At a recent firm retreat in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville, N.C., Jason Blumer and six of his colleagues rented a house and spent several days cooking, playing board games and even attempting a round of Kubb, a Scottish lawn game also known as "Viking Chess." When it came time to get down to business, Blumer led discussions on how to serve customers better, streamline internal processes and improve the company.
The mountain locale and freewheeling atmosphere are all part of Blumer's larger effort to shake up an industry with a reputation for bland consistency, in which creative thinking and innovative methods are not highly valued (see Adam Davidson's article in The New York Times on Blumer and the billable hour). Blumer, 42, has the title of chief innovation officer with Blumer CPAs, an accounting firm started by his father in the back bedroom of his Greenville, S.C., home. The two became partners in 2003, and Blumer's dad gave him free rein to run things. After having spent years following the more traditional path and listening to clients who were unsatisfied with the status quo, Blumer decided to try a new approach.
"It was an opportunity to see if I could run a firm better than I had seen other people run firms, with all my crazy ideas that I wanted to try," Blumer said.
Where accountancy has long been tied to traditional measures of value like the billable hour, Blumer has embraced ROWE methodology (results-only work environment), which prioritizes performance above other concerns. Blumer believes that many of the internal structures of the business, from dress codes to hierarchies, are superfluous. His firm doesn't have a central office, and its seven CPAs work remotely.
"I don't know what people are doing," Blumer said, laughing. "I'm the boss, but I don't manage people in their work."
Blumer has also experimented with blogging, social media and exploring new and underserved niches. While every trial hasn't always been successful, Blumer isn't embarrassed by his failures. "I started my journey with a whole bunch of crap that didn't work," said Blumer. "I even started trying to serve Spanish-speaking clients, but I don't speak Spanish, so that didn't work out."
The firm has enjoyed slow and steady growth over the last 10 years and now manages around 120 clients. The pace is intentional, Blumer says, and indicative of another unique quality: Instead of piling up as many clients as it can, the company is highly selective, focusing mainly on creative businesses and business owners.
Now Blumer is helping other disruptive number crunchers through a network called Thriveal. "It's the opposite of 'survival,'" said Blumer. "And I probably should have left the 'e' out of there -- people mispronounce it."
The Thriveal network currently has 80 members across three countries, and Blumer talks with each accountant before he or she is allowed to join. He wants to ensure that everyone is united in the goal of disrupting commonly accepted practices. For him, against-the-grain thinking isn't just a way to satisfy creative urges, it's essential to success.
"Public accountants don't take risks and do experimental stuff," Blumer said. "Experimenting is a core business strategy, really. It's how you grow a company."
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Domestic Manufacturing Activities
Big fan: Starbucks Starbucks is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/obama-corporate-tax-reform_n_2680880.html" target="_blank">among the companies</a> that have successfully lobbied to qualify for a tax break that rewards U.S. manufacturing. As a result, activities like roasting coffee beans count as domestic manufacturing and are eligible for tax breaks.
Excess Stock Options
Big fan: Facebook About 280 Fortune 500 companies have taken home a total of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/mcdonalds-starbucks-apple-tax-break_n_3147875.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">$27.3 billion over the past three years</a> thanks to a tax break that allows corporations to treat executive stock awards like cash compensation -- meaning the money can be written off like a business expense -- according to a recent report from the Citizens for Tax Justice. Critics argue that this defies "common sense," given stock options aren't a cost to the company like cash compensation is. Facebook <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-15/facebook-gets-a-multi-billion-dollar-tax-break" target="_blank">used this single loophole</a> to wipe out its entire tax liability last year.
Big fan: Duke Energy Accelerated depreciation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/corporate-tax-breaks-cost_n_3087972.html" target="_blank">accounted for $76 billion</a> in revenue loss in 2011, the most of any corporate tax break, according to the Government Accountability Office. The tax break allows businesses to write off the costs of ostensibly deteriorating machinery before the equipment even wears out. A Citizens for Tax Justice study <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/10/us-usa-tax-corporations-idUSBRE8380TJ20120410" target="_blank">found that Duke Energy</a> managed to reduce its tax liability largely by using this tax break. Duke called the study misleading.
Deferral On Overseas Profits
Big fan: Apple Fortune 500 companies, including Apple, have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/fortune-500-overseas-profits_n_2301223.html" target="_blank">more than $1.6 trillion in profits</a> parked offshore, according to multiple recent studies. By keeping that money overseas, companies are able to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits.
Exclusion Of Interest On State And Municipal Bonds
Big fan: Goldman Sachs When companies invest in state and municipal bonds, they are <a href="http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/02/09/10-Big-Corporate-Tax-Breaks.aspx#page2" target="_blank">exempt from taxes</a> on the interest they earn from those bonds. This is one corporate tax break that individuals can take advantage of as well, though it largely benefits the wealthy. As a result of the loophole, the <a href="http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/02/09/10-Big-Corporate-Tax-Breaks.aspx#page2" target="_blank">government has lost $58 billion</a> over the past five years, according to the Fiscal Times. Companies including Goldman Sachs have benefitted from the exemption by using the tax exempt bonds to build new offices, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/business/qualified-private-activity-bonds-come-under-new-scrutiny.html?pagewanted=all" target="_blank">according to The New York Times</a>.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
Big fan: Continental Resources Oil and gas companies currently benefit from tax breaks that they say encourage innovation by subsidizing hunts for oil and gas that may not turn out to be fruitful. The result: Continental Resources <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/harold-hamm-tax-break_n_1884327.html" target="_blank">paid an effective tax rate of 2.2 percent</a> over the past 5 years. Chevron and Exxon Mobil paid tax rates at 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Pictured is Harold Hamm, Continental Resources' CEO.
Big fan: Google Those famous free lunches in the Google cafeteria are <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324050304578408461566171752.html" target="_hplink">currently offered tax-free</a>, according to the Wall Street Journal. Right now, the lunches aren't treated as taxable compensation, so employees are benefitting from the free food, but don't have to pay taxes on it.
Corporate Jet Owners Tax Break
Big fan: The aviation industry, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/obama-corporate-jet_n_2912781.html" target="_hplink">specifically companies like Cessna</a>, Beechcraft and Learjet This tax break, which allows companies to deduct the cost of a corporate jet from their tax bill like they would any other business expense, got its moment in the spotlight when President Barack Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/obama-corporate-jet_n_2912781.html" target="_blank">highlighted it as an unfair perk for the rich</a>. The president's 2011 budget<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/obama-corporate-jet-taxes_n_970384.html" target="_blank"> pushed for an increase in the per-flight fee</a> for private jets from $60 to $100, yet the break remains in effect today. Companies that make jets, like Cessna, Beechcraft and Learjet, benefit from the subsidy as it supports the aviation industry, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/obama-corporate-jet_n_2912781.html" target="_blank">according to proponents of the subsidy</a>.