Photos courtesy of Eide Bailly
Anna Larson and Clinton Larson
Creative Content Writers
When you think of a 100-year-old accounting firm, you probably think suits, right?
At Eide Bailly, they prefer to do things like dress up as Star Wars characters or ’80s movie stars. Fun isn’t just a word in the culture statement, it’s a part of the company fabric.
Founded in Fargo in 1917, Eide Bailly’s culture of service, commitment to community, and a fun work environment demonstrate how a small, local firm can make it for a century and counting.
Eide Bailly staff and partners dress as Star Wars characters to welcome college students to a special day at the firm.
Gettin’ in the Halloween spirit with Ghostbusters
“We’re proud to be celebrating our 100th anniversary as a firm,” says Eide Bailly CEO & Managing Partner Dave Stende. “It’s quite a milestone. There are many reasons for the successes we’ve had. We’ve built a great culture and spirit, and that’s the foundation of who we are. We are fortunate to live and work in some incredible communities where we help each other out.”
The Fargo-based, top-20 national accounting firm has now spread across much of the western half of the U.S. and shared its culture at each location. It’s hard to imagine that culture being as strong without the uniquely Fargo story behind the firm.
Establishing Eide Bailly
Eide Bailly has two heritage lines—Eide and Bailly—that joined in 1998 to form the firm. The history of each line dates back much further.
In 1917, Fargo was approaching a population of 20,000 and establishing itself as a major city in the upper Midwest. The accounting firm Bishop, Brissman & Co. decided to open an office here and named John. A. Cull as manager. Cull took over sole proprietorship of that office in 1925, and it was at this firm where Eide Bailly namesake Oliver Eide started his career in 1934. The firm eventually became Eide Helmeke.
Dave Stende is the CEO and the managing partner of Eide Bailly.
Sixteen years later, accountant Charles E. Bailly moved to Fargo in 1950 to open an office for Broeker Hendrickson & Co. of St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1978, the Fargo and Bismarck partners at Broeker Hendrickson withdrew and created their own firm, with Bailly as their leader. The firm was called Charles Bailly & Company.
By the 1990s, Charles Bailly and Eide Helmeke were the major accounting players in the Fargo region and much of the upper Midwest. Both ranked in the top 50 accounting firms in the U.S., and the two firms were often competing for the same clients and talent. As conversations began between the firms, they asked themselves, “What would it look like if we combined?”
Eide Bailly namesakes Oliver Eide (far left) and Charles Bailly (left).
When they decided to merge, the vote was unanimous by the partners of both firms. The new firm became Eide Bailly, and culture was top of mind as Charles Bailly and Eide Helmeke became one. Values from both sides became fundamental to the new firm’s culture: work-life balance, a dedication to client service, and, again, having fun.
Continuing the Culture
In the following years—as Eide Bailly grew by acquiring firms and adding staff—the need to maintain a strong culture became even more important. Jerry Topp, Eide Bailly managing partner from 2003-2013, says the firm has always been people-focused.
“It was very important to our staff and partners that we didn’t do anything that would upset the culture because it became such a noticeable identity of our firm,” Topp says.
Today, the culture statement is nearly 20 years old, but it’s still just as important to the firm’s success. At Eide Bailly, the “fun” part of their culture means departments have regular outings such as movies and sporting events. Free food is always around, and staff can take a break to unwind in the game room. Students are introduced to the firm with themed events (that’s where the ’80s outfits and Star Wars characters come in). And it’s not uncommon to see people in costume while fundraising for local nonprofits.
Eide Bailly supports a number of nonprofits in the community, including the United Way of Cass-Clay.
“Work-life balance, a fun environment to enjoy work, and delivering great service to clients, those things were unheard of outside of our walls 20 years ago, which made a difference for us,” says Ross Manson, partner-in-charge of the Fargo office.
When staff and partners are asked about the firm’s culture, they share stories of fishing trips, golf outings, support through tough times and celebratory parties. Many say their colleagues are more than just coworkers, they’re close friends.
Arlene Huseby worked at the firm for more than 30 years as a secretary. She retired 20 years ago but still keeps in touch with her former colleagues and clients. That’s just how it works at Eide Bailly, she says.
“You can work anywhere, but it’s the people you work with who make it fun,” Huseby says. “Working 12-14 hours a day during tax season, you have to like it to keep coming back,” Huseby says.
Hiring the right people is fundamental to maintaining the firm’s culture. Recruiters look for people who will be successful in the environment and culture, Manson says.
“Our culture has given us the ability to recruit talented people who work together effectively and efficiently between offices,” he adds.
Fargo Roots, Fargo Growth
Fargo’s where it all started for Eide Bailly, and it continues to be the firm’s largest office. As the city that was once home to 20,000 has grown to 115,000, Eide Bailly has grown with it. The firm has nearly 30 offices in more than a dozen states and continues to expand.
“Our results and success are driven by community growth. Business owners here collaborate, share ideas and desire to see each other succeed,” says Jenni Huotari, Eide Bailly’s director of business outsourcing and strategy. “The culture of Fargo’s business community is a lot like Eide Bailly’s. It’s a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and fun.
Jenni Huotari, Director of Business Outsourcing & Strategy
One way Eide Bailly keeps its small-firm feel as it expands is by staying involved in its communities. In Fargo, the firm is constantly finding ways to foster community growth, Manson says. He points to corporate citizenship, volunteering, recruiting people from the area, investing money and sharing knowledge as key factors that cultivate growth.
“Community leaders and business leaders have said for 100 years, ‘Let’s make Fargo the place to be in North Dakota,'” Manson says. “We get that, and we understand that as the community thrives, Eide Bailly will thrive.”
Ross Manson, Partner in Charge – Fargo Office, Eide Bailly
The future is exciting (and unpredictable) for many businesses, including CPA firms. Technology is changing the way people do business, Huotari says.
“We’ll continue to look for ways to differentiate ourselves and find new opportunities so that we can be around for 100 more years,” she says. “We’ll remain committed to our people and our clients because they’re our biggest assets. That’s our culture.”
What Eide Bailly will look like in the future is anyone’s guess—maybe the suits will go the way of ’80s big hair. But what will always be apparent are the deep Fargo roots that have shaped the culture and helped the firm grow for a century.