Cardinal Cadence Fall 2012

Bite-sized goals lead to global-sized firm

Roland RodriquezAs co-founder and managing principal of MFR, one of the largest accounting and advisory firms in Houston, Roland Rodriguez ’74 feels thankful to have attained the success he has and feels compelled to help others succeed.

Rodriguez enjoys working with college students and encourages them to see the bright future ahead and to take the right steps to get where they want to go. “I tell people success is a choice and decisions that you make have consequences,” Rodriguez said. “They have to believe in themselves. This is America, and you can do it. It’s a matter of setting your goals and finding mentors and support to help you accomplish your goals. I definitely come back to ‘If I did it, you can do it.’”

Rodriguez did it by taking the advice he now gives. Goal setting was part of his approach from the time he began his accounting studies at Lamar University. He knew that he wanted to get his degree and become a certified public accountant by age 25, which he accomplished. He knew he wanted to work for a big four international accounting firm. He did that, spending a total of 10 years with KPMG in Houston. Rodriguez now thinks of those 10 years as something of an internship. He began his KPMG career as an auditor, which he now says was not his calling because it provided no outlet for his entrepreneurial instinct. He left KPMG for a private company after five years and set a new goal of becoming a top-level executive. He realized at the time, however, that he had not acquired the experience he needed. He returned to KPMG for five more years to focus on his professional development. Then, he was ready for his next step.

Rodriguez and two colleagues—Gasper Mir and Carolyne Fox—left KPMG and started their own firm in January 1988 with a total of five people, the three partners plus two new hires. At the time, they believed that a Houston accounting firm led by Hispanics or women could fill a niche in the community. “When we started the firm we were going into a recession, which was actually beneficial to us. The economic climate was such that many companies were looking for good value. They were price sensitive,” Rodriguez said. He and his partners had a combined 40 years of experience with a large international firm and had established strong relationships throughout the Houston area. Within five years, this new firm led by two Hispanic men and a woman had grown into one of the top 25 largest firms in the city, as ranked by the Houston Business Journal. Last year, the journal recognized MFR, which now employs about 120 people, as the city’s 11th largest firm. Rodriguez also believes his firm to be the largest Hispanic-owned accounting firm in the country. Their business centers on three sectors – audits, tax, and business advisory and consulting.

After getting its start as Mir, Fox & Rodriguez, the firm changed its name to MFR a few years ago to reflect its growth beyond the founders. A multicultural approach that embraces diversity has been important to Rodriguez and his partners from the beginning. Today, the firm has business around the globe, and employees at the firm speak 14 different languages. “Operating in the global economy is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Rodriguez said. “In today’s environment you have to have that mindset. Even small companies now are being impacted directly or indirectly by the global economy. Either they’re trying to export or they’re trying to build international strategic alliances.” As businesses attempt to build those cross-cultural relationships, Rodriguez and his colleagues stand ready to help.

When he moved away from auditing, Rodriguez turned his focus to business consulting and advising. “I’ve always pictured myself as an entrepreneur who happened to be a CPA. That’s not a bad combination,” Rodriguez said. “I’m intrigued by entrepreneurs. It’s been interesting to learn their stories, to hear about how they made it, and to really work with them. Based on what they want to try to accomplish with their business, my job is to help them accomplish that faster and more profitably. We are quite cognizant that their success is our success. We try to build a team relationship with them. As they grow their businesses, there will be more opportunities for us as well.” During the course of his career, Rodriguez has worked with business leaders at all stages of development, from start-up ventures to companies navigating economic downturns to established entrepreneurs seeking exit strategies to generate family wealth. Houston has provided the ideal location for that career path, said Rodriguez, who enjoys working with clients “from the barrio to the boardroom.”

Now, because of Houston’s prominence in key industries and MFR’s reputation in Houston, Rodriguez believes his firm is well positioned for additional growth and success internationally, especially in the healthcare and energy sectors. He and his colleagues have emphasized recruiting professionals with international and industry experience in recent years. In the energy industry, MFR has clients involved in joint ventures in China and India and sees Brazil promising strong opportunities. In healthcare, Rodriguez and the head of their healthcare practice, a former Houston hospital system CEO, are working with a client in planning to build a new hospital in Colombia. Other healthcare opportunities are on the horizon in Mexico, the Middle East and China because of the U.S. reputation in healthcare technology, education and delivery of quality services. Rodriguez said MFR has gathered the right people and the right resources to help clients take advantage of those opportunities worldwide. “When you combine the healthcare consulting group with the rest of the firm’s capability of providing accounting, tax, information technology and consulting services along with our bilingual capabilities, you really bring together a powerful combination of services,” Rodriguez said. Working on the strategic direction of the firm and its client relationships has become Rodriguez’s primary professional focus. The firm’s tagline—“People Count”—has served as his guide, recognizing the value of both the clients his company serves and the people who work for MFR.

One advantage of MFR’s international business interests has been the opportunities for travel Rodriguez and his wife, Linda Gonzalez, have enjoyed. For business and pleasure, Rodriguez has visited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Turkey and South Africa. “I’ve enjoyed meeting people all over the world and enjoyed learning about different cultures. I’ve also enjoyed seeing how business is conducted in other parts of the world. As I go to different countries, I always try to study economic models and see how people and businesses make money. It’s been a phenomenal experience to have had the luxury of traveling the way we’ve traveled, of seeing so many interesting places,” he said. There is, however, probably no place that Rodriguez and Gonzalez enjoy traveling to more than their home in Costa Rica. Thanks to today’s technology, he manages to work efficiently answering calls and e-mails from his home there just as easily as from his home or office in Houston. “It’s really a paradise. It’s a great place to spend time with friends and family.”

In addition to spending time with his wife, who recently retired from her own C.P.A. practice, Rodriguez enjoys time with his daughter, who recently completed her M.B.A. at Rice University, where he has served on the Council of Overseers for the Jones Graduate School of Business. His interest in education has also led to serving on the board of the University of St. Thomas as well as being involved with various mentorship and scholarship programs. Building relationships with Lamar University students also is important to him. Rodriguez spoke to a student group at Lamar this spring and invited the students to visit his Houston office, which they did this fall.

“It’s been a great journey. I’ve been very blessed, and Lamar was obviously a cornerstone to that process,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not chasing the ring anymore. I’ve transitioned to how can I be a coach to make sure other people are successful.”

With his own proven record, he is ready to achieve his new goal of helping others succeed.

by Beth Gallaspy
October 2012