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In January 2016, Jason Gilbert became a partner at California-based Armanino LLP, 10 years after walking in the door as a 24-year-old staff accountant. His rise took the usual hard work and talent, but he clinched the partnership spot by getting creative―and building an audit niche in real estate crowdfunding. Little did he know, that pursuing this niche would uncover a much greater opportunity — greater visibility within his firm and building a new segment of its business.
Rising star at a rising firm
This innovative path to partnership started early in Gilbert’s career at the fast-growing CPA firm, when he began working with mortgage pool clients. Fascinated by the real estate lending sector, he soon set about becoming an expert. He absorbed information from clients and others in the industry, and he found a mentor in Josh Nevarez, a young audit partner who headed up Armanino’s mortgage pool and private equity fund practices. “Josh was a great role model for me, in terms of the vast industry knowledge he’d built and his commitment to his niches,” Gilbert said.
As he gained experience and moved up the ladder, Gilbert also honed his leadership skills. He utilized the firm’s many career development resources, served on its Staff Advisory Board and sought out increasing client responsibilities―earning himself a reputation as a leader. While still a staff, he established himself as the #2 person in the sizeable private equity fund practice, which focuses on real estate.
Recognizing an opportunity
In 2014, Gilbert noticed a growing buzz about crowdfunding and realized that Armanino was an ideal fit for the emerging niche. The firm knew real estate lending inside and out, and they’d also worked with one of the largest peer-to-peer lending companies, giving the firm credibility around crowdfunding. “I felt like we had a perfect message to take to those peer-to-peer platforms and marketplace lenders that were starting to pop up everywhere,” Gilbert said.
By then a senior manager, he also saw that crowdfunding was a way to set himself apart from other candidates on the firm’s partnership track. But to go after the new business, he needed the support of the partners. This turned out to be no small task, even at Armanino, which is known for being entrepreneurial. Some partners didn’t think there was enough potential to pursue crowdfunding, while others were hesitant because it was such a new field.
Patience pays off
Gilbert put his new niche on the back burner while he continued to serve his many existing clients, but he didn’t give up on it. “I was patient about the crowdfunding opportunity,” he said. “I stayed focused on my clients, but I kept my eyes and ears open to what was going on in the crowdfunding space.”
Things changed in early 2015, when he read about a list of 75 real estate platforms that had registered with the SEC. He tracked down the list and showed it to some partners, who this time saw the potential. They backed Gilbert’s proposal and pulled in the marketing team, who helped him create and execute a targeted sales campaign.
He was right about the firm being a fit for the niche, and he got callbacks from a whopping 25 platforms, all looking for a CPA who understood crowdfunding. Business development partner Dean Quiambao, who was heavily involved in the sales campaign, said that Gilbert quickly learned how to engage prospects and generate revenue for the firm, both inside and outside the audit department. “He displayed tremendous growth in vision from call 1 to call 25,” Quiambao said. “That showed the partnership that Jason could be expected to drive future growth for the firm and should easily be a partner.”
Building a new team
As Gilbert started to bring in crowdfunding business, the firm also stepped in to help him take care of the new clients. “More than anything, the fact that the other partners stood behind me and made sure I had resources to service these clients―that support―was instrumental in my success,” he said.
Of course, this success also meant some new challenges. Because he was spending so much time on crowdfunding, taking care of existing client relationships and deadlines kept his plate very full. On top of that, he had to make time for ongoing discussions with the firm’s partners as he made his pitch for promotion. “It was an extremely hard year, easily as hard as my first year as a senior,” Gilbert said.
Although he talked to many real estate platforms that weren’t a good fit for the firm, he ultimately brought on six new clients from the list, which raised his profile dramatically. “Those results definitely put me on the map and gave me the opportunity to put myself at the forefront of partner discussions,” he said.
Reaching a milestone
That visibility paid off in late 2015 with the promotion Gilbert had been working toward steadily since day one at Armanino. “From the first time I walked in the building, I wanted to make partner, and I thought there was no reason I couldn’t get myself to that level,” he said.
This achievement doesn’t mean he’s now going to sit back and relax. With one milestone behind him, Gilbert is characteristically focused on continuing to grow his niche. “The end goal isn’t just to make partner,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s all about being a successful partner.”