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Milestones: Taking Life into Account

Elliott, Robinson & Co. marks 50th anniversary

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Several businesses in the Springfield community – most instantly recognizable by name, if not also reputation – are reaching significant ages this year, either 50, 100 or 150 years in operation. Springfield Business Journal is checking in with a handful of them in a multipart series called Milestones.

Now Springfield’s third-largest certified public accounting firm based on the number of certified public accountants, Elliott, Robinson & Co. LLP had a modest start.

“I’m pretty proud of it,” said retired founder Gordon Elliott. “I started out just one person in one room.”

Elliott began the firm in 1973 in Plaza Towers at the southwest corner of Sunshine Street and Glenstone Avenue. It was a new building then, and only the eighth and ninth floors were occupied.

“I got a pretty good deal on the one room,” he said. “I had to sit my wife on one side to make people think I had employees.”

Dee Robinson became his partner the next year, and the firm, initially known as Gordon A. Elliott CPA, was renamed to its current appellation.

Elliott said when Robinson came on, the firm started getting busy. Prior to that, he said he was bringing in $500 a month.

Elliott had worked for another CPA firm before embarking out on his own.

“I bought five rental houses when I was working with the CPA firm,” he said. “I had watched clients, and the only ones who made any money were the ones that had rental houses.”

Elliott sold three of his rental houses to make ends meet as business was getting off the ground, he said.

He noted he and Robinson had a lot of fun in the early days.

“We always had a good time, and we always helped people,” he said. “I’ve got clients who still remember me. I’ve got clients from when I threw papers that still remember me.”

Elliott worked from the age of 10, mowing yards and then delivering newspapers – a detail-oriented job he kept through college.

“I had the best route in town, and I only broke one window. That’s pretty good,” he said.

Enduring values
Elliott, Robinson & Co.’s values are enumerated on its website: integrity, dedicated, sincere, trustworthy, passionate, confident and professional.

For Elliott, those values were born in his newspaper delivery days, and though he retired from the firm in 2008, he said he enjoys having his name attached to it.

“I’m kind of proud my name means something – I’m a brand,” he said.

The firm that began as a bookkeeping business has grown to be much more, as Springfield Business Journal list research reveals. Following FORVIS LLP and KPM CPAs & Advisors in size based on the number of local CPAs, the company lists 55 local employees, including seven partners and 25 certified public accountants.

Today, 68% of the company’s business is in accounting and auditing, with 17% in taxes and 15% in consulting. It specializes in trust and estate planning, business valuations, historical tax credits, cost segregation, audits and forensics.

Bob Helm, who served as managing partner 2004-22 and remains a partner with the firm, credits Elliott with setting the company’s course.

“Elliott is the guy that took the chance and started the whole thing back in November 1973, and you know, he’s an entrepreneur – a very unique individual – and he always had in mind what he wanted a CPA firm to look like,” Helm said.

It’s a vision Elliott shared, and Helm said he learned a lot from his mentor, even as the company grew.

“It was just a small, take-care-of-your-clients bookkeeping tax service at the time, but they had a vision about what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it,” Helm said.

When Helm started with the company, he said it was mostly known as a tax firm, but in 1988, Tom Everett joined and brought with him auditing expertise. That was the start of a shift, according to Helm, who noted Everett remains a partner.

“That’s when we really changed the image of the firm from just being a bookkeeping and tax service to something bigger than that. We wanted to be more than that,” he said.

In order to maintain the values established by the company’s founders, Helm said it is important to stay informed on a wide range of laws from multiple states. A local example of the company’s expertise can be seen in the Heer’s building downtown, he added, noting the company provided historic tax credit consulting for investor clients who worked on the project.

“We were the first ones to tour that facility, which was really fun,” he said, and with the firm’s help, the long-vacant former department store was transformed into mixed-use space, now home to luxury apartments and the offices of BRP Architects and Meridian Title Co.

Continued evolution
Helm said the services Elliott, Robinson & Co. provides continue to unfold.

“As our clients age and in the economic times that we’re in, mergers and acquisitions have become a really significant part of society, and then they become a significant part of our practice,” he said. “And so, you get into not really bookkeeping anymore, but consulting – helping you create and revise documents with attorneys and address really complex tax issues.

“That’s where we’ve elevated the firm to in the world we live in now, so it’s been fun.”

Elliott, Robinson & Co. can draw experience from mergers of its own, starting in November 2015 with Gary Fenton CPA PC of Springfield, followed a month later by a merger with Lindy Maus CPA of Republic. The company acquired the Branson office of Jeffrey S. Long CPA in October 2018.

The company is frequently called upon to assist in valuation to help with succession planning, and that’s a sensitive issue, Helm said.

“It’s a very emotional decision they have to make, and a lot of times you’re running into multigenerational businesses that are selling and there’s not the next generation that wants to take over,” he said. “Even for somebody who started from the ground up, if they’ve done it for 30 or 40 years, letting it go is harder than you think.”

Current events make it clear why valuation is important, with a high-profile court case questioning assessments of properties owned by a former president.

“That’s why you have independent valuation,” said Matt Solidum, managing partner since last year. “A lot of times, you get people working for you, and you may not be the one who did all the grunt work on it, but you’re the responsible party, and you should own it.”

Solidum said Elliott, Robinson & Co. maintains a family focus, and at no time is that more evident than the annual end-of-summer celebration, which is a festival that includes co-workers’ spouses and children. Bounce houses are a hit, and so were dunking booths, which Helm, a splashdown veteran, was not disappointed to see phased out.

Helm said when he started in accounting, having graduated from college in 1980, the profession was roughly three-quarters male and one-quarter female, and there were almost no female partners – he could think of two in Springfield, one at what’s now FORVIS and another at The Whitlock Co. LLP.

“Now we’re 85% women,” he said of the company’s staff. “When you make that transition, you have to have that family culture to be able to survive. We have a lot of young moms or young moms-to-be that are coming along, and you have to figure out how to keep them in the profession.”

Helm said his kids played sports and he never missed an event.

“But I also don’t want Vanessa, who just had a baby last week, to miss any of her kids’ events, either,” he said, referring to administrative assistant and new mom Vanessa Smouse. “I think we’ve kind of emphasized that as we’ve gone along, which makes it a pretty family-balanced place to work.”

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