Changing of the Guard


Written by Joe O’Donnell


With the announcement of her elevation to CEO of Warren Averett, Mary Elliott will become the first female CEO at the firm and one of only three female CEO’s among the top 35 accounting firms in the United States.

Elliott succeeded Jim Cunningham who retired at the end of 2017.

Elliott has worked her entire career at Warren Averett, successfully serving clients in their Healthcare Consulting division for more than 30 years, and has served as COO and chair of the Operations Board since 2012.

“Having been here for 33 years, I hold Warren Averett close to my heart and I’m honored and humbled to be given this opportunity to serve as the CEO of this great firm,” says Elliott. “Jim Cunningham has led our firm through opportunities, challenges and growth that has set us at the top of the accounting industry today. We are going to continue to lead in a unified vision by embracing change, being relentless about innovation and providing service to our clients that sets us apart.”

Warren Averett has grown substantially over the last few years to become one of the largest accounting firms in the Southeastern region, ranking among the top 35 firms in the United States. With more than 800 employees and 340 CPAs, Warren Averett offers depth and experience in a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, construction, real estate, aerospace and defense, life sciences and technology, nonprofit and public sector, with services that span beyond audit and tax to include wealth management, staffing and recruiting, technology consulting, financial outsourcing, retirement plan administration and investments. Their 15 office locations include Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, Cullman, Anniston, Mobile and Foley, Alabama; Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and affiliate offices in Houston, Texas and the Cayman Islands.

“Warren Averett is built on opportunity, and has always strived to cultivate a culture of growth and entrepreneurship, which bring new ways to serve our clients. I think the best way to build a strong culture is to live the values we have on our walls every day. Living out integrity in all we do, building strong relationships, having a passion to win and always having an intense focus on our clients and their goals, this is what makes us a strong firm and one that helps our team members and clients thrive. For future developments, innovation is key. We are surrounded by opportunity, especially from a technology aspect. I think upcoming technology is going to provide us with a lot of non-traditional ways to serve our clients, and that is always the goal–to focus on the client and put them at the center of everything we do.”

Serving the client includes keeping up with the changes within dozens of industries, with probably the most challenging of those being healthcare.

Elliot has specialized over the years in healthcare practices, working as a problem solver within that important and complex industry sector. Her work focus includes ways to make physician practices more efficient, developing physician practice compensation formulas, and serving over 250 physician practices and offering benchmarking for various specialties.

What does Elliott see in that sector?

“I think we should always protect the patient-doctor relationship. I have spent my career helping doctors and their practices, and that’s one thing that I hear again and again. When the Affordable Care Act came into effect, Warren Averett developed a task force and provided many companies advice on how to addresses their health benefits because of the law. As any new changes come to fruition, for example the new tax reform laws, we will do the same,” Elliott says.

As the first female CEO at the firm, and one of few in major similar firms, does Elliott feel like a trailblazer?

“I’ve never felt that being a female at Warren Averett has been a hindrance or a catalyst for my growth within the company. However, I am a woman, and I’m proud of who I am and the path that I’ve been able to take. I’m not sure if I consider myself a trailblazer, but I am honored and will use this as an opportunity to reach out with and for other women–how can we enrich an opportunistic environment? We have a strong group of talented females coming up within the firm today. In fact, our leadership team also includes a female CFO and COO,” Elliott says.

Warren Averett has a long history of serving the communities in which their employees live and work. “One of our firm’s culture and values, as well as one of my personal values, is to ‘Share Our Success,’ in which we commit to sharing our success with our communities through time, encouragement and monetary support,” Elliott says.

“We encourage our employees to get out in the community, help out and make a difference. We have examples across our entire footprint of nonprofit board members, community leaders, founders of charities, fundraising chairs and more. Last summer, our firm coordinated ‘Community Champions’ in each office to help implement larger, firm wide initiatives to benefit our communities. We started in July with a school supply effort, and just finished up a ‘Helping Through the Holidays’ project where offices chose families to adopt, donated and volunteered at toy and food drives for the holidays, etc.

“My personal views on community efforts align with Warren Averett. I’m a firm believer in giving back and sharing success, and proud to represent a firm that strongly supports, encourages and instills this as well,” she says.

Mary Elliott resides in Vestavia with her husband and four children. She came to work at Warren Averett right after graduating with an accounting degree from UAB. “Coming to work at Warren Averett right out of school, and working full time while remaining committed to my husband and four children, has led me to have a passion for women’s opportunities and issues in the work force,” she says. It has also conditioned her love for family outings, time at the lake and vacationing, maintaining a life/work balance so important in today’s business world.

An active member of the community at large, Elliott has served on the board of directors of Jefferson County Medical Foundation Trust, Momentum Alumni, Children’s Aid Society Foundation, and as treasurer of Vestavia Hills Parks and Recreation Foundation. She is past chair of the finance committee of Saint Mark The Evangelist.