On an unassuming corporate campus in Berwyn, PA, sits one of the country’s most important software companies. Few who drive by realize Vertex helps the vast majority of Fortune 1000 companies calculate what taxes they owe in every jurisdiction in the country – states, counties, cities, towns and school districts. In an average corner office surrounded by pictures of his family sits Jeff Westphal, who runs the business his father, Ray, started. Westphal shares what it was like to take over a family business and what he learned along the way.
Q: How big is Vertex?
Westphal: We are growing and currently have more than 750 employees in offices in the U.S., Europe and Brazil.
Q: Who are your customers?
Westphal: Our customers include some of the largest companies in the world in a variety of industries, including retail, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and technology.
Q: Do international companies utilize your software?
Westphal: Yes, especially global, multinational companies with complex tax needs. In addition to our flagship U.S. tax solutions, we also provide multinational corporations support for global indirect tax, including a value added tax.
Q: Has the internet changed your business?
Westphal: Not significantly. We help companies process taxes more effectively, regardless of how they do business. Most of our customers implement our solutions in house, although some do utilize our hosted solutions on-demand via the internet.
Q: How is your business affected by the constant change in the tax laws?
Westphal: Our business isn’t affected by constant changes in tax law – that is our business. We keep our customers on the right side of all those changes so they can focus on tax planning and growing their businesses.
Q: What is it like to run a family business?
Westphal: Great – we lose no time with shareholder relations. The shareholders are my father and sisters, so we are all on a first-name basis and share share a commitment to do the right thing above all else.
Q: How hard was the leadership transition?
Westphal: We were fortunate to have world-class consulting support to help us define an orderly process over a period of 10 years. By acting early and with vision, we avoided the tumultuous moments often encountered by family businesses who wait too long to get started.
Q: What is the most challenging part?
Westphal: Not letting it get personal. Long ago, we built a truly independent board of directors to help us keep it real and to keep personal concerns out of the business governance process.
Q: What is your vision for the company over the next 10 years?
Westphal: We will be the global leader in tax technology for major corporations and the most desirable technology [workplace] on the East Coast. We are going to become the kind of company that people only dream about.
Q: Do you hope to hand your business off to your children?
Westphal: No one knows what the future holds, but with kids ranging in age from 12 to 23, we’ve been proactive and working hard through our Family Council laying the groundwork for that possibility.
Q: What organizations would you recommend for heirs to family businesses?
Westphal: The Delaware Valley Family Business Council runs a wonderful educational program supported by many of the region’s foremost advisers.
Q: What advice do you have for leaders taking over the family business?
Westphal: Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and then spend the next five years seeking to understand your family and employees. Then start thinking about what you would do with the business if you had the opportunity. Also, find a deeply experienced, non-family mentor to serve as a sounding board and unbiased adviser, and implement an independent board of directors.
Since 1978, Vertex, Inc., has been a leading provider of tax technology and services, enabling companies of all sizes to realize the full strategic potential of the tax function by automating and integrating tax processes, while leveraging advanced and predictive analytics of tax data. Vertex provides cloud-based and on-premise solutions that can be tailored to specific industries for every major line of tax, including income, sales and consumer use, value added and payroll. Headquartered in Pennsylvania, and with offices worldwide, Vertex is a privately held company that employs over 900 professionals and serves companies across the globe.