**This ongoing series profiles exemplary business leaders who believe in leveraging technology as an accelerator to reach a heightened level of betterment.”
Since launching her career almost 20 years ago, Jen Hogencamp—Partner, Hospitality Industry Lead at Rhode Island-based BlumShapiro—has been driven by the quest for betterment. From becoming the sponsoring partner of the firm’s Women Who Lead! initiative, to establishing the firms’ hospitality practice in 2014, Jen fiercely believes in championing change.
“There is rarely something that is broken that I don’t want to, or already have, my hands on,” she proudly tells me when we meet.
Below is a glimpse of our conversation on the change she has seen in her industry over the past 20 years and how organizations can be a bit more excellent in the workplace…
To begin, tell us a little bit about your role and day-to-day at BlumShapiro.
BlumShapiro is the largest regional business advisory firm based in New England providing accounting, tax and business consulting services. We have seven offices across New England and primarily work with clients from offices in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
I have my hands on a lot of different things which means that every day is different than the one prior, and that’s why I love my job so much. I am a CPA by trade but I specialize on the auditing side. I actually started my career at one of the “Big Four” with Ernst & Young and was there for five years. At the time, a good friend from Arthur Anderson, previously one of the “Big Five” accounting firms, was working down in Rhode Island and told me of an opportunity with Sullivan & Company, a well-known CPA firm. I joined that firm six years ago, and we merged with BlumShapiro in 2013. Today, I am an Audit Partner in our Accounting and Auditing Department and I also head up the firm’s hospitality practice. I have a team I manage locally and we specialize in hospitality (including hotels and hotel management companies, food and beverage, restaurants and restaurant groups, marinas, clubs), education, technology and manufacturing, retail and distribution.
I am also involved in other aspects of the company. As the only female partner in the Rhode Island office, I spend a lot of time mentoring, training and advising. I have a lot of mentees, both male and female, and one of the most exciting parts of my job is being able to coach and mentor people as they move forward in their careers. In our profession, the career journey is very linear. You have to work your way up the path; some people love it and stay, while others hate it. I stayed in, and loved it.
I also am the sponsoring partner of Women Who Lead!, our firm’s initiative to more intentionally mentor and empower women to reach equal leadership positions within the firm. We encourage our women to share stories of how they got to where they are, discuss their challenges and milestones, and talk about goal-setting. I am also a member of BlumShapiro’s Innovation Committee.
I am involved in so many different things that are going on at BlumShapiro and that’s what keeps me there. Some days I go out with a client and am client-focused while other days I am focused on spending time with my team, finding out how their day is going and being their sounding board. It’s very exciting!
You’ve been at BlumShapiro for more than 11 years. What have been some of the greatest challenges and opportunities you have experienced as your career has evolved?
What I see in the industry is that change is a big challenge for most people. I have been in this profession for almost 20 years and though I have switched jobs a couple of times, I have had longevity at two organizations for the most part. I’ve found that when faced with change, people in general can tend to dig their heels in and say, “Absolutely not.”
I try to frame change as a positive. It’s about looking for the opportunity in the new path and realizing that even though there is change, there are also a number of doors that begin to pop open. For me personally, I like to help others overcome the fear that can come with change. It’s about helping them recognize that though change can be challenging, you have a choice with whether you will sit around, waiting on the sideline, or take action.
Another thing I have seen in the industry is that technology is forcing us to adjust how we approach our roles. On the audit side, for example, we are more driven towards big data and analytics and determining how to change to adapt to that movement. It’s about how can we provide value to our clients so that we don’t become replaced with a machine and can instead create that next best thing with regards to efficient services.
We created our Innovation Committee two years ago to focus on identifying inefficiencies in our process and workflows and pinpointing what can be better on every level. We also rely on our committee to give voice to the concerns at the employee level. There are about 10 of us on the committee who actively solicit input and ideas from our team on how we can do better and then we work on resolutions. One of the most recent projects we did was create a knowledge database so that when someone wants help with something, they can look it up through our hyperbot and find out who in the firm can help with that issue.
You have been honored—most recently by PBN in Women to Watch—for your contributions to the firm and dedication to empowering younger generations of women, among other things. What are your thoughts on modern day leadership and how effective leadership directly contributes to a company’s growth.
These days leadership is not about just being a voice for people but also having people trust your ability and your honesty. It’s about being the person people feel comfortable with and someone who will also give constructive criticism. It’s being a person that others respect. I want my team to not only want to work for me but to want to work harder for me without me having to say anything. If I get a big project I want everyone to be excited about it and work with me to get it done and know that I value their contributions.
Leadership can be labeled in so many ways but at the end of the day it’s about gaining the respect of those around you to know that you will do the right thing, you are good at what you do and they will follow you.
We have started a movement here at Trilix, educating on the importance of workplace excellence. To us, organizations are able to reach a heightened level of excellence at the point at which operations and culture fuse together to achieve organizational goals. How would you define workplace excellence?
To me, workplace excellence is when the experience among your external (clients) and internal (employees) stakeholders is superior. Everything gels together when client service is excellent and employees come to work energized, enthusiastic and ready for whatever comes their way.
On the employee side, workplace excellence is reached when your team is happy with the people they are working with and the life they have at work. They feel empowered to be successful and are being given the tools and technologies needed to be successful. If your culture is really toxic but you have great client service, it doesn’t matter; eventually the client service will go downhill as the two have to be married together. That attitude and enthusiasm people have for their jobs shows to clients and in all aspects of their work. When the wheels are greased and everything is going along smoothly, an organization can be so successful.
What is one example of when you really evolved/challenged your own definition of what it means to be excellent in the workplace?
I’ve always believed in talking to my team and finding out what they are experiencing so you can make something better. You won’t know something is broken if people are not comfortable telling you about it. I spend a lot of time with my staff asking them about the problems they see and where they have identified room for improvement. This has helped me better understand what it means to be excellent in the workplace. Excellent leaders listen to their employees’ concerns, are open to suggestions and solicit feedback because they don’t believe things should always remain the way they have been. Doing something the same old way doesn’t work anymore.
It’s also about making sure that all your employees—at any level in the organization—feel they fit in and that their voice maters. Especially when it comes to the younger generations, instead of just being staff, they want to be involved from day one. Their expectations are very high. They want to learn, and if you miss the boat you will lose these impressive young workers.
What’s next for you at BlumShapiro? What’s a top focus area ahead?
We are focused on growing in the Rhode Island market, getting our name out there and letting people know who we are and what value we can bring. We are also focused on training and helping our younger generation employees grow.
I really love what I do, and all aspects of what I do, especially the people part of it.
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