It's not very often that a business can use the building it calls home as a marketing and recruitment tool, but John Schiavone is betting his firm can start reaping that benefit to hire the best and brightest.
Schiavone, managing partner of the accounting firm Lumsden & McCormick LLP, is counting on the firm's new headquarters at the historic Cyclorama Building in downtown Buffalo to set the firm apart from the competition when it comes to a place to work.
"People will want to work within these walls," he said, just after formally cutting the ribbon on the firm's new offices earlier this month. "This is the focal point of Western New York, and there's no better place to be."
Of course, Schiavone admits that wasn't the only goal behind the decision to locate in the century-old cylindrical structure. With its employees and clients evenly scattered throughout the city and suburbs, downtown Buffalo was the most central location, and the Cyclorama Building also came with a large enough parking lot so that the accountants don't have to walk to and from remote lots or ramps. And it's still convenient to the Metro Rail.
But the building's historic appeal is definitely a perk, he said. And it's particularly important in a business where the primary distinguishing factor among firms is the quality of the people and their work, and the ability to attract them, he added.
"We like to look for the right people that will fit our culture, because this business is people-driven," he said. "The most significant asset that's not on our balance sheet is our people. They're the ones that help us accomplish the goals for our clients, and we just look for people that fit our culture."
Accounting is among the most staid, serious and least glamorous professions, although the work of accountants is critical to businesses, investors and even lawyers. The services provided are fairly consistent, ranging from corporate and individual tax returns and auditing to financial planning and even investment advice.
The difference lies in how well they're done, and how the firm is perceived.
"It centers around people and that is our No. 1 focus, making sure we have the right people in our organization," Schiavone said. "You can't do this business without the right people."
So firms are constantly seeking ways to distinguish themselves from the pack, both for attracting clients as well as staff. And for Lumsden, he said, that cache is what Cyclorama offers.
"It's a wonderful gateway to downtown," Schiavone said. "No matter where else we looked, we would not have had that exposure. We even had naming rights offered us as the opportunity, but it would not have given us this."
The Cyclorama Building opened to the public on Sept. 6, 1888, to house a new form of art, known as a cyclorama, that displays a scene or story in a loop. The first exhibit was the giant painting, "Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion," by German artist Karl Frosch, which remained for two years, and the building later hosted a Civil War panorama about the Battle of Gettysburg.
Over the next few decades, after cycloramas faded in popularity, the building served as a roller skating rink, a livery, a taxi garage, and the Grosvenor Library. It was twice abandoned and in disrepair for long stretches until developer Frank Ciminelli bought it in 1985, fixed it up, and put it back to use.
Late last month, the 60-year-old accounting firm took occupancy of its new two-story offices at 369 Franklin St. after vacating its longtime location at the Brisbane Building. And now, Schiavone is hoping that the Cyclorama Building will do for his firm what the Guaranty Building did for Hodgson Russ LP, Buffalo's largest law firm, which bought and renovated that historic building several years ago.
To be sure, that's not to say that a firm can rely only on aesthetics, appearance or image, of course.
"You still have to win the services. You still have to put on the table what the client expects you to," Schiavone said. "You've got to walk in and understand what they need and be able to deliver."
That's where the rest of the business comes in. The firm was founded in May 1952 by accountants Stewart H. Lathan and Charles L. Lumsden - later joined by Richard B. McCormick - at a time when accounting was mostly bookkeeping, compliance and tax returns.
Today, the firm offers a full range of typical services, as well as a separate team called Brisbane Consulting that specializes in business valuations and forensic accounting - the science of analyzing past events or activities financially to determine what happened to a business or money. Brisbane's staff are certified to provide expert testimony in court.
The firm has 13 partners, over 60 professionals and a total workforce of about 90, including support staff. Its accountants specialize in certain fields and industries, such as auditing car dealers, real estate developers, governments, school districts, public authorities and large hospitals or nursing homes, and it's known for its work with nonprofit agencies.
"The level of services we provide is very comprehensive these days, [but] we find you have to specialize," Schiavone said. "The competition is extremely, extremely tight, probably the most competitive I've seen it in my nearly 30 years of practicing public accounting."
But Lumsden also has opportunities as a midsized player. Many small practices run by baby boomers haven't planned for their own succession. So as those principals prepare to retire, they're looking for a place for themselves, their staff and their clients to land.
At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, the nation's biggest accounting firms have largely focused their attention on large publicly traded companies and the need for them to comply with new rules and regulations under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
With a dearth of public companies based in Buffalo, these accounting giants are not focusing on Western New York, and have largely left the marketplace to midsized players like Lumsden.
"I think the national firms have decided that Buffalo's not a market that they're in, because there's not enough exposure to large corporate headquarters in Buffalo," Schiavone said. "It's a windfall."