[Update to post originally published on May 25 with a fourth ex-Alliantgroup employee sharing their experience.]
One thing I have learned since IRS Criminal Investigation and the Justice Department conducted a court-ordered raid of Alliantgroup’s Houston offices on May 20 is that there are A LOT of horror stories from ex-Ag employees about their experience working at the management and tax consulting firm. If you have the time, check out these threads, posted after the raid went down, on Fishbowl, r/Houston, and from a former Alliantgroup employee on Twitter.
As a website that has lurked in the shadows of the public accounting industry for nearly 13 years, we’ve seen and heard our fair share of stories about how toxic, uncomfortable, and cult-ish working at a Big 4 firm and other top mid-tier firms can be. So it’s interesting to read and hear about the gory details from former and current Alliantgroup employees of what it’s like working at a well-known non-accounting firm that sits on the periphery of the accounting profession.
And then there’s the Houston Press article from 2017 that detailed allegations of sexual harassment against Alliantgroup co-founder and CEO Dhaval Jadav (a former Deloitte & Touche grunt BTW) and other male employees, the twice-annual late-night office parties Jadav calls “raves,” the cult-like devotion management asks of its employees (they must be “raving fans” of Alliantgroup), and how sue-happy Jadav is against people and clients that wrong him.
Going Concern has always been a safe space for public accountants to sound off anonymously about what it’s REALLY like to work in PA. We’ve given four former and one current Alliantgroup employees a safe space here to talk about what it was/is like for them to work at the “blue A.”
They “stole a great deal of the joy of my pregnancy”
[NEW] This former Alliantgroup employee explains her uniquely awful experience working at the firm.
I started working at Alliantgroup when I was 22. Since I was just recently out of college, I laughed off/ignored a lot of things that should have been major red flags, like one of my team members (who is now a vice president as well as the CEO of Alliantgroup’s cybersecurity company) taking me out to lunch my first week and asking me if I’d ever had a lesbian experience. Sexual harassment/discrimination and racism were very much part of the day-to-day culture.
Over time, as others have said, Alliantgroup slowly took over more and more of my life, alienating me from my family and previous friend group because I was simply always at work. Because my entire social life revolved around the company, I eventually began a relationship with a coworker. At the time I was still an associate, and the man who became my husband was the director of implementation.
Obviously this made the relationship problematic, but we were committed, so we kept it under wraps as long as possible at work while we tried to straighten out the personal side of things. Eventually the secret came out and my now-husband was demoted from his position. Honestly, this was a fair decision considering the role imbalance between us at the time, but the worst part was the owners and senior leadership implying to him that I had perhaps intentionally entrapped him into a relationship with the goal of filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company. I did, and still do, find that a deeply misogynistic point of view that is indicative of the company’s attitude toward women in general.
About a year later, we decided to have a child together and I quickly got pregnant. When I told management, they were … not supportive. Still feeling like I was masterminding some sort of legal plot, a plan was quickly hatched to banish me not just from the office, but from public life entirely. I was given the “option” of terminating my employment and working from home as a contractor, during which time Alliantgroup would pay my COBRA premiums for 18 months as long as I agreed to release them from any legal liability. It was also heavily implied that my husband’s employment would be in jeopardy if anyone from the office found out I was pregnant. Given that my choice was to accept their offer or possibly get us both terminated with nothing, I agreed. I later found out that while they were selling me on this idea, there was at least one conversation where one of the owners tried to convince my husband to pressure me into an abortion (which, of course, he refused).
I lost almost my entire local support network overnight and lived in fear of any of my former coworkers seeing me pregnant, to the point I rarely left my house. I couldn’t see my friends at the company, and of course I was subject to the shunning ritual that pressured them not to reach out to me either. Alliantgroup managed to steal a great deal of the joy of my pregnancy by making my very existence feel like a dirty secret.
When my son was five months old, I decided to go back to work (Ag had terminated my contract work earlier than agreed, although they did continue paying my COBRA premiums). My husband still worked for Ag, so they agreed to let me come back as an employee because they didn’t want me going to work for a competitor. I was promised I would retain my previous position, but I came back to an effective demotion. My title and salary were the same, but whereas I had been a well-reviewed team leader of an industry group before, I was now given the role of an entry-level associate and faced ever-moving goalposts for how I could “earn” my way back to my previous status. The worst part was, they referred to my absence casually as my “maternity leave,” as if it was a generous benefit they had offered me instead of a stressful isolation they’d basically threatened me into. Had my period of non-employment actually been a maternity leave, I’m pretty sure my demotion would have been illegal.
I was gaslit for months about the reasons I was not being given my team back, culminating in a conversation with my new team lead (my former team member who was curious about my lesbian tendencies) in which I was told the reason I could no longer be in management was that I could no longer attend the evening leadership meetings because of my daycare schedule, and switching off with my husband was not an option because he was still more important in the organization than me. Trying to give him an out for what was clearly an inappropriate conversation, I told him it sounded like I was being told to choose between being a mother and being in leadership, and his response was, “Choose.”
At that point, I tried to start recording audio on my phone, but he saw what I was doing and ended the conversation. I was then called into another director’s glass office for damage control, during which my team lead denied to my face having said what he said. No action was taken, and they eventually contrived a way to push me out entirely the week before they relocated to the new office. Best to get rid of what doesn’t spark joy before a big move, I guess!
“Absolute BS” billing practices
One former Alliantgroup employee, who worked at the firm for four years, told us more about its historically shady billing practices, which he/she said are “absolute BS.” (You can read more about this in our article about the raid.) This ex-House of Jadav employee also called Alliantgroup “an evil, toxic, emotionally damaging company.”
When we brought on the ERC (employee retention credit) services, my team was offered our biggest quarterly bonus EVER, which we could earn only by billing 1,000 billable hours for the quarter. I’ll say that again: 1,000 billable hours per person for one quarter (three months, 12 weeks, 60 days).
The company has its employees working a minimum of 10-hour days Monday through Friday (typically more during tax season, plus weekend work as well). At 10 hours a day on average for about 60 days in a quarter, the math adds up to about 600 hours of working hours possible in a quarter. How does that add up, you might ask? Well, it simply doesn’t.
We were taught to bill in 15-minute increments and were told to round up if we went over the 15-minute increment. So say we had a phone conversation with a client that lasted 32 minutes, we would be told to bill for the 45-minute increment rather than 30. If you had a five-minute conversation with a co-worker about the client file you worked on, bill 15 minutes toward that client’s file. I would literally spend anywhere from five to 10 extra hours a week, on top of my 50-hour workweek, billing time into our time-tracking system to try to get my bonus.
It was absolutely ridiculous and 100% to take as much money out of our clients’ pockets as possible. The saddest part is that most of the clients we served never asked for billing details and never knew how badly the company was taking advantage of them. Most of these clients were actually in serious need of the credits because they were small businesses. They trusted the company’s billing practices and fees. I still feel sick about it to this day when I think about some of the wonderful clients I worked with and how we treated them when it came to “paying for our services.”
The company made it seem OK that they were billing their clients so much because they would make themselves look like heroes by finding them this incredible amount of money in credits. The company loves to hide behind that heroic prophecy of saving companies billions, when in reality it’s completely motivated by greed. But I was a salaried employee who would have made much more than my salary had I been paid hourly and collected overtime. We were always understaffed for the amount of work that was asked of us. At one point in time I was a project manager for two service lines and managing a total of 500 client files completely on my own. Yes, I was expected to single-handedly deliver tax credits to 500 different clients in one year while only getting help from one other individual who I shared with three other project managers on my team.
So I did whatever I could to feel compensated for the insane amount of work that I was held accountable for and ultimately the sacrifice of giving up my personal life. The company treats most of its employees like garbage. I cried every week because I was so miserable. And yes the company’s higher-up individuals—that 1%—made exponentially more money than the team they managed that actually did all of the hard work.
We all received an email right before Thanksgiving 2020 in the middle of the pandemic announcing a certain employee’s bonus for the quarter. That was another thing they liked to do, flaunt certain (ass kissing) individuals’ incredible bonuses to incentivize the little people to work harder so they could one day obtain that type of bonus too. Typically, after each corporate tax season in April and October, the company would throw insane rave parties as a thank you for the employees’ hard work through tax season. Additionally, every year the company hosted an extremely extravagant Christmas party for its employees.
These events included costly items such as DJs, rented venues, five-star catered meals, open bars, and plenty of Wolf of Wall Street cash-throwing extravaganzas (if you’re picking up what I’m putting down). Because the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height in 2020, none of these three annual events could take place. Therefore most employees hoped that the company would compensate them for their hard work via a simple holiday bonus check. WRONG. We got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a Domino’s gift card.
This brings me back to the email that was sent by the CEO, Mr. Jadav, regarding this one employee’s bonus right before Thanksgiving. This person received a $40,000 bonus for his “raving fan achievement.” This was the salary I started with when I began my role at the company. It was an absolute slap in the face, and at that moment in time I knew I needed out of the company as soon as possible.
With all this being said, on behalf of all former Alliantgroup employees, I would kindly like to ask for a bowl of popcorn to snack on while we watch karma finally catch up to this evil, toxic, emotionally damaging company. And yes I mean movie theater style, not microwaved.
“The most abusive relationship I have ever been in”
This former Alliantgroup employee told us that their experience working at the firm “haunts me in my daily activities, interferes with my work at my current job, intrudes on my thoughts in my downtime, and affects my view of the way the world works.”
Although time has passed and I am now immersed in a successful career within the industry I specialize in, my time at Alliantgroup haunts me in my daily activities, interferes with my work at my current job, intrudes on my thoughts in my downtime, and affects my view of the way the world works. This company preys on those desperate for a chance at success, too often naïve college graduates with no idea of the horrors they are walking into.
I survived for two years within the glass corridors of the 20-floored building, home to one of the most deceitful and manipulative tax firms in the United States. During that time, my every move was constantly monitored. I was pulled into conference room after conference room to discuss my reasoning behind taking a lunch off-desk, off-site. My laptop powered itself on in the middle of the night once; I left it in the trunk of my car every evening thereafter.
Myself, along with co-workers, were asked to document our peers who were not “culturally aligned” and discuss their actions in meetings with upper management as part of our grooming if we wanted to be promoted. For those of us content within our current roles, the widespread mantra was “get promoted or get out!” Your career journey with Alliantgroup is not under your own control—rather, you are at their mercy for how they choose best to use you (or in most cases, what you’re willing to do for them to make it to the top).
The same year I started with Alliantgroup, a news article began to spread flaunting accusations of sexual harassment against the CEO Dhaval Jadav. Within this article, multiple employees came forward with accusations of similar behavior within the company, and others began to whistleblow on the illegal billing activity occurring within multiple departments. While Alliantgroup’s managers made sure to shut down any on-desk conversations about the article, this was the first time both current and former employees had a win at exposing the dirty secrets hidden behind Alliantgroup’s closed doors. The saddest part? It is all true.
Employees who are even suspected of being disloyal to Dhaval or the business are called to the 16th floor to be dismissed. In this room, you are forced to sign an NDA to receive severance, and are escorted from the building and have your personal items shipped to you at a later time. This NDA, of course, is to protect the company against employees who witnessed things such as illegal billing practices on the floor. For example, during my employment, several clients requested an itemized breakdown of the hours billed and the work completed to reach those hours. In all instances, my managers and client relations directed the project team to back out hours of work completed, and reassign the hours to a different task within the project. Quality control and client relations would review the new itemized billing breakdown and, after a series of edits, would return it to the client. Discounts on future years’ tax services were offered to clients who continued to raise red flags. Those red flags were either quickly withdrawn or silenced by CPAs simply choosing to do business elsewhere.
While I am privy to many other things I unfortunately witnessed within those walls, I think the biggest takeaway from Alliantgroup is the trauma. The amount of gaslighting, manipulation, privacy violations, and stripping of your own professional dignity that occurs every single day to employee after employee is purely wrong. There is no one to submit a formal compliant to. You are simply stuck in the aftermath that Alliantgroup creates for you—for me, it was months of unemployment at first. After eventually finding my new home, it was years of therapy—both professionally and personally. It was the constant fear of being watched over my shoulder at work, when all that was behind me was a supportive new team. It was living in constant irrational fear of being fired in my next job or being a failure and, saddest of all, the desire to end my life at times. Truly, the most abusive relationship I have ever been in was with my former employer, and I feel very grateful to have not only escaped, but found a loving professional home where I can thrive.
Seeing the news of the IRS raid on their building last week brought me to my knees with tears. My phone blew up with texts and calls from former colleagues, family, and friends all familiar with Alliantgroup’s reputation—an army of survivors all standing together to witness what we hope to be the first domino to fall against them.
What’s up with Zerbe, Miller, Fingeret, Frank & Jadav?
Another former Alliantgroup employee who reached out to us made mention of the law firm ZMFF&J, which has offices on the 17th floor of the Houston building where Alliantgroup is headquartered. According to its website, ZMFF&J specializes in tax planning and litigation. “We represent individuals and companies that are under audit or examination by the IRS or state tax authorities. We currently assist businesses and individuals ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies,” the website says.
The people who make up the ZMFF&J in the firm’s name are:
- Dean Zerbe, partner; national managing director at Alliantgroup and former senior counsel and tax counsel for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) from 2001 to 2008;
- Steven Miller, national director of tax at Alliantgroup and former acting IRS commissioner;
- Jeremy Fingeret, partner; chief quality officer at Alliantgroup;
- Shane Frank, partner; chief risk officer and co-founder of Alliantgroup; and
- Dhaval Jadav, partner; co-founder and CEO of Alliantgroup.
This former Alliantgroup employee, who worked for the company for four years, also worked for ZMFF&J and told us:
Alliantgroup forces their employees to bill more than 24 hours a day. They also have a firm called ZMFF&J that is supposed to legally (for multiple reasons) be an entirely separate entity … but it isn’t. Every single employee of ZMFF&J has never received a paycheck from ZMFF&J because they are all employees of Alliantgroup. It’s located on the 17th floor and only consists of Alliantgroup employees. I was a part of ZMFF&J. I asked one of the ZMFF&J partners, who is an unapologetically horrible human being, “How do I explain to people how ZMFF&J is separate from Alliantgroup?” His response was, “Why would you need to explain that to anyone?” As if people who start working at the company don’t immediately become curious as to why they have an imaginary law firm on the 17th floor.
Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not
A current Alliantgroup employee told us that overbilling clients is still rampant but the company just last week changed its billing practices to be less arbitrary. Then the IRS came-a-calling later in the week. Coincidence?
Overbilling is rampant and they actually tried cutting down on it. I don’t know if it was coincidental that the IRS just so happened to stop in the same week the company started to go backward on the billing, but the way we’ve been billing clients has been notoriously known for more than a year and it has been prevalent among older employees. So then this sudden shift acting as if this wasn’t a thing already happening is kind of off, right?
Work environment: Whenever there would be promotions, they would band everyone together, publicize who was getting promoted, and tell people, “Hey, this could be you,” and then afterward there would be treats, drinks—sometimes alcohol if it was on a Friday. We haven’t had a promo meet-up in a minute because last time we did it, they told us we could go home immediately after and they got pissed off when we didn’t stay to talk to the people who got promoted, even though the people who got promoted left as soon as that promotion meeting was over. So the following week, we were all spoken to by our leads, most likely sent in by our director, to ask us why we didn’t stay, that it looked unprofessional, that this could be an opportunity for us to want to grow. But for the people who aren’t interested in growing, why would you reprimand them for leaving after being instructed to?
There’s more to this company, like mandatory 10-hour shifts but PTO is only eight hours.
In the past two months, there have been sexual harassment stories brought up to our HR department. Those were promptly ignored with one of the girls quitting because it got hushed down BY HR. The other one regarded a woman being fired for “provocative attire” despite complaining to HR about the harassment and uncomfortable work environment.
There was a heavy emphasis on staff to buy diapers for a big baby shower celebrated for a lead. If you chose not to partake in this, you were shunned. If you did buy diapers, you could essentially join the baby shower, in the middle of the workday, and blow off work. If you didn’t, you had to stay at your desk and continue working.
About a month or two ago, a man fainted on the 15th floor. What happened? I’m unsure, but from personal experience, that’s where the DART director sits. This is where entry-level employees sat before a big migration between the 15th and 18th floors. The 15th floor has very warm temperatures, and you are watched and clocked if you are gone from your seat for too long. Effectively hostile, discouraging employees from taking breaks to avoid “falling from grace” of department heads.
Honestly the amount of money this company can afford to throw around is a red flag. There was a structure where if you recommended someone into the company, both you and the new entry to the Ag cult would receive $1,000+ within the first three days they start. If they stay around for their sixth month, the person who referred them would receive $10,000. This poster was plastered all around the building to incentivize hiring with the large turnover rates.
If any other former or current Alliantgroup employees want to share their experiences working for the firm, get in touch with us using the contact info below. All submissions will be kept anonymous.