Jim Tencza said he didn’t come to Louisville to stay in Louisville. But after arriving here for college in the 1980s, he’s remained here and built an impressive career in the city.
The original plan was to get back to Chicago, Tencza said in a recent interview. That’s where he was raised — on the city’s south side — and where all of his family lived.
He attended Bellarmine University and graduated in 1989. He initially joined the now-defunct Arthur Andersen LLP office in Louisville out of college with hope that he would be able to work his way back to Chicago, where Arthur Andersen was headquartered.
But then the Enron scandal happened.
Arthur Andersen was never able to recover and went out of business. The company —the auditing firm for Houston-based Enron — was caught destroying documents that were relevant to myriad investigations in to Enron’s fraudulent practices.
Luckily, Tencza was able to get a job with EY’s Louisville office. But EY, then known as Ernst & Young, is headquartered in London.
“Once I started working, I quickly realized that Louisville is a better city to start a career and a family life,” Tencza said. “I fell in love with Louisville.”
After four years as audit partner with Ernst & Young, the company wanted to rotate him out to another office. Tencza said he could have been moved to Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Detroit.
It was at that point he decided to move from an international firm to a regional one — Dean Dorton Allen Ford PLLC. He was hired as director of assurance services in 2009 and then was named as Louisville market leader in October 2017.
According to our 2018 list of the area’s largest accounting firms, Dean Dorton ranks No. 10 with 30 local CPAs and a total local workforce of 83 employees.
He said what makes Louisville a great place to start and sustain a career is its size. The city, he said, is small enough of a town that you can get well-connected with business and other local leaders, but big enough to offer many opportunities.
Outside of his career, he has served on the board of directors for Trinity High School, where his children attended school, and as a trustee for Bellarmine. He no longer holds these posts.
“If you want to do those things, it’s pretty easy to do it,” Tencza said of community service and engagement in Louisville. “In a big city like Chicago, it’s not so easy.”
Also, as a public accountant probably should note, Tencza found the cost of living attractive. Professionally, he’s benefited from staying in town for decades and engaging in nonwork-related activities.
“Through all those networks and connections — it’s how business is done,” Tencza said.
In accounting, he said a company’s CFO and CEO will go to the firms where they have a personal connection or some other trusting relationship, despite the competition from other competent firms. When a firm is asked to be involved with sensitive or confidential business — especially with finances or taxes — Tencza said relationships are especially powerful.
While the importance of personal relationships has remained constant, the ascendance of digital and internet-based technology has fundamentally altered the day-to-day function of his work and business.
“I remember in the first year I was with Arthur Andersen, we got our first fax machine, and we thought this was the greatest thing in the world,” Tencza said.
Now, accounting firms have to offer clients the best software and applications to not simply keep up with industry trends, but to keep or deepen services they offer to customers. Firms are increasingly creating technology themselves or paying other organizations handsomely to create it to keep clients from going other firms for financial and accounting-related services.
With the explosion of technology in the last 30 years, accounting firms also have expanded services to include risk-management and offer more consulting and advisory services in increasingly diverse fields.
Tencza said about a third of his firm’s business is in consulting and is increasing its business in risk management.
“We can help them make better decisions and better run their business,” Tencza said. “We’re not just in there making sure the numbers are correct.”
Tencza took some time to answer a few more of our questions:
How would you describe your leadership style?
What was it that attracted you to public accounting?
I first became interested in accounting when I took a class in high school. I found it interesting, and it came easy to me.
While in college, I realized that public accounting is primarily interacting with people, helping businesses improve and working with numbers. I knew then that I wanted to spend my entire career in public accounting.
What about your work inspires you?
What is your number 1 business-related book recommendation?
“Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court” by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. This book has many great tips and lessons that translate to the business world.
If you weren’t an accountant, in what other line of business could you have found yourself?
I would be an athletics director for a college or university. I believe this position requires someone who has a passion for sports, likes working with student-athletes and coaches, is a good businessman, is good with numbers and has good communication skills.
By the way, Vince Tyra (interim athletics director at the University of Louisville) is doing a great job, and I am not looking to replace him.
What was your very first job?
My first job was working in a pizzeria in Chicago. I started in the summer before my seventh grade year and worked there for three years.
I cleaned dishes and ran errands initially, but I eventually answered phones, waited on customers and made pizzas.
Who is your professional role model?
Nolan Allen. He was an outstanding accountant, businessman and family man who gave a great deal back to our community. I am proud to be an owner in the accounting firm that bears his name.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
At Dean Dorton, we have a fairly flexible work arrangement that helps me in balancing my work and my personal life. I also have the pleasure of working with many clients that I consider friends, so work doesn’t always feel like work.
What is your go-to food/drink spot in town?
I do not necessarily have one “go-to” spot; however, my family and I can often be found at Rumors, Fiesta Time and Karem’s Grill & Pub.
Any major fandoms?
I am originally from Chicago, so I am a long-time die hard Cubs, Bears and Blackhawks fan. At the college level, I bleed red — #L1C4.