Healdsburg accounting firm founder reveals what’s next after Moss Adams merger

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Renee Mengali was so eager to get into the world of accounting that she got her high school diploma at 16 and a year later was a graduate in accounting from Heald Business College in Santa Rosa.

A love of numbers came from a high school bookkeeping class. She was given a workbook in September of her junior year and had it finished a month later. She asked for another. Genes might have something to do with her love of numbers, as her mom was a bookkeeper.

Plus, she knew there would be a job waiting for her. She did a quick search in the classifieds, which at the time were listed alphabetically; “accountant” and “bookkeeper” were plentiful.

After 27 years in the business, today, the 44-year-old Mengali is adjusting to a career change. She is a managing partner at Moss Adams, which is one of the 15 largest public accounting firms in the United States.

On Aug. 1, Moss Adams finalized an asset purchase agreement with Healdsburg-based Mengali Accountancy Inc. in which the firm took possession of a “majority” interest. This was the accounting firm Mengali had started in Healdsburg in 2003.

All of her clients and nearly 48 employees are now part of the Moss Adams team. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The contract calls for the Mengali team to remain as its own division in Moss Adams—Outsource Real Estate Accounting. While Moss Adams still has its Santa Rosa office, the Mengali group will stay in Healdsburg.

Team work

“Awesome” and “unstoppable” are the two words Keith Hollander uses to describe Mengali.

“She always either has or will find a way to talk through to find a solution to a problem or question or need of a client or a team member,” Hollander said. “She has this presence about her, a confidence and intelligence to be able to get the job done.”

Hollander first met Mengali in 2014. He was studying to become a certified public accountant. She hired him that year to work at her Sonoma County accounting firm. Four years later he became a partner in the business. Today, he is a partner at Moss Adams, having come over in the acquisition.

“She is very involved in the community and supporting charitable organizations,” Hollander said.

He added that if a team member has a personal or professional issue, Mengali “is the first one to lend a hand.”

It’s the culture of caring that Mengali created that is in part why Hollander has been more than content to spend his entire career as an accountant working for and with her.

Outside of work

When Mengali moved to Sonoma County in 2002 after getting married this was her second time to live there. At 13 she first moved to Santa Rosa with her family from the Pasadena area.

“I didn’t like the small town vibe being from Southern California, so as soon as I turned 18 I left for Sausalito then San Francisco,” she said.

Today, she and her husband, Joe, live on 40 acres in Geyserville, where they have a menagerie of goats, chickens and dogs.

Tending to the acre garden and vineyard fill plenty of her hours that are not devoted to accounting clients. She recently wrapped up canning 30 gallons of tomato sauce.

Down time is a foreign concept to her.

“I’m very Type A. I love being productive. I would not have it any other way,” Mengali laughed.

Her 3-year-old son also keeps her on her toes.

Growing incrementally

Mengali never dreamed about being part of something bigger. In fact, having her own business was not part of her original plan.

“My father was self-employed all of my childhood and I saw how many hours he spent working. I never thought I would own my own business,” Mengali said.

For the first three years after starting Mengali Accountancy she had a full time job working for someone else. She was content to grow her business gradually. In 2006, she hired her first employee. In March of that year she opened her first office in Healdsburg.

She continued her education, earning a bachelor’s in business management from Pacific Union College in Angwin and obtaining her real estate broker’s license. A passion of hers is working out the financials on complex real estate deals.

Changing course

Going paperless in 2007 had a lot to do with where Mengali is today.

“That was the first step to be able to upscale. It created more efficiencies and automated workflows. We didn’t project all the benefits, though, that paperless would bring,” Mengali said.

With everything being digitalized, it meant employees had access to all the documents they needed without having to be in a physical office.

“We wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology and as a new firm I knew it would differentiate us,” Mengali said. “We also had clients with strict annual outside audit requirements that drove the idea that we needed a system to quickly pull up documents for the auditors.”

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit in 2020 that paperless proved to be beneficial beyond the original reasons for that move. Already having the systems in place to make remote work feasible not only kept the company going, it was the catalyst for growth.

Companies that weren’t as forward-thinking were scrambling to adapt to working remotely.

That proverbial light bulb went off with Mengali and her partners (Hollander and Debbie Warren) that they no longer had to be limited by the employee pool in the North Bay. With client files online, workers could access them from anywhere, which meant those employees did not have to be in Sonoma County.

Before the pandemic the firm had about 25 employees. In two years it nearly doubled to 48, with employees working and doing business in 10 states.

“Our growth was very much driven by our clients’ needs. We really didn’t have the option to not grow. It would seem like we could say no to new business, but the nature of our real estate clients is they were growing internally and exponentially,” Mengali explained.

This sudden growth led Mengali and her partners to realize they needed help.

“Our clients, the tax code and life in general is getting more and more complex. With that complexity requires a deeper bench of knowledge. It’s difficult to grow an organization without plugging into a bigger eco-system,” Mengali told the Business Journal as to why this year was the right time to be part of a larger organization.

Moss Adams has about 3,800 employees in 30 states. It has a dedicated human resources team, IT experts and other specialists that the Mengali operation was in need of to continue to be successful.

Since the change took place in August, the biggest difference for Mengali is returning to what she loves instead of wearing multiple hats as a business owner that did not always bring her joy.

“I am able to focus on my passion and have experts in other areas focus on their passions,” Mengali said. “Everything doesn’t feel like it’s on my shoulders anymore.”

Local women changing what leadership looks like

Here are more stories of influential North Bay entrepreneurs and executives.

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