Position: Chief executive of Bookkeeping Express, a McLean company that provides bookkeeping and cash management services for small businesses
Keith Mueller started out as one of the first 3,000 employees at Accenture, which grew to 250,000 globally by the time he retired. During his time there, he led the utilities practice nationally and then globally, and helped the industry find success in an era of regulation. After he and some colleagues invested in BookKeeping Express, he was attracted to the opportunity to engage in disruptive technology. Four years after his retirement, he joined as chief executive.
When was the moment you realized you would be at Accenture for the long haul?
At the initial public offering, I had to make a decision. At that time, you could’ve peeled off, which a lot of people did. My decision was: We got it here so it’s our responsibility to make sure it sustains itself. Right then and there I knew I would stay for a while. But personally every holiday season I would ask myself if I could stay another year. During the holidays, things slow down. It’s a great time to think: How am I doing? What do I need to work on next year? What can I do better? What can I start doing? Am I still mentally engaged? I did that every Christmas for 20 years. I would go to the coffee shop, spent time talking to friends and figure out what happened last year that was good or bad.
How often were you offered opportunities at other companies?
All the time. But I never took them because there was just never anything that excited me.
What is your philosophy on whether to plan to retire with a company or move around?
Work is a long time. You’re at work more than anywhere else. You better be happy. If that means moving around, that means moving around. If that means staying at the same company because you’re happy there, that means staying at the same company. If you’re working 40 hours a week for 30 years and you’re not happy, you better find something else that will make you happy.
Do you consider yourself a people person?
If you’re working hard, you have to have fun. I enjoy the fun. I enjoy putting fun in the business environment. You also have to develop a culture that shows where you’re going so there’s a passion. It’s not a job, it’s a career. I am also very fair. If someone makes a mistake, I understand. I don’t yell. But we learn from it and move forward. I’m very straightforward.
What might be hindrances to a business leader being a people person?
A lot of people are afraid to give feedback. A lot of people are insecure in their own jobs and in their own ability. If they’re insecure in their own abilities, helping other people isn’t in their nature. The advantage I had growing up in a partnership was that there was not one point in time in my career that I felt like I needed to or could do anything by myself. I always needed someone with me. It’s too complex in the business world. I couldn’t drive the new technology stuff while also being a change management person for a client. I always needed partners around me.
How have you grown most as a leader since your early days?
I’m way more forward-thinking, and I can predict what’s going to happen for our people and what we can design and develop better. That ability to look forward and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to run into this issue if we don’t take care of it now.’ That’s what I’m bringing to the table. Whereas when I first started, I didn’t even know.
Reading any business books?
“The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen. The issue is that to disrupt industries, you don’t have to match it. You just need to make it simpler and cheaper and good enough.
— Interview with Vanessa Small