Anna Locke takes her accounting business beyond the spreadsheet

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If there was a career that a professional could take anywhere, Anna Locke figured it was accounting. So, before she founded the A. T. Locke accounting firm in 2008, she was a recent college graduate working at Elliott Davis and waiting for the day her husband’s engineering career might call for the family to move to another location.

That day has yet to come. Anna Locke said she still tries to make sure that what she does complements her husband’s goals, and vice versa. But in the meantime, Locke built her own company, a Greenville business that is poised to expand beyond the Upstate.

It was accounting’s geographical flexibility that drew Anna to the career, but she also had an inkling that it would allow her to explore in a way, even if she never ventured far. She said one of her favorite aspects of the job is learning about a great diversity of industries and business among her clientele. She works with international companies new to the Upstate, small startups and family-owned businesses in their second and third generations. To keep up with them all, she intentionally hires different types of people, ensuring a diversity of ideas about how to use financial information.

As she grew in her field, Locke wanted to do more than just get the numbers right. She wanted to know what they could do.

“My personality and my curiosity was building so that I wanted to see what businesses did with the numbers on a day-to-day basis,” she said. Now Locke is passionate about helping people use financial statements to their greatest potential as a business tool. “It’s amazing how that can kick-start a conversation,” she said, showing companies when and how they can expand, revealing information that might be contrary to what business owners think they have observed.

Do companies have the cash they think they have? Are they truly making money on their favorite customer or product line? Is the organization growing? The numbers will tell.

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The time spent helping organizations understand what they need on an individual level parallels Locke’s involvement in initiatives that aim to support the wider business community. She serves on the boards of the Greer Chamber of Commerce and NEXT High School, an innovative public school set to open next year. In addition to those formal roles, Locke said she tries to be part of conversations that are moving the business community forward. She’s getting to spend two years on big ideas for the entire state of South Carolina as part of the current class in the Liberty Fellowship, an esteemed statewide leadership program.

Locke recently served as a judge for Startup Weekend, a three-day crash course in building in a startup. She said it was difficult to choose winners among so many promising concepts.

“I’m grateful to live in a community that talks a lot about new business ideas,” she said.

A.T. Locke now has more than 100 clients, and has grown to the point that Locke no longer needs to be involved in the minutiae of client accounts. The 18-employee firm also has grown physically, steadily taking over one floor at a time in a beautifully appointed office building off of Pelham Road. Most recently, they took over the downstairs, creating a laid-back meeting space where travel books sit on the coffee table and the financial publications are tucked out of sight. Locke said that choice was deliberate, an effort to encourage employees to put accounting aside once in a while and let their minds travel.

She said the plan for 2015 is to continue building her team. Her five-to-10-year plan is to reach into different markets. She said the firm already has clients in other parts of the Carolinas and Georgia, and she looks forward to the day when the company has a physical footprint in those areas.

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Locke likes to be out and about, and is a good source for intel on the community. She said these days, area companies are making their plans for the first and second quarters of 2015, and also keeping an eye on the Ebola virus. Because she prefers face-to-face interaction, she said she relies heavily on a calendar to keep her in line.

“Otherwise I’ll spend a lot of time on a lot of different things – enjoying every single one, but not really getting that deeply into anything.”

Interestingly, her husband, Sydney, referenced that same impulse to stay busy and involved when he said “genuine” and “sincere” were the words he would use to describe Locke. “She is truly interested in the boards and other things she’s involved in, and has a true interest in her customers.”

Even as she stays on the move, Locke keeps a reminder that she is on a certain path. She wears a small lapel pin in the shape of a lantern that represents a light from God illuminating the path toward her next adventure. She said her guiding principle is her faith. “I may not have it all planned out on my own,” she said, “but I don’t have to.”

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