CCK Strategies is a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based accounting firm founded on and driven by service. For partner Jeff Frable, that means not only serving customers but also his team.
During his 18 years at the company, Frable has had the opportunity to be mentored and to mentor others. He has learned how to stop comparing himself to others, maximize his own unique strengths and create an environment of authenticity.
He couldn't have accomplished any of those things without guidance from his own unofficial mentors, the firm's founding partners. In 1997, Terry Cumbey, John Curzon and Eric Kunkel left their successful jobs to found CCK Strategies.
"The founders started the company 20 years ago with a desire to do something different, to be something different than what they were involved with at the time," Frable says. "They had worked together for many years in a small local firm, became frustrated with various elements and the surroundings ... and felt like they could do a better job, not only serving clients but serving the people in their firm."
CCK hired Frable two years later as its seventh employee. Today, CCK Strategies has grown to over 95 employees, with a second location opening in Plano, Texas. The firm has won national and state awards for its work and workplace culture, including being named one of Accounting Today's Best Accounting Firms to Work For of 2017. In addition, the company's employees have made a local impact, donating and assisting charities and organizations in the Tulsa community.
Ministry Today spoke with Frable about his firm's value-driven approach, his faith journey and his modeling of Christian leadership in the workplace.
Built on 'GREAT' Values
Though CCK does not portray itself as a Christian organization, Frable says the firm has a "very strong spiritual undercurrent." This manifests in five core values that form the acronym GREAT:
- Encourager of others
- Accountable with integrity
- Thoughtful and fair
These values, hatched by the partners at a retreat years ago, are continually re-evaluated to make sure they match the company's vision. Frable calls them the filter through which the company makes decisions.
"These qualities are just completely different than, I think, what you find in normal CPA firms," he said.
Beyond that, Frable believes these values are what sets CCK apart from other accounting firms.
"I think our industry has a stigma to it," he said. "Accounting is very much stereotyped as being somewhat cookie-cutter, not very creative or innovative, and most firms having a very structured and somewhat cold atmosphere or culture. ... We pride ourselves on being very innovative, strategic and proactive with our entrepreneurial business owner clients. It's not about being a place where you just put numbers into some tax software and spit out an answer, but being very proactive and allowing our business-owner clients to feel like they're in control of their situation."
Because these values are important to the company, the partners take pains to communicate them to every employee. The company values are repeatedly emphasized during CCK's rigorous hiring process. A partner meets with every new hire to personally communicate why the values matter.
"We find this important enough that on the first day for every teammate—whether that's full time, part time or an intern—they meet with someone from the partner group to go through those core values and why they're important, how we enact them throughout the firm and how they will, hopefully, see it," Frable said.
He says employee reactions differ dramatically in this discussion. Young recruits in their first job sometimes take this talk for granted, having no point of comparison. Meanwhile, industry veterans are usually shocked at CCK's heavy emphasis on values.
"What's real fun is when you get them both in the same meeting," he said. "The experienced one will go, 'Oh, no, this is different here. I've experienced A and B at this other place, and this is just a different experience.' They appreciate it from Day One."
But partners don't stop meeting with or being open to new hires after the values meeting. Frable says part of the principle of service is serving his employees—and that means creating a transparent office environment.
"I've come from places where the thought or concept of even going into a partner's office is foreign," Frable said. "Partners don't necessarily communicate well with their teammates. From Day One, we tell our team, 'Hey, our doors are always open.' We have a very open office culture."
Sometimes those values cause conflict with clients. For example, how people spend their money reveals their true values. But Frable says CCK is not in the business of judging its clients, assuming their business is ethical. He says there's a fine line between a company or individual employing unethical tactics and a leader making different decisions than he would make.
"There are times when it's extremely evident that this is someone I really shouldn't be doing business with, then you step away from that situation," Frable said. "Then there are times when it's like, 'That's not necessarily the way I would do it, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong.'"
For example, he says, an individual may make a ton of money but give little or none of it to church or charity. In those times, Frable says he checks his own heart—Am I being judgmental? Am I being legalistic?—and ultimately decides his job is to serve the client whether he agrees with their giving practice or not.
Battling the 'Demon of Comparison'
Learning to discern values and curbing legalistic impulses are just two of the ways Frable says he's grown during his tenure at CCK Strategies. When he first joined the team, he was a young accountant who seemed like a mismatch for the firm because of his unrelated accounting experience.
"When I made the transition, it was a huge step of faith for me," Frable said. "The firm was very young, and quite honestly, I was coming from an area of experience that did not line up very well with their firm. I was coming out of audit, and they specialized in tax. ... But I made the change specifically because I wanted to be a partner. I wanted to grow my own book of business as opposed to purchasing one, and I wanted to develop those relationships. The founding partners saw something in me that I didn't see, and they believed in me."
Those founding partners saw value in Frable, and each sowed into him. Because of their training, Frable says he learned how to lead and how to deal with clients. But the most powerful lesson may have been how to shake off his "demon."
"I have the struggle of what I call, 'carrying the demon of comparison on my back,'" he said. "I think comparison steals more of our joy and more of our peace—at least, my joy and peace—than most anything else."
Frable says it's easy to overly invest in his client relationships. He wants so badly to please his clients that he can let those relationships define his value. A bad meeting with a client can ruin the rest of his day or week.
"That's where the battle takes place," Frable said. "That's where the enemy comes in when he wants to attack. He attacks me in the mind, and he tells me that I'm not what I think I am."
Noticing this battle, one of the partners began fighting back by speaking life into Frable. He would say, "Jeff, what you do and who you are is so much more advanced than what you give yourself credit for or what we even see in the industry." He'd support Frable when a client left him feeling worthless.
Another step in exorcising this "demon" was taking the StrengthsFinder test. All employees at the company took the evaluation. Frable learned his top strength is "Harmony." At first, he was dismayed, comparing himself to the other partners who tested high in strategic skills. He struggled to understand the value of his gift for an accounting firm. But the partners and his team have showed him what makes him valuable.
"My partners have very strategic strengths, and mine are more in the harmony area," Frable said. "I've been learning, with their help, over the last year or so that the role I play and the things I bring to the table are very much needed."
The final step to shaking off the spirit of comparison was realizing God made him special. Frable operates and leads differently than the other partners—and that's by God's design.
"I'm coming to learn that God knew what He was doing when He made me," he said. "To think that He messed me up in some way that is downright almost sacrilegious. The sooner young leaders get hold of that concept, the sooner that they get comfortable in their skin, I feel like the more joy and the more peace they'll experience."
But that realization was only made possible through a vigorous prayer life. Frable says it's important he doesn't stray far from God and His voice. Spending quality time with Him is how he grows as a Christian and a leader—and as a result, he is rewarded.
"From the very beginning, I remember asking the Lord, 'Put me on the hearts and minds of people who need my services,'" Frable said. "Eighteen years later, it's still a continual request of mine. It's just absolutely amazing when I have conversations with people and they say something like, 'I just felt like I needed to call you.' I reply, 'Yeah, I know where that's coming from.' That's an answer to prayer."
Modeling Christian Leadership
Now Frable models Christian leadership for the next generation. He recently gave a presentation at the Young Businessmen of Tulsa organization about how to accept the way God made you instead of comparing yourself to others. It was one of several times he has given this presentation, which he refers to as bridging the gap between your leadership abilities and identity in Christ.
Frable says mentoring helps the student—and the mentor—grow in faith. He's seen this happen firsthand through his church, which launched a mentoring program. He mentors five young men and describes it as discipleship.
"I find that very rewarding, to sit across the table from a young professional and pour into them different experiences I've had, answer their questions, give them insight and perspective," he says. "A lot of times, we do gravitate toward conversations about 'How do you use your faith in the workplace?' and 'How do you use your faith when you interact with others?'"
Frable also recommends that these young leaders surround themselves with like-minded Christian leaders. As Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
"I think it's very important to continue to grow as a godly leader and to surround yourself with like-minded leaders—ones who lead the same way that you lead," Frable says. " ... I roll with people who are like-minded, who are servant-minded, who lead with love. So I'm involved in several different faith-based or ministry-based businessmen's organizations, and I find that is a way to grow and to be encouraged."
Frable strives to live out his natural strengths—harmony and authenticity—with his team at CCK.
"I don't personally try to come off as some sort of partner in a CPA firm that's got it all together," he says. "Whether that's with my teammates or with the centers of influence I deal with, I'm just who I am, and that tends to be pretty vulnerable, open and honest. ... I think authenticity carries a ton of weight with our team. It really speaks to who we are as a firm."
At the end of the day, Frable says, it's about love: "I would say the No. 1 way I model Christian leadership would just be to care and to do my best to love people."
Taylor Berglund is associate editor for Charisma magazine. He hosts several podcasts on Charisma Podcast Network.
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