In the early ’80s, John Milligan, BBA ’75, faced a choice: remain in a dead-end job or set out on his own. Milligan decided to move on, build his own diverse accounting firm and create opportunities for minorities. over 30 years later, his business Milligan & Company LLC is the largest minority-owned CPA firm in the Philadelphia region and a champion for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
As a teen in Norristown, PA, Milligan never thought about owning a business or attending college. He dropped out of high school after 10th grade and joined the Navy, serving for four years. After two years of junior college in California, Milligan returned to the Philadelphia area. On the recommendation of a friend, he enrolled at Temple University.
Being one of the few students of color in his classes, he felt out of place at school but he received support and guidance from his professors. They encouraged him to consider public accounting, connected him with employers and coached him through interviews. Milligan graduated magna cum laude with an offer from Coopers & Lybrand, the largest accounting firm in the city at that time.
Milligan left Coopers & Lybrand after nine years when it became apparent that leadership was not ready to make an African American a partner at the firm. However, his experiences there were formative. Not only did he learn the basics of public accounting and auditing, but he also learned about entrepreneurship and running small businesses.
“I had a mentor [Bruce Cohen] at Coopers & Lybrand who really helped me focus not only on becoming a good auditor but also being a good entrepreneur,” says Milligan. “So when I made my decision to leave, that experience and that mentoring really helped me prepare to start my own CPA firm.”
With his staffing choices, business practices and outside endeavors, Milligan has surpassed his initial goal to establish a more diverse accounting firm. Today, approximately 50 percent of Milligan & Company’s employees are minorities and 75 percent of the employees are women. He has made a commitment to support minority-owned businesses in his personal and professional life.
One of the most important decisions he made was to get involved in government programs for small businesses and work with government agencies. Milligan & Company was, for a number of years, a member of the Small Business Administration’s 8(A) Business Development Program. This program offers a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. After outgrowing the program, Milligan’s company now provides assistance to other businesses seeking 8(A) certification.
Milligan & Company managed the Philadelphia Minority Business Development Center for eighteen years. “That was very rewarding,” he says. “We helped literally hundreds of businesses with their business and marketing plans, and get bank loans.”
Milligan also created a nonprofit, the Greater Philadelphia Minority Business Strategic Alliance (GPMBA), a network of twenty organizations dedicated to promoting the growth of minority business enterprises with shared resources and collaboration. While GPMBA is no longer operational, one of their most important partnerships remains; Milligan sponsors SCORE, a network of expert business mentors, by providing them with office space in Center City.
Milligan’s interest in community service isn’t limited to his work with entrepreneurs and small businesses. He has served on the boards of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Norristown Area School District Education Foundation, and Montgomery Hospital in Norristown. He is currently the president of the Greater Norristown NAACP. The Fox School Department of Accounting will honor John Milligan with the Community Service Award at the 2019 Accounting Achievement Awards.
“It’s rewarding to be able to have an impact on people and their lives and know somehow you helped other people reach their full potential.”
This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.