When John Sensiba became the managing partner of Sensiba San Filippo LLP (SSF), the firm was facing a recession and the steepest competition in its history. Now in his fifth year as the firm’s leader, John’s vision and unique management style have allowed him to shape a culture of growth by setting the tone from the top. This leadership has directly contributed to SSF being recognized as one of the region’s top CPA and business consulting firms. We sat down with John to discuss how focusing on people and culture have shaped the success of SSF.

When John took the helm at SSF, many other firms were reacting to a struggling economy with deep staff reductions. SSF bucked the trend, as John and his business partners increased their investment in attracting and retaining their professional talent. “We treated people the way we would want to be treated and made decisions I was proud of,” says John.

The foundation for Sensiba’s success is simple: He finds power in the Golden Rule. By treating employees as he would want to be treated, John has earned the trust and respect of his employees.

For SSF, the commitment to their people paid off. As competitors saw sharp drops in revenue, SSF moved forward, with employee morale high, and a client retention rate among the highest in the industry. John believes strongly that investment in culture is the key to the firm’s achievement. At SSF, John and top management actively promote priorities in the following order of importance:

FAMILY. COMMUNITY. FIRM.

Under John’s leadership, SSF has made meaningful community involvement a core value. One example of this is SSF’s annual “All Hands Day.” The firm shuts down for the day, and leverages their large employee base to volunteer with a local nonprofit.

Within the firm, John has worked to empower employees and allow them to shape key business strategies. “Helping people move up to leadership roles is important to us,” says John. “You need to have good role models at all levels. Within our firm, we want our employees to feel that they can have a family, be involved in their community, and be successful.”

SSF has worked to ensure that employee contributions are highly valued at all levels. This is evident in SSF’s recent Go-To-Market competition in which staff members compete for points earned by active participation in industry and market events. In addition to spurring growth, the program helped foster a culture of “top-to-bottom” accountability, participation, and ownership of SSF’s future. John encourages each of SSF’s 100+ employees to think of themselves not as workers, but as leaders in the business.

John makes sure employees know they are the firm’s most valuable asset. SSF is committed to doing its part to contribute to its employees’ physical and spiritual health. Some of the services SSF provides include fitness activities during the workday, wellness coaching, firm-wide team sports, and other programs. With over 70 percent employee participation in SSF’s wellness programs, SSF earned the title of AccountingWEB’s “Fittest Accounting Firm” and “Healthiest Employer in the Bay Area” by the San Jose Business Journal in 2012.

John has no plans to decrease his focus on the firm’s people and its culture going forward. “We believe our commitment to our people has paid dividends,” says John. “Our ability to serve our clients depends on having the most talented, motivated professionals we can find. I expect our investment in our people and culture to be the cornerstone of future success.”