More than Accounting: A Conversation with Annette Otteman

It’s estimated that nearly 40% of Americans self-report as “left-brained” or analytical, while 29% characterize themselves as “right-brained,” decidedly artistic in their thinking. Annette Otteman describes herself as somewhere right down the middle – a mix of inherently logical and creative characteristics and talents that help the CPA to serve clients well, and nimbly.

“I thought I’d work in a bank,” Otteman recalled of her more “left-brained” tendencies. “But as much as I am an accountant, I also have this creative side. My strength is in consulting. As the years have progressed, I seem to like to work with companies where I can provide other things besides ‘just accounting.’”

For instance, Otteman has found herself gravitating toward those teams where there are opportunities to partner on organizational efforts to enhance operational efficiency, or on Human Resource-oriented initiatives.

She recalled how leadership with a small real estate company consistently found itself in “react” mode, due to the approach their then-accounting management took to record-keeping.

“They weren’t planning ahead,” Otteman said. “When you’re doing construction and property management, you need to have an idea of where you’re going.”

Otteman likened the situation to putting a “Band-Aid on top of a Band-Aid.”

“I told them, ‘You don’t want to live like this. You need to grow your business and enjoy your family,’” she said. “They didn’t know where money was being spent or where they were being profitable.”

Otteman also indicated they weren’t able to truly maximize their profits during the construction boom; at the end of last year, the Associated General Contractors of America named Omaha the fastest-growing job market for professionals of the nearly 360 metro population centers it surveyed.

Otteman recognized what questions to ask to determine areas for improvement, supporting personnel and systemwide changes. In part, as a QuickBooks® ProAdvisor, she has demonstrated proficiency in all aspects of the software. So, Otteman’s continuing education on this front helps her to better know how to use the program to aid client-organizations’ growth and operations.

She recalled still other clients who had bought businesses, but required a little “clean up,” enhancing owners’ understanding of accounting software to get their records in order.

“When people buy a business, they’re so focused on making it successful,” Otteman said.

So, in the end, owners may not have the knowledge of processes and technologies that might be perceived as foundational.

“But they can be trained,” she said.

Case in point: A client formerly “did it all.” But the transition to having an in-house or full-time CPA can be quite costly. A balance was struck. Otteman “onboarded” the client, taught him what she knew about programs such as QuickBooks. Reviews are conducted quarterly or periodically. Otteman’s available to answer questions as needed. The client is now empowered with education to run things smoothly, and without the expense of a full-time accounting professional. Yet, there is peace of mind that a high level of expertise is available should he need it.

“The goal would be to transition [clients] to a place where they can handle their own accounting,” she said, “and yet we are still a resource for them.”

More than an accountant: Otteman’s journey

Otteman is a kindred spirit with her real estate firm clients. In fact, her first big career break came courtesy of the vaunted LaSalle Partners (now Jones Lang LaSalle), a Chicago-based, $17.9 billion commercial real estate giant. She recalled that its portfolio included some of the world’s most renowned landmarks, including the Empire State Building.

“They managed the building where Ronald Reagan had his offices, and high rise office buildings in downtown Chicago and other large cities across the US,” she said.

Notably for the Fremont-area native, she moved to the Second City to take on this property accounting role as a 20-something graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and an Agriculture minor under her belt (she would go on to earn her MBA and Master of Accounting from the University of Nebraska at Omaha).

Otteman credits the sought-after gig to a headhunter.

“Sometimes, it helps when you’re from Nebraska,” Otteman said. “People think you have a strong work ethic.”

In Otteman’s case, she fits the stereotype seamlessly. Her family showed horses in 4-H throughout her childhood. At university, she would go on to judge equine, as well as cattle, sheep and hogs.

“I ended up on the UNL horse-judging team,” she said. “I can say I was on a ‘D-1’ team.”

After around two years of making the daily commute, Otteman would officially become a “boomerang professional,” finding her way back to the Greater Omaha area with her husband, Greg.

“As much as the job was awesome, I needed more than that to live my life,” she said. “I’m the oldest of five kids. So, I wanted to be closer to my family.”

She continued to leverage property and financial experience; Otteman landed at Pacific Realty Group.

“They had five employees,” she said. “I was there for 12 years and was able to help the company grow.”

Today, readers know that firm as Colliers International. When Pacific Realty reportedly joined the global real estate organization in 2011, the firm was described by local media as one of the state’s premier commercial real estate firms. At the time, Colliers operated more than 480 offices, employed 15,000 people and boasted revenues of almost $2 billion.

“I was able to get procedures in place and, as we grew with property management, we had large corporate clients,” she said.

Through the years, as she was exposed to hiring accountants, Otteman was inspired to pursue relevant advanced business and accounting education, as well as the Certified Public Accountant designation through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“I took the CPA exam when I had two young girls, who were two and five at the time,” she recalled, referring to daughters Kassidy and Zoe. “Then, I had the opportunity to work at Hancock and Dana in public accounting.”

It was a team member’s wife, who was active with the Susan G. Komen Foundation before succumbing to breast cancer, that inspired another area of passion and skill for the mother of two (alongside organizational consulting and HR work): nonprofits. In fact, prior to joining O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig, Otteman was 100% consulting-focused, and her clients included St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. Additionally, she is involved with the church’s annual fundraising campaign, and has served as the treasurer for the Susan G. Komen in Nebraska.

As Otteman built her business, she also worked for OFWF before onboarding full-time just in time for tax season at the start of 2020.

“It was nice to have some steady work while building your business,” she said.

Then the world changed.

“All of the sudden, tax season stopped and then started again,” Otteman recalled.

Navigating your journey, the ups and downs

Just as OFWF was happy to add Otteman’s consulting skills to a family of talent whose roots can be traced back to 1951, she underscored the importance of proactive planning and partnership in the present environment.

“We’re helping our clients plan ahead and be ready for the future,” she said. “How does that look going forward? … How can they leverage their technology and the personnel they have in place? It’s about bringing that outside perspective in, to become more profitable.”

She emphasizes finding “benchmarks” among other businesses in the same industry. Company owners and executives need to understand the income and expenses that make up their bottom line. Otteman questions how one can make (informed) decisions if they don’t have good financial data, let alone how one can set personal or professional goals.

“You need to know where you’re ‘at’ and where you are going,” Otteman said. “The beauty of having a good CPA is we’re the ones that have to worry about tax law changes … and I realize that a lot of people don’t have operational procedures in place. It helps to have a game plan. The [technology] and having an advisor you can trust allows everybody to focus on the bigger picture rather than the weeds.”

A strategic and visionary connector, Otteman looks forward to connecting with you. She can be reached at 402-935-7458 O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig has been providing tax, accounting, assurance, and other business support services to Omaha-area organizations for more than 70 years.

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