Since joining MYR Group in 2008, Russ Hinnen has seen the company, and his role within it, change significantly.
“We saw quite a bit of growth organically in my first six years, but then we saw a shift where we stopped focusing so much on organic growth and started focusing more on acquisitions,” explains Hinnen, who serves as vice president of corporate accounting for MYR Group, headquartered in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. “And as we were looking at acquisitions, the CFO quickly realized we didn’t really have a ton of acquisitions experience within the finance team.”
So, when the CFO asked Hinnen if he was interested in doing acquisition work, he quickly said yes, excited by the opportunity.
MYR Group is an electrical construction company, and considering its leaders are always looking for areas of improvement, Hinnen is an excellent fit for the firm. He describes himself as a “process improvement person,” and one way he has fulfilled that role is by embracing new software technologies.
In his position, Hinnen has oversight of the entire corporate accounting function, including monthly financial reporting, technical accounting guidance and implementations, all SEC reporting requirements, and tax compliance. He is also responsible for corporate merger and acquisition activity, internal reporting, external reporting, diligence, special projects, and tax accounting.
One key initiative Hinnen and his team have made contributions to is using robotic process automation (RPA) technology to the company’s benefit.
“The theory behind RPA really is you want your accountants to think,” Hinnen shares. “And that’s how our approach to technology works: let’s think about areas where people are mindlessly doing tasks. As long as there’s no thought process involved, we can program a bot to do it for them so that now they can concentrate on thinking.”
He and his team brainstormed ideas, which led to the creation of bots that clear check files from the bank, match them to outstanding check files, and then clear those checks without an accounting entering information.
“It would take a person three days to type in all those cleared checks each month,” Hinnen notes.
His team has also broadened reporting of the numbers of hours that are worked on various subsidiaries. “We’ve been able to automate that technology and we’re putting the finishing touches on automating our monthly financial package,” he adds.
Hinnen grew up in a small town in Illinois, and his career path started at the University of Illinois. His junior year classes stressed public accounting as a strong background, so after graduating, he focused his job search on public accounting firms and began his career at Crowe, which he credits for getting him to where he is today.
“During those six years I had a lot of exposure to acquisition work, helping to run acquisitions and making sure we were focused on the right areas as we did the work,” he says. “I also leveraged a lot of the audit work I did there to help me prepare for the role of head of corporate accounting.”
Another aspect of the job was tax work, which has contributed to the baseline knowledge that has led him to his current position.
By 2008, he landed at MYR, which at the time was a $550 million contractor. And it was an interesting time to join the company, to say the least.
“They were just in the process of starting to go public in 2008,” Hinnen remembers. “I came in on board a couple of months before we issued the IPO, so I was able to see the tail end of the registration process and all that work. I really spent my first year and a half at MYR getting the company ready for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, which is a big deal when you publicly traded—especially the first time.”
Helping people at a firm that has been around for one hundred years understand public company requirements was particularly challenging.
“I spent a lot of my time talking with the business to explain the reasons for the change and not just telling them what they needed to change,” Hinnen explains. “Really sitting down and explaining the why and partnering with the business to reach the point where we were Sarbanes compliant.”
Hinnen has also been assigned with finding savings related to corporate taxes.
“I’ll credit my tax manager. She’s done a ton of work over the last couple of years to identify some specific areas of savings,” Hinnen contends. “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re saving $90,000 annually just based on how we’ve reapplied our overheads across the company.”
They have also been able to find a couple of hundred thousand dollars on past filings, simply by amending filing.
“It’s pretty interesting, as I’ve learned more and more intricacies, especially around the state tax area,” he says. “Our state tax system in the United States is so incredibly convoluted, it’s impossible for one person to know it all. So, I think a lot falls through the cracks at a lot of different companies. Having somebody on the team who has the ability and the interest to look this stuff and do the leg work, has saved ourselves a tremendous amount of dollars.”
That kind of thinking has kept Hinnen a vital member of MYR Group’s team.
Thoughts from Guest Editor Tasker Generes
Normally when you think of process improvement you think of Lean, Six Sigma, or a host of other methodologies that help organizations create efficiency. Russ Hinnen may be a “process improvement person,” but his focus isn’t just on efficiency—it’s on driving human-centered operational excellence. In that vein, his work with robotic process automation (RPA) is about not only eliminating mindless tasks but also empowering people to do what they do best. Even then, it’s hard to strike the right balance in a change effort, and trust is hard to earn. That’s why Russ’s approach focuses on connecting the purpose to the impact and benefits it will have on the human experience. Ultimately deepening ownership in, and commitment to, a new way of working that helps accelerate meaningful change and growth.
Milliman congratulates Russ for this well-deserved recognition. It has been a pleasure to work alongside him to enrich MYR’s workers’ compensation, general liability, and auto liability programs. We are proud to provide MYR with actuarial expertise and look forward to contributing to their ongoing success.