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Accounting chief has served Oklahoma City firm since its beginnings

Jim Denny talks about his career and 25 years with Cole & Reed public accounting firm in Oklahoma City.
by Paula Burkes Published: May 19, 2013

The 85 employees of Cole & Reed public accounting firm spent Friday morning on a scavenger hunt at the Oklahoma City Zoo, followed by lunch at Science Museum Oklahoma.

The shared fun was to mark the firm's 25th anniversary. Its official birth date was New Year's Day, but leaders plan a yearlong rollout, including a client event in September at the Civic Center Music Hall, managing partner Jim Denny said.

For Denny, the celebrations are like commemorating his own professional career. He's been with the firm since day one; really 30 years if you count his service with its predecessor.

Sam Cole, Jerry Reed and Paul Nicholson formed Cole & Reed on Jan. 1, 1988, after Ernst & Whinney closed its Oklahoma City office, five years after the collapse of Penn Square Bank. Cole retired in 2006, and the other two founding partners retired before 2000.

Since 2002, Denny has served as the firm's chief executive, focusing on business development and day-to-day operations.

Cole & Reed provides audit and assurance, tax planning and compliance, consulting and accounting services to individuals, businesses of all sizes and many colleges, he said. Annual revenues are between $11 billion and $12 billion, he said.

In his office at 531 Couch Drive, Denny, 53, sat with The Oklahoman Monday to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:

Q. Tell us about your roots.

A. My dad built homes, and he and my mother — who both grew up in the Stigler area and married right after high school — followed the work to construction jobs up north. I was born outside Chicago in Hammond, Ind., and my brother was born two years later, in Cleveland. When it came time for me to start school, my family returned to Stigler, where my dad bought 100 acres 15 miles west of town, and raised cattle along with working as a carpenter. My mom worked as a secretary at the Haskell County Courthouse and later at the high school. Her dad, my grandfather, drove the school bus. Before my dad built us a home in 1968, we had no indoor plumbing. Like my grandparents, we used an outhouse, and we heated water on the stove for baths in a tin washtub. My parents, who are in their mid-70s, still own and live on the homestead. My brother works as an engineer in Owasso.

Q. What were the highlights of your school days?

A. I excelled in math and science and was one of six valedictorians in a graduating class of 77. I was too short for basketball and too slow for track, but played defensive cornerback and offensive guard on the football team. We lost 20 games straight our freshmen and sophomore years, but made it to the state playoffs as seniors. I started working in eighth grade — first alongside my dad and then as a sacker/stocker at the grocery store during summers and on school breaks throughout college.

Q. Where'd you go to college?

A. I grew up a University of Oklahoma fan but wound up going to Oklahoma State. Coming from a small town, I found the atmosphere in Stillwater a better fit. I was the first in my family to go to college and couldn't have afforded to go if not for federal grants and scholarships. I started in civil engineering, but it was too much science for me. So, I quickly followed my hometown girlfriend to the business school and into accounting. After we broke up, I got involved in campus activities, joining the Beta Alpha Psi accounting fraternity and working as a student assistant for the head of the accounting department. I taught more than half of his Intro to Accounting sections, standing before some 125 students. I graduated with two Bs — one in business law and another in management information systems — and my professors encouraged me to stay one more year and earn my graduate degree, which I did after working a summer for Arthur Young in Tulsa. In graduate studies, I gained great research skills, which most of my peers lacked; and served as president of the accounting fraternity. That and my teaching experience were invaluable. I became comfortable standing in front of large groups and also working one-on-one with people.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: Cole & Reed P.C. certified public accountants, managing partner.

Birth date: June 5, 1959.

Heritage: He's 1/16th Choctaw Indian.

Family: Becky Denny, married 17 years (they met at Cole & Reed, where she briefly worked); sons Matt Denny, 25, of Dallas; Zac Denison, 24, of Dallas, and Jason Denny, 23, of Houston; and daughter Casey Denny, 15, a student at Casady School.

Housing addition: Nichols Hills They moved from Arcadia, after their property there narrowly missed being annexed by Edmond Public Schools.

Education: Oklahoma State University, bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting.

Pastimes: Travel — a self-proclaimed “timeshare junkie,” Denny and his family have enjoyed repeated vacations to Florida, Hawaii, Table Rock Lake and elsewhere — and sports: He holds season tickets to Thunder, OSU football, OSU basketball and St. Louis Cardinals games. He attended his first Cardinals game at age 30, but has been a fan since he was 8 and listened to the games on his grandfather's transistor radio.


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