The 2019 Top 100 Firms: Overview

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Don’t call it a comeback: After posting their lowest non-recessionary growth rate in the past 20 years in 2017, the Top 100 Firms had a better 2018, posting an overall revenue increase of 7.18 percent. But while that’s certainly better than the previous year’s 6.33 percent, it’s not yet back to the 8-9 percent growth that they had averaged from 2011 to 2016.

As always, it’s worth noting the outsized influence of the Top 7 firms — those with over a billion dollars in revenue. Their revenues were up by billions of dollars, but in percentage terms, the increase was 6.56 percent. That’s perfectly respectable, but it swamps the higher growth rates of smaller firms: The 41 firms that earned between $100 million and $1 billion, for instance, grew by 9.77 percent, while the 52 Top 100 Firms with revenue below $100 million saw double-digit growth of 10.22 percent.

While revenues grew faster, overall employment didn’t — the T100 expanded their staff by 4.2 percent in 2018, against 2017’s 4.8 percent, and 11 firms reported shrinking headcounts. Similarly, 20 firms reported shrinking partner numbers, and six were flat.

We’ve noted in previous reports that the profession’s perennial staff crunch has forced the Top 100 to learn to do more with less, and they’ve certainly done that, with 38 reporting revenue growth above 10 percent in 2018, and 10 growing by more than 20 percent (against 25 and eight, respectively, in 2017). That said, only one firm made a significant jump up the ranks — California’s NKSFB, which had the highest growth rate of any firm in both the Top 100 and the Regional Leaders rankings. Nonetheless, four new firms managed to join the T100: California’s Gursey | Schneider, Nebraska’s Lutz, Washington’s Clark Nuber, and Virginia’s Brown, Edwards & Co., and while they certainly earned the spots on their own, we should point out that those spots were only open thanks to some extensive M&A within the Top 100. Past T100 Firms Raffa, Schenck, RGL Forensics and EKS&H were all snapped up in 2018, clearing some space for the rising stars — and by June there will be another spot open, when Montgomery Coscia Greilich combines with Baker Tilly. (See Practice Insights.)

There’s no reason not to expect that sort of merger activity to continue: The Top 100 reported 134 mergers over the past year, up from 120 the year before. And M&A remains one of their top growth strategies — though not the only one. In fact, in 2019 they’re aiming to take a more holistic approach to growth, employing a number of strategies, rather than just focusing on one or two. Beyond mergers, they’re looking at enhancing their marketing, developing their talent, expanding geographically, improving their technology skills, and, perhaps most important, moving up into more value-added advisory services while also diving deep into specialization. (See Growth Strategies.)

Specialty services and niche clients were very important this year, with firms reporting growth across a wide range of them — though a few did stand out as areas of particular focus, including technology and IT security services, client accounting services, blockchain services, and the cannabis industry. (See "New niches, strong clients.") The pursuit of deep expertise and specialization also plays a major role in a quiet revolution going on in firm M&A: the number of T100 mergers that don’t involve another CPA firm. Though starting from a small base, tech companies, software developers, boutique consultants and more are coming to make up a significant portion of M&A targets.

Beyond the top 100

This year’s threshold for joining the T100 didn’t rise much — at $41 million, it was up $700,000 from $40.3 last year (which was up $2.6 million from the previous year). There are plenty of strong firms eyeing that threshold; as it has for the past few years, our Ones to Watch list (see below) is brimming with strong firms. Similarly bubbling are our Regional Leaders, where seven out of 10 regions reported higher average firm growth rates, two were flat, and only one region declined. (See the Regional Leaders Overview.)

Taken all in all, 2018 was a strong year for the Top 100 Firms and the Regional Leaders. They’re not fully recovered from 2017’s dip — but they’re working on it, and the results are starting to show.

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The 2019 Top 100 Firms: Overview
Firm Headquarters Managing partner Year-end Rev. ($ mn.) % chg. Offices Partners Total employees
Sax Clifton, N.J. Joseph Damiano Dec 40 6.1 3 27 161
Wiss & Co.(P) Livingston, N.J. Paul Peterson Dec 39 5.41 3 28 207
Briggs & Veselka Co. Houston Sheila Enriquez Sept 38.94 9.54 4 26 217
Brady, Martz & Associates Grand Forks, N.D. Todd Van Dusen Sept 38.09 2.15 5 37 234
Somerset CPAs Indianapolis Pat Early Dec 37.24 10.28 3 33 204
Kreischer Miller Horsham, Pa. Christopher Meshginpoosh Dec 36.5 6.73 1 38 219
Anders St. Louis Robert Minkler Dec 36.1 13.52 1 19 184
Arnett Carbis Toothman Charleston, W. Va. Steven Robey Dec 34.74 2 8 30 234
Yeo & Yeo Saginaw, Mich. Thomas Hollerback Dec 34.36 2.41 8 27 218
AAFCPAs Westborough, Mass. C. McCall/D. McManus Dec 34 12.96 3 30 192
Krost CPAs* Pasadena, Calif. Gregory Kniss Dec 33.74 0.81 7 15 156
Peterson Sullivan Seattle Chris Russell Dec 33.38 4.94 1 22 170
Herbein + Co.* Reading, Pa. Michael Rowley Sept 33.27 0.79 8 25 238
Green Hasson Janks Los Angeles Tom Barry Dec 32.4 8 1 15 152
ORBA Chicago Mark Thomson May 32 6.67 1 25 138
Mize Houser & Co. Topeka, Kansas NA Dec 31.9 10.76 3 20 251
Cain Watters & Associates Plano, Texas Dan Wicker Dec 31.72 10.56 1 11 171
Boulay Minneapolis Steven Behrns May 31.68 10.46 3 31 173
Dean Dorton Allen Ford Lexingon, Ky. David Bundy June 31.61 10.1 3 21 206
BMSS1 Birmingham, Ala. Don Murphy Dec 31.25 51.41 6 30 225
Janover Garden City, N.Y. Mark Goodman Dec 31 3.33 3 25 167
REDW* Albuquerque, N.M. Steven Cogan Dec 30.5 3.25 2 26 185
Sensiba San Filippo Pleasanton, Calif. John Sensiba April 30.1 12.73 6 17 172
Hutchinson and Bloodgood Glendale, Calif. Richard Preciado Sept 30.01 4.75 4 32 119
Cotton & Co. Alexandria, Va. Matt Johnson Dec 29.9 9.12 1 11 176
Jackson Thornton & Co. Montgomery, Ala. Ned Sheffield Dec 29.78 2.83 7 34 198
Untracht Early Florham Park, N.J. T. Early/D. Untracht Dec 29.73 5.76 4 11 148
Lurie Minneapolis Beth Kieffer Leonard April 29.5 0.85 2 21 166
Maxwell Locke & Ritter Austin, Texas Kyle Parks Dec 29.45 10.71 2 19 110
DiCicco, Gulman & Co. Woburn, Mass. Laurie Austin Dec 29.4 15.21 2 20 166
Smith & Howard Atlanta Sean Taylor Dec 29.24 9.76 1 13 111
Keiter Glen Allen, Va. Gary Wallace Dec 29 7.41 1 20 152
Calibre CPA Group Bethesda, Md. James Kokolas Dec 28 7.69 6 21 193
ACM Denver Greg Anton Dec 27.9 15.77 4 19 175
BeachFleischman Tuscson, Ariz. Marc Fleischman Dec 27.82 3.73 2 26 165
LaPorte Metairie, La. Willam Mason Nov 27.79 2.09 5 39 171
Windham Brannon Atlanta Heidi LaMarca Sept 27.69 7.16 1 13 161
Porte Brown Elk Grove Village, Ill. Bruce Jones Dec 27.21 2.8 5 18 125
Richey, May & Co. Englewood, Colo. Jason Yetter Dec 27.18 26.65 4 13 167
Alexander Thompson Arnold Union City, Tenn. John Whybrew Dec 27.03 25.08 17 26 191
Hertzbach & Co. Owings Mills, Md. Joel Chazen Dec 27 NC 3 19 173
Tate & Tryon Washington, D.C. Charles Tate Dec 26.78 6.61 2 13 138
Moore Colson CPAs Atlanta Bert Mills Dec 26.61 20.35 1 19 123
Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman Bethesda, Md. Jackie Cardello Dec 26.5 9.37 1 17 112
PKF Texas Houston Byron Hebert Dec 26.3 1.15 1 18 120
MarksNelson Kansas City, Mo. Mark Radetic Dec 26.28 11.83 1 22 175
Notes:
List includes only firms with positive growth rates; firms in the revenue range with negative growth rates are excluded.
* Firm estimate
NC No change
P Reported equity and non-equity partners as a single combined figure.
1 Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith