In 1990, Mel Howard, Harvey Wershbale and 22 of the best coworkers they could find – all fresh from a national accounting firm – joined forces to create Howard, Wershbale & Co., a certified public accounting and consulting firm, in Cleveland.
Now in 2020 and renamed to HW&Co., with more than 100 employees, and regional offices in Beachwood, Mentor, the Columbus suburb of Westerville and newly acquired Middleburg Heights, HW&Co. celebrates 30 years with big changes, including a new CEO and president, Brandon R. Miller, and a plan to give back to the community.
Miller, 44, is no stranger to HW&Co. He started as a tax intern when he was a 19-year-old accounting major at John Carroll University in University Heights in 1996, and since graduating, it’s the only place he has worked.
“My thoughts on what I’d be doing in life have taken many different turns while still at the same company, and maybe that’s the reason why it’s allowed me to stay at the same company. If I was doing the same thing I was doing back when I was 19, I’d probably be pretty bored or somewhere else,” Miller said. “With HW&Co., I just kept on seeing all aspects of a business, understanding how these businesses operate; growing and taking on different roles within the firm.”
Miller, who currently lives in Solon with his wife and two daughters, initially came to the firm to explore his goal of becoming a CFO, but because of HW&Co.’s open structure where employees aren’t pigeonholed into one industry or service of accounting or consulting, he explored different facets. Besides working as an accountant in the firm, he served as board chair of HW&Co. and board member of HW Financial Advisors.
“I got involved in the executive role tier within HW, and I really enjoyed the vision thinking and strategic planning, because I’m more of a forward thinker,” he said. “While I was trying to help my companies get better, I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’d like to do the same thing here at HW.’ That’s what got me excited to take on the CEO role – looking at our firm and maybe seeing where we could go, what are our next steps ahead.”
When the calendar flipped to Jan. 1, Miller started his first day as CEO and president of HW&Co. for a five-year term following previous president John P. Fleischer.
Miller’s duties besides leading the firm include maintaining client interaction and involvement and assembling a 10-year strategic plan that carries HW&Co. forward.
To work alongside the plan, Miller has also set a series of goals to push HW&Co. past its current success.
“One of my goals is to help the junior partners and the even more senior partners grow and become more successful,” he said. “That growth means you’re obtaining new clients, new expertise areas and helping grow each one of our different verticals.
“Another goal is to make sure we continue to provide excellent client service, if not even better than we have now, which is difficult to do ‘cause I feel like it is pretty exceptional.
“I also want to make sure we’re getting out into the community and increasing our name recognition here so that the HW name is synonymous with accounting services, tax services and a CPA firm in Ohio that businesses know.”
HW&Co. recently announced a merger with Finkler & Company CPAs in Middleburg Heights where the two firms will join forces under the HW&Co. name to extend the firm’s regional availability.
Despite having retired from the firm he helped create in 2007, Wershbale is proud of the way the firm has continued to improve, and he celebrates HW&Co.’s 30th anniversary and Miller’s appointment.
“We founded HW&Co. in order to run it our way,” said Wershbale, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz. “Some of the pressure with national firms was to go after clients that were not best suited for our skill set and we just thought that creating our own destiny was important.
“This is an exciting time, especially with Brandon becoming the CEO. I remember there were a couple of instances where I wanted Brandon on an account that I had just picked up and it was really hard getting the scheduling committee and the human resource folks to agree to let him be involved because he was in such demand because he was very good at what he did. I was lucky enough in a couple of instances to have him assigned and he took over the right way.”
Wershbale, who served as the firm’s first president and CEO, now uses HW&Co. services as a client. He sees a promising future for the firm he raised.
“I think that it continues to grow, and right now, I believe it’s one of the top 200 firms in the country,” Wershbale said. “HW&Co. continues to be a regional firm that controls what it does, and if it merges with others, they’re well researched as I believe it has done. The firm just needs to continue the quality of service and the value that it creates for its clients.”
To give back to the different communities the firm functions in for its 30th anniversary, HW&Co. is starting its “Gifts of 30” campaign where it will donate 30 of something to an employee-selected charity a month – six in Cleveland representing its Beachwood and Mentor sectors and three in Columbus. From animal shelters to child literacy programs to homeless shelters, HW&Co. employees will work to gather donatable materials.
“It could be 30 pounds, 30 boxes, 30 turkeys, 30 blankets, 30 whatever,” said Phyllis Sossi, HW&Co.’s director of marketing. “It’s just a way to give back to the communities that have embraced us and where we do business. We want to cross a lot of different sectors and a lot of different people; we want it to be impactful.”