Most of us probably don’t consider accounting firms when we think about innovation, but that’s one word that’s always on the mind of CliftonLarsonAllen.

As a full-service accounting firm, CliftonLarsonAllen is committed to innovation, their community and quality service to their clients. This profile piece highlights the work of one of Central Florida Development Council’s innovator level investors.

“One thing we’re constantly on the lookout for is innovation,” said Jay Gray, managing principal of CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) in Central Florida. “It’s really going to be a major disrupter in a lot of people’s businesses. One of our priorities is to really keep up with that innovation. What that is and how that transpires for CLA to remain relevant (remains to be seen, but) we need to keep up with what’s happening with regards to innovation.”

Lori Gentry, head of marketing for seven CLA locations in Florida, said “innovation is key,” and CLA focuses on the younger generation to make sure it doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s so big that we have a FIT — a Future Innovation Team; a YET — Young Executive Team; and a YAC — Young Advisory Council,” Gentry said, “so we’re really getting the younger group involved in our future.”

The advisory board is part of all decisions made in his office, he said, everything from “what we do and how we do it. How we set the culture. What we do moving forward. How we recruit. All the things I have to make a decision on, they are involved in.” Those teams “might be a differentiator between CLA and other competitors,” Gray said. “They provide a lot of insight to me. I need to be in touch with the people who are working for us who are of that age.”

CLA is a professional services network that offers traditional CPA level services, such as investment advisory, audit, tax and consulting. It was established when two top firms — Clifton Gunderson and LarsonAllen — merged in 2012. Its history in Polk County started much earlier — in 1954 in Bartow — and it was last known locally as the NCT Group, which had offices in Lakeland, Winter Haven and Sebring when it merged with CliftonLarsonAllen in 2011.

Even though CLA is a billion-dollar firm with offices in the likes of New York and Los Angeles, some of its 110 branches are in smaller communities.

“It’s a big firm that still operates as a local CPA practice,” Gray said. “It was a very easy merger for us to be assimilated into CLA and have all the resources that a large firm can provide but still deliver in the local market.”

He described CLA’s services as a mindset. “It’s not giving a document, not providing a tax return, but what does that really mean for our folks. How does that help our clients do what they want to do to achieve in their lives?”

CLA pays attention to its local roots, the place where employees live, and some grew up. It looks for ways to engage and give back to the community, most of which is employee driven, Gray and Gentry said.

Employees get 20 hours a year to serve on boards, work at events or volunteer in other ways, Gentry said. “We have many non-profit clients that our people are involved with throughout the year.” Gray said CLA does not dictate what organizations each location is involved in. “It’s where our staff has the passion,” Gray said.

In Lakeland, that’s Parker Street Ministries, which uses religious values to help transform an impoverished neighborhood in the city. “We’ve got people involved in the ministry there who work for us. They bring that passion back to the office. At Christmas we fill our conference room up floor to ceiling, wall to wall to provide gifts to needy families.”

In Winter Haven, CLA supports Catholic Charities, which helps homeless people, especially in colder months. “In the office, we collect old coats. This is where we see the need in the community, collecting those clothes.” CLA also supports executives who serve on boards of directors by sponsoring events or fundraising.

“We really exist … to create opportunities for our clients,” Gray said. “We deliver that on a relationship-basis standard. We all have and want to make our communities better. We serve clients, but we also want to create opportunities in our community. Then, we create opportunities for folks who work for us. We build inspired careers internally by being able to provide those opportunities.”  

Creating opportunities. That’s really what it’s all about, Gray said. “If we’re doing that, we’re helping our clients, helping our community, helping our workforce,” he said. “It’s a circle: If we do one, then you can do the other,” and so on.

Not a bad standard to work by. And CLA believes in it.