In early 2020, Alexia Pappas came to her bosses at SBF with some news: Her fiancé, who was working with the military on essential COVID-19 tracking, had been reassigned from his post in Tampa, and she was moving with him.
At many firms, this might have been the end of her tenure, even though Alexia had established herself as a key part of SBF’s tax department and management team.
But three years later, Pappas and SBF haven’t parted ways — far from it. She’s an SBF leader in an entirely new capacity, as the head of the firm’s first satellite office, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Pappas wasn’t the only SBF employee who saw an opportunity for growth in Knoxville. Lara Fett, a veteran of SBF’s client accounting services department, joined her in 2022. The two of them quickly established a small but mighty contingent with a wide range of accounting expertise, working closely with SBF leadership to hire more Tennessee-based employees. Now they’re looking to move from their coworking space in Bearden — a neighborhood west of downtown Knoxville — to a permanent site of their own in the heart of downtown.
“We’ve all been surprised with how quickly it’s grown and taken off,” Pappas said. With six employees and a strong connection to the main office in St. Pete, SBF Knoxville is building its own identity in a new and competitive market.
While much of the Knoxville employees’ work involves the firm’s Florida clientele, the Knoxville office is also connecting with local businesses.
Knoxville has lots going for it, with a good quality of life, a relatively lower cost of living compared to larger cities, strong incentives for business development and an exciting pool of young professionals eager to make their mark.
The city is home to global brands like Warner Brothers Discovery (home of HGTV and the Food Network), innovative science and tech firms (and the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and a thriving culture of entrepreneurs, craftspeople and makers. With a diversified business community that includes everything from health to sustainability to logistics, Knoxville is poised for growth in the coming years.
Pappas has been especially impressed with the local pool of accountants, including those who have recently completed studies at another economic engine in town — the University of Tennessee.
“In our industry, it has become more and more difficult to find good people,” said SBF cofounder and partner Rich Franz. “But being in a community like Knoxville that’s in growth mode has exceeded our expectations on that front.”
SBF is well known for its commitment to work culture, and Pappas has worked closely with the main office in St. Petersburg to ensure that the satellite office feels connected to and benefits from the work of the SBF headquarters team.
Those connections have happened “pretty naturally,” she said. “The Knoxville employees have a mentor and a coach in St. Pete. If they have a social event at our headquarters in Florida, we schedule something here in Tennessee, too.”
They haven’t neglected face-to-face connections either, with SBF flying the Knoxville team down for the firm’s annual retreat.
Pappas is busy making new connections in Knoxville, teaching classes on tax planning and structuring. Building those relationships and nurturing clients of her own has also been exciting: “It’s a surreal feeling that I didn’t think I could be able to experience this early in my career.”
For Tampa Bay area residents who are curious about life just west of the Great Smoky Mountains, Pappas urges anyone and everyone to pay a visit. “There’s an amazing brewery scene here,” she said with a laugh. “And you have to try Kefi — it’s incredible Mediterranean food in this low-key, beautiful city.”
If you’d like to know more about how our Knoxville office was established, take a look at this article from the business observer showcasing the innovation driving our company forward.