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Updated: September 20, 2021 On the record

On the Record: As CEO of BerryDunn, Sarah Belliveau wants to 'impact many different organizations'

Photo / Jim Neuger Sarah Belliveau, who succeeded John Chandler as CEO of BerryDunn on July 1, said the percentage of the firm’s home-based employees has grown to 30%.

Sarah Belliveau took the reins July 1 as CEO of BerryDunn, a Portland-based accounting firm with 667 employees and a nationwide clientele. Belliveau, who started her career at BerryDunn nearly 30 years ago right out of college, chatted with Mainebiz about what attracted her to the profession and her view on acquisitions and future growth at the firm.

Mainebiz: What initially drew you to accounting?

SB: I was drawn to public accounting as a way to engage with and impact many different organizations, not just one. I enjoy meeting and getting to know people, and this seemed like a great way to continue that through my work. I’ve always loved using math to put things in order. Who doesn’t love the symmetry of debits and credits, and a balance sheet that balances?

MB: What does it mean to you personally to be the first female leader of Maine’s largest accounting firm?

SB: It is an affirmation of what I have always known about this firm. Its history of sustained thoughtful growth, focus on culture and investment in people provided me opportunities to develop throughout my career. I have rarely been bored, never been told I couldn’t pursue a new idea or initiative, and I look forward to continuing that for the next generation.

MB: What parts of BerryDunn’s business are growing the fastest, and why?

SB: If I had to choose areas of greatest growth, those would be in the health care and government sectors. There is tremendous opportunity to help clients as they navigate the upheaval and change in regulations and funding sources brought on by the pandemic.

MB: In your own practice advising nonprofits, what are clients’ concerns these days?

SB: Like many sectors, not-for-profits are faced with significant workforce challenges. Obtaining and retaining talent in a very active market can be even more difficult with limited resources. When you couple this with funding uncertainties in the pandemic environment, the eventual cessation of COVID-support funding and canceled fundraising events, financial fragility is very real for many. Finally, cybersecurity is a top concern for many of our clients.

MB: Before moving to a new office in April, what changes did BerryDunn make to keep staff safe and healthy during COVID?

SB: Pre-pandemic, approximately 20% of our workforce was home-based; that number has grown to 30% currently. When the pandemic hit, and all of our office-based employees moved to home offices, we already had the technology in place.

We continued to invest in our own infrastructure and employees’ setups at home to keep people safe, connected and comfortable. We significantly ramped up our HR and well-being offerings, with a focus on physical and mental health, including online fitness classes, nutrition counseling and virtual social gatherings. Regular communication from our leadership kept us focused and centered on the right things — taking care of ourselves and our families and staying engaged with our teams and clients.

MB: To what extent has the increase in remote working opened up new recruiting possibilities?

SB: As our footprint has expanded across the country, we’ve expanded our recruiting efforts in those areas as well. Our move toward a flexible work environment has given us the freedom to think more creatively about how and where we recruit.

MB: What jobs do you find the hardest to fill and why?

SB: Professionals with three to seven years of experience continue to be the most difficult to recruit. It seems to be a supply versus demand issue.

MB: What role will acquisitions play in BerryDunn’s further growth?

SB: We view acquisitions as a tactic to advance our vision, rather than a strategy for growth simply for growth’s sake. We evaluate opportunities based on how powerfully they will benefit our clients, along with the right culture “add” and people fit. When we are presented with an opportunity to welcome a great group of people doing really exciting work into our team, we will always evaluate it.

MB: What’s your advice to young people, particularly women, entering the accounting profession today?

SB: Seek opportunities where your voice will be welcomed and valued.

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