Growing Skills and Future Leaders: The Story of GJM University

Caitlin Bainter GJM University Gilmore Jasion MahlerGilmore Jasion Mahler’s (GJM) Caitlin Bainter says she was ready for a new challenge in her life about a year and a half ago. With the firm for 12 years, she started contemplating what that challenge might be. The next thing she knew, she found herself pursuing a master’s degree in organization development at Bowling Green State University. That’s on top of her full-time role as a consulting & assurance manager at GJM.

She says she found the course of study fascinating and interesting. The BGSU Executive Master of Organization Development program focuses on theories and best practices aimed at increasing the effectiveness of organizations and individuals. Caitlin says it felt unique, and she didn’t really see anyone around her who had that kind of knowledge. She thought the skills would serve her well in her professional life. It turns out she was right.

As Caitlin worked toward her degree (during the COVID-19 pandemic), a conversation came up with GJM Assurance Department head Greg Taylor. He said firm leadership was interested in expanding internal skill development and putting more of a solid framework around growing essential skills in team members, particularly in their first five years at GJM.

“We had been looking at expanding internal programming and needed to figure out how to do it,” says Caitlin. I happened to be studying this stuff in school and it seemed like a good fit.”

“She took the ball and ran with it,” says Taylor. “It was exciting to see her enthusiasm for the project, and to see her personal and professional growth along the way.”

So, Caitlin started exploring how she might be able to take what she was learning in the classroom and apply it to GJM. When a school project came up, she wondered if the firm needed anything and spoke with Managing Partner Kevin Gilmore.

“We’re always looking at how we can grow at GJM,” says Gilmore. “When Caitlin and I spoke, I mentioned that I would be interested in learning why we don’t see more female leadership in our Assurance Department. I suggested that she take a look at diversity at the firm to see what she could learn.”

“I saw that the public accounting industry has a long way to go nationally when it comes to diversity, and we have the potential to be a leader,” says Caitlin. “In aggregate as a firm, I found that we are actually ahead of the curve when it comes to female leadership and working toward balancing male and female leadership pipelines between our departments. I also learned that there are currently more women than men graduating with accounting degrees. It will be interesting to see if there is a dynamic shift in public accounting in general over the next decade, and I’d expect the new methods of flexibility in work arrangements over the last year may have an impact on what the face of public accounting looks like in the future.”

Caitlin presented her findings at the firm leadership retreat in September of 2020. An outcome of that retreat: interest in really embracing a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiative at GJM and further expanding internal staff development programs. GJM University (or GJM U) was born to expand staff development. GJM Partner Matt Cavanagh shared a connection he had with life coach and consultant Dr. Michael Brown, Founder & CEO of DMB Coaching, plans started to take hold, and a partnership was formed to create a life coaching component of GJM U.

GJM U is still growing and taking shape. Not fully developed, Caitlin says it is exciting to be leading the initiative. Plans include sessions to grow other essential skills including leadership, time management, public speaking, and executive presence.

Michael is currently leading GJM U staff development sessions on critical skills and issues including self-assessment, communication, and culture. Brown is also part of a newly formed D&I focus group at GJM.

“It has been an absolute privilege to work alongside of Caitlin and other GJM team members in creating the curriculum for the first module of GJM U, which is a deep dive into the characteristics of an Extraordinary Team and what is required to position every GJM firm member to achieve their fullest potential,” he says. “Furthermore, the first two firm-wide sessions on Cultivating Cultural Literacy in an Increasingly Diverse Society and Navigating Contentious Conversations in a Contentious World have set the stage to accelerate GJM’s commitment to enhancing the culture of diversity and inclusion within the firm. This is just the beginning of an exciting journey in assisting GJM in evolving as one of the premier businesses in Northwest Ohio and beyond.”

Caitlin often helps to lead the virtual GJM U sessions, introducing Michael, and getting the conversation going. She says she loves being able to take what she learned in school and share it with GJM coworkers.

“What I love is that it is knowledge that makes people’s lives easier, rounds people out, makes us better people, happier people, and helps us serve clients better. This is a challenging profession, and that’s a unique component that not everyone offers,” she says.

Caitlin is also a mentor to two team members in the GJM Assurance Department. As part of the firm’s Career Advisor Program she’s there to help them in a more one-on-one format. The program, in place for many years, offers feedback, support, suggestions, and sometimes just a friendly ear.

“It’s so incredible to see advisees gain skills and confidence, and really blossom in their roles. I love that what I’ve learned in school may help them too.”

Established in 1996, Gilmore Jasion Mahler, LTD (GJM) is the largest public accounting firm in Northwest Ohio, with offices in Maumee and Findlay. Locally owned, GJM offers cloud-based accounting and provides comprehensive services including assurance, business advisory, tax, risk advisory, healthcare management and outsourced accounting. The firm’s professionals specialize in industries including construction & real estate, healthcare, manufacturing & distribution and utilities.

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