Robert J. Ciaruffoli isn’t afraid to put employees first at ParenteBeard LLC

Robert J. Ciaruffoli isn’t afraid of hiring too many people to come work at ParenteBeard LLC. His fear is exactly the opposite — a situation where he wakes up one day, looks at his team and realizes he doesn’t have enough people to service the accounting firm’s clients in a high-quality manner.
“It takes a long time to build up your reputation, but you can destroy it overnight by not providing your clients with great service,” says Ciaruffoli, chairman and CEO of the $170 million accounting and consultant firm.
“Because we were in a growth mode, if anything, we overhired in anticipation of growth in certain areas. If it came time to redesign our system and we were a $50 million firm, we built it for a $100 million firm so that it was scalable and we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every other year.”
It’s not a mindset shared by everyone in today’s business world. Many leaders remain skittish about ramping up their payroll even as they bring in a steady stream of new business. Ciaruffoli says it’s a dangerous path to follow.
“I’d rather be in a position where I have extra people around to take on work as it comes in the door as opposed to being in a position where we have work, and we can’t get it done,” Ciaruffoli says. “And because we can’t get it done and get it done right and on a timely basis, we have unhappy clients out there. The cost of an unhappy client is significantly greater than having several extra team members on board.”
Ciaruffoli takes an aggressive approach when it comes to hiring, but he’s not reckless about it. There is a great deal of conversation with his leadership team and a thorough study of important trends that help guide the effort to keep ParenteBeard appropriately staffed. It’s one of the reasons the firm has grown from $32 million in revenue when Ciaruffoli arrived to $170 million today and more than 1,000 employees.
“Every aspect of our administration had to make sure that we were not only meeting our current needs, but also anticipating our future needs,” Ciaruffoli says. “We knew we had growth plans in place and we were going to be able to execute them.”
Talk to your team
If you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on whether your company needs to hire more people, that’s great. You still need to talk to your team.
“You try to anticipate what your turnover is going to be and then hire accordingly,” Ciaruffoli says. “But before you even get to that point, you have to wake up every morning, look in the mirror and admit that you don’t have all the answers and you have to listen to your team.”
Those in-depth conversations with the leaders in your organization are crucial to learning whether your observations match what they are seeing on the ground level.
“Gather all that input before you make an organizational decision that we’re going to hire X number of people or we have certain strategic hires that we’re going to have to go out in the marketplace and recruit,” Ciaruffoli says. “Nobody is that good that they have all the answers by themselves. There is no substitute for listening well to your leadership team and the organization as a whole.”
Listening is sometimes a tough skill for leaders at the top of an organization.
“It’s one thing to have people who are willing to speak up,” Ciaruffoli says. “There is another part of that equation. You have to have people on the other end willing to listen. If people have something to say or something that is on their mind, it may or may not sway a decision. But it’s important that they be heard. It’s important that I hear what everybody has to say so I have all the information I need to make a decision.”
It comes back to the idea that Ciaruffoli doesn’t want employees feeling overburdened and in a situation where they feel like they’ll never be able to climb out of the hole they are in. If more staffing is needed, he wants to know about it.
“People need to feel loved, feel that they contribute to the organization, feel that they have a meaningful job and feel that they have the ability to learn and grow in an organization,” Ciaruffoli says. “If not, in this mobile society that we have today, it’s all too easy for people to find another position somewhere else.”
Look below the surface
Ciaruffoli puts a lot of stock in the referrals he gets from employees when a position opens up at ParenteBeard.
“They are putting their reputation on the line,” Ciaruffoli says. “They know it can come back to bite them. If they recommend somebody who doesn’t work out well, whether the individual on the other end is going to hold them accountable or not, I think most human beings would hold themselves accountable for that and feel bad about it. Nobody wants to be put in that position.”
In order to get good referrals from your existing employees, you need to have an environment that those employees would want to encourage others to join.
“We need to have people who want to be here and have the ability to perform,” Ciaruffoli says.
Beyond that, Ciaruffoli likes to see candidates who have done something in their life that is meaningful.
“What has this individual done with their time?” Ciaruffoli says. “What activities have they been involved in? Besides book smarts, what have they learned about life? Sports, the military, the Peace Corps, working in a restaurant, you learn a lot about people and teamwork. Those other qualities they bring to the table are extremely important.”
The other part of hiring is what you do on your end to select candidates. Ciaruffoli says it’s almost impossible to get a good read on a candidate after just one interview, so multiple touches over multiple dates are imperative.
“Somebody can have a really good day or a really bad day,” Ciaruffoli says. “It’s important to have those conversations multiple times. What we saw the first time, did we still see it in the individual the second time?
“For me, a second or third interview is less about skill sets and more about the individual as a human being. It’s about getting to know them, the things they like, the things they don’t like, their family, how they react in certain situations, the chemistry. It’s all about getting comfortable with the candidate.”
Lend a helping hand
Once you’ve made your choice and decided to hire, you need to do your best to make it a smooth transition for the new employee. It can make a big difference in the time it takes to get a person up and running in their new job.
“One big mistake a lot of firms and organizations make, and we’ve learned by our mistakes also, is trying to cram too much into an orientation program,” Ciaruffoli says. “It’s basically like opening a fire hose in terms of information flow. You force that information on somebody and it’s impossible to retain it.”
ParenteBeard has developed a 4 ½-day orientation program that is about half business and half team building.
“They’ll have a lot of hand-holding upfront to make sure they understand process, policy and procedures,” Ciaruffoli says. “We’ll also spend time talking about audit philosophy and tax and consulting philosophy. We want them to know what we do as a firm and most importantly, what their role is, and what our expectations are for that individual.”
The program is customized for different levels of the company. So someone entering at the management level will have a different experience than someone joining the firm straight out of college. But much of what is covered is the same no matter who you are or what you do.
“We look at the history of the organization, the culture and the strategic direction of the firm,” Ciaruffoli says.
“HR policies impact everybody. Technology policies impact everybody. So those types of things are important. But no matter whether they are right out of college or experienced, people are always very interested in the firm’s strategic plan. Younger people want to know who they are going to work for and what is the direction of the firm.”
The ability to speak intelligently about these topics with new hires and have a strong system for finding and welcoming new employees into your organization will help position you for steady growth.
“You need to have people systems in place,” Ciaruffoli says. “There are two major components of that infrastructure. The systems themselves and the people involved in those systems. The key for us was making sure we had the right people in the right position as we experienced a significant amount of growth over the years.” 


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The Ciaruffoli File:

Name: Robert J. Ciaruffoli
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: ParenteBeard LLC
Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Education: Certified public accountant; bachelor’s degree, King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
What did you learn from working on a farm? I’m the oldest of 10 children and everybody contributed. I worked on a farm for two summers picking strawberries, tomatoes, beans, weeding and doing miscellaneous other things. I hated it. Very quickly I came to the realization that it was something I didn’t want to do the rest of my life. I needed to do whatever I could to make sure I didn’t end up in that type of position. But it was a job and I was able to make some money doing it.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? My father. I observed a lot about work ethic and doing whatever it takes. If you have to work two jobs, you have to work two jobs. Whatever you do, you have to do it well because you cannot afford to be unemployed in this life.
How much did being the oldest contribute to the kind of person you are? It had a lot to do with it. My father was a blue-collar worker, and we had a large family.
What one person would you really like to meet? Pope Francis. I find him very intriguing and I find his management style very interesting and would like to hear about his approach to change management. He’s making a lot of changes for the better and it would be quite a treat to talk to him.