About six years ago, CPA Kimberly C. Ford had an “aha!” moment that opened a new professional door for her. It happened one night when her partner, Gerald Hill, handed her a box of documents relating to a divorce case in Uvalde. He wanted Ford to meet with the spouses and handle the case.
“That husband is so arrogant, and the wife is very insecure,” he told his younger colleague. “I know they have assets, and we should be able to find them and get her some money.” The husband had maintained that he could only afford to give his wife a $30,000 settlement.
Ford spent hours examining the papers and organizing the chaotic information on a spreadsheet.
“When I was done, I realized that the total value of their community property was about $1 million. It was one of those ‘Yes!’ moments. We can help this woman!” says the CPA with satisfaction still detectable in her voice. “She was able to start a new life after the divorce, and that was heartwarming for me.”
The case led Ford to focus increasingly on forensic accounting “because it truly helps people.” Today, as managing partner of Hill & Ford, P.C., about half Ford’s time is devoted to it. In this type of accounting, a CPA uses her skills to investigate financial assets and debts in relation to litigation, probate cases, business splits, damage claims, suspected thefts and divorces, often working closely with a lawyer.
Hill & Ford has established a solid reputation in the field, thanks to a strong team of CPAs, including a former FBI agent. “It’s always about money, and someone has to do the calculations,” notes Ford, who underwent additional training to become a Master Analyst in Financial Forensics. In that capacity, she has appeared in court as an expert witness multiple times. Not her favorite thing, she admits, but what she appreciates about it is the opportunity “to tell the story that needs to be told to help the wheels of justice turn.”
Much as she values the forensic side of her job, she has not abandoned the more traditional role as the professional who helps individuals and businesses with tax and general accounting issues. Unlike forensics, which consists of specific, unrelated projects, these services build long-term relationships with clients who often become friends. The firm likes to describe its cooperative involvement by using the metaphor of driving along with the client. If the latter is in the driver’s seat, the Hill & Ford accountant is sitting next to him in the passenger seat, helping the driver reach the chosen destination.
Thanks to her expertise, in 2012 Ford was invited to participate in a White House forum on how changing tax laws impact small business in America. “At the end of 2012 crazy things were going on in the tax world,” she recalls. “The Bush tax reforms from the early 2000s were set to expire, and the question was, were we going to go over the cliff? At the same time, Obamacare was coming on line. Lawyers and accountants all over America were going crazy… It was a bad time to leave my clients, but I thought of my dad, who was a county commissioner and believed in doing right by the community. He would have said to me. ‘If you don’t go, who will?’ So I went.” Small business wants stability and permanence, she notes, “but we still don’t have either; very frustrating!” Still, it was cool to visit the White House.
2012 was tough for her small accounting firm as well, as one of the partners left, taking some clients with her and upsetting the rest of the team. Yet Hill & Ford has not
only bounced back but has grown so much since then that this past July the San Antonio Business Journal gave it its Fast Track Award, an honor given to the fastest-growing businesses in town.
She started with a math team
While we are talking in her pleasant, light-filled office, photos of her with Hill, other colleagues and close relatives are soundlessly rolling across a screen behind her. When I ask about it, she explains that this digital photo display was put together in honor of her 30th anniversary with the firm two years ago. More photos, albeit of the print variety, stand on a side table showing her with her mother and daughter. When I remark that she resembles her mom, Ford reveals that she was adopted. It’s good for a laugh, but she agrees that there’s indeed a resemblance.
Adopted as a newborn, young Kim grew up in the small West Texas town of Andrews as an only child. Riding horses and competing in barrel racing were a big part of her childhood until the age of 12, when her interests began to change. (Today her many trophies are tastefully arranged on a wall in the Hill & Ford conference room.) As a teen, Kim joined the high school math team, which not only participated but usually won regional and state competitions, thanks to “a great coach.” The young girl first heard about accounting as a profession from a senior team member she was dating at the time. The fellow was planning to major in that field. Then one night, Kim was babysitting for the children of a local CPA, who, after chatting with her about her interests, told her to apply for a job in his office when she got her driver’s license. She did and loved it from the start. “I knew I had found my niche,” says the CPA.
Following graduation from Texas Tech with an accounting degree, Ford and her new husband moved to the San Antonio area, where the young woman found employment with Gerald Hill’s firm and never looked back. In 1994, she was promoted to managing partner.
For two years in a row – 2014 and 2015 – Hill & Ford was recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in San Antonio in the small business category. Since the ratings are based on anonymous employee surveys, that’s something this managing partner is especially proud of. Ford makes sure that the employees are well taken care of, especially during the long hours of tax season. Massages and dinners are provided for everyone, and concerns or complaints do not fall on deaf ears. “We try to really listen,” is the way she puts it.
Another award that pleases her is the 2014 Women’s Leadership Award, also bestowed by the Business Journal. Women have made significant inroads in her profession, with a good number becoming leaders like herself. In her opinion, accounting requires attention to details, and women are more detail-oriented by nature. In addition, they tend to be more “relational” in dealing with people, which helps build stronger teams. But she also points out that the culture of the profession allows for flexible hours, an enormous help for mothers with young children and something that she experienced herself for years while rearing her daughter as a single mother.
With her child all grown up, however, Ford, a woman of deep faith, has had opportunities to extend her horizon of caring. Her remarkable charitable involvement in the community started inconspicuously enough when a client, the late Mary Denman, asked Ford to help with a capital campaign for the renovation of the San Pedro Playhouse. But what really lit the fire in her heart was a speech by former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who spoke about breaking the cycle of poverty through education during a San Antonio Youth Literacy breakfast. “That really hit me, and I brought the message back to my team (in the office),” recalls Ford. “We decided to focus our efforts on that.”
Today Ford is the chair of the San Antonio Youth Literacy Board as well as a Reading Buddy to a second grader for the entire school year. Under her leadership, the firm has also adopted other causes, such as the Food Bank, the Elf Louise Christmas project, Avance San Antonio and Haven for Hope. Every year, Hill & Ford donates 1 percent of its gross income to charity, but more remarkably, they all roll up their sleeves to pack food boxes, work in Haven’s kitchen, build recreational facilities, etc. What’s more, employees get paid time off to engage in community initiatives.
For those who feel overwhelmed by the vast needs that exist here and in the world in general, Ford has some advice, the same advice that helped her and which comes from the popular Atlanta-based preacher Andy Stanley. He encourages his listeners to “give to one as you would love to give to everyone.”
By Jasmina Wellinghoff
Photography by Jessica Giesey