Like a journey that starts with a single step, getting to know a business client, its markets and its goals often starts with a simple conversation. No company knows that better than the team at HW&Co., a certified public accounting and consulting firm with offices in Cleveland (Beachwood), Mentor and Columbus.
“Those conversations are what really set us apart from other accounting firms,” says Brandon Miller, CPA CGMA, a principal who has been with the firm since 1996. “We talk with our clients about their business, what they want to achieve and how they want to grow. Once we have that conversation and tell them all the services we have that can help them attain their goals, we become a trusted advisor. They trust us with their financial information and the financial outlook for their organization.”
That’s the mantra that has allowed this certified public accounting firm to grow from a local CPA firm of 22 people at its founding as Howard, Wershbale & Co. in 1990 to today well over 120 employees spread across its three Ohio offices as HW&Co. And its reach is not limited to Ohio but is national and even international in its scope.
HW&Co. consistently receives accolades from its many clients for its tailored programs and award-winning services and solutions, and the firm has also won its fair share of local business and industry-specific awards, being named to the prestigious Top 200 Firms by Inside Public Accounting this year.
In January of 2014, the company changed its name from Howard, Wershbale & Co. to the simpler HW&Co. But it wasn’t just a matter of adopting a more streamlined moniker.
“The rebranding was necessary because we had really outgrown our previous name,” says Miller. “When our company originated, it was known for its expertise in health care. By the time I joined the firm, we were already starting to diversify into all these different industries.
“The name change also signified that today we are more than just a local ‘mom and pop’ type of a firm. We have a national presence. And because we are affiliated with Prime Global, we actually have an international presence as well.”
Prime Global is an international association of accounting firms with presence in countries across the globe, Miller explains.
“They link us with international firms that are similar to our size and fee structure,” Miller says. “So, if I have a client here that is looking to buy a business in Germany, I can reach out to an accounting firm in that country and partner with them to service our client, not just here in Ohio, but over in Germany. And because that German accounting firm has its feet on the ground over there, it knows the rules and regulations of that jurisdiction to make sure our client is being better served.”
Although expanding its accounting services and financial consulting has been a linchpin of the company’s growth over the past decade and a half, HW&Co. has also embarked on a strategy that focuses on diversification into key industry segments beyond its health care expertise, including: manufacturing, construction/real estate, nonprofits, mergers and acquisitions and fraud and forensic accounting. It also has identified business segment leaders within its ranks who have experience within these markets.
However, it’s never walked away from the health care industry where it made its mark.
The company’s health care clients “need more than traditional accounting and tax services to survive in the constantly evolving health care industry,” says Rosemary Orlando, director of HW&Co.’s Healthcare Advisors Group. “We work alongside HW&Co. accounting and tax professionals to provide our clients a full suite of CPA and health care consulting services from one trusted firm. Our health care experts provide reimbursement consulting, Medicaid and Medicare cost reporting, revenue and billing, software training and implementation, operational consulting and more.”
The Healthcare Advisors Group serves Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs), Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICFs/IID), Senior Living, hospices, home health agencies, hospitals and more.
“As one of the leading health care firms in Ohio, we represent approximately one-third of the SNFs and ICFs/IID in the state, as well as provide health care consulting services to providers nationwide,” says Orlando. “Our culture fosters a collaborative team approach much like the interdisciplinary team used by health care providers. We start with a conversation to determine a client’s needs and work together to formulate the best approach to meet those needs. We have niche experts in many areas, so it's not uncommon for our clients to work with multiple members of our team.”
Like the health care industry, construction/real estate companies offer industry-specific accounting and financial consulting challenges. John Forbes, CPA PFS CCIFP CCA, is the managing principal of the Mentor Office and director of the firm’s construction/real estate practice.
That’s quite an alphabet soup of professional certifications following his name. But it’s also indicative of the expertise offered by all the folks in the construction/real estate group.
“The construction/real estate industries are highly specialized areas in both the tax and accounting worlds, which is the reason for the specialized training and certifications,” says Forbes.
For instance, the CCIFP after Forbes’ name is an acronym that stands for certified construction industry financial professional, a certification held by approximately a thousand folks across the country. HW&Co. is on its way to having three such credentialed professionals in its construction/real estate group by the year’s end.
Forbes is also a certified construction auditor (CCA) a certification from the National Association of Construction Auditors, which is not only training and support related, but also involves the maintenance of professional education requirements.
“We are the founding members of both the Cleveland Construction Networking group and the Columbus Construction Networking group,” adds Forbes. “Our culture is to provide clients with the best, most complete service for their business, accounting and tax-related services. To this end, we function as more of a horizontal platform than vertical. That is, our staff is trained in the accounting, financial planning and tax needs specific to this industry (as opposed to a discipline). We feel it is of utmost importance to be able to provide support that offers guidance maximizing client efficiencies/results overall, as opposed to having an accounting specialist, tax specialist and financial planning specialist separately engaged in addressing clients’ needs.”
In addition, members of the construction/real estate group have 35 years of financial experience within the industry.
“We also have very good contacts in the surety, software and legal professions, which allow us to assist in supporting clients’ operational and functional requirements,” adds Forbes. “Because we are so well-respected in both areas, our reporting and services are given special consideration, allowing our clients to potentially receive both preferential rates and streamlined services.”
As anyone in the business knows, time is of the essence in obtaining bonds required for many larger contacts or various state certifications for government contracts. In addition, the construction/real estate group provides software installation and support, succession planning, retirement planning and overall financial planning to its clients.
“With the generational transitions now playing a large part in an industry facing the effect of ‘baby boomer’ retirements, we have found this to be a very important part of our industry consultation services,” adds Forbes.
Headed by John Krizansky, CPA, a principal at HW&Co., the manufacturing group boasts extensive industry affiliations, including a number of clients, as well as connections through Manufacturing Works and MAGNET.
With an eye toward industry issues such as: rising health care and insurance costs; hiring, training and retaining competent labor; emerging technologies such as 3-D printing and cybersecurity; and rising materials costs including tariffs on imported steel, Krizansky’s team offers its clients all the resources of its firm.
“We are a mid-sized firm with the resources and expertise of a large firm but provide client service you would expect from a small firm,” he says. “Our clients benefit from our timely responses to their inquiries and the meaningful solutions we provide.”
“We are conveniently located in the suburbs of Cleveland so it's easy for our clients to meet at our offices where we can offer free parking and there is less traffic than downtown,” Krizansky adds. “We are also close enough to our clients to meet with them at their offices and facilities, so they don’t have to take time out of their day to travel to our office for meetings.”
For its nonprofits group, Helen Weeber, director of the HW Nonprofit Advisors Group and senior manager for the Healthcare Advisors, leads a team with access to a depth of resources, including accounting, tax and financial consultants with an expertise in the nonprofit health care sector. The company also has a variety of nonprofit clients in various sectors, including: social service, health care, museums and educational institutions.
When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, Jim Horkey leads a group known throughout the industry for the high quality of its work, Banks readily accept the group’s reports. The group can assemble a full team of auditors and consultants for a deal, including certified merger and acquisition advisers who know how to perform a quality of earnings report.
HW&Co.’s fraud and forensic practice is perhaps the company’s most specialized.
“When our clients have needs in this area they must use an expert with knowledge and experience in these engagements,” says Tony LaNasa, CPA, CFE, a principal at the company who works out of its Columbus office. “That is where we come in. Our clients are put first and foremost and are a priority to us. If we cannot service a certain engagement we will find someone that can help our clients.
“This is not just a sales pitch but how we work every day. HW&Co. only works with closely held and privately owned businesses because that is our niche area and we like to stay close to the owners and entrepreneurs of the companies we work for.
“It's not just, 'See you at tax time.' HW&Co. helps our clients build, grow and sustain their businesses into the future.”
By focusing on helping its clients grow, HW&Co. has been able to build its own business. By spreading its wings into its key markets, it will likely sustain its own growth for decades to come.”