How to Grow Your Company Through Acquisitions With John Bly

John Bly is the Managing Partner and Regional Leader of the South Atlantic region of Aprio, a global financial consulting and CPA firm. He started his accounting firm shortly after graduating in 2004, grew it to 70 employees, and made about 15 acquisitions before merging with Aprio. John is the author of Cracking The Code: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Business Through Mergers And Acquisitions For Pennies On The Dollar. He is also the host of the Aprio Advisory podcast.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews John Bly, the Managing Partner and Regional Leader of the South Atlantic region of Aprio, about how to grow a company through acquisitions. They also discuss the lessons John learned during his early days in mergers and acquisitions, how to do due diligence and hire culturally fit employees, and the difference between small and large company acquisitions.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:18] John Bly’s entrepreneurial background and his experience starting his accounting firm
  • [09:02] How John started doing acquisitions and the mistakes he made along the way
  • [15:50] What John learned from transitioning from practicing accounting to managing companies
  • [17:46] The most impactful acquisitions John has made
  • [19:23] How to do due diligence and hire culturally fit employees
  • [22:52] The difference between small and large acquisitions
  • [25:57] What drove John to merge with Aprio?
  • [27:34] The role technology plays in mergers and acquisitions
  • [31:00] John’s advice for managing small and large organizations
  • [34:20] The peers John acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about acquisitions. How to grow your company through acquisitions from someone who’s done it many times for, in fact, over 15 times. My guest today is John Bly, he, as I said, has done over a dozen acquisitions. We’re gonna break them down for you. And I’ll tell you more about him in a moment. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:20

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:37 

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And I feel so privileged to have great conversations with people that I respect and admire and I’m curious about and today is no exception. Of course, check out our archives we got some great interviews with CEOs founders, and entrepreneurs from companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, GrubHub, you name it Redfin. They’re all in the archives. Go check it out. And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn all about what we do at 

And my guest here today, first of all, before I introduce you, John, another Jon introduced us. So Jonathan Twombly is another past guest on my podcast just recently, so check, check out his archive he was kind enough to recommend you. And John Bly, our guest here, today is a longtime entrepreneur. He’s currently a member of the Board of Directors of a large financial consulting and CPA firm called Aprio. But prior to that, he was a CPA who started his own firm shortly after graduating from school. And that was back in 2004. Put a lot of effort into it, and through about 15 different acquisitions ended up growing it to about 70 different people and then merged with this company Aprio, which now has about 2000 people working for it. So a unique successful story and an amazing ride. He’s also the author of Cracking The Code: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Business Through Mergers And Acquisitions For Pennies On The Dollar. And he also is the host of the Aprio Advisory podcast andlives in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

And John, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I love to ask people about even the CPAs even the lawyers, I asked him this question. When you were a kid, what were you like. Were you out there doing newspaper rounds? Are you doing lemonade stands, and you got some great stories about buying candy and reselling it pizza and reselling it. I love this.

John Bly 2:36

Yeah. So it’s thanks for having me, John, I’m excited to share with your guests. It’s one of those things that didn’t resonate with me until I wrote the book. I was in my early 30s. When I wrote the book, and in the I was writing it, it was very cathartic. And I called my parents and I’m like, you know, I’ve had this awakening that I was an entrepreneur from a little kid as I had to tell the stories. And they’re like, Yeah, we knew that. I’m like, Why didn’t anybody tell me like, how did I How did I get into my 30s before I realized, you know, this was a thing? So yes, I used to go I used to sell candy at school. I used to buy it at the local gas station in bulk and then resell it during the day because kids wanted snacks. I used to be sent to overnight campus one time, I went to a golf camp at Cornell overnight for five days my parents sent me with 500 I came home with over 1000 No gambling. I was I would go around door to door and ask if anybody wanted pizza that nobody wanted pizza. So I would order eight large pizzas. And everybody wanted pizza as soon as it arrived. And so I’d resell it for two or $3 a slice. I did that throughout my life as a kid I also had a paper route. So I started with 60 papers and woke up at 4:45 am By the time I was done because I kept people kept quitting around me and I was really good at it. I had a I had a cycle down on how to collect I left the bills in their mailbox at 4:45am I picked it up the next day the payment very rarely did I have to go collect and by the time I got through high school, I had over 550 papers I was delivering every morning at 4:45am and

John Corcoran 4:13

possibly on your on your on your bike or

John Bly 4:17

your car. Yeah. I got to a car, yeah. What about time I was 16 houses. It was a lot it was I was running from door to door. This is before you used to get to put it in people’s mailbox. Right? This was 30 years ago and so got to actually put it between the door slot between like a screened-in door at the worst. Which is why I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m from Albany, New York. And we would get a lot of snow. 

John Corcoran 4:43

In Albany, New York. Oh, girl,

John Bly 4:46

I’d be the first one to cut through the snow. If we got 12 inches overnight at 4:45 am I’d be the first one. It would take me the days that we would get more than six inches of snow. I was always late to school because it would add an extra hour to my morning.

John Corcoran 4:59

Bring it up It’s brutal. I don’t know how you do that getting up in the freezing cold weather. Another interesting thing, though, about you just as an observation here, you end up getting, you’re going into a vocation, like I did, I became a lawyer, not a practicing lawyer anymore. You end up studying accounting and becoming CPA. And yet, there’s this other element, I’ll call it other elements of your personality, this little more freewheeling because entrepreneurship is a little bit more gray area than the cut-and-dried world of joining a vocation. What are your kind of your reflections on the fact that you are drawn to a vocation, and yet you also have these elements, your personality that are drawn to entrepreneurship.

John Bly 5:43

That’s interesting. And now I have teenagers. So I reflect a lot on this as I think through what they’re going to do in life. And, you know, I graduated from high school in the 90s. And there was not at the time I’m aware of a degree called entrepreneurship, I didn’t even know it existed. And I grew up around people who all had two jobs. It wasn’t until college that I bet most of my college roommates, their friends, their parents were entrepreneurs, they actually owned businesses. We didn’t call them entrepreneurs at that point, we call them business owners, but they all own businesses. And that’s really when I realized that there was something else out there than just you know, getting two jobs. Had I graduated 10 years later, I probably would have had a degree in something other than the accounting profession, and I love what I do. But it would have been probably different.

John Corcoran 6:32

Yeah. And you actually almost right out of school and of starting your own CPA practice with your wife, who’s also a CPA, which I would say, depending on the market you’re in, is not a typical thing to do. A lot of times, you know in these vocations, whether it’s dentist, lawyer, CPA, Accountant, whatever, you go and work for another company, learn it for a bunch of years, and then maybe 10 years in you start your own company. So what was that like in the early days of starting your own company? Not being that long out of school? Yeah, it’s

John Bly 7:04

I was less than three years out of grad school. At the time, it seemed super easy that out in reflection, I think, what exactly what went through my mind at the age of 25, to think this is a good idea. It’s worked out 20 years later. So you know, that’s good. But I’m not suggesting a bunch of 25-year-olds quit their jobs and start something. It actually came from a classified ad, no joke, at the back of a trade rag. I was, I was a little bit frustrated with the corporate bureaucracy of like, everybody sort of gets promoted along the same level at the same time, and that just didn’t fit who I was. And, and so I was reading in the back of the Journal of Accountancy, that somebody could buy a CPA firm, I was reading the classified an I was like, what, that’s a thing, you could buy an accounting firm, and I had no idea. And that got me thinking that was really and I studied it for about a year and realize that it was a real thing. And I went through the process to figure out what it would be like to start my own small accounting firm, because at the time I was at the, at the large, the large accounting firms, the Big Four, and if you were, if you’ve ever been at the Big Four until you leave, there are really only five or six accounting firms in the world, you have no idea who the rest of the firms are.

John Corcoran 8:20

Yeah, a lot of smaller ones. And so you end up, you don’t end up acquiring right, you ended up starting your own, you didn’t start with an acquisition then right,

John Bly 8:31

did not start with an acquisition but did one very soon after, just to get to what I’ll call a core living, right, like trying to replace salary. So

John Corcoran 8:42

that’s some of the hardest days just the very early days of getting clients getting people to trust you when you barely have a shingle. Right. So

John Bly 8:51

it’s hard. The first client is really challenging, right? It’s you, they don’t know you. They don’t know anything. And so it’s really hard. No, no matter the business model, it doesn’t it’s not CPA specific. It’s hard to pick up the first clients.

John Corcoran 9:03

Right? Well, it’s hard to do your first acquisition too. So tell me about that. How did you end up doing an acquisition early on?

John Bly 9:10

So I looked at it came from I started tracking these brokers, a handful of brokers who all they did was sell, and there are still about five of them. And I’m still friends with them. One of them John is an EO Charleston member, a guy by the name of Brandon Bo, who I actually bought my first practice from, he was not in. He was not in EO at the time, and neither was I didn’t even know what it was. But we did a deal together. We still laugh about it now, because I see him fairly regularly 20 years later, and literally was checking websites regularly to see what deals might be available. These five different brokers who that’s all they did was sell accounting firms, and I ran across one that was less than three miles from my house. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. And that really started to build some momentum and so within six years 90 days of starting our practice, we were able to quickly acquire a small one a really small one.