Worldwide Trade Partners, as its leaders describe it, is an international tax firm that focuses more on people than numbers. And it’s a strategy that ensures that the firm continually wins clients away from the Big 4.
And they’re certainly qualified to do that: As former PricewaterhouseCoopers tax consultants, WTP founders Ian Boccaccio and Michael Minihan know a lot about international tax law. But they also know a lot about building client relationships—and wanting stronger ones drove them to start their own firm. “We really just felt like we weren’t doing as good a job as we could be doing with our clients and really building relationships,” Minihan says of the duo’s time at PwC, “so what we saw was our opportunity.”
And so the two launched Worldwide Trade Partners with the intent of the company serving the midmarket. But that’s not what happened. “What we found was that the Fortune 500 had an appetite for using guys like us, as well,” Minihan says. “So we’ve kind of evolved to the point now where basically 90 percent of our business is back to being Fortune 500 clients.”
But while the client category remains the same, the culture, the two maintain, is very different. “Something that’s really different between us and the Big 4 is that our senior people really get their hands dirty. That’s what I hear from my clients and that’s what they really like,” Boccaccio says. “I always say, we don’t sell any hard goods we don’t make or manufacture. What we sell is our time, and we need to be sure that our clients find value in the time that we sell them.”
And in the current economic climate, Minihan says, big companies find exceptional value in a smaller firm dedicated to their needs. “I think that the economic situation is actually helpful to a business like ours. We don’t really compete on price; we compete on value. We believe that we provide a higher-quality service, and the reality is that our administrative structure is much different, so by its nature, we become less costly. We’re a legitimate alternative, and we become that much more appealing in bad economic times.”
That appeal is evidenced by the growth the firm has seen since its 2005 launch. The firm, whose revenue was $4.2 million last year, is projecting $6.5 million this year. “If you look back just a year, we’ve essentially doubled in 2008, and if you look forward to 2009, we’re going to be just over 40 billable consultants whereas at the end
of ’08, we were around 26,” Boccaccio says. “So the growth continues to happen even though these economic times are what they are.”
And, Boccaccio adds, he doesn’t see that growth slowing down any time soon. “If you look five years out, I’m pretty confident that we’re going to keep growing,” he says, adding that at that point the firm will likely be around 300 consultants, unless the firm makes an acquisition or two. The firm, which has offices in White Plains, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Chongqing, China, has its eye on a London office down the road, and is considering adding Los Angeles and Dallas offices to the stateside roster.
Boccaccio and Minihan also say that as the firm expands, it will evolve from an international tax firm to a tax service firm, and as such have made some key hires regarding their federal and state tax practices. And that just means more relationships to build and nurture. Doing that, Minihan says, truly is his measure of success. “Success to me is when a client feels comfortable enough to give you a call on a Saturday because their back’s up against the wall. Then you know you nailed that relationship.”