Business Monday

Tony Argiz of Morrison, Brown, Argiz and Farra: civic, business leader

Tony Argiz.
Tony Argiz. Miami Herald staff

Anyone involved with Miami’s civic and charitable organizations has met Antonio L. ‘Tony’ Argiz — frequently. Few can match his involvement as a past chairman of United Way, past chairman of the Orange Bowl Committee, past chairman of the Miami Dade College Foundation, past chairman of Florida International University’s Council of 100, to name but a few of his volunteer posts.

Along with his deep community engagement, Argiz has helped shape Morrison, Brown, Argiz and Farra into one of the top 40 U.S. accounting firms. Since 1997, he has been the firm’s chairman and CEO.

Currently, along with professional duties, Argiz is chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

If he’d had a stronger arm, he might have been firing fastballs instead of sharpening the bottom line, we learned during a recent interview.

Q: Tell us how you came to Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, LLC, the firm you now oversee.

I graduated from Florida International University in 1974 and joined a public accounting firm shortly thereafter. Fifteen months into the job, I was laid off and my boss at the time suggested I go into private accounting because he thought I had no future in public accounting. Not accepting defeat, I continued to work in the field until I saw an ad in the paper that a local accounting firm, Caplan, Morrison, Brown and Co., was hiring. I interviewed, and after a month of negotiations, I joined the firm in September 1977. I worked my way up through the company and became chairman and CEO in 1997, and am happy to say I still enjoy going to work every day as much, if not more, than I did when I first started.

Q: Your dream was to play baseball. What happened?

To say my dream was to play baseball is an understatement — I wanted to be an MLB pitcher. I played all through high school and earned a scholarship to FIU thanks in part to my strong pitching arm. However, once I reached my senior year, I realized I had more chances at a successful future in business than in baseball. My fastball wasn’t reaching home plate as quickly as it used to, and thanks to the great accounting instructors I had at FIU, I changed paths to pursue a career as a CPA.

I’m still an avid baseball fan to this day, and was even chosen to throw out the first pitch when FIU played the Marlins at an exhibition game in 2012.

Q: What did you learn from baseball that you use in your business life today?

My years playing baseball taught me the importance of working as a team and how each person contributes to the overall success. An MLB team has 25 players, and every single one of those individuals has a specific role — remove one of them, and the team cannot win. This is true in most businesses, as the employees need to work together to achieve a common goal.

As a pitcher I also learned that it’s important to identify the weaknesses of the hitters you’re playing against. This ability to pinpoint areas of vulnerability has helped me extensively when working with clients. Our role is to identify those weak points and help our clients eliminate them in order to be stronger, more financially stable organizations.

Q: How big was the firm when you first arrived, and how big is now?

When I first joined the firm in 1977, we had one office in South Miami made up of about 15 employees. Today, MBAF has more than 450 employees and principals across nine offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Orlando, New York City, Valhalla, Baltimore, Denver and India.

Q: What has been the strategy that has allowed such significant growth?

A combination of strategic planning, hard work, setting aggressive goals and not being afraid to take risks has helped us become one of the top 40 accounting firms in the country. My partners and I have always sought to grow only when it makes sense, and I believe not rushing into decisions has helped us be successful. We also have an excellent group of employees at the firm, whose dedication and hard work has helped propel the firm to where it is today.

We have also utilized mergers as a growth strategy, which has helped us expand our footprint nationally. For example, we were able to break into the New York market through a merger with ERE, LLC, and we now have offices in Manhattan and Valhalla.

Q: What kinds of companies or individuals does MBAF primarily serve? What makes it different from other CPA firms with local offices?

A. Our expertise encompasses a wide variety of practice areas, ranging from the tax and audit departments to sports, entertainment, aviation and international tax. We began to formalize specialty groups in 1990 with the launch of our automotive dealerships division, and now have the private wealth services group, healthcare services group, financial institutions group, nonprofit practice, and a concierge service for athletes and entertainers, among others, to offer even more customized service to clients.

We have been able to significantly grow the industries we serve by hiring top talent with extensive knowledge of different niche markets, and the diversity of MBAF’s practice areas is what sets us apart in the field.

Q: Along with overseeing your firm, you also volunteer with many organizations. Tell us about some of them.

A. Giving back to the community has always been a priority for me, and I’ve dedicated my time to several civic and charitable organizations over the years. One that stands out is the United Way of Miami-Dade — my family and I actively volunteer and I’ve also served as chair of the organization. The work they’re doing to help the community and enable individuals to achieve economic stability is a cause I feel very passionately about.

I also feel strongly about organizations that help provide opportunities for Miami’s youth to learn and develop key skills that will help them become successful adults. For example, the Orange Bowl Committee strives to help our youth through its programs and scholarships, and I was able to see it firsthand when I chaired the board.

I actively serve on the board of Coconut Grove Cares, and it is doing amazing work in the community through The Barnyard neighborhood community center. When I originally started working with Coconut Grove Cares, the organization was in need of major financial assistance; how it has bounced back and flourished over the last few years is something I am very proud of. Their annual “Fashionably Conscious” fundraiser, taking place every September, has been a huge success, and it’s these type of creative, community focused initiatives that have contributed largely to the organization’s growth.

My children have also guided me towards some of the organizations I am closely involved with. I joined the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart’s board in 1986, while my daughter was a student there. This inspired me to become a follower of the mission of Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and it’s a commitment I maintain to this day.

Q: You are chairman this year of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Why did you take this on?

A. I believe the work the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce does is vital to the growth and success of Miami’s business community. I have been involved in the chamber for many years and have seen how it has evolved to address the way the city has changed and the issues that have come to the forefront. As a long-standing member of the business community, I felt I could help the chamber address new issues affecting Miami and bring a different perspective to the role.

Q: What role do you think the chamber should play in this community? Is it more of a business-to-business role, or more of a civic leadership role? How many members does the chamber have now?

A. As the only regional chamber from the Keys to Palm Beach, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is the voice of the South Florida business community in the global marketplace. The chamber is known not only for its ability to drive business-to-business connections, but as a civic leader. Our membership, representing more than 400,000 employees, drives the agenda on the most important issues that contribute to our region’s success. Our education and advocacy initiatives help our members grow, improve and protect their organizations and enhance the climate for the entire business community.

Q: You have a few specific issues that you want to work on this year. What are those, and why?

A. During my tenure as chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, I want to focus on Miami’s transportation system and sea level rise, as I believe these are two significant issues that need to be addressed by the business community.

On the transportation front, I want to establish a transportation council that would gather and present ideas to help address the difficulties we’re having in this arena. Getting people and goods around the city is very difficult, and it’s impeding our ability to grow like any global city should. I’d also like to set up an annual summit where members of Miami’s business community can come together with those in the transportation sector to have open discussions on the issues we’re facing and possible solutions.

Also, I believe that addressing sea level rise is of the utmost importance. As a city, we need to determine where investments need to be made and what it’s going to take to help keep Miami alive for years to come.

Q: Aside from those issues that you've specifically targeted as your mission, what other challenges would you consider most urgent for Miami?

A. Providing access to quality education is a very important issue that needs to be addressed, as it has a direct impact on the pool of skilled professionals businesses can tap into when hiring. We need to continue to develop programs that encourage youth to stay committed to their education, graduate from our high schools, and take the next step to receive degrees. Miami’s higher education landscape has grown and improved by leaps and bounds over the last several years, but without ensuring that the city’s youth can access these institutions, afford to enroll and reach graduation, we will not be able to produce the types of candidates businesses are looking for.

Attracting investors and stimulating capital infusion also needs to be top of mind to keep Miami’s business community thriving. As a city that relies heavily on entrepreneurs and local startups, not providing incentives and funding impedes the growth of these businesses and Miami’s potential to attract new companies, all of which has a direct impact on our economy.

Q. When young people come to your firm to interview, what skills are they most often lacking?

A. When you’re interviewing younger individuals that haven’t been in the workforce very long, it’s difficult to find someone that knows how to set himself or herself apart. We want candidates that stand out from the crowd, whether it’s due to their confidence, ability to give a great answer on the spot, or even be able to give real life examples that relate to the work they would be doing at the firm. Almost everyone that comes in has a strong education background — it’s these other qualities that help set candidates apart.

We also see many applicants that come in and have not taken the time to research the firm or prepare intelligent questions for the interview. Candidates need to remember that showing that you’ve gone the extra mile by learning what MBAF does, why we’re different and how you could fit in at the firm goes a long way.

Q: How do you balance your professional and personal lives?

A. As important as my business is to me, my family has always been my priority. I’ve had to make sacrifices on both sides, and the fact that I have a very understanding and supportive wife and family has helped over the years. When my children were in school, I made a point to attend their school functions and get involved. I coached my son’s baseball team and joined the board of the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart while my daughter was enrolled there, and it is a commitment I’ve maintained to this day. Now that I’m a grandfather, it’s even more important to me to make the time to enjoy my personal life. My business still drives me, but I truly look forward to spending quality time with my family.

Q: What keeps you awake worrying at night?

A. I’m lucky that I almost always get a good night’s sleep, but one of the main things I find myself worry about is hoping that my kids are happy and successful. I also stay up thinking about how I can continue to motivate employees to drive the continued success of the firm.

Q: What’s the best advice you ever got?

A. My father always told me that you have to plant your seeds and nurture them in order to achieve success — it takes years of hard work and dedication. He was a businessman in Cuba and when he arrived in the U.S. at almost 60 years old, he had to start all over again. Seeing how hard he worked has really motivated me over the years and I remember his advice every day.

Q. What’s the advice that you give others?

A. Remember that running a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about having a long term outlook, not being afraid to work hard and setting aggressive goals for yourself. Once you achieve those goals, revisit your plan and set new ones — don’t settle and always strive to reach new levels of success.

Also, remember that when you look back on your life, the memories you make with your family will always be there more than anything else. Make your family a priority.

Antonio L. ‘Tony’ Argiz

Title: Chairman and CEO, MBAF accounting firm.

Background: Age 62; came to the United States in 1962 as part of Operation Peter Pan.

Years with the firm: 37.

Education: Bachelor in business administration from Florida International University; University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, AICPA National Banking School.

Family: Wife Concepción “Conchi” and three children, one grandson.”