Ned Sheffield has been an accountant for more than 40 years, and he’s now serving as President and Managing Principal at Jackson Thornton. The firm is also a longstanding fixture of accounting in Montgomery, celebrating a century this year. While both are impressive numbers, it takes more than his profession’s facts and figures to add up and equal fulfillment for Sheffield. For him, it’s always been about people.
What drove you to choose a career in accounting?
As I was evaluating life after high school, I thought about my older brother. He had a job with one of the “big four” accounting firms and seemed successful. I always looked up to him, so I thought, “I want to do that.” It didn’t hurt that my dad, who was a land surveyor, had drug me with him through swamps and briar patches and hornet nests growing up, which made me think, “There has got to be something better than this!”
How long have you been with Jackson Thornton?
I came here straight out of Auburn University in 1978.
What are your main roles in the firm?
I am in charge of all administrative functions for the firm, the strategic planning and the talent management, which means making sure we have the right people. That’s really important because if you have the right people, you can do anything.
What does it mean to you to work for a company that’s been successful for 100 years?
Everyone here is very proud of our century of longevity. It’s difficult to keep everything going so long with the multiple changes and trends. You have to stay on top of that and handle the transitions between generations, and we’ve done that well.
What sets Jackson Thornton apart?
We try to emphasize the people side of things; I like to say we are in the people business. Your clients have to like you, and you have to know how to communicate well with them. Your staff needs to like you and each other, and you need to be able to communicate well with them too. So again, it’s all about the people on your team and how that team works together. We are also focused on providing our staff with the tools they need to be successful and do a great job for our clients, so we do a lot of continuing training.
What changes have you seen in your business?
Technology is really impacting us, but that’s like all businesses. The data that we are getting now is more digital-based, allowing for more analysis. And that’s good because our clients want more advice from us than in the past. Accountants used to be score keepers; today our clients want us to also be a coach. We are moving into more of a consulting role now.
What do you love about your job?
I keep coming back to people, but that’s what I enjoy, the inter-action with partners, staff and clients. I like that we have a lot of young folks here. I like their energy and their fresh ideas.
What are your thoughts on the city’s current business climate?
The Chamber and the City work extremely hard to give us the best environment here to succeed. And the Chamber recently took such a good, strong stand on our public schools. Once again, it’s people. If we want the right people here, we have to create a great place to work but also a great place to live and play. I know the Chamber recognizes that, and that’s why there has been such emphasis put on public education. We have great leaders trying to make this place better for all businesses and to enhance overall quality of life, and they are doing a good job. When we have young recruits here, and we show them the city, we get positive feedback from what they see.
Where do you hope your firm is in 10 years?
We want to continue to expand our footprint, primarily in the Southeast, so I hope we just keep moving forward and keep growing.
What are your interests outside of work?
I love Auburn sports and love spending time at Lake Martin. And I enjoy spending time with my family, including four grandkids. My son, William, works here with me. My daughter and her family recently moved to Long Island, and that’s too far, so we miss them. And I like to stay involved in the community. That’s important. I just rolled off the Chamber board and serve on the Committee of 100.