In 1988, New York was sweating through one of the hottest summers on record, Rush Limbaugh debuted on New York radio, George H.W. Bush was gearing to prove he was more than Ronald Reagan's angular deputy in his presidential debates with Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, and I had my baptism under fire in helping compile a numbers-crunching Top 100 study.

In an era before e-mails were accessible to more than just select IT folks, you actually had to call the companies whose revenue figures and office locations you were responsible for, compile them by hand on a printed sheet, submit them to the production department and patiently wait for the page proofs to come back. If you had inadvertently omitted a company, the tally sheets had to go back to be reconfigured, a process that was greeted with language usually reserved for a longshoreman's bar.

But that was then and this is now.

While technology assistance may have evolved, the basic tenets of the process remain unchanged. It remains an exhaustive and painstaking process, but as with anything that intensive, the value of the end product exceeds the underlying effort.

As you may have noticed, this issue is accompanied by our annual Top 100 Firms ranking, the 23rd year we have brought our readers this study, which originally debuted as the Top 60 Firms. The study often brings several notable changes in the pecking order from year to year, impacted by game-changing events such as mergers, and this year was no different. Several firms have registered eye-opening climbs, buoyed by the added revenues and resources of merger partners. And, as always, there are several new additions to this year's T100, as well as some past members dropping below the requisite revenue level of inclusion.

This year, we're pairing our Top 100 Firms study with a ranking of Regional Leaders, which up until last year had been conducted by Practical Accountant, our former sibling publication that was merged into Accounting Today last June. For the 2010 regional study, we list and compare the top firms in 10 territories, some of which will obviously be overlaps from the Top 100, while others on the list are strong regional firms whose names will ring familiar.

The 2010 study polled well over 200 candidates, all of them recognized as quality firms, regardless of inclusion or not, but here's where I'll do a bit of finger-wagging to ensure that next year's study goes more smoothly.

Our e-mail list for the firms includes specific contacts, to which we send the revenue forms and executive questionnaire as we begin to lay the foundation for this sizeable undertaking. On more than one occasion the contact had left the firm, but nonetheless the e-mail account remained active. It was not until we performed our traditional "hassle calls" to prod along the stragglers as the submission deadline drew to a close that we discovered our initial efforts had been relegated to the electronic version of the "dead letter office." So in the spirit of best practices, de-activate the mailboxes of former employees.

Also, we realize that most of you at the T100 are financial professionals, but there were several instances where we math-challenged editors (that's why we deal in words and not figures!) uncovered simple calculation errors. We want to ensure that your firm gets its proper accord, so for next year you may want to have more than one set of eyes look at the response forms.

So with that, I'll leave you with our Top 100 class of 2010, as well as our Regional Leaders. The gathering process may have evolved a bit over the years, but the mission continues.

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