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  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 11:00 a.m. August 14, 2015
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Accountants Dick Kerkering and Allan Barberio grew tired of big-firm bureaucracy, so in 1972 they launched their own firm.

At first they worked out of a small office on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. They used desktop adding machines. They typed financial statements.

The pair flourished in multiple ways, from growing the client base to creating an entrepreneurial comfort zone for bright, non-conformist accountants to being involved in the community. They were so successful that Sarasota-based Kerkering Barberio is now one of the largest independently owned accounting firms on the Gulf Coast and a top 200 firm nationwide.

That success, while celebrated, represents the firm's biggest challenge in terms of managing the growth without sacrificing quality. “We are an in-between firm,” says KB Managing Shareholder Rob Lane. “We aren't huge. But we are big.”

Kerkering Barberio, with at least a dozen tax and business consulting services, had $19.1 million in sales last year, up 6.7% from $17.9 million in 2013. The company has offices in Lakewood Ranch and Tampa, in addition to its downtown Sarasota headquarters. About 60% of its clients are individuals and 40% are businesses. No single client represents more than 1% of the firm's total revenues, Lane says.

Lane says the firm's trajectory in many ways mirrors the four-decade explosion in people who have moved to Sarasota, followed by growth in the tourism, real estate and service sectors. “We've been part of the growth of the community,” Lane says. “We've always tried to react to our client's needs.”

One notable fact about KB is the current leadership ranks, where 70% of the partners with an ownership stake are women. The firm has 110 employees.

Several KB officials say a key to the firm's success is an ability to embrace industry technology changes. That includes virtual meetings and internal programs like KB DirectConnect, where a client's accounting data is kept on KB servers. “The way we use technology is definitely an advantage to us,” says KB Principal Kathleen Hargreaves.

Accounting industry shifts, especially an ongoing consolidation trend, have also benefited KB. For example, about 10 accounting firms in the Tampa area have merged or been bought in recent years, and Lane believes that presents opportunities to target clients, and employees, who seek stability.

“Our profession is going through a lot of changes,” says Lane. “It's driven by a lack of succession planning.”

Lane and some other KB senior leaders hope to avoid the succession issues that lead to an eventual sale. The firm is in its second generation of leaders; Kerkering and Barberio are retired. Lane says senior leaders are grooming younger managers for executive leadership roles. Also, a group of people from several departments meets regularly to talk about everything in KB's future, including expansion possibilities and succession.

A final and significant element to KB's long-term success is an entrepreneurial spirit to try things outside accounting industry norms. That's a big reason why Kerkering and Barberio founded the firm and a reason why people like Lane, Hargreaves and others have been there for decades.

And to Lane, it's a philosophy that defines the company. Says Lane: “If it's legal, moral and ethical, and it will help our clients, let's explore it.”

— Mark Gordon


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