The Business Journal
By Marci Pelzer
White-collar crooks, beware. Sequence Inc., Tracy Coenen’s nearly 3-year-old forensic accounting business, has grown 300 percent in 2002. It’s as if she looked into a crystal ball and saw the fates of Enron, Tyco and Worldcom coming before anyone else did.
When attorneys, claims adjusters and CEOs need to document embezzlement and fraud, win contract disputes, or resolve tax controversy, they call on Coenen to document misdeeds and testify in court. “My clients tell me to go find the money,” she says.
Coenen studied accounting and criminology at Marquette University. A class exploring the different kinds of white-collar crime piqued her interest, but at the time she was unsure of a practical application for her quirky passion. “I’m a numbers person,” she says.
After graduation she continued to pursue a dual education – informally studying the crime scene in a probation officer day job while pursuing her MBA and CPA on the side. She honed her accounting skills at firms large and small – Arthur Andersen and Peters & Associates, Brookfield – before striking out on her own in January 2000.
Coenen, who is also a certified fraud examiner, sees forensic accounting as an emerging field, but she has found marketing such a specialized service to be challenging. She devotes 15 hours of her 60 – 70 hour workweek to client development. “My biggest challenge is one-on-one relationship building. There is so much trust necessary in my line of work. It’s a matter of being patient while relationships mature,” she says.
Many of her clients are attorneys, including Foley & Lardner and Domnitz & Mawicke. “It’s harder to get to the decision-makers in the insurance industry,” Coenen says.
She attributes recent growth to wider awareness of corporate fraud, cultivating contacts over the long term and an image makeover that included a company name change, slick materials and a move downtown from her home office.
Coenen says reading “Encyclopedia Brown” mysteries as a child may have been a formative experience, but she definitely caught the entrepreneurial bug early on. “I always knew I was the kind of person who wanted to be in charge of my own destiny,” she says.
She chose Sequence, Inc. as the company name because it communicates the sense of putting things in order. John Peters, shareholder at Peters & Associates, Coenen’s former firm, says many accountants are attracted to forensic accounting – a field that has been known as litigation support services. “Tracy was always energetic and excited,” he says.
“Owning my own business is even more exciting than I thought. I realize that I could have set my goals even higher in the beginning,” she says.
About the Awards: Each year, the Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee sponsors the Women of Influence awards to honor leaders in ten different categories. In 2002, over 150 nominations were received. Sequence Inc.’s owner was chosen as a winner in the category of “Innovation”, both for her entrepreneurial style and for her vision within the field of accounting.