It's both good and bad to be writing this column as a fill-in for Bill Carlino, who's on vacation this week.
The good thing is that the column is about accounting industry consolidation pioneer Bob Basten, who I’ve had the good fortune to get to know personally. During the past three years he spent building the industry’s largest single consolidator, Centerprise Advisors. I’ve met with Bob personally about a half dozen times and talked with him over the phone at least 50 times, so this column, to an extent, truly is a “View From The Inside.”
What’s bad about this column is its subject matter: Basten has Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS - a degenerative ailment that sucks the ability to control muscles and ultimately the life out of its victims. Shelley Simmons, Centerprise’s communications person and Basten’s right-hand person at industry functions, two weeks ago said he’ll soon be in a wheelchair, and according to ALS’s traditional script, he has only about five years left to live.
Anyone who’s met Bob, would have a hard time associating physical weakness with him. He stands well over six feet tall, with shoulders wide enough to be crammed in most doorways and a smile that’s even broader, particularly when discussing the accounting industry.
Until recently, he discussed the industry frequently and enthusiastically, first as the consolidation head at American Express Tax & Business Services, and later as CEO of Centerprise. Bob has melded that consolidation of seven accounting firms into the industry’s 16th largest firm, according to Accounting Today, and its most profitable, according to Art Bowman.
Basten’s enthusiasm was greatest when discussing Centerprise. He even remained exuberant when his plan to launch Centerprise as a public company failed when the IPO market tanked in 2000. “This is a great bunch of companies and we’ll come together again someday,” he told me in an interview at the time.
And he kept his word, launching Centerprise with financial backing from a group of private investors – a deal that stands as the largest and one of the most inventive transactions in accounting history.
Bob worked round the clock to launch Centerprise and since then has worked just as tirelessly cultivating and promoting the company. He was regularly on the phone to reporters like myself, and he rarely missed a marketing or networking opportunity, even if it meant leaving his family to travel.
Bob, according to friends, was driven to make Centerprise succeed, so he could retire young and then spend more time with his family in a few years. With ALS, he now may not have those few years.
Just the same, his enthusiasm has not departed At about the same time in late July that he was diagnosed as having ALS, Bob received a survey from Accounting Today related to naming him one of the industry’s “Most Influential People.” The survey included the question, “What advice would you give to a young person entering the profession/” Bob’s reply, “Join Centerprise Advisors.”
Bob’s also using his enthusiasm to fight his disease. He’s created a “Playing to Win for Life Foundation for ALS Research,” dedicated to raising funds for research, and named Simmons its executive director. For more information, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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