For the past 20 years, Brian Berning has been a consistent presence within the entrepreneurial and start-up community in Cincinnati. As Office Managing Partner at BDO USA LLP, Berning is a CPA and trusted business advisor specializing in M&A, tax planning and entrepreneurial growth strategies. He is also a member of the firm’s technology executive committee, and actively engaged as Chairperson of The Circuit, Cincinnati’s information technology association. In the various business circles around the region, Berning offers a valued and well-respected perspective of what it takes to start and build a successful venture. The Halo Effect (T.H.E.) recently caught up with Berning to learn more about him and get his insights on the status of the local start-up and technology scenes.
T.H.E.: What made you want to work in financial services?
Berning: Initially, I thought I was going to work for the FBI. The Bureau encouraged me to pursue a career in accounting for white-collar crimes. I’ve always had an interest in business, and I felt more comfortable and more intrigued with math.
T.H.E. What is one piece of advice you were given early in your career that continues to resonate today?
Berning: Servant leadership is a philosophy that includes a set of core principals and a set of practices that stems from a conscious choice to serve others. Through transparency, inclusion and accountability, we can enrich the lives of those around us, which leads to greater satisfaction and productivity.
T.H.E. As a CPA who works with entrepreneurs, what are a few things you have learned, from a financial perspective that can help young companies when it comes to managing the financial side of their businesses?
Berning: First, talent matters. It’s important to hire the best professionals you can afford, internally and externally. The right team will pay the highest return on investment over time.
Second, focus your time on the core activities of your business and outsource the rest with competent professionals who have a positive reputation in the industry.
Third, forecast cash flows vigorously and update your cash flow forecasts monthly. Cash is king. Finances of early stage companies are volatile and ever-changing. Stay on top of it so you can accurately predict how fast, or slow, you are burning cash. Compare your burn rate with your milestones (goals) to check if you are on track or need to pivot accordingly.
T.H.E. Why do you enjoy working with entrepreneurs?
Berning: I’m an accountant, who is secretly an entrepreneur. I’m at my best when I feel like I’m an extension of a company’s executive team. Entrepreneurs have to make quick, tough decisions and demonstrate exceptional leadership, sometimes all on their own. This is the platform which I’ve proven to best participate. I like to be in the trenches with my clients, through both the trials and tribulation.
T.H.E. What books or blogs are you reading today that you continue to learn from?
Berning: I just finished reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown, which is a book on focused leadership and learning to say “no.” I frequently read industry blogs, but most consistently read BDO’s Technology & Life Sciences blog at BDO USA. I also find SaaS Capital to have an interesting blog about software companies.
T.H.E. You are very active in the community serving on boards and mentoring entrepreneurs. Why do you feel it’s important to do that?
Berning: I have a vested interest in this community. I want to see our economic ecosystem flourish, whether as a mentor, Board participant or an angel investor. If our economic ecosystem flourishes, so does our community. It’s a win/win situation for everyone. Also, I strongly believe in servant leadership. I internalized this philosophy, which enriches the lives of individuals or organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring community.
T.H.E.: How would you describe the entrepreneurial and technology communities in Cincinnati? What gives you optimism about the future?
Berning: The entrepreneurial, and more specifically, the technology climate in Cincinnati is still perceived by most outsiders as immature. Whether that’s factual or perceived doesn’t matter. It is the perception. I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment. I consider Cincinnati an emerging market with a lot of promise so long as we continue to attract and retain talent. Programs and associations such as VentureOhio and Third Frontier give me optimism for the future. These programs are essential to the funding gap that exists in our community. Further success stories in our region will also increase U.S. awareness.
T.H.E.: Is there a company or organization that you look to as an example of doing it the right way?
Berning: Good question, tough question. There are several companies that demonstrate the right way of doing business. I believe BDO is one of them. Our core purpose is “Helping People Thrive Every Day,” and it embodies our entire culture. Since the development of our CLIMB strategy five years ago, our growth has been 24% YoY, which is impressive for a $1.2B professional services firm. In lieu of naming companies, I’ll defer to organizations that practice strong core principals of transparency and inclusiveness, choose accountability and people first, embrace change, and are laser focused. In my experience, successful companies today generally practice most of these core principals.