Brooks-Keret– A Hothouse for Finance People on Both a Personal and Professional Level

Brooks-Keret Ltd, located in Tel Mond, has 50 employees providing a package of services for startup and other high-tech companies.
The operating model at the company- a comprehensive platform of services for startup companies – is unique and worth taking a glimpse at.
The company, most of whose employees were trained as accountants and bookkeepers, provides outsourcing services for internal financial tasks (e.g. finance manager) at startups.
Though the primary focus is on financial management, the startup can also take advantage of additional services, particularly the tasks a finance manager at a small companies performs, such as business development and human resources management.

We spoke with Nimrod Almish, a partner and director of the company’s department of business development, and Einat Ben Tzvi, director of the department of human resources, about the services the company provides and the type of workers it employs.

Nimrod Almish:
“The company was founded 11 years ago by two accountants, Oran Brooks and Gil Keret, both from the Somech-Haikin accounting firm. From the very start they formulated the company’s operating model – outsourcing to provide comprehensive internal financial services at startup companies."

“They aimed their activity at this group of customers because they identified special needs based on the way startup companies develop. Such a company needs a different kind of financial management at every life phase: raising capital to start operations, managing a controlled growth process, bringing in additional investments and overseeing share issues, acquisitions or mergers. At every life phase the company must have different skills at its disposal to meet changing needs. This range of skills is not found in a small company, which cannot yet justify maintaining a sophisticated finance department.”

Who did these companies receive this service from before Brooks-Keret was started? What about their accountants?
“We are not the client’s accountant; we function as the company’s internal financial department, i.e. the comptroller and vice president of finance. The company’s accountant is forbidden from providing these services from an ethical standpoint. There has to be a separation. It used to be that small accounting firms provided this service to startup companies that did not operate an internal finance department. We were the first company to provide the service as a central activity. We make these services available not only to startups, but also to those who invest in them – capital-risk funds and investment companies. Our first client was Arison Investments.”

At what stage in the life of the startup does it need your services?
“It could be at any stage. It might even be in the initial stage when the enterprise is just starting out – it registers a patent and now it needs to raise money and set up a business system. We know how to help set up the company, beginning with the stage of locating the investors best suited to the enterprise’s profile.
We handle a lot of companies and have amassed a lot of experience, giving our customers significant added value. The customer receives service from only one member of our staff, but he is backed by a large support system. Our most senior finance manager does not deal directly with customers but provides quality assurance for the accounting department and a database for the finance managers’ activity."

In some cases you manage money for companies and in other cases you provide them services.
“That’s correct. It depends on the size of the company. When it’s still small, we also serve as finance managers. But when the company reaches a certain size (generally around 50-60 employees) it needs a fulltime, in-house finance manager. We don’t want it to come to this, because then our staff person essentially becomes assimilated into the company and becomes a part of it for all intents and purposes.
When a finance director is appointed at the company we may continue providing services as the company’s comptrollers until he is prepared to do without external services like ours and operate an in-house financial system.”

Are there cases in which the customer wants to recruit your staff member to its ranks as finance director?
“It happens, but not often. We prefer that does not happen, but we won’t stand in anybody’s way. We’d prefer to assist the company recruit a finance director if it needs one.
On the other hand it’s fine with us if it’s a natural step in the employee’s career development, i.e. after acquiring five or six years of experience working for us at a number of companies he moves to a high-tech company to serve as finance director. After such a time period he wants to advance and in terms of his knowledge at this stage we are unable to offer an alternative to the offers he receives.”

Who are the company’s 50 employees and how many of them serve customers directly?
“About 20 of them are accountants serving as finance managers at the companies. Another 20 are bookkeepers. The rest are employed in human resources and business development and of course running the office.”

What is the average age and professional background of the typical Brooks-Keret employee?
Einat: “About 35. They are young workers who have already acquired organizational experience. For example, among the accountants there are some who completed specialized training, worked at a large accountants’ firm and reached the rank of senior partner.
At a large office they receive proper training and experience. Based on our experience those who arrive from large offices are better prepared to dive into the deep water we throw them into.”

What motivates a worker at a large accounting firm to come work at your company?
“The opportunity to gain experience and go through the necessary stage on the way to joining a high-tech company. Today it’s not easy to enter a high-tech company as an accountant. You have to be able to point to experience working as an accountant.

Nimrod Almish: “A young accountant has two employment options: to join an accounting firm or work at a small company that is willing to take in a finance person without experience. Working for us allows him to acquire the experience and know-how to allow him to become part of an established high-tech company. With us he serves as a finance manager at 5-6 companies simultaneously, which provides a wealth of experience.” 

Do your accountants work at the client’s site?
Einat: “Usually not, although there are cases in which they go to work at the client site one or two days a week. But most work out of our office. Internet makes it possible.
On the other hand, in human resources our employee does need to be at the client site. You cannot take care of workers by remote control. Interviews with job candidates have to be at the company. You also need personal contact with the client."

“While a finance manager can handle 5-6 customers at once, an employee providing human resources services has only two customers at a time.”

It seems like the various areas of employment demand a different level of involvement of your employees at the client site.
Nimrod Almish
: “That’s correct. The lowest level of involvement is among the bookkeepers. They work out of our office. They receive the material from the customer and execute the work, which is essentially technical. Therefore, in general they have no reason to go to the client site."

“A company accountant has a higher level of involvement. Although he executes his tasks at our offices, sometimes he has to go to meetings at the client site – for instance, to present the financial report to the investors or at directorate meetings.
If the company has a finance manager he goes to the company less often, but if he’s the finance manager, too, he will go there more frequently."

“In both of our new areas of activity our staff member’s level of involvement at the client site is higher. The next level is business-development people, who accompany the entrepreneur at almost every capital-raising or development meeting. There are two companies that I am accompanying and I have calling cards listing me as their vice president of business development. When I attend meetings for them I appear as their representative. They want to present me at meetings as a member of their staff."

“The highest level of involvement is among human resources personnel. The majority of their work is done at the client site."

“The level of involvement also depends on the CEO’s preferences. Everyone expects a different level of involvement. It’s a personal thing. Some want the accountant at his side in every financial activity while for others, meeting with him once a month is enough.”

How many customers receive outsourced human resources services?
Einat: “About 10. A company like this has about 20 employees on average. But there could also be a company of two people for which we are recruiting workers.

I assume the primary service you provide such companies is placement services.
“That’s right. That’s what startup companies need most in the area of human resources.”

So let them turn to placement companies. What do they need your services for?
“It’s not the same. We act like human resources managers. Our workers are ‘embedded’ at the client site, allowing them to understand the company’s needs and organizational culture. But the client doesn’t yet need a fulltime human resources manager and we provide a solution by posting a human resources person part-time. A human resources manager who receives constant professional backing as well.
Human resource managers use placement companies, too. Placement companies get compensated based on their successes. At Brooks-Keret, the compensation is a substitute for the wages of a human resources person."

A serious placement company studies the company’s needs, taking its organizational culture into account too.
“Placement companies have a lot of customers. They are unable to invest a lot of time in studying the needs of every customer. Certainly not like an in-house figure focused solely on that organization’s needs. Also, our motivation differs from that of placement companies.
A placement company is out to execute a placement, which is its source of income. Therefore it is liable to rush to execute a placement, sometimes at the price of a certain amount of compromise on the quality of the match. We are compensated according to the number of work hours and therefore we have no reason to compromise on quality. Our only agenda is working for the company’s good.”

What positions are currently available at Brooks-Keret?
Einat: “For the financial department at Brooks-Keret we need accountants with experience working at a large accounting firm. The tasks at our company provide exposure to accounting work and money management at various high-tech companies. The work is challenging and allows independence and initiative.
For our human resources department, which support high-tech companies, we need high-tech experts at every level in the fields of Internet, software, cellular technology, communications infrastructures, etc.”

Why is it worthwhile to work at Brooks-Keret?
: “The company is a young, familial company. We are looking for outstanding, energetic, service-oriented young people with excellent interpersonal relations and a drive to succeed.”

Nimrod: “Brooks-Keret is the kind of workplace where you come in with a smile. It’s a pleasant place to work and the work is very interesting. Each of our finance managers, accountants and bookkeepers works for 5-6 companies, allowing him or her to become familiar with several types of activity, and this limited number of companies allows our employees to thoroughly study every company in a way that also allows them to provide better service than analogous firms, and their understanding of the company’s activity will be better.
As a result these employees acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience here in a very short period of time.”

Nimrod also notes Brooks-Keret’s concern for the workers’ personal life: “Brooks-Keret is a place for people who want to enjoy their work without having to forego their family life. People go home no later than 5:00 pm. We don’t believe in long work hours. It’s very suitable for mothers, most of whom work until 4:00 pm.
Furthermore we have an office-wide directive: Every employee (especially the men, most of whom work until 5:00) receives one day a week of his choosing to go home an hour early to be with his children or family.” 

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