Ted Dickman and Ken Hughes: FORVIS Foundation Builders
Between them, Ted Dickman and Ken Hughes have nearly 20 years of experience serving as CEOs of FORVIS’ two predecessor firms: Ted at BKD and Ken at DHG. And while once friendly competitors, they couldn’t be more excited—or proud—to see their former firms join forces. Ted and Ken recently sat down with FORVIS Governing Board Chairman Matt Snow to discuss the merger as well as their roles in cultivating a singular purpose, mission, and vision collectively known today as the FORVIS DNA.
Matt: First, Ted and Ken, we want to express our gratitude for your help in laying the groundwork for what has now become the nation’s eighth largest professional services firm. We realize the merger would never have happened if not for the deep trust and respect you have for each other and which you nurtured between your two firms over many years. What did you think when you heard about the merger?
Ken: It’s fantastic. Even back when I was CEO, there was always talk about when two or more of the Praxity firms might get together. So when I received a text from Chief Performance Officer Mike Crawford saying he had some confidential and time-sensitive news to share, I remember picking up the phone and simply asking “which firm.” When he said BKD, I knew it was the right choice.
Ted: I couldn’t agree more. When we talked among ourselves at BKD about who we might merge with some day, we all said that DHG felt most like us. We tended to think the same. We were both ambitious, yet humble. Of any of the other firms, none of them balanced our attributes as well as DHG. It’s the perfect fit.
Matt: As we merged, a top priority was identifying our collective culture and putting words to it. As you’re aware, this gave rise to our FORVIS DNA, where our values are encapsulated in the acronym BE BOLD and culminates in the promise to “Deliver an Unmatched Client Experience.” What’s your reaction?
Ted: I was very positively impressed and, at the same time, not all that surprised. It’s fresh, aspirational, and compelling, yet feels familiar and aligns with the values and culture Ken and I strived for at our respective firms. To me, it’s early evidence of how two great firms came together to form something even better.
Ken: I’m delighted that, at its core, FORVIS’ DNA is still all about people and clients. It embraces the values of both former firms. If there had ever been a divide, we would never have gotten together. I especially like the core values in action directive to BE BOLD. It’s an effective reminder that if we can’t boldly put our values into action, they’re just words on paper.
Matt: How do you think FORVIS’ values differentiate us from other firms?
Ted: Most organizations have value statements. But simply posting them on your website doesn’t differentiate you. What does that is truly living them—ingraining them into the culture of the firm. That’s much harder. I’ve talked with many firms over the years, and I’d say that, when pressed, not even 5% truly live their values. There’s no accountability. And that’s what I appreciate about FORVIS’ values—they’re all about holding one another accountable to operate as a cohesive unit. When you selflessly put your best people before your clients—with the right intentions and interest of the clients—that’s huge.
Ken: Totally agree. The real question is whether you put your values into action. Do you really mean what you say? I remember one of my mentors saying, if you had to choose between money and reputation, you’d better choose reputation. I’m thrilled that the new FORVIS DNA clearly builds and expands on the excellent reputations that both former firms worked so hard to achieve. I also think the name “FORVIS”—how it combines elements of “forward” and “vision”—further differentiates us. I love explaining it to people. It re-energizes me.
Matt: FORVIS recently onboarded more than 500 new hires—a number I’m still amazed at. As a former CEO of our firm, what advice do you have for them?
Ken: Other than living out our values, I’d encourage them to find their passion. Leverage the incredible opportunities they have while at FORVIS to discover their true passion. Then, if you work hard, be present, learn from others, and teach what you know—well, that’s always been my recipe for success.
Ted: My advice is to trust the firm, the people, and the values. Our values include developing our people to be the best version of themselves they can be. And we’re here to help. If you give your best effort, day in and day out, good things will happen. The roadmap to success is here—just take advantage of it.
Matt: What are you most proud of as a retired CEO of the firm?
Ken: Looking back, I’m amazed at all the individuals—both inside the firm and out—we positively impacted. We helped make many people’s lives better and more successful. That’s immensely rewarding. I once heard that a measure of a leader’s success is how well their organization fares after they leave. Well, it’s obvious that FORVIS continues to thrive. Together, we’ve built an organization that has stood the test of time—and that feels pretty good.
Ted: It’s interesting. As CEOs, we were laser-focused on metrics and score cards. And while they had their place, it’s not the stuff you think about at the end. As Ken says, it’s all about seeing the success of people’s lives we touched. For me, personally, I was fortunate to step into a firm that already had a great culture. It was built on the backs of many generations. But to have been given the opportunity to expand upon and enhance that culture—to help steer it towards greater servant leadership and a “one firm” concept—that’s something, and I know I also speak for Ken, that’s very, very special.
In retirement, both Ted and Ken continue to give back to their communities and make a positive impact in the lives of those around them. Ted serves on the boards of the Indiana University Foundation, the 500 Festival Foundation, and Beechwood Educational Foundation. He and his wife Kim enjoy spending significant time with their five children and three grandchildren while also taking time to travel and keep an active lifestyle by hiking, biking, and fishing. Ken serves on the board of trustees at Western Carolina University, and he serves on the boards of two for profit companies, one nonprofit and on the leadership team at his church. He thoroughly enjoys playing golf, and he and his wife, Jane like to travel and spend considerable time with their blended family of four children and six grandchildren with another one on the way!