A Growing Attraction: Brown Smith Wallace's Focus on Talent and Service Drives Growth
In 2001, Brown Smith Wallace had been in business for almost 30 years and had reached a milestone of having 100 employees. Revenue at the time approximated $7 million.
“We’d done well for two men and a calculator,” says Harvey Wallace, managing partner, of he and fellow founder, Jeffrey Smith. “Jeff always says our goal in the first year was to be in business in the second year.”
The two founding partners celebrated achieving the 100 employee milestone in 2001 by taking a fresh look at how the firm was doing and what was going on in the St. Louis market. Conclusion: the best way to provide a viable future for the firm they’d founded and the clients they were serving was to set about attracting uniquely talented professionals. Special skills were needed to meet the expanding needs of the firm’s growing clientele.
A Home for Entrepreneurial Professionals
Wallace says, “We found there were highly skilled professionals looking for ways to enhance their careers, build practices around their talents and remain in St. Louis rather than having to transfer out of town to progress in their careers with larger firms. Being entrepreneurs, we thought it made sense to provide a home for others who wanted an environment where they could leverage their skills. We had also discovered there were a lot of special services our clients needed and wanted — value-added services, if you will. So, for the past 10 years, we’ve grown and nurtured that culture.”
Today, the firm has nearly 200 employees and revenue has quadrupled.
Michael Scully, regional president-commercial banking for U.S. Bank and Brown Smith Wallace’s main banking services provider, says the firm’s growth stems from its diversity of services and hiring acumen.
“They’ve shown an uncanny ability to recruit A-list talent with an incredible following in the community. They know how to do what the Big 4 firms do in many areas, but they also apply it to the middle market and the private business owner,” Scully says.
Wallace explains, “We’re always working to identify new ways to support clients. We bring them the expertise of a national firm with the personal touch of a local firm. We certainly still focus on serving middlemarket companies and private business owners. But, now we also provide public companies with our specialty services, which we can offer at better rates because of our lower overhead.”
Ten years ago, Brown Smith Wallace didn’t serve any public company clients. Today, the firm has provided services to over half of the publicly traded companies in metro St. Louis, including 26 of the top 36 in the last two years. The firm also audits the benefit plans of 30 percent of St. Louis’s top 50 publicly traded companies and 20 percent of the benefit plans of the top 50 private companies in the St. Louis market.
A Family Environment
Partly, this has come about, Wallace says, “Because we provide more of a family environment than the larger firms. And, our people can advance to the highest levels here while continuing to enjoy living in St. Louis. We work hard at maintaining our family culture through day-to-day interaction, regular events and ongoing communications.”
The effort has been recognized. Brown Smith Wallace received the inaugural Work/ Life Balance Award from the Missouri Society of CPAs in 2009. The firm is also the only St. Louis-based accounting firm to have been named a Best Accounting Firm to Work For by Accounting Today, a leading publication covering the profession.
Commitment to Quality
Some might question the quality that a smaller firm provides, but Brown Smith Wallace has impressive credentials. The firm has received an “unmodified report and no letter of comments” in each of its last three peer reviews. This is the highest quality control recognition an accounting firm can receive. The firm has been registered with the PCAOB since 2003.
Recently, Brown Smith Wallace received the 2010 Better Business Bureau‘s TORCH Award, recognizing companies and charities for their commitment to exceptional standards for ethical business practices and service to their customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.The firm has also been named Best Accounting Firm and Best in Customer Service by Small Business Monthly in 2009 and the No. 1 accounting firm in that publication’s Readers Choice Awards in 2010.
Recognition for Brown Smith Wallace extends to its growth record. The firm:
- Has, for the last five years, been recognized as “A Firm to Watch” by Accounting Today
- Is one of the Midwest region’s largest locally owned public accounting firms (currently ranked 8th in the Midwest by Practical Accountant)
- Has also been ranked as one of the top national accounting firms serving insurance companies by A.M. Best for the last several years.
"A Great Place to Grow a Practice"
Here’s why some talented professionals have joined Brown Smith Wallace.
“With the quality people and clientele Brown Smith Wallace had, this was the perfect opportunity to integrate the knowledge I’d gained at The May Company with the expertise from my years as a Big 5 firm tax partner. It’s a great place to grow a practice.” – Marty Doerr, tax partner in charge.
“Why my Big 4 firm decided to exit the property tax business, I saw a chance to put my team where we could flourish. Updated technology, expansion, strong leadership and a good work/balance – Brown Smith Wallace was the best fit – and my whole team agreed!” – Jenna Kerwood, principal and property tax practice leader.
“As a former senior vice president for one of the country’s largest insurance brokers, I knew middle market companies needed an independent resource to provide insurance advice. Brown Smith Wallace agreed, and I’ve been running ever since. I was excited when I started, and it’s only gotten better.” – Bill Goddard, insurance consulting director.
From Our Clients
“Brown Smith Wallace has delivered exceptional value at an excellent price point. They deliver exactly what they promise.” – Drew Dennison, Chief Accounting Officer, Scottrade.
“They consistently exceed our expectations. They provide our annual certified audits, monthly financial reviews with management, tax strategies and benefits analysis, business risk services, insurance and employee benefits analysis and recommendations, and management consulting services.” – Greg Fowler, P.E., President and CEO, J.F. Electric.
© 2010 Smart Business Network Inc. Reprinted from the October 2010 issue of Smart Business St. Louis.