BPM tailors North Bay practice to wine business
Carol O’Hara has been managing partner of BPM’s North Bay offices in Santa Rosa and St. Helena for nearly six years.
In January 2009, BPM merged with Andersen & Co., which had been the largest accounting firm headquartered in the North Bay. O’Hara joined the firm a few months after the merger. Now BPM has about 45 employees in the two North Bay offices, with five partners. Most North Bay employees work out of the Santa Rosa office.
One of the largest regional accounting firms in California, BPM, with 40 partners and some 350 total staff, also has offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Walnut Creek and Hong Kong. The company was founded by Curtis Burr, Henry Pilger and Steve Mayer in 1986.
O’Hara talked with the Business Journal
about joining BPM, greater emphasis in the North Bay on the wine industry, recruitment in an industry with very low unemployment and mentorship of women in the profession.
Your background was corporate accounting?
Carol O’Hara: After I graduated, I came to KPMG in San Francisco, now one of the Big Four firms [Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG]. I worked there for 18 years, two years in London. I specialized in financial services. I became senior manager and then partner on Wells Fargo Bank. I was a partner for my last seven years.
Then you came to Sonoma County?
O’Hara: We moved to Sebastopol in 1998 when my son was 2 years old. I was one of the first partners at KPMG to go part time, working three days a week. I commuted for about two years. Then I had my daughter. Wells Fargo was my only account, but it got to be too much. I took them through two mergers, the First Interstate merger and the merger with Norwest.
You left KPMG?
O’Hara: I left in 2000 and stayed home with my kids for nine years on my two-acre hobby farm, a little vineyard and orchard. I have been here 16 years. My husband saw a story about the Burr Pilger Mayer merger with Andersen and Company in the North Bay Business Journal
. I met with Jim [Andersen] and Steve [Mayer]. It was a perfect mix.
What did you offer the newly merged company?
O’Hara: They didn’t have an audit side. My background is as an audit partner. I came on board to help bring in the full-service element to BPM: audit, tax and consulting. I became managing partner to help raise the brand BPM in the North Bay.
The company pursued wineries?
O’Hara: It made sense to go after wineries. [About a year ago, the company closed its Novato office and opened one in St. Helena.] There are about 800 wineries between Napa and Sonoma. It was consistent with my interests. We had a small pinot vineyard on our property. It’s a passion of mine.
How much BPM work is wine-related?
O’Hara: Of total revenue in the North Bay, wine or wine-related business is about 40 percent. Andersen legacy clients are owner-managed businesses in a variety of industries. Wine was the first industry we focused on.
Our second is craft beer. We work with Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma. It was an Andersen client.
The third is food, especially natural food.
What is the fourth-largest focus?
O’Hara: Life science and medical devices.
Combine wine, craft beer and food industry clients. What part of total North Bay revenue is that for BPM?
O’Hara: I would say 60 percent. We still have a long legacy of tax clients. We have real estate clients, nonprofits. We do all the Hansel auto dealerships. It’s diverse.
You did audits for Wells Fargo?
O’Hara: Yes. I was the audit partner. Here we approach all clients as relationships, whether it’s an audit opinion or tax opinion, working with clients throughout the year to help them solve problems. You end up with an audit opinion or tax return. But throughout the year you discuss business, tax issues. That’s how we differentiate ourselves. We’re not transactional, but relationship-oriented, with year-round communication.
Tax preparation and audits are now commodities, so the firm needs to go further into consulting?
O’Hara: Audits and [tax] compliance are commodities. It can be painful for people. One scenario is you don’t have any client interaction. You meet in October to talk about year-end tax returns and the audit. You come in January and have had no communication. You find all kinds of errors in their financial statements, problems with tax information. That’s the worst case. We strive to interact with clients on a real-time basis so their internal information that they’re making business decisions on is as accurate as possible. At the end of the year, we validate those numbers, but we are not coming across huge issues where they have accounted for a sale-lease-back incorrectly or have been depreciating things wrong for tax purposes. Fixing things costs a lot more money and aggravation.