It’s not every day that two friends sharing a coffee after Sunday mass leads to a business partnership like the one Joe Bones shared with Brian Mulvihill.
But that fateful meeting in 1962 marked the beginning of the Ottawa accounting firm now known as Baker Tilly.
“It was the best move I made in my entire career,” said Bones on his decision to join forces with Mulvihill, a partnership that lasted more than 20 years. “We were inseparable from the start.”
Together, Bones and Mulvihill made their firm a key part of the city’s small business ecosystem. They may have started with a different name in an office with slanted floors Bones describes as “the crummiest office I ever stepped into,” but the foundation they laid stood the test of time.
By hiring the right people and doing the best work possible, Bones and Mulvihill created a firm that continues to support Ottawa’s economy with sound financial advice and impeccable accounting in our nation’s capital.
That was then
Their knack for knowing what needs to change and what needs to stay the same has served them well.
Back in 1962, Bones and Mulvihill were 10 years away from buying their first pocket calculator. “It was a different world,” said Bones. “We didn’t have a word processor or a Xerox machine. We had old-fashioned IBM electric typewriters.”
But as technology advanced and Ottawa changed, they adapted and grew, doubling their growth yearly by being a full-service firm that never turned a client away. “We did it all and I think we did it very well,” said Bones. From the start they made it a habit to hire good people and create a team who never fought over who owned a client.
Even the banks came to value Bones and Mulvihill’s firm as a business leader due to the thorough financial statements they prepared. “One bank manager told me, ‘With your financial statement, we don’t have a single question for our client.’”
That said, they also knew a good relationship doesn’t mean being a pushover. “If we ever had doubts about the honesty of a client, they didn’t stay,” said Bones. “Even then we knew that great conversations led to great relationships.”
This is now
Today, Baker Tilly is more than just an accounting firm. It’s a network of independently owned and operated firms that share common resources while retaining autonomy at the local level, meaning they can hire who they want and choose their own clients.
Baker Tilly’s current managing partner Michael Hayward says focusing on relationships is why the firm continues to be a success. “It’s all about people, whether it’s our clients, whether it’s our employees or whether it’s the community,” he said.
Weathering the pandemic was no exception. “When work slowed down, we looked around the table and said, ‘We’re hearing of other places laying off, but we’re not going to do that,’” said Hayward. “‘We’ll bear the cost to keep this going and our employees will be the last people to suffer.’”
In the end, the firm’s well-earned reputation as a trusted advisor paid off — their clients needed them during the pandemic more than ever.
Hayward’s outlook for the future of Baker Tilly is bright.
“It comes back to the core principles that got us here for 60 years. We need to be a reliable, fun, energetic place for employees to work,” he said. “I see that being no different 30 or 60 years from now.
Bones may be retired, but he knows Baker Tilly will continue delivering on their commitment to serving family businesses. “The big thing is to help clients meet their goals,” he said.
With partners like Bones passing down the same tried and true values to leaders like Hayward, Baker Tilly will no doubt be doing just that for years to come.