Back as a young accountant fresh out of law school and working for Arthur Andersen in Houston, Tom Gibbons figured an Arkansas job interview would amount to nothing more than a “great opportunity to go duck hunting.”
He never got the chance to visit a duck blind, but his interview with the firm now known simply as Frost PLLC evidently was a good one: The trip lasted four days.
“After coming for what I hoped was going to be a couple hour visit, I ended up staying for four days and never got to hunt, but decided this was the place I wanted to be,” he said. “The firm was way more than just an accounting firm. I have never looked back or regretted that decision.”
Roughly 35 years later, Gibbons, 65, is being recognized with the 2012 Arkansas Business Lifetime Achievement Award in Accounting. It’s obvious both parties made the right call.
Gibbons said he’s been lucky to be surrounded by talented people. “People make us what we are, and the better [people] you have, the better you can be,” he said. “Plus, I have been really lucky and very fortunate to have found great people along the way, some of whom I hired and are now my partners.”
A native of small-town, central Missouri, Gibbons went to the University of Missouri to become a doctor. That track didn’t stick.
“After realizing I wasn’t dedicated enough or smart enough probably to become a brain surgeon, I took some accounting courses and liked it,” he said. “Only classes I ever had where I could turn up the stereo and work problems. Actually, tax is fun and the only thing I ever found in school that could help me personally, and that’s the way I treat clients as well.”
After Mizzou, Gibbons earned a law degree from the University of Houston but soon received a “great offer” from the local Arthur Andersen office. So accounting it would be, after all. “Go figure,” he said.
After a few years in Houston, the Little Rock offer came in 1978, and Gibbons would embark on his final move. He’s made himself right at home in central Arkansas, staying active over the years with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (he did eventually make it to that duck blind), the Arkansas State Police Foundation, the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Waner Children’s Vascular Anomaly Foundation.
Gibbons attributes his success not only to surrounding himself with good people, but to focusing on good customer service and being the kind of leader he’d want to follow.
“I’ve always believed there are two kinds of leaders: Intimidators, which is a very common style and can be successful, and there are motivators,” he said. “I hope I’m a motivator as I’ve always felt that, while both styles are and can be very successful, most people will work hard for the motivator and have respect because they want to please. While the people who work for the intimidator may work hard but work harder to find a way to get rid of that intimidator.”
Gibbons said his greatest accomplishment in a career spanning just shy of 40 years was being nominated for this lifetime achievement award by a “fierce competitor.” Gibbons added, “That’s amazing and I really do appreciate the thoughts.”
Gibbons noted many changes in the business over the course of 40 years, and thinks the biggest two may be regulation and attitude.
Gibbons thinks increased regulation has made the job less fun than it used to be. “The rules keep changing, and we are becoming more of the enforcement arm for the government rather that advocates for the people we work for,” he said. “I always felt my job was to help minimize the cost of taxes and financial burden for my clients, not help the government collect more than the fair share.”
Regarding attitude, Gibbons thinks many young people embarking on their career paths haven’t been forced to develop the same kind of work ethic as previous generations.
“Kids today grew up in a better world and have less expectation as to what it takes to be successful,” he said. Gibbons said the “really hungry kids get it and work to succeed, but the majority today expect an 8-to-5 job and really want to do little and get rewarded a lot.”
“Public accounting, like any profession, takes a lot of dedication, desire, drive and loss of social and personal freedom to be really successful,” he said. “It’s a career, not just a job. And as my favorite person used to say, ‘Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starved.’”