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September 15, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Ed Pershing reflects on his career as he prepares to retire from PYA at end of 2019

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series highlighting the remarkable career of Ed Pershing, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PYA, the power behind Since I consider him more of a friend than a boss, I’m eschewing normal journalistic style to refer to him as “Ed” in this series.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

More than 45 years after joining what was then one of the “Big 8” accounting firms and 36 years after co-founding a small firm that has grown into a nationally-ranked professional services enterprise, Ed Pershing has announced that he is ready to move to the next phase of his remarkable life.

PYA is well-prepared for this transition,” he says. “We have emphasized succession planning for years, and we have a great ownership group. The firm has never been stronger or better positioned in the marketplace.”

Ed will stepdown as Chief Executive Officer at the end of 2019 but will remain active in an advisory role with the affiliates of PYA. And, he’ll continue to pursue something that has been his passion for so many decades – improving our state and nation’s healthcare system.

In an internal email to employees, Marty Brown, PYA President, cited Ed as “the person whose vision, passion, imagination, persistence, and legendary great reluctance to back away from an opportunity have led to the nationally-ranked and respected firm we are today. Achieving rankings as a top 20 healthcare consulting company (just moved up to #13 in the latest rankings from Modern Healthcare) and top 100 accounting firm nationally did not happen by accident. It started with Ed’s vision and the belief that anything could be achieved with the right dedication and the best talent.”

I first met Ed in 1985, just a little more than a year after Pershing & Yoakley CPAs was founded and located in a small office on Lyons View Pike. Over the years, the two of us would periodically discuss strategies about how to better connect the firm with the region’s technology assets, namely the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was just one of many passions Ed had, but it was symbolic of his inquisitive and driven nature. Little did I know at the time that those conversations would afford an opportunity for me to join PYA, but I did so on January 1, 2012. Three weeks later, we launched with Ed’s full support and encouragement.

Recently, the two of us sat down for an extended interview about a few of Ed’s professional journeys. They are too numerous to capture in a short series, but Ed promises he’s going to write a few books highlighting the challenges and opportunities he’s witnessed throughout his career.

The Blount County native – Alcoa to be exact – grew-up in a modest household where his parents instilled a strong learning ethic in their four sons. His oldest brother was a pharmacist, his older brother a physician, and his youngest brother was a high school teacher.

Ed’s inquisitive nature led the young accounting graduate of the University of Tennessee to join Ernst & Ernst in 1974 where he was afforded an opportunity after just two years to participate in the firm’s “Accelerated Healthcare Program.” It was a one-time national pilot initiative, and Ed credits Walter Boruff, his former Ernst & Ernst Managing Partner and mentor, for seeing his potential and nominating him for the one-year work-study training program designed to develop healthcare consultants. This was in 1976 when few even understood the concept.

It would be an understatement to say that Ed savored the opportunity. In fact, as the old adage goes, “it was game on” from there.

In six years, Ed was promoted to Senior Manager, just one step from being a Partner. “I was extraordinarily blessed at Ernst,” he says. “Ernst was great to me. I received an education you could not buy.”

While anyone who has referred to Ed as an entrepreneur will quickly learn he dismisses that description, he clearly was early in his career and still is today. Ed saw the limitations that someone with his drive and determination could face in a large enterprise that, like so many, had its own bureaucracy and distinct ways of doing things.

So, nine years after joining Ernst, Ed and fellow Ernst colleague Doug Yoakley left a “Big 8” firm to co-found their own accounting and consulting firm. “Everybody said that I was absolutely nuts, except for my parents, brothers, and Walter Boruff,” he recalls. Today, with about 370 people across the PYA Enterprise and offices in Knoxville (headquarters), Atlanta, Kansas City, Nashville, and Tampa, those doubters who are still alive might rethink their words of caution.

NEXT: The founding principles for the start-up firm that still guide PYA today.

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