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Justice Coffey lives up to his name

With data you can trust to value your business, support your goals

Merriam-Webster defines “justice” as the “conformity to truth, fact, or reason.” And “Justice” seems a fitting, if not memorable name, for a Certified Public Accountant drawn to the profession due to his self-proclaimed “very analytical” nature.

“I like working with numbers,” said Justice Coffey, a senior accountant who joined O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig in 2013. “And there is variety. Every day is going to be a bit different.”

“Since we are full-service accounting firm, we do tax services, audit services, bookkeeping services … We’re a firm that’s big enough to serve our clients in many different ways if we need to.”

In fact, after Coffey earned his Master of Professional Accountancy degree, he encountered lots of Omaha-area firms to choose from. But it was OFWF that was destined to be his first “real” job.

“What attracted me to OFWF was the people and their experience,” Coffey said. “It is a small firm, about 30 people. I was impressed by the breadth of experience and expertise, and I thought I could learn a lot.”

After seven years with the firm, now with an ABV (Accredited in Business Valuation) designation under his belt, Coffey said he’s still learning.

“It’s a lifelong process,” he said. “There is a lot of expertise in different areas. Greg Harr runs our business valuation area, and he’s been a partner since 1983. I’m ‘picking on’ him, because he runs the business valuation area. The reality is, there are lots of [professionals] in respective areas with lots of expertise.”

In fact, Harr’s tenure with the firm represents more than half of its history; OFWF was born in 1951 as a partnership between Joe Ficenec and Cecil O’Donnell. Gerald A. Wills would join the firm just eight years after its founding, while fellow CPA and Partner Ron Ferdig would reportedly make partner in 1972 (at age 27).

Aside from the caliber of OFWF’s team, Coffey indicated he enjoys accounting due to the opportunity to support others’ teams – be it via tax services for small businesses and individuals, financial statement audits for small and medium sized businesses and local governments or, naturally, putting that ABV® to good use when delivering business valuation expertise.

“I like helping my clients,” he said. “It’s very satisfying when you are able to provide information that makes a real difference to them.”

As it relates to valuing one’s business, Coffey said an owner may reach out to him for a whole variety of reasons.

“If they’re selling their business, they want to know what it’s worth for planning reasons,” he said. “But they also want to know what to expect.”

While Coffey naturally wants to have a great relationship with all of his clients, he indicated owners generally “want the facts.”

“They’re more interested in the numbers than the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff,” he said.

Though, that’s not to say circumstances surrounding the need to value one’s business are not without potential volatility; Coffey notes that, in addition to buying and selling a business, a client may reach out for tax planning purposes in the event of gifting. Likewise, a buy/sell agreement may be in place, and one may inquire about the business’s worth periodically, even annually.

“That way, when someone dies or leaves the business, or whatever the terms of the buy/sell say, they have a value for which the other owners can buy the person out,” Coffey said.

Still other times, Coffey may be approached by clients who are going through divorce proceedings, or who are granting minority interest to at least one of their key employees.

“People who are on the exit planning site are probably most interested in No. 1 (selling their business), but may also be interested in gifting their business,” he said. “To a lesser degree, they may be someone who has or should have a buy/sell agreement.”

Services include a “calculation engagement,” which renders a report that is smaller in scope than a “valuation engagement.” The latter summary report is more detailed.

“We talk to the client and figure out what their needs are and the purpose of the report, before helping the client determine what is most appropriate for their needs,” Coffey said.

When working with clients, Coffey will “interview” them, asking a series of questions to better understand the business, and what each owner needs. Historical financial information is obtained.

“Then we will value the business using the income, market and/or the asset approach,” he said.

From initial interview to completion of the report, Coffey said, the process might require around a month.

“It can be a little longer, it depends on the person and how much of a hurry they are in,” he said. “A decent part of it is getting the information. And sometimes you’ve got somebody who is really organized, they have everything you ask for and they’re really responsive. They want to do this quickly.”

When asked about the most prominent misconceptions associated with the process, Coffey surmises that it may be assumed, since the company is worth “X,” then a 25% minority interest should, accordingly, be worth about 25% of “X.”

“A minority interest is much harder to sell, and they must try to prosper under the potential tyranny of the majority owner or a majority of owners,” he said. “Another misconception that sellers tend to have is that, since they poured 30 years of blood, sweat and tears in the company, that it should be worth some huge amount of money.”

The buyer, however, does not care.

“That is not to say that I have never seen an owner think his or her company was worth substantially less than what it was worth,” Coffey said. “I have seen it many times, but there a bias toward this fallacy.”

Resist the temptation to assume that no one can ever understand the business quite like you, the founder or owner. There is value in an outside analyst’s perspective.

“Often, because you are close to it, you may be worse at valuing it,” Coffey said. “You are almost definitely better at managing this business; however, you are probably not better at valuing the business then a trained experienced business valuation analyst.”

Long before Coffey earned his ABV® designation from the American Institute of CPAs, he lived in Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois – all before his 11th birthday.

“I was not an Army brat, so that’s the first thought,” he said. “My dad moved around for work a lot when I was a kid. And that’s what happened there. He was in sales, electronic media distribution, he sold toner and then tape for computer systems.”

When the junior Coffey was 11, the senior Coffey was at the stage in his career where the family could settle wherever they wanted to – as long as that home base was in the Midwest and with easy access to an airport. Coffey’s parents, both Beatrice, Nebraska-area natives, chose Omaha as it was closer to their hometown and had Eppley Airfield.

“I went to college in Lincoln but I’ve been here [Omaha] ever since,” he said.

And, in case readers are wondering, Coffey’s siblings are Connor and Lindsay.

“My parents heard that John Cougar Mellencamp was going to name his kid that and they thought, ‘Oh, that’s a cool name,’” he said. “They wanted a name that wasn’t going to be on the top 50 names of the year. So, that’s they gave me.”

But his siblings?

“Their names may have been on the list of top names of the year,” Coffey said, laughing. “It was a ‘one-off.’ No ‘hippie’ names for them.”

Coffey and his wife, Amanda, who works in marketing at Oriental Trading Co., enjoy taking in movies, hiking, and playing board-games.

Coffey looks forward to putting his analytical skills and demonstrated business valuation expertise to work for you. He can be reached at O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig (OFWF) has been providing tax, accounting, assurance, and other business support services to Omaha-area organizations for more than 69 years.

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