’s success/survival. Companies that already do this well can weather the coming storm. Those that do not should begin working on their culture and practices now to ready themselves. Remember, while compensation is important, there are several other strategies that companies can employ to attract and retain employees. The key in selecting the best strategy for your environment is to consider the people themselves and make your decisions with them at the forefront of your mind. If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and need some assistance with this (or really any) issue, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

The Financial Services Industry is Yet Again Under Fire, And it Should Be…

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, President & Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

When will we learn? When will we as consumers take matters of choice back into our own hands? Choice is about the only thing in our control and yet we make decisions fleetingly with minimal research. We make choices about our financial lives based on 30 seconds of research or quickly trust companies twisting and turning the latest industry compliance buzz words meant to protect us as sales pitches. The recent news of bank failures and other financial services companies being questioned has me troubled, infuriated, angry.

I am not in the banking industry so I have no business using this article as a platform to attack those in the industry. However, I am a 25-year vet of financial services and I am going to use this platform to take a stand. Enough with the over use of the term “fiduciary” and the phrase “comprehensive wealth management” if that is not what is provided. How does this tie to recent troubles in financial services? Because I believe that our personal financial matters tend to rank second on our life priority list only behind our family’s mental and physical health. And with that level of importance placed on that area, we quickly enter into relationships with financial services firms being sold on something that is not there.

I want to start with fiduciary. The technical definition includes the word trust. My favorite analogy comes from one of my industry hero’s, Michael Kitces. He talks about it like this; “Suitability means selling a suit that fits you. Fiduciary duty means it actually has to look good on you too.” Anecdotally, I hear professionals recommending things that, in their minds, can make a case that they fit this description. Then when the consumer actually figures out the recommendation, some amount of time later, they see that they do not like what they got. Stop mixing suitability and Fiduciary Duty. They are different, very different. I like to use the phrase “a true fiduciary relationship.” Why? Because I know in the end the only thing I have to sell is a relationship. Yes, we benefit the longer the client stays with us, but then again, we both do.

Comprehensive Wealth Management. Used in pieces or all together, it is often used wrong. Maybe vainly, I will quote a blog I wrote a few years back called “What is CWM?”

“We find that this is more than the returns in our portfolios and cutting edge tax strategies. It is about the decision making that goes into creating a path for us that leads to comfort and peace of mind. It’s about protecting that for which we have worked so hard. It is about optimizing what we have and what we will build. It does not mean getting the most, but making the most of what we get and making decisions that are suitable for what we are hoping to achieve.
Some companies will say they offer this approach. If you come across them, I ask that you dig in and understand what they are offering. Is the first thing they ask for your account balances or what insurance policies you own? Or do they ask about you, and what is important and valuable to you? Do they run all sorts of fancy calculations and hand you a big binder and send you on your way? Or, do they partner with you to implement the decisions you have made after discussing various options and providing education on the pros and cons.”

And I continue…

“Wealth denotes how we hope to help our children in various phases of their life be it education, embarking on a career, or starting a family. Wealth refers to peace of mind knowing our aging parents are well taken care of as they move into their “golden years.” As you can see, Wealth is not just about our account balances; it is about the things we have a high value for and obtaining peace of mind around them.”

For a bonus round, I will attack cost or pricing. First, most consumers don’t know or don’t understand the full cost of their financial relationships. Do your research and ask your questions. Second, I don’t think anyone would choose a surgeon based on how low the cost might be.

Why do we do this with our financial matters? I have a colleague that puts it in a “digestible” way (pun totally intended). “We can eat the low cost food from a fast food chain for every meal, but we know that is not healthy for us.”

Rant over. Don’t expect financial services firms to change their ways, you as consumers need to change yours. Your personal financial well-being is important. Stop making choices based on buzz words and cut rate pricing. Stop chasing more return and fancy schemes. Find a partner that understands protecting what you have built is more important than growing it. You can’t grow what isn’t there. Find someone that understands that financial freedom is about choice of how we spend our time and not dollar signs and investment returns. Take back the power of choice, especially in your financial relationships.

Mental Health in the Workplace

By: Elizabeth Landry

Over the past several years, many in the U.S. have suffered poor mental health and suicide rates have remained steady. Working people tend to be affected by these issues at a high rate. A rise in remote employment leading to feelings of isolation as well as high-stress, fast-paced work environments are contributing factors to these patterns.

According to Dr. Omar Colon, Medical Director of Behavioral Services at Oswego Health, there are several warning signs employers can monitor for to help recognize workers who may be suffering and at risk for suicide. Arriving late to work, working excessive hours, increased stress at work or at home, mentioning access to weapons and generally any behavior out of the norm for a specific person are all red flags indicating an employee may be suffering poor mental health.

Addressing these issues in the workplace can seem daunting due to the unfortunate stigma that often surrounds mental health and suicide. However, Dr. Colon emphasized it’s important for gatekeepers in the workplace, such as managers and HR personnel, to help break down this stigma by simply asking their employees how they’re feeling and offering a welcoming environment where workers can feel comfortable having discussions about what’s happening in their lives.

“When we see these red flags in our work, we have to pay attention as gatekeepers and be ready to receive these messages. We need to be thinking, ‘Wait a minute – does this person need some help? Are we making it easy for this person to access the help they need?’” explained Dr. Colon.
In addition to identifying when employees may be at risk for poor mental health or even suicide, employers can strive to boost mental well being in the workplace by encouraging employees to practice good mental health habits when they encounter stressful situations.

“We’ve been focused on creating a culture where it’s OK to take a break from stress at work and come back refreshed, even if that means just a five-minute walk,” said Alissa Viscome, Employee Engagement Manager at Oswego Health.

The COVID pandemic has also created additional mental health-related difficulties in the workplace. An increase in remote employment, virtual meetings, masks and physical occupancy limitations have all made it more difficult for employees to create important bonds with one another.

The staff at Oswego Health has been working to create more opportunities for employees to connect with one another, even if those connections must be virtual. Employees at Oswego Health have participated in activities like sharing photos of pets with one another on National Pet Day and collectively taking part in self-care opportunities during the different themed months of the “Action for Happiness” calendar. Although these initiatives may seem simple, they can make a big impact that encourages interpersonal connections and helps boost mental wellness among teams in the workplace.

Residents of Oswego County and beyond can find treatment resources at one of several inpatient and outpatient facilities, including the brand-new Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness. Additionally, the Oswego Health website offers a Wellness Library where employers can find educational awareness articles about mental health and suicide as well as practical tips to help support general mental well being both in the workplace and at home.