Kyle Bickhart

COO of The Ohio Society of CPAs

As Chief Operations Officer of The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA), Kyle Bickhart, CPA, employs a leadership philosophy of a One Team approach to craft a strategic plan for the organization that is focused and actionable. Bickhart guides his team to find effective, customer-centric ways to support Ohio’s 85,000 finance and accounting professionals.

Bickhart has more than 20 years of experience working as a CPA that includes in experience in public accounting for a Big 4 firm, as well as corporate finance for multiple Fortune 500 companies. These experiences have all contributed to the entrepreneurial spirit he employs today.

Since joining OSCPA in late 2016, Bickhart has proven himself to be a disrupter for positive change. Among his many contributions, Bickhart changed the organizational structure from a traditional association model to a for-profit business model. He also transitioned the organization from an ideation organization to a data-driven organization, identifying member and customer engagement wins, and leaning into those areas for focus and growth of the organization.

A past Board Chairman of North Market Development Authority, Bickhart had the unique opportunity to lead the 145-year-old Columbus public market into an expansion strategy that includes a 10K square foot addition to the market featuring a 30+ story mixed-use building that will break ground this fall.

Bickhart seized on the opportunities the pandemic environment created by reaching out to CPAs and business leaders to listen to their challenges, needs and successes to ensure the products and services that OSCPA provides are in alignment with the community’s ever-changing business needs.

Where did the idea for The Ohio Society of CPAs come from?

The Ohio Society of CPAs was established more than one hundred years ago to represent the interests of Ohio’s CPAs. Today, OSCPA represents 85,000 CPAs and related business professionals who are the strategic financial advisers to Ohio’s leading businesses. Our members work in public, private and not-for-profit organizations of every size and sector. Together, we work to engage in healthy dialogue with business leaders and policymakers to build a stronger profession and advocate for a more competitive business climate in Ohio. In addition, OSCPA advocates for and provides talent development solutions for our CPAs to position them as trusted business advisers.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me is a mixture of meetings with our team as well as with members and business leaders. First, I am responsible for challenging our team in achieving a series of small wins towards the execution of our strategic plan. Second, I lead our business development team in meeting with members and business leaders to ensure that our path is resonating with them. It has been eye-opening to see how many of our members and customers are unaware of our products and services. Our team is focused on building awareness, engagement, and experience in everything we do. You cannot have an experience without engagement, and you cannot have engagement without awareness!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I learned long ago to surround myself with talented people who bring a wide variety of skills and talents to the table. My role is to provide the environment and guidance to allow our team to create solutions to our members’ most pressing needs. Our focus has evolved from what our members should do to what they will do. It’s gratifying to see the marked improvement in how our members and customers are engaging with us.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The changing work environment and its implications for talent acquisition and development is something that intrigues me. COVID accelerated the move to a hybrid workplace, but it really has opened doors for many businesses, including ours. It has forced us to think differently about the technology we use, the physical footprint we have, the way we onboard people, the way we recruit and develop our team, and so much more. And we’re monitoring how the long-standing in-person model for a client-facing work environment is evolving and its impact on the accounting and finance profession.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The most important habit is my daily morning dog walk. I use those 30 minutes to not only improve my health by getting my steps in, but also to plan my day. It is uninterrupted time for me to ideate, problem solve and identify questions for our team.

What advice would you give your younger self?

My best advice to my younger self would be to schedule time to determine more efficient ways to complete assignments. I worked so many hours when I was early in my career. As I have matured, I have learned to invest the time upfront to make processes more efficient to reduce the administrative effort going forward. It is easy to say there is no time when you are really busy. When you don’t invest that time upfront, you will never free up the time to do and try other things!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

While there are a growing number of people who agree with me that the accounting and finance profession has made little progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion over the last 20 years, there are still a large number who don’t believe it is a challenge worth addressing. There have been a lot of feel-good efforts to advance DE&I in the business community. However, many individuals do not see the considerable benefits of creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace. Yet the research on the topic is clear: organizations that have a greater degree of gender and ethnic diversity are more innovative and profitable. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey found that 93% of respondents believe a sense of belonging drives organizational performance. And McKinsey and Company’s report on “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters” found that organizations with diversity of gender are 25% more likely to generate higher profits than their non-diverse peers and organizations that are ethnically diverse are 36% more likely to be generate higher profits than their non-diverse peers. As our nation becomes increasingly multi-cultural, our profession needs to evolve to better reflect the clients and communities we serve. Creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is not without its challenges and we have learned through our efforts in this area that we need to meet people where they are. DE&I work is truly a journey, not a destination. Our goal is to make little steps forward that eventually result in larger wins.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I regularly work on perfecting my elevator pitch for OSCPA. You never know who you are going to meet and the opportunity it may have for our organization. The key is to thread the pitch naturally into a conversation and seize opportunities that present themselves. When we can perfect our pitch, we help inform others about what we do AND define why they should invest their time, energy, and money in our organization.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

It may seem overly simplistic, but the best strategy I have implemented is practicing the fine art of saying no and encouraging our team to do the same. This has been a game-changer for our organization. Everyone on our team has been asked to practice saying no to initiatives that do not advance our goals. When we can get focused on the activities that help us create and deliver value for our members and customers, we’re able to say no to things that don’t add value, freeing us up to say yes to the things that do.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

If there is one thing you need to become comfortable with as an entrepreneur, it is failure. I have had plenty of failures in my career and honestly, I’ve learned more from my them than my successes. One failure that taught me a lot was an initiative we launched to encourage CPAs in corporate accounting to join our organization by inviting them to try one of our signature events for free. In concept, it seemed like a good idea: provide 3 hours of free CPE and learning to non-members—something our members are required to have for licensure—with the goals to help them see what OSCPA has to offer and encourage them to join. The cost and effort were minimal because we used a program that had already been created and held it at our headquarters. The program ultimately did not attract as many prospects as we had hoped, but not because the content wasn’t valuable or that OSCPA didn’t have a lot to offer to this market segment. It failed because we didn’t understand a key challenge for this audience: lack of employer support for professional association membership. I worked with our team to take the lessons we learned from that effort and pivot to a new model for corporate CPAs that focuses less on membership and more on providing them with much-needed access to quality training. Known as the Corporate Learning Passport, this pilot program is now successfully engaging new CPAs and related professionals that we would not have been able to connect with through our typical membership products.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are likely organizations already offering this, but I think a consultative service that works with a business to help determine its ideal work environment and organizational structure to enhance retention and strengthen culture would be a lucrative and in-demand business. So many companies are struggling with what is right for their business. There are so many factors that make each company unique, including their business model, culture, physical space layout, lease terms and geographical location. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I’ve spent recently was the donation I made to Pelotonia—an annual cycling/fundraising event in Columbus, Ohio established to fund innovative cancer research— in support of a friend’s ride. He invited me to his 50th birthday party and suggested that, in lieu of gifts, we donate to his ride. It was funny as I was not sure what I was going to bring as a gift. It selfishly took the pressure out of figuring out what to get him and allowed me to do my part to help find a cure for cancer. It also enabled me to support Pelotonia, an organization that has done so much to bring the Columbus community together for a worthy cause.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use the Office 365 suite of services. There are so many fantastic tools that help us manage every aspect of our business. From the big three—Word, PowerPoint, and Excel—to Teams, OneNote, Power BI and SharePoint, Office 365 is a powerful, comprehensive software solution that is revolutionizing how we collaborate, innovate, and execute. If I had to choose just one of those applications, I would choose Power BI. It has transformed how we’re using our data to drive decision making. Power BI helps us decipher member and customer engagement data and translate those insights into actionable ideas that help us enhance the value we’re delivering.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A book that is top of mind but not new is the Art of Saying No. It is a constant battle to strike the right balance of innovation and maintaining focus. How to say no to say yes is truly and art and is something that you need all staff to be able to do to be successful.

What is your favorite quote?

One of my favorite quotes is “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”- Napoleon Hill. One of the things we have learned over the last few years is to work on transformation in a phased approach and use pilots to be able to be agile in determining how to roll something out to the masses successfully.

Key Learnings:

  • Practice the fine art of saying no to things that do not add value to allow you to say yes to the things that do.
  • Surround yourself with smart people, give them the resources and guidance to do their jobs, and then get out of their way and let them make things happen.
  • Determine your pitch so you can inform others of what you do but also remind yourself why you give your all to your organization.
  • Analyze your engagement data to better understand your business successes, which may lead you to your next successful product or service.
  • Learn from your failures as they may provide a path to your next great success.