Not Just a Numbers Game

Staff Accountants: Jorge Rosas, Nora Aguirre and Erik Ray

Brand Story – For Geffen Mesher, the employees and the clients come first.

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They’ve operated in Portland for over 85 years. They occupy two floors in Pioneer Tower. They have 143 employees, a deep presence in the Asia-Pacific market, and one of the highest concentrations of fraud examiners in the city.
And yet according to Michael Rompa, Geffen Mesher’s Managing Shareholder, they are a relatively unknown company.

“Our clients know us, and much of our business comes from referrals. But outside of the industries we serve, it feels like a lot of people haven’t heard of us,” said Rompa, who has worked at Geffen Mesher for 30 years.

“We’ve been known to keep a low profile.”

Geffen Mesher, a public accounting firm in Portland, specializes in financial statement auditing, consulting, tax compliance, and litigation support for privately-held businesses, investors, and families. Rompa said that while the firm serves regional clients, it has the resources and expertise of a national firm—evidenced by nine straight years on INSIDE Public Accounting’s Top 200 Firms.

JEK 1418Michael A. Rompa, CPA, Managing Shareholder.

The company’s roots date back to 1933. Originally headed by Ben Sussman as a sole practitioner, the firm grew organically and eventually merged into the national firm Laventhol & Horwath in 1970.

Twenty years later, Laventhol & Horwath went bankrupt. It was 1990 and the accounting world was shifting dramatically—the Big 8 firms began consolidating into what would eventually become the Big 4. The firm had a choice: merge with another local or national firm, or remain independent.

Going independent carried a significant risk—many clients might have preferred companies who belonged to an established or national firm—but the shareholders rolled the dice based on the strength of their established relationships.

Two days after the bankruptcy, a local, independent public accounting firm named Geffen Mesher emerged, and with surprising results. “We figured we’d lose at least 25 percent of our clients,” said Rompa. “Turns out we lost only one.”

Losing clients is an unfamiliar concept for Geffen Mesher. Several relationships date back to the firm’s founding; many clients have been with the firm for over 50 years. “We lose clients because they die, they go out of business, or they get bought out,” said Rompa. “Rarely do we lose them to another firm.”
JEK 1451Kendal Kelleher, Director of Operations & Workflow; Bill Schneller, IT Systems Administrator.

According to Rompa, becoming a trusted advisor is far from just a numbers game. It obviously requires financial savviness, but it’s far more critical to maintain a big picture, high-level view of their clients as well as building a strong foundation of trust. To be true advisors—and not just someone who crunches numbers—the relationship must extend beyond the conference room.

Basically, it requires a friendship.

“You can ask questions and you can get answers, but there’s only so much you can gather in formal, infrequent meetings,” said Rompa. Thus, he encourages accountants to meet clients socially, pay personal visits, and spend an exceptional amount of time learning the company’s operations. “Once you take the time to talk to clients and truly understand how their business ticks, you have a greater intelligence in how you best serve them.”

Building such deep relationships starts with hiring good people. To do so, Geffen Mesher has established a reliable criteria in evaluating new candidates—accountants who not only love numbers and transactions, but who also communicate clearly, possess strong analytical and outside-the-box thinking skills, and demonstrate adaptability.

“Our job is to translate complex laws to the everyday person with respect to their industry and background,” said Rompa. “Yes, we do compliance and yes, we can prepare a tax return or financial statement. But our clients are with us because we’re their primary financial consultant. We get involved in their lives and they depend on us. We’re here for one reason: to serve them and help them succeed.”
JEK 1440Geffen Mesher’s pun and message wall.

This service-oriented mindset has worked for 85 years now. Yet as Managing Shareholder, Rompa bears the responsibility of continuing this formula while finding ways to innovate.

Rompa joined the firm in the summer of 1988. He only planned to be in accounting for two years before moving onto law school. But management let him take risks and explore different avenues within the firm’s services.

“Early on, I was allowed to do things far beyond just basic accounting,” he said. “Because of those flexible opportunities, I discovered new passions and fell in love with the work.”

By continuing to apply this same philosophy to the firm’s employees today, Rompa says it naturally leads to fresh ideas and new perspectives. “If you let people be creative, allow them to take risks and let them be a part of the process and solution, I promise you: good things will happen.”

Supporting its people—be it clients or employees—has been the backbone of Geffen Mesher’s longevity. And even if the firm isn’t necessarily a household name, that’s fine with Rompa; he understands better than most: if you take care of what’s in front of you, the positive results will inevitably follow.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.