15 Minutes With… Moss Adams’ Ashley Jacobsen and Janell Attebery
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (September 19, 2023)
Growing with resilience – after 110 years serving industries in all 50 U.S. states as one of the country’s largest public accounting firms, Moss Adams LLP knows a thing or two about staying relevant, managing change, and identifying opportunities.
For the agribusiness industry, that has meant foresight in strategically planning for the future: confronting ever-changing legislation, environmental and safety concerns, and international issues; and improving efficiencies and reducing waste. Internally for Moss Adams, this has meant honing their programs on diversity in the workplace, which they have had a focus on since 2008 when they announced their Forum W program with the mission to attract, develop, retain, and advance talented women.
As an extension of that program, Moss Adams launched the GroWth series in January 2016, and was recognized for its success in 2016 with the Innovation in Women’s Programming Award. The award recognizes businesses that continually develop new, innovative programs to promote and support advancement of women in the accounting profession. The Moss Adams GroWth series targets high-potential senior managers and helps them establish the building blocks they’ll need to succeed – developing their brand, creating high-performing teams, and building out their business networks. It also leads to greater numbers of women partners, such as Ashley Jacobsen, who went through the program, and Janell Attebery, who served as a coach for the program. Both are now partners in the firm.
The company also has been recognized with other accolades: 100 Best Companies, Working Mother Magazine; Best Accounting Firms for Women, Accounting Move Project; and Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces, Dave Thomas Foundation.
WIA Today sat down with Jacobsen and Attebery to get more details.
1). Tell us about your journey at Moss Adams.
Ashley Jacobsen [AJ]: I joined Moss Adams as a senior manager in May of 2016 when the firm came to Fresno, which is where I was born and raised. Prior to working at Moss Adams, I worked for a big four accounting firm, one of the largest in the world. I was admitted to the partnership at Moss Adams in January 2022. I was a participant in the GroWth series, which was particularly helpful in thinking about our personal brand, building our team, and also building our business and growth opportunities in the market. I also participated in our boot camp Leadership Program, which prepares us for admission to the partnership and understanding the strategic focus of the firm.
Editor’s Note: Jacobsen received Moss Adams’ Working Mom of the Year Award in 2017, just a year after joining the firm, and was featured in Working Mother magazine. Said Jacobsen, “In a sector that has historically been a very male-dominated field, oftentimes in boardrooms I'm the only woman in the room. That’s where I had the benefit of growing up in my professional career under strong female leaders, and I thought, ‘if they can do it, so can I’.” Jacobsen also received the Employee Award for Inclusion and Diversity in November 2020.
Janell Attebery [JA]: I joined in 2019 when the firm I was a partner at made the decision to combine with Moss Adams. I come from a farming family and am passionate about serving clients in the ag industry. My former firm specialized in agribusiness, and combining with Moss Adams was a perfect complement to help expand the food, beverage, and agribusiness practice. Since joining Moss Adams, I’ve had the opportunity to help lead and grow the agribusiness practice through developing and training our team, expanding service offerings to our clients, and bringing in new clients.
Joining as a partner, you must quickly become familiar with what the firm offers to their employees so you can help guide careers. One of the first programs I heard about was Forum W and I was instantly impressed with the firm's focus on developing and retaining women. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the GroWth series but constantly heard others talk about how much they gained from the program. When presented with the opportunity to become a coach for the program, I jumped on it. I enjoy sharing how I navigate my career journey being a dedicated partner whose number one priority are my two kids and husband.
2). Women now represent over half of Moss Adams’ talent base. Can you tell me how that is a competitive advantage?
[AJ]: If you look at the accounting profession as a whole, we do have more female partners than the national average, and three of the 10 partners at this location are women. We are proud of that, but there is still work to be done. That’s why we continue to have the GroWth series and other programs offered by Forum W, which is focused on providing opportunities for growth and learning for women. We also provide opportunities through our Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Group, for which I am co-champion. And fortunately, we have talented women who take advantage of these opportunities, who help raise the firm to new heights and allow us to increase representation throughout the firm. Additionally, public accounting is a relationship business, and in my experience, and studies have shown, that women are very attuned to developing relationships and being aware of the needs of others. That said, I think it's very important to have a team that includes both feminine and masculine energy and perspectives, because that diverse perspective is only going to make the team stronger. By having women at our table, I do think that we're able to better relate to the needs of our clients.
[JA]: I have been involved with recruiting for over 15 years. I remember when the shift started to happen with the pool of students coming out of college. For so long, the majority of potential hires were male. That slowly started to shift until it was half, and now there seems to be more women candidates. Having women leaders at the firm is important when recruiting as it can help attract top talent and it shows that the firm values diversity and inclusivity. Moss Adams has worked hard to retain talented women. It is also very important to have a diverse group of people that make up our client service teams since our clients are also focused on diversity in the workforce and that extends to their working business relationships.
3). What current diversity programs are in progress at Moss Adams?
[AJ]: We have different programming to meet the needs of the particular office as we've been very strategic in terms of how we structured our business resource groups like Forum W. We also have regional leadership, and a national board as well. Each layer is intended to build more of a community to connect people. As you move up the organization, it's more looking at, okay, how do we make sure that our diverse workforce is getting the opportunities and growth that they need to excel in our business?
[JA]: Forum W may have been one of the first Business Resource Groups (BRG) the firm started but, since then, many more have been added. Moss Adams has dedicated BRGs for Asian, Black, Disability, LatinX, Pride, Racial Equity, and Veterans. We have an Inclusion and Diversity board that created an Inclusion and Diversity Strategy to make sure the firm is continuing to promote belonging.
4). What trends have you seen in agriculture at your practice, and with the food and agribusiness companies you advise?
[AJ]: I've had clients who are now certified B corps who are much more focused on environmental impact. And ESG concerns are more prevalent as well as automation and AI technologies. Due to critical needs, such as in California for example, where they eliminated the exemption for ag workers from the 40-hour workweek. So that's been really difficult for agribusinesses to adapt to because harvest doesn't fit nicely into a 40-hour workweek. Fortunately, companies have pivoted quickly and maneuvered change and solutions in different ways.
[JA]: We are seeing consolidation in the industry, with larger companies acquiring smaller ones or private equity firms buying into ag companies or purchasing farmland. There is a lot of focus on succession planning and determining whether the next generation will continue with the family business. We also are seeing our clients invest in technology to improve efficiency and productivity. And there is a growing focus on sustainability.
5). You are billed as “difference-makers” for your clients. How has your business adjusted in the face of recent economic and workplace uncertainties?
[AJ]: We have a strategic goal of being client-centric advisors. We want to know our clients and their operations, we want to know the owners and any other stakeholders, as well as their personal financial situation and needs and strategic goals. We seek to serve our clients holistically and that involves a lot of different specialists. And that is where Moss Adams is uniquely positioned. With nearly 4,500 employees and one the largest accounting firms in the country, we have lots of specialty lines, such as in sustainability or cybersecurity, where we can deliver depth of knowledge, while also retaining that relationship. We also are unique in that we have identified food, beverage, and agribusiness as one of our industry groups, rather than lumping it in with manufacturing or CPGs.
As far as navigating the recent economic and workplace uncertainties, I think the biggest change came from the pandemic. I've been in public accounting for 20 years, and throughout the first part of my career, the mantra was always, “we don't know how we're gonna get it done. But we always do”. The pandemic was an opportunity for us to reset and recognize that our people were working really hard, and to establish more reasonable expectations and be more flexible with boundaries, like implementing firm closure weeks, to reduce the level of burnout.
[JA]: We continue to focus on our strategies that we have set in motion, while realizing the importance of being flexible to adapt to changes in our market conditions. In times of uncertainties, we find that open communication with our internal team and our clients is extremely important to help build trust and maintain relationships.
6). Moss Adams is sponsoring the 2023 WIA Summit, how does that fit in with your mission?
[AJ]: We're super excited to attend. Based on my reading about it, one of the top benefits is the networking opportunity with women leaders in agribusiness from across the value chain. There's just such power in that. For women to have an opportunity to connect with peers from throughout the country and have that shared experience to learn how they're handling different issues. This Summit is a great opportunity for connection, and really allows women to develop and further build relationships to use as sounding boards and perspective as they're doing their job, and that’s a very powerful opportunity. And at Moss Adams, food, beverage, and agribusiness is one of our largest areas, and we recognize that women are more and more influential in this space so if we can foster more relationships by attending the Summit, this is the place for us to be.
[JA]: Moss Adams is committed to leading, connecting, and mentoring female executive leaders. Moss Adams is also a top firm in the agricultural industry with many women that play a large part in its success. Sponsoring the Summit was a perfect opportunity to connect with women leaders in the ag industry.