May. 23rd, 2017

Spotlight: Jerry Nichols Retires After 45 Years

After 45 years of service in public accounting with Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors, Jerry Nichols is retiring. He will continue to serve a number of clients in an Of Counsel role.

Jerry Nichols has been instrumental in helping to craft the culture and build the clientele of the firm. “Jerry has had a profound influence on our firm. He is an exceptional CPA and an even greater leader. Jerry has helped shape our people-first culture. We will miss his wisdom and guidance.” ~ Tom Prince, CPA, MBA, and Shareholder.

Jerry has also had an incredible effect on the development of team members.  Doug Schmitt, CPA, Shareholder shared, “I’ve had the pleasure of starting my career here at Hungerford Nichols and learning from Jerry Nichols. He has that ability to turn a question you are asking back to you in order for you to think on your own. He has the calming effect on situations. I try to use his methods today in my own teachings to current staff. He has been the father-type figure of this firm.”

Jerry Nichols, CPA, Shareholder

In 1971, Jerry attended the firm Christmas party, which was officially his “first day”.  He then started as an intern in 1972 and was drafted (#67) into the U.S. Army that same fall. Before he left, he married his beautiful bride Mary on St. Patrick’s Day of 1972.

He graduated from Ferris State University in June, and then served for two years in the Flight Detachment Unit at Fort Monroe, Virginia. When he returned in October 1974, he continued his 45-year-long career with the firm. He started as a Staff Accountant, preparing tax returns by hand! At that time, the firm was located at Suite 460 Michigan Trust Building at 40 Pearl Street in downtown Grand Rapids.

Jerry progressed quickly in the profession and within the firm. In 1979, he was promoted to partner. In 1980, the firm then moved to the Riverview Center on 678 Front Street.  Also that year, in a sudden change of events that shook the firm to its core, Bill Slack, the Managing Shareholder, died of a heart attack on Labor Day weekend. The staff then all rallied together to divide up the clients and Jerry needed to jump in with both feet.  Bill was a mentor and teacher to Jerry.  Bill’s death was a turning point in Jerry’s life and career. He and others had to step up and learn very quickly for the firm to survive. He now had to become a mentor and leader.

Early in his career, he took on an administrative and then managing shareholder role. He helped to standardize processes and collaborated within the firm to provide leadership. He worked to implement many initiatives in an ever-changing environment. Jerry and his leadership team strove to provide a life-long career to new accounting graduates and to create cutting-edge work-life balance initiatives for employees. He is proud of delivering quality services to his many clients who became great friends. He believed that problem solving, with good ideas, helped clients obtain success and reach their goals.  He was part of a team that helped to change the firm culture to create part-time opportunities for women in the work-place. Women were encouraged to continue their work career while raising their family.  His team recognized the need to change mindsets about the role of women in the workforce.  The firm had a staff of bright and pioneering women with engaging personalities that they didn’t want to lose. The firm created policies and opportunities to fit their needs.

Jerry Nichols, Husband, Father and Papa

In the meantime, while Jerry was learning how to lead the firm, his family was growing. With Mary, they have four sons; Kevin, Eric, Matthew and Mark. They enjoyed summers at the lake and traveling. On one trip in 1989 in Washington DC, the boys greeted the world champion Detroit Pistons as they got off the bus to meet the President. All of their sons completed college. Following college, there were four weddings. Mary and Jerry have been blessed with fourteen grandchildren. They enjoy summers at their home on the lake with family and friends. Over the last few years, they have been traveling with friends to Alaska, London, Paris and a riverboat cruise in Europe.


Advice to His Younger Self

“When I started with the firm, I felt that you needed to be a smart person to provide services to your client. Later with technology changes, I realized, you don’t. It’s more important to align yourself with smart and talented people. You need to know how to find the right information with technology. Early in my career, I went with the flow. I was not driven by long-term goals. I was nerdy, quiet, shy and not very self-assured. As the firm changed, I became more confident in my ability. I was thrown into difficult situations and had to learn quickly.  I found my strength in being a good listener.  I tried to actively listen to my clients and learn as much as I could about them. To find out what ‘keeps them up at night.’ I also learned it was important to take complicated information and deliver it into understandable solutions for my clients. I often would make analogies to help people understand these complex ideas.”

He gives this advice to himself, and those around:

  1. Build your knowledge base.
  2. Develop people and communication skills.
  3. Convert complex ideas into understandable solutions for clients.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  5. Learn from the mistakes you make.

Jerry started with the firm as a learner. He then became a teacher and a mentor. Later in his career, he has become a learner again from the young people of the firm.

Some “Jerryisms” we often hear from Jerry:

“Have a firm idea of who you are and your personal values. Find a place to work where you fully embrace the culture.”

 “Do the right thing, the right way, for the right people.”

 “You need to hit a home run every five years or so for your clients!”

 “This is a teaching moment….”

 “Let me show you on the whiteboard….”

“When we provide good service and ideas, we are putting money in the client bank. When we make mistakes, our client takes some of the money out of the bank. When we make a mistake and there is no money in the bank, we lose the client.”


 Jerry Nichols, the Next Chapter

Jerry is looking forward to spending time with his four sons’ families and fourteen grandchildren.  But he is most excited to travel with his loving wife, Mary.  They are planning a trip to Italy this fall. He will continue to provide services to a limited number of his long-term friends.

We will miss you, Jerry…..