by Stephen Williams TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
September 16, 2023
During his 32 years at one of the largest and premier Black-owned accounting firms in the U.S., based in Philadelphia, Michael G. Horsey worked his way up to partner and then retired at the mandatory age of 60.
Six years ago, Horsey and a partner, Kia Buckner, who worked together at Mitchell and Titus, took their decades of knowledge in the accounting business and launched their own firm, Horsey, Buckner & Heffler, a full-service firm that is majority Black-owned. It provides accounting, tax and advisory services for businesses, government entities, non-profit groups and individuals.
In a high profile case, Horsey, Buckner was hired by the city of Philadelphia, fearing theft or fraud, after a 2017 accounting report found that $33.3 million in city funds million was “missing.” The firm was able to find and resolve the discrepancy.
That is an example of the work they often do.
Horsey is chairman and chief executive officer of Horsey, Buckner. Buckner is managing partner. Horsey and Buckner, who both are certified public accountants, were also employed at what is now Pricewaterhouse Coopers, one the nation’s top major firms. Horsey also did a stint at Johnson & Johnson. For her part, Buckner has more than 20 years of experience in the profession.
“You have to build your team,” Horsey said. “It’s not just about recruitment, but it’s also about retention. You have to have a strategy to compete in the market place. You have to give people a path.”
According to Buckner, one reason they started the firm is that there are a lot of business opportunities for a firm like theirs in the city, in terms of pricing and services levels.
The partners invested their savings and landed a line of credit to launch the firm, which has a full-time staff of 10 and five part-timers, Horsey said. The firm does not report annual sales.
By contrast, Mitchell & Titus, which has been in business for about four decades, has offices in Chicago, New York and Maryland.
Since small firms don’t have the training budgets that the major firms have, Horsey said, they must rely more on younger accountants to do more work, compared with major firms. But they are partnered with staff with more experience to guide them along, he said, which provides a learning opportunity
“We developed an internship platform to recruit students,” Horsey said. “We make sure they are comfortable in our environment and give them meaningful work. I value the mentorship concept.”
It’s all about the relationships, Horsey said, that have been developed over the years.
Harold Epps, senior adviser and consultant at Bellevue Strategies, has known Horsey for 40 years and has worked with him in many different forums.
Epps said he and Horsey became close friends in 2007 when Epps became president and CEO of PRWT Services, Inc. a professional services firm — a position he held until 2015, when they were both building firms.
Horsey said Epps was a mentor to him.
“You’ve got to be tenacious,” Epps said. “As an African-American business owner, every day is going to be a tough day. They (Horsey, Buckner) have done well and continue to do well.”
Horsey continues to give back as the firm grows, he said.
“Michael is quite an example of what determination, hard work and commitment can get you,” said Epps, who was director of commerce for the city of Philadelphia from 2016 to 2020.
A graduate of Roman Catholic High School and the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, Horsey said he was well prepared. Buckner earned a bachelor’s of science in accounting at North Carolina A&T State University.
Along the way, Horsey said, the firm cultivated a strategy of attracting the best, the brightest and a diverse staff through a culture of career development, relationships and mentorship.
“Mentorship has several facets,” Buckner said. “We are taking students when they are young in college and still in high school, exposing them to the accounting profession.”
Many major firms are dominated by white males and don’t have many people of color in senior management, so many younger professionals of color are reluctant to stay, Horsey said.
According to a 2019 survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the latest data available, about 2% of CPAs are African American and about 1% of the partners at major accounting firms are African American.
“Many of the earliest Black CPAs went to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and then attended graduate school elsewhere (NYU being a common magnet), or moved north to go to University of Illinois,” said Theresa Hammond, professor of accounting at San Francisco State University’s business school. “One of the first Black CPAs, Jesse Blayton of Atlanta, taught at Atlanta University and did offer more business courses than other HBCUs,” said Hammond, author of the book, “A White-Collar Profession: African-American CPAs since 1921.” “The HBCU business curriculum expanded dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s when these jobs finally became available to Black graduates.”
Meanwhile, Buckner said she didn’t necessarily have a goal to start a business early on in her career, but definitely wanted to reach to the top of the profession.
As an African American, Buckner said, becoming partner at a major national accounting firm is like “trying to get to the top of Mount Everest with no guides or no provisions. It’s tough.”
For example, she said, you have to have mentors or people in senior management to get you on the high-profile and high-earning projects that will get you noticed.
For example, a recent podcast by the Journal of Accountancy about issues such as the lack of diversity in the profession said that there is a lack of continuing commitment to diversity by some of the major accounting firms, along with a relatively small number of African-American mentors in the business, compared to those for the white accountants.
“I always wanted to be partner,” Buckner said. “That was ingrained in me.”