IGAF Firms Interview with Berntson Porter & Company, PLLC

This is one article in a series of interviews with firms that are members of the International Group of Accounting Firms (IGAF).

Rick Fisher, CPA, agreed to talk with AccountingWEB about Bellevue, Washington-based Berntson Porter & Co., PLLC, one of the state’s top 100 fastest growing privately held companies, which specializes in serving wineries, as Washington is the second largest wine-producing area in the country.

Q: Can you tell us a little about how your firm was formed, and how many partners and staff you have?

A: Berntson Porter & Company, PLLC was founded in 1985 by Robert Berntson and Greg Porter. Today, Berntson Porter is a premier CPA and business consulting firm with 14 partners, serving closely held businesses and their owners throughout the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and California. “BP” is the second largest public accounting firm on the Eastside and the 11th largest firm in the Puget Sound area, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. In the last five years, the firm has doubled the number of employees, from 35 to 70. We are a rapidly growing, energized firm with family and community-based values.

Q: What sets your firm apart from other firms?

A: Our mission statement says it all: “Berntson Porter & Company’s mission is to assist its clients in identifying, clarifying and achieving their goals. We accomplish this by caring about our clients’ families and companies as if they were our own.” Each one of our clients has a client service team made up of a partner, client liaison and a tax or assurance liaison, depending on the scope of work. This team meets once a month to discuss strategies for the client and plan for the future.

The other thing that sets us apart is our culture. We have been awarded Washington’s Best Workplaces 2008 by the Puget Sound Business Journal and Best Firms to Work for 2008 by Accounting Today magazine in the last six months. Both honors were based on information gathered from employee feedback surveys. In an industry where the standard turnover rate is around 25 percent, Berntson Porter’s has been 12 percent for many years.

Q: What is the key focus of your niche?

A: Our wine niche focuses on the unique needs of local boutique vintners. Professional staff stay abreast of the wide-ranging state and federal tax laws that affect wineries and we have found our consulting services to be of great assistance. Our wine niche clients frequently need cost segregation studies, valuations and wealth management.

Q: How does the current economy affect your niche?

A: At this point our clients have not reported changes in sales due to the economy. This may change in 2009 as sales to restaurants are impacted. While some vintners expect sales to fall to restaurants, they may see an upswing in tourism dollars. The Washington Wine commission reports Washington wine tourism attracts nearly 2 million visitors annually.

Q: Do you have any predictions about the accounting industry in general, based on the current economy?

A: I think we’ll continue to see mergers in accounting firms. Staffing for new graduates will still be tight, but there may be more experienced staff in the marketplace. The industry will also need to be in tune with client needs. As a client scales back production, their needs for services may change. Focusing on client service and frequent communication with clients will become even more important.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and anything that you feel was significant in achieving your position at the firm?

A: After graduation I went into public accounting in Atlanta. I became a partner at an Atlanta firm and sold out in 2000. My wife and I had vacationed out in the Puget Sound for many years, so we loaded up the wagons and headed West where I decided to get back in the public accounting business.

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