Jerry Topp, managing partner and chief executive officer of Midwest regional firm Eide Bailly, attributes the firm's success in large part to its centralized management and the unique culture generated by its training programs.

"We spend twice as much as most firms on professional development, including continuing education, internal training and developing people skills," he explained. "Our leadership training program is unique. We spend five to six sessions over a three-year period on this. All partners and senior managers are required to attend. We find it helps us get information to them to function at that level directly from the firm and not filtered from the partner-in-charge or the local partners."

It was Topp's early career interest in education that inspired his commitment to professional development at the firm: "My first degree was in education. I was a high school educator and taught at the University of North Dakota before I got into public accounting."

The training covers two days in the spring and two days in the fall over the three-year period, and imbues the participants with a sense of the firm and its history.

"They learn the evolution of the firm, the dynamics of centralized management and strategies and issues inside offices," Topp said. "Periodically, we have managing partners from other firms talk about the issues in their firms. It's always interesting to hear about issues from other firms' point of view. They're very open to share."

In addition, visiting professors and academics participate in strategy sessions.

The training includes individual profiling, which helps the trainees get to know themselves better. "They get a better handle of who they are," Topp explained. "We also talk about the existing structure of the firm, how it makes money, and what it means to be in a leadership position."

"We do a lot of acquisitions, so it's important that everyone is headed in the same direction," he said. "Our partners buy into the mission of the firm because they know what the firm is trying to accomplish."

GROWTH INSIDE AND OUT

Headquartered in Fargo, N.D., Eide Bailly was founded in 1917 and has evolved through a series of mergers and acquisitions over the years, as well as through a sustained internal growth rate, which, over the past five to seven years, has been about 10 percent.

During fiscal 2009, Eide Bailly acquired four firms in Oklahoma, Idaho and Colorado. "In addition to these, the firm experienced an internal growth rate of 11 percent, which at the start of the downturn of the economy was a pleasant surprise for us," said Topp.

The firm, which now has 19 offices in nine states, ranked No. 23 on Accounting Today's 2010 Top 100 Firms list with revenues of $142.3 million.

"Our growth is important to us for several reasons," Topp observed. "As we bring additional staff into the firm, our industry knowledge expands and we are able to help our clients with more of their industry-specific needs. Growth also helps us compete with larger firms for talent across the country. Our larger pool of resources creates a more stable environment for everyone. And, as our Baby Boomers begin to retire, we are also in a better position to seamlessly transition their work to others."

The majority of its clients are midsized or large closely held businesses. Eide Bailly utilizes a "one-firm" approach to client service, in which clients receive personal attention from their industry and service team members and, at the same time, have access to other professionals across the firm, according to Topp. While its core services are accounting, assurance and tax, its service specialties include consulting, employee benefits, financial services, forensic services, medical practice management, technology consulting, and training and development.

The firm also has significant practice niches in health care and banking. "For the year ahead, we continue to believe the health care arena will be a significant growth area, as well as the regulated industries, such as banking and insurance," said Topp. "From a firm perspective, the need for consulting in health care legislation will be a positive. Whenever there is more regulation, it is good for the profession. The same is true of the insurance and banking industries, since people need help with anything that's regulated."

"As we expand our operations, our goal is to strengthen existing industries and services and look for new ways to help our clients - while still providing personal and attentive service," said Topp. "Maintaining this balance allows us to deliver the type of service our clients have grown to expect."

Fortunately, the economic downturn has not affected the firm to the extent that it might have, according to Topp. "To date, we are satisfied that the impact hasn't hit us harder," he said. "We expect our fiscal 2010 will show growth of only about 3 percent. The Midwest weathered the downturn a little bit better early on, but the downturn has lasted longer than expected and is now hitting the Midwest as well."

Nevertheless, the firm is poised to continue its success. "It is not easy to experience consistent growth in a fluctuating economy, but our firm understands what it takes to be successful, which involves identifying challenges and proactively managing them to work for us," he said.

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