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.