CEO achieves balance - Compassion enriches CEO’s personal, professional life
Monday, October 11, 2004
Gordon Viere’s success story has elements in common with many other high-achieving SCSU alumni … worked his way through school, was influenced by a favorite professor, met a woman who changed his life. What’s distinctive about the CEO of Larson, Allen, Weishair & Co., LLP – one of America’s 20 largest accounting and consulting firms – is the depth of compassion and generosity this business leader displays in his actions and relationships.
In the 29 years since he graduated with a degree in accounting, Viere has risen to the top of his field – an outstanding achievement for the modest man who grew up in St. Rosa, population 60. Along the way he and his family have opened their home and their hearts to 22 foster children. While he acknowledges these experiences have benefited young people in need, they’ve had an equally positive impact on him and his relationships at home, at work and in the community.
According to Viere, it all goes back to his wife Diane’s influence. He credits the woman he met his junior year at SCSU with turning a mediocre student into a more organized, more focused, more mature future accountant. She also taught him a thing or two about generosity of spirit. “I credit her with most of the good things we get involved in,” Viere said. “She’s always been inclined to get involved and give back.”
Viere came to SCSU as a transfer student from Bemidji State. With a schedule that often packed more than 40 hours of work at Tempo in downtown St. Cloud around a full course load, Viere said he still did “pretty well” as a student. One of his most influential professors was Ron Carlson. “He taught me to expect the unexpected. I’d study and do everything I thought he wanted us to do to prepare, then I’d get the exam and it would be something totally different. I must have done okay though.”
“Okay is an understatement,” said Carlson, who has kept in touch with his former student. “Very few people ever reach the heights that Gordon has both nationally and locally in his profession,” he said.
From his university days of juggling work and studies, Viere developed the discipline, leadership skills and commitment that have taken him to the top of his game. “I learned that if you set your mind to something it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” Viere said. He soon also learned how deeply his actions could affect the future of other young lives.
Gordon and Diane were married just a year and a half – ages 23 and 21 – when their first opportunity to become foster parents presented itself in the form of a 16-year-old runaway. She was a friend of Diane’s younger sister, who had accompanied the frightened girl in her flight from an abusive home. When the Vieres found the girls, the runaway begged them not to send her home but to call her social worker instead. The social worker asked if the girl could stay with them for a few days while he sought room for her in a shelter.
Three months passed before the social worker showed up to take the girl. When the Vieres protested, he told them they were too young to be foster parents. They also were unlicensed. But it was too late. The young couple cared about the girl too much to let go without a fight – a fight they won by getting a temporary license and keeping their first foster child through her high school years.
That first experience was followed by a steady stream of young people who needed a home and family. “It’s one of the most gratifying and satisfying things we’ve ever done,” Viere said of the couple’s foster parenting. “It’s had a major impact on me.”
Having a succession of foster children also has been a beneficial experience for Gordon and Diane’s three children, ages 23, 21, and 12, he said. “Now when they see someone in trouble, their instinct is to help, and that’s been a positive influence.”
Viere believes the experiences have enhanced his leadership in business as well as his personal relationships. “It’s very important to have the human element in the workplace,” Viere said. “People know about our work with foster children, and I think it’s been a plus. It makes their boss less intimidating and gives them a sense that I’m much more approachable.
In a society where questionable business ethics and corporate scandals seem to be on the rise, Viere is a welcome role model for employees and students who aspire to get ahead, said Carlson. “The accounting profession would probably be far better if it had more people like Gordon.”
Viere is proud to be leading a firm with a history of demonstrating charity and service to society. “The three gentlemen who started our firm believed that generosity and giving back create better individuals, and if we have better individuals we’ll have a better organization.”
“What we say around here is you don’t get involved for business purposes, you get more satisfaction and benefit if you do it for personal satisfaction,” says Viere of his company. “You can’t fake it – people see through the fake.”