Originally an exclusive with NBJ.

By Ian Bradley – Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

CEO and managing shareholder of LBMC PC Jeff Drummonds announced this week that he’ll step down from his role at the end of the year. But the transition to his replacement, James Meade Jr., has been underway for some time. 

In an exclusive interview with the Business Journal, both Drummonds and Meade discussed what the transition has looked like thus far, how the company has grown and how they hope to see it grow in the future, as well as the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. 

Meade officially starts as CEO on Jan. 1, but Drummonds will be staying on to help Meade transition to his new role and focus on LBMC’s strategic growth efforts. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you decide this is the right time to step down?

Drummonds: We’d had co-CEOs for 25 years prior [to my taking the job], and they laid a tremendous foundation for the firm. One of the things we’ve focused on as part of the evolution of the firm is to have good governance and good succession plans. We thought part of that was having terms for the CEO. I am 61 and have said pretty consistently that I would intend to retire in May of 2025. And that’s been on the books, really, since I took the CEO role. So my four-year, second-term concludes at the end of this calendar year. So this has been really a year in the making. …

I’m a pretty big believer in really two things: You don’t try to fix something that’s not broken. But at the same time, a fresh perspective on things is very healthy for an organization.

What has preparing Jim for the role looked like?

Drummonds: One of the first big steps is to, and I hate to use this term, is work your way out of your day job. We do not want this role to be a “nights and weekends” type role. You need to be able to have the time to do the things that we want to see get accomplished. Jim has been a long-time shareholder at our firm and has a lot of responsibilities already on his plate. So part of that is deciding what you continue to do, what do you get other people involved in and what you decide you need to transition [to someone else]. That’s been ongoing for the last year and will continue probably for the next 12 months. It’s not a “snap your finger, I’m not going to do any of that anymore.”

How has Nashville changed since you became CEO, and how have you helped the company keep pace with that change?

Drummonds: I think there’s a couple of things that are mostly obvious. The business landscape in Nashville has changed tremendously in [my time as CEO] and I think more during that period than it did the previous 15.

You’ve got a much deeper bench of available service providers in Nashville — in banking, in law firms, in accounting firms. That creates competition, it gives us a deeper bench of expertise and all of that is healthy for our firm and for the business community. Certainly that growth has been accelerated in the last three or four years. So how you create visibility, how you create relationships — all of that’s changed quite significantly in the last decade.

Are there any moments or accomplishments from your time as CEO that you’re particularly proud of?

Drummonds: There’s a couple of things. I always get the greatest enjoyment in this business from seeing other people be successful, whatever that definition of success is for them. Going back almost to a decade or so, we’ve doubled the size of the firm. We’ve probably had I bet 30 new owners in the firm, so seeing the impact on them and their families. …

We’ve had a number of people leave here that have been extremely successful in joining other companies and creating growth there and continuing relationships with us as clients and continuing to walk hand-in-hand with us. I think that’s been the No. 1 thing — the number of people the firm has been able to impact.

One other thing that stands out that that we’ve gotten done in the last year or two, we’ve always talked about wanting to make a really positive impact on our clients and our team. But we’ve had more of a focus on a positive impact on our communities as well. That really probably started during the pandemic, and a little before. We created the LBMC Foundation, that’s really being led by our team members. They’re deciding what we want to support, what are the focus areas for clients, and being involved in the community. And that’s been a great thing to watch.

You’re stepping down as CEO but you’re not stepping away from the company. What’s next?

Drummonds: That’s a little bit to be determined still. We’ve got some pretty significant growth initiatives that I’ll be working hand-in-hand with Jim to get accomplished in the next 18 months. But really my No. 1 goal is to support Jim and his leadership team in any way that I can and to help make that transition be absolutely seamless and successful as it can be.

What does the rest of the year look like as the transition draws closer?

Drummonds: Any time you go through a transition, you have to find the appropriate time frame. Jim and his leadership team have to be prepared to hit the ground running Jan. 1, but not have the transition period be so long that you feel like you’re treading water. So finding that balance is tricky. Obviously, part of getting that right is bringing Jim into significant decisions with long-lasting implications and making sure we are working as a team to get through that and to get the value of me being in the seat for some period of time. We also want to get Jim’s perspective and make sure those decisions fit with his vision of the firm and what he wants to get accomplished. I told someone else that in many cases there’s more than two hands on the steering wheel right now.

Jim, can you tell me about your goals in taking over the company?

Meade: The industry as a whole is going through a fair amount of change. Post-covid it’s a little bit more of a virtual world … culturally, that has impacted us, I believe, in a very positive way. I think it’s made us very nimble and efficient in how we communicate and how we deliver our services. But understanding those impacts, understanding changes in technology, like what is generative AI going to do to profession – and it absolutely will and is affecting the profession and how we deliver our services – understanding that impact, understanding that we’re a global society now, so how do we take advantage of resources and markets other than just the U.S. and use those resources to help develop additional resources ahead of how we deliver services?

Then there’s the strain of staffing that this profession has, that’s endured over the last 24 months. So how do you continue to attract, develop and prepare talent for leadership, etc.?

You mentioned AI – are you planning to incorporate that into the business? It sounded like you had a bit of concern about it.

Meade: I don’t see it as much of a concern unless we turned a blind eye to it. So understanding how it can be used, I think a little bit of it’s such the new thing that everybody is asking how they can take advantage of it? What can it do for them? That’s going on in all industries. Everybody wants to talk about it. So as a profession, globally and nationally, it’s being looked at. But you also have to look at it and say, “OK, we have this resource, how do we take advantage of it to help our business?”

What has the transition looked like for you?

Meade: I’ve been on the board of directors for years and have been pretty involved with the strategy issues, significant issues that occur throughout the year, planning, vision setting. From that perspective, I’m fairly well versed up to this point. I’ve also had a significant client-facing responsibility, and I’ve been transitioning that all calendar year so that it’s all pretty much in place. I will still be client-facing to the extent I need to during the transition period, but resources have already been identified to continue that aspect of it. It’s a process and not a flip of the switch.

Are there any lessons you’ve learned from Jeff that you want to hold close as you take over?

Meade: The big takeaway is Jeff had the unenviable task of transitioning leadership from the firm’s founders. And that was probably the most difficult task that that anyone could have inherited. He did a masterful job of it and continued the success of the firm and the growth of the firm. We never missed a beat. So understanding how to effectively transition leadership in that specific role.

What do you see on the horizon? How do you plan to keep LBMC competitive as Nashville continues to grow?

Meade: From a growth perspective, like many businesses, both inside the profession and outside the profession, growth has not been the challenge — managing the growth has been the challenge and having the correct resources to address the growth. Having said that, looking five to ten years out, you can’t expect that natural, easy growth to continue. So getting ahead of that and making sure that we have a formalized strategy to address Nashville and the other markets that we’re in today and future markets that we intend to be in down the road. Having a process and dedicated business professionals to drive that growth, those are important tasks on my list, and we’re already getting that started.