JONES CPA GROUP
Firm's new downtown Norfolk office reflects the future of the industry
by Rob Lauer
The shareholders of Jones CPA Group.
From left: Assistant Vice President Cathy C. Nadeau; Vice President/COO Ali E. Gunbeyi;
Assistant Vice President Nellie M. Green; President/CEO Stephen M. Jones
Photo courtesy Knox Studios
This is not your grandfather's office," Stephen M. Jones- President and CEO of Jones CPA Group- insists with his warm, winning smile.
He is speaking of the firm's new office in the heart of downtown Norfolk; but despite his infectious enthusiasm, one could be forgiven for initially taking his comment with a grain of salt. After all, the building now serving as Jones CPA Group's new home has stood on Norfolk's Atlantic Street since the late 1800s- nearly a half century before many current grandfathers were born. The four-story building, built of redbrick and crowned with cream-colored Neoclassical cornices, appears to be exactly the type of place in which our grandfathers- and many of their grandfathers- might have worked. But just as the proverbial book shouldn't be judged by its cover, so a building- even one as historically handsome as this- shouldn't be judged by its exterior. Follow Stephen inside and one realizes immediately that the salt of skepticism must be tossed over one's shoulder. Jones CPA Group's new Norfolk office is truly "not your grandfather's office," but a 21st century work place.
Entering the building, one encounters a seamless blend of the antique and the modern. A wall of exposed brick stretches ahead on the right; on the left is a wall of brilliant white, accented with sections of dark wood that have been polished to a mirror-like gleam. The hallway's restored hardwood floor leads to shinning steel elevator doors, above which is the logo of Jones CPA Group: a speech bubble- a device used in graphic novels and newspaper comic strips.
It seems an unusual logo for an accounting firm; but as Stephen takes the elevator up to the third and fourth floors where the Jones CPA offices are located, he explains the thinking behind the symbol. "We chose a speech bubble for our logo because we are dedicated to having a conversation with each and every one of our clients," he says. "We've placed our logo everywhere, and beneath it is a phrase that captures the objective of those conversations: "Let's talk success.' We have a relationship with our clients in order to help them achieve financial success."
Relationships and conversations are concepts not usually associated with accounting. Stereotypically, accountants are imagined to be withdrawn, bookish individuals who are more at home with numbers than people. In popular imagination, the only time they are heard from is when they are called out of hiding to report the latest figures to their clients. Then, having made their report, they return to their cloistered existence among piles of ledgers and account books- usually stored in tiny closet-like offices or cubicles, lit by either a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling or the cold, gray flickering of a neon light.
When the elevator reaches the third floor and its doors glide open, this popular fiction about an accountant's habitat is instantly obliterated. The Norfolk office of Jones CPA is a bright, open, inviting space. A light-colored floor of salted pine leads to the sleekly-curved receptionist's station. Behind it is an accent wall of Mozart Blue on which is displayed the firm's logo- its bright yellow speech bubble popping in contrast to the wall's cool color.
The reception area of Jones CPA Groupâ€™s new Norfolk office,
featuring a mural of the cityâ€™s waterfront.
Photo by Terry Young - Air Aspects
Stepping out into this bright, welcoming space, one's eye is immediately drawn to the huge mural adorning the gracefully-curving wall to the left. It is a beautiful, floor-to-ceiling photograph of the entire downtown Norfolk waterfront, taken so recently that the Ferris wheel operating there this past summer is part of the view.
"We have gotten so many compliments on this mural," Stephen says with a smile. "We wanted to have a visual element here that captures the essence of downtown Norfolk in the 21st century. Upstairs, on the fourth floor, when you step out of the elevator, the first thing you see is another big mural- but that one is a photograph of the Norfolk waterfront taken over a hundred years ago. Our objective was for this office to visually present the city's past and its present."
The layout of the office reiterates Stephen's initial point: this truly is a modern workspace, designed around a radically new understanding about the very nature of work itself. At the heart of this new understanding are the concepts of relationships and conversation- the same concepts conveyed by the logo of Jones CPA Group.
"...when Stephen and I
began making plans for this office,
what was truly most important
was that we have a space
that facilitated people
began making plans for this office,
what was truly most important
was that we have a space
that facilitated people
- Ali E. Gunbeyi
There are no tiny cubicles or closed-off side offices on either the third or fourth floors. Each employee has a desk in a private, individual work space that is large enough to comfortably accommodate several visiting clients. There are multiple comfy seating areas on each floor, so that at any time employees can leave their desks and settle into a plush arm chair or sofa for a relaxed conversation with co-workers or clients. High cafÃ©-style tables and chairs are in other areas to accommodate such gatherings. The fourth-floor employee lunch area has the look and feel of a modern coffee shop. There is a multipurpose employee training room- equipped with the latest in digital technology. All of the side conference rooms and offices have floor-to-ceiling walls of clear glass which not only sustain a sense of connection between employees, but also allow the outdoor light pouring in through windows to illuminate the entire work space. Regardless of one's location, one need only look up in any direction to see sunlight. The broad flat window sills are outfitted with computer plugs so that if they choose, employees can pull a chair right up to the window, plug in their lap top and work while gazing out upon downtown Norfolk's cityscape.
The recreation area, featuring foosball, a shuffleboard table and cafe-style tables and chairs;
a fourth-flour seating area with the open side offices visible in the background;
one of several cozy seating areas, designed to accomodate more relaxed interaction between team members. Photos by Terry Young - Air Aspects
One space that is probably the least "your grandfather's office," is the game area, featuring foosball and a shuffleboard table. Here the firm's team members can take a break and decompress, or discuss business in a more-relaxed environment.
"We're very excited about this new location," Stephen says, beaming. "Our Norfolk office had been located on Boush Street since 1988. The firm is more than seven times larger than it was then. You always design an office space with future growth in mind. This office has about 30 percent more space to accommodate long-term growth. Our new location also offers conveniences to our clients. We're more accessible from the freeway; there's convenient parking directly across the street, and we have a drop slot in the front door downstairs. Now, if clients need to get papers to us, they don't have to worry about coming here during business hours. They can drop them off to us at any time- 24/7. So far, our clients have been as excited as we are about the new office. Their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. Given the compliments we've received so far, it's turned out better than we ever imagined."
"We continue to do a significant portion of our business in Virginia Beach," Stephen adds. "We've been there since 1995, and we just recently renewed the lease on our offices there. What we've learned from experience over the years is that Virginia Beach people want to meet in Virginia Beach, and Norfolk people want to meet in Norfolk. With this new office, our presence in Norfolk has been brought up to the quality of our presence in Virginia Beach."
What most impresses Ali E. Gunbeyi- Vice President and COO of Jones CPA Group- is way in which the design of the new Norfolk office aligns with the firm's mission and overall philosophy.
"Because of the way our old offices were configured, our team members couldn't collaborate," Ali explains. "We wanted a more-open concept so that we could share ideas more easily. In return, that exchange of ideas means better service for our clients. That was really important to us. Obviously, being in downtown Norfolk was also important, but when Stephen and I began making plans for this office, what was truly most important was that we have a space that facilitated people working together."
"Generally, people think of an accountant as someone who just keeps track of numbers," Ali continues. "But there is so much more to this work than that. We can look at a company's numbers and help the owners decide where they want to take it in the future. Modern accountants are forward-looking. This space is important because it aligns with our vision of the future."
The mural on the fourth floor of Jones CPA Groupâ€™s new downtown Norfolk
shows the cityâ€™s bustling waterfront a century ago.
Photos by Terry Young - Air Aspects
"We help people become more successful, more profitable," Stephen adds. "For instance, if a business has multiple divisions and one is less profitable than the others, we can help. Not long ago, we were working with a $5 million company in just that situation. Ali is one of the best in the business, and he noticed that the company had a loss in one division. He was able to help turn that situation around."
"Overall, conversations are imperative- whether it's a new business starting from the ground up or an established business," Ali asserts. "Under the new tax laws, there are a lot of new benefits for business owners. But established businesses may have other questions. Should they hire another person? Should they invest in new property- in another building? Regardless of the stage in which a business may now find itself, business owners want to talk. Yes, they could try to find answers by doing an online search, but ultimately, they want to have a personal conversation with someone who has an in-depth understanding of their particular situation. This is why we say that talking is important."
Just as the Norfolk office of Jones CPA Group is "not your grandfather's office," so the accountant of today- and of the future- is "not your grandfather's accountant."
"I think future clients will require a CPA to be more like a business partner, offering them advice and not just reacting to their numbers," Ali predicts. "The future of the industry will be clients and their CPAs working together. We can help a client grow their business every step of the way. The central question that is always before us is, how can we make you successful? We've always taken that approach, and now we're working even more closely with clients. It is exciting that our physical presence now aligns with that new reality."
Jones CPA Group
120 Atlantic Street
Norfolk , VA 23510
100 Constitution Drive, Suite 200
Virginia Beach, VA 23462