To be truly successful in the complicated world of forensic accounting requires more than analytical and number-crunching skills. It also requires the ability to take highly technical data and communicate it in understandable language … and sometimes to do so in front of a judge and jury. Forensic accountant Josh Shilts, managing partner of Villela & Shilts, brings this unique mix of abilities to the complex financial matters and disputes he and his talented staff help resolve for the firm’s attorney, business and individual clients. Shilts is equal parts expert accounting sleuth and engaging and effective communicator.
A young professional at age 37, Shilts has already handled hundreds of forensic investigations involving business and personal disputes, as well as cases dealing with identifying and mitigating fraudulent activities. Some examples of matters he has worked on include investigating a medical practice in which over $3 million in funds was misappropriated by an employee, who was later arrested, assisting Florida state attorneys in investigating and subsequently litigating a multi-million-dollar healthcare fraud case, and leading an investigation into management abuse and fraud at a public service utility company. He also provides forensics assistance on high-net-worth divorce cases, partnership disputes, bankruptcies and much more.
THRIVING FROM CHALLENGES
A focused problem-solver, the positive and forward-looking Shilts thrives on the challenges that his dynamic career provides. He views every issue he encounters during his never static workday as an opportunity to not only resolve problems for his clients, but also to continually learn and grow himself.
“One of the reasons I love what I do is because I have constant change in a complex environment,” he says. “Every engagement is different. I am always getting new information and having to gain new understanding. I like the fact that as a forensic accountant, I am constantly tested and pushed to increase my knowledge and the capacity of my knowledge. I tell people I am like an emergency room doctor in the accounting world because of all the unexpected and challenging issues that flare up.
“I learn something new on every case,” he continues. “I learn about who I am working with and I also learn about myself, such as how to communicate a point better or not just how to communicate it better, but when to articulate it. If I am working on a case involving a fraudster, for example, it is a cat and mouse game. I have to think about who is smarter and how I can outsmart the other side.”
Shilts is energized by the pressure that his line of work entails. He especially enjoys what he calls the “pressure cooker” environment of being on the stand as an expert witness assisting attorneys.
“I like being challenged by other attorneys or other experts,” he says. “I like that confrontational and adversarial kind of setting because I really get to show my chops and who I am as a professional. The strategy of a litigation case is always evolving, and you have to have your ducks in a row.”
While Shilts enjoys the adversity his forensics career sometimes brings, as someone who genuinely likes and respects other people, he has real empathy for his clients and the serious issues they face.
“As problem solvers, what my team and I do can be very difficult and technical, but we understand that there is a bigger picture, and those are the real people involved in these cases,” he says.
Like a lot of people, Shilts sort of “fell” into his career. His original career goal was to become a corporate attorney. He was working on an accounting degree when he took a forensic accounting class, thinking it would be interesting because it would be all about fraud investigations. While the class was much broader than that, the subject was highly interesting to Shilts and he went on to get his master’s degree specializing in forensic accounting. After a couple of years of working for international consulting and public accounting firms in New York City and Miami, he started his own firm approximately three-and-a-half years ago.
To date, the career achievement of which he is most proud was starting his own firm and ensuring that it has continued to prosper. “There was no promise of a paycheck going into this and I had a family and employees to provide for. It was a wonderful accomplishment to be able to provide for my family and my staff. Even though we have been in business a short time, we have gained recognition in the marketplace. It is extremely gratifying to get recognition from peers.”
In addition to his work for clients, Shilts is also a sought-after conference speaker on forensic accounting matters. He has spoken about fraud detection and prevention, risk management, data analytics, tax implications in divorce, financial planning and other topics. He does an annual lecture to attorneys for CLE credits, educating them about case law throughout Florida and the country and giving details on specific forensics- related matters. He also writes extensively on forensics, including articles that challenge current thinking on legal matters. Additionally, educating and mentoring his staff so that they grow professionally and are the best they can be in supporting clients is a priority for Shilts.
Besides educating others, Shilts also educates himself, always seeking to stay up-to-date on the latest thoughts and developments in forensics and in the legal profession.
“I read trade journals constantly,” he says. “Part of practicing is not only developing your skills, but also challenging your own thoughts and understanding where those thoughts might have flaws,” he says. “I also read academic articles. Academics play a big role in pushing the boundaries of how we think.”
AWAY FROM WORK
A former high school and college football player, Shilts still takes great pleasure in outdoor physical activity. He loves to play golf and generally do anything that takes him outside, even if only hanging out in the backyard or going for a walk with the dogs.
He brings the same strong passion to his life outside of work as he does to his legal clients. Married to wife, Falyn, and with three young children to keep up with, Jordyn, age 8, Zachary, age 7, and Sydney, age 2, being a naturally energetic person is important.
“I love watching them grow and experiencing things with them,” Shilts says. “I feel lucky. I had my children in my late 20s and have been able to grow as a father and husband as they grow. After losing my mother recently, I value that time spent with family and close friends so much more. It makes you not take time for granted. For me, it isn’t so much about what car I drive, how much money I have or where my kids go to school, but the time with my family is very important.”
He also believes in giving of his time to the community. He and his family are active with the Jacksonville Jewish Center. He also gives back through youth education and had served on the board of the Marion County Literacy Council and is currently the board treasurer for the Collaborative Family Law Group of Northeast Florida.
The time Shilts gives to clients is also of the utmost importance to him, which is why he feels as he has grown in his career, he has developed a better understanding of deadlines and how not to let them affect his judgement on cases or products.
“What I produce helps people in life events,” he says. “Whether they are going through a divorce, through probate or are buying a business. To meet my own standards, I need to do quality work and need to understand different situations, and that takes time.”
What does Shilts most want his clients to know about him?
“I am personally involved in each one of their matters and I take each one as a personal challenge,” he says. “My staff and I are problem solvers and we help come up with resolutions for people who are going through business break ups, divorces, or other disputes. These are emotional events. While we are focused on finances and the accounting side of things, we have a deep appreciation for what they are going through.”