Computers and no ‘glass ceilings’ benefit Beall Barclay

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 137 views 

One of Arkansas' largest locally-owned accounting firms marked a major milestone Thursday (Sept. 19) – a half-century in operation.

Beall Barclay & Company marked its 50th anniversary with a reception for employees at its offices in Fort Smith and Rogers. Barbara Hambrick, the firm's managing member, said while the company has always been an accounting firm, it has grown in services offered through decades of acquisitions and mergers.

"It's always been a public accounting firm, so Bill Beall joined two other men in 1963 and started an accounting firm," she said. "Over the years, there have been several mergers and in 1997, we merged with Dick Barclay's firm in Northwest Arkansas to firm the firm that is now Beall Barclay and Company … We do pretty much anything that clients need as far as financial services, so we do individual work and we do large corporations. We really like family-owned small businesses but we also have several very large regional clients. We have a few clients that have international ties."

As far as the specific type of work, Hambrick said it can range from audits to tax returns to business evaluations to certified fraud examination.

"You name it. As far as financial services go, we take care of it."

Beall, one of the co-founders of the company along with Roy Vail and Charles Coleman, was at the celebration in Fort Smith and said he was amazed to see what the company has become since its humble beginnings in 1963. He said the early key to the company's success was technological innovation, using computers in accounting, even in the 60s and 70s.

"Charles realized that computers were going to be the future of accounting, they're the future of everything now, but we got into computers in the beginning in '63. We used a data processing services out of Lansing, Mich. We sent our information up there and it came back and everybody else was still writing up books with pen and ink. You spend half your time getting the thing balanced and we could turn out a financial statement in ten days, two weeks for somebody and the nobody else even ever got a financial statement. Small businesses couldn't get on because it was just too labor intensive, so that's how we prospered – by doing that."

Many of the early clients for Beall's company were contractors, who needed to be able to figure job costs.

"In 1963, they didn't know what their costs were until they got through with the job. And we had contractors who wanted job cost reports every week and we could do it with computers, and so that just gave us a huge up on everybody else. It's like driving a race – everybody else in a Volkswagen Beatle and we were driving a Corvette."

While the company has continued to grow and prosper since its 1963 founding, it has not been without struggles. The biggest struggle has been making it through the tough conditions that have plagued the nation's economy during the last five years, Hambrick said. But even in spite of a tough economy, she said the company has not let one employee go, even when others have.

"I think one of our strengths has been that we haven't cut back on staff. The people that we have in our firm are very important to us and we've cut back on some of the extras that they might have gotten in the past, but we have not laid off people or gotten rid of people because of the economy," she said. "The hardest thing that the economy has done as far as the firm as a whole is for us watching our clients struggle through the hard economic times. A lot of our clients have had to cut back, you know they've had to close locations, they've had to lay off employees. And they've really pulled back on plans that they had for the future to wait and see what happens. And that's been the toughest thing, for me, is to watch the clients be unsure and concerned about what's going to happen with their business."

Speaking about employees of the company through the years, Beall said he was proud of how Beall Barclay & Company never really had a "glass ceiling to break through."

"Since all the early partners had daughters and no sons, we never had a glass ceiling for women. If women could do the job, we promoted them. So early on, we had female accounting staff and female partners and we have a female running the business now."

As for what the future holds for Beall Barclay & Company, Hambrick said she and her partners would focus on continuing to be based in Fort Smith and serving their clients from the Missouri border to Mena and Muskogee, Okla., to Russellville. She said serving those needs would likely to lead to growth, including the possibility of opening a third branch office or even more mergers.

"Our mission statement says, 'We want to be the dominate provider of financial services in that area,' so anywhere in that diamond is where we want to have a strong presence."