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updated: 5/10/2017 2:48 PM

James N. Chakires, president & CEO, Apex CPAs and Consultants Inc., St. Charles

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  • James N. Chakires

    James N. Chakires

 

Q: Describe your company.

A: While on the surface we are a CPA firm, our firm is in the business of adding value to growing businesses. After many years of research, we have identified a disconnect between what a growing business owner wants and what a traditional accounting firm provides. We fill that void very well. Put another way, we are a strategic partner to growth-minded closely held businesses where we use our collective skills to help owners improve profitability, maximize the value of their company, minimize their tax exposure and help the owner unchain from the business. We have an entrepreneurial culture and are willing to adapt and change. We are an innovative firm. Much like a testing lab in that we are always trying something new and improving ourselves.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Yes, we are always looking to add great people to our team. Our plan for 2017 is to add several top flight professionals with experience in accounting, financial analysis, strategic planning and specialty tax. We are constantly investing in technology. We understand the importance this plays in providing real-time solutions to our clients while providing flexibility to our team. We are also planning an expansion of our office for better collaboration with clients and team members.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I would get into restoring and selling classic cars. I have always had a love for cars. I can be a bit nostalgic at times. There's something magical about a couple guys standing around an engine compartment and talking about it.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: We are coming off a year of significant growth. With that comes new challenges we have not yet faced. Onboarding new clients while divesting those who do not fit our vision is always tough, but necessary. We know that we cannot be all things to all clients so we must serve those we can have the greatest impact on. That's very important to us. We must be able to make a difference. Another challenge is that our industry has a shortage of young talent so attracting them is a top priority. Balancing the new business opportunities and the staffing demands simultaneously will be our biggest challenge.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: The hottest trend by far is providing a great experience for your people. That means being more creative as a firm and to be flexible and sensitive to the busy lives of our team members. That means providing flexible work schedules, more part-time opportunities and reduced hours during our busy season. Another trend is that young professionals want to understand the "why" behind what they are doing. They want to know how they are making a difference. They want to be valued, respected, recognized and appreciated. They also want feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: Be the very best listener you can be. Be humble and approachable. Have a crystal clear vision of where you want to take the company and communicate it to everyone expected to help. Include your key people in the planning and implementation of the strategy. I have made the costly mistake as a leader thinking that it was my job to decide the direction and theirs to follow. While that is partially true, seeking your team's input will gain alignment and support toward achieving the vision. Make them a part of the process and be sure there is something in it for them to do so. They will love you for it and help you succeed.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: Yes, we have two. One directed toward our clients and another directed toward our team. Our client-facing message is "Relentlessly Committed to Your Success." Our internally facing message to our team is "Making the Numbers Work Harder."

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: Upon becoming a CPA in 1992, my first boss was Dave Nissen. Dave is now the managing partner of Mueller in Elgin. The advice and guidance he has given me over the last 25 years has impacted my life, and that of my family's, in a way that's impossible to measure. I still turn to him regularly as a sounding board and we work on many projects together. I respect him very much. At times, being a leader can feel very lonely. It is important to have someone outside your organization, someone competent and who you respect, to help navigate through the challenges.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: I once played golf in Rabat, Morocco. I used a set of rusty old rental clubs and shot 100. It was still a fun experience.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love to spend time with family at our lake home in Northern Wisconsin. The simplicity and the silence is beautiful. It also gets me back to basics -- chopping wood, launching the boat and fixing things. Doing the work of men. With all the distractions and the speed at which life happens, it forces me to be "in the moment" with those most important to me. My family just loves it there.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: I love to read. I try to do about six books per year. Right now, I am reading "Mastering Leadership" by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams. Also, I am reading "Take Heart, My Child" by Ainsley Earhardt. My kids love that book.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: I worked after school at Showbiz Pizza making pizzas and working in the arcade. The restaurants are not around anymore but they were very much like Chuck E. Cheese's.

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: "The Players" Golf Tournament. It fits the demographic of our typical client. It's classy, filled with amazingly talented professionals but with an edge. I like that.

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: One time I inadvertently scheduled two networking meetings with two contacts at the exact same time. Luckily it was also at the same place so I had to pull it off like it was intentional. They now do business together!

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: Donald Trump. Whatever your political beliefs, the guy is smart. He has a way of getting the message right to you. I also like to follow Rick Telberg. He tweets regularly for CPA Trendlines, a publication made up of thought leaders in my industry.