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September 16, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Ed Pershing knew some key practices he wanted to implement when he co-founded PYA

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a series highlighting the remarkable career of Ed Pershing, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PYA, the power behind He has announced that he will stepdown as CEO at the end of 2019. 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

As noted in the first article in this series, Ed Pershing, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PYA, was most appreciative of the opportunities and experience he gained during nine plus years at Ernst & Ernst, now known simply as EY.

Yet, he also observed some practices he would do differently if he ever had his own firm, and he was able to implement them after co-founding Pershing & Yoakley CPAs, now known simply as PYA, in 1983.

“Never aspire to be the largest, focus on being the best,” Ed says, believing that growth is a byproduct of being the best. That belief is underscored by the fact that PYA is ranked today as a top 20 healthcare consulting company (just moved up to #13 in the latest rankings from Modern Healthcare) and top 100 accounting firm on a national basis.

“Partner compensation should not be formula driven,” Ed says. “Quality plays a more important role than many think it should. Also, no one person “owns” a client relationship; the firm “owns” and is responsible for client relationships. At many firms, partners behave as if they ‘own’ the client relationship which they use to deter colleagues from serving. This leads to clients receiving advice only from the perspective of one professional instead of the collaborative, collective perspective of many.”

Those latter principles about who “owns” clients and how partners are compensated, adopted in 1983, are still the rule today. They are closely coupled with another client-focused principle.

“You always need to be willing to go outside the firm to find the best experts to serve the client if those individuals are not in your firm,” Ed says. “I saw so many cases of people focused on their own interests rather than those of the clients.”

From the outset, he was adamant about PYA remaining private, and the owners over the years have embraced that belief, shunning frequent inquiries from others interested in a merger or acquisition. For Ed, it was a matter of not being put in a position where too much emphasis was placed on quarterly earnings when the focus should be on areas like quality of service.

“We’ve grown bigger than even my wildest dreams,” he says, and those who know him will attest to the fact that he can be a big dreamer.

One of those dreams – being a nationally-recognized brand – took on new meaning when Ed pushed in December 2002 to change the Firm’s logo from the image of the school house building headquarters to the logo still used today and to only use the firm’s then current name – Pershing Yoakley & Associates – in the Knoxville market. In all other cities where the firm had offices and clients, it would be branded as PYA.

He says he encountered resistance from some owners but held steadfast. “We created a logo that would be meaningful nationally, and I did not want the firm to carry the name of two old dead men,” he explained. Subtly, that decision also underscored the emphasis of being a multi-generational firm that Ed espoused. Again, the focus was on the highest level of client service, not the egos of owners.

PYA as an enterprise has clearly evolved over the years, adding affiliates and shutting down a few. Ed was instrumental in the creation of all of them.

NEXT: A look at the four affiliate companies that clearly have Ed’s fingerprints on them.

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