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.
Q. How did Oklahoma City lure you here, away from your family in northeastern Oklahoma?
A. I had every expectation to rejoin Arthur Young in Tulsa but went through campus interviews at OSU and hit it off with the managing partner of Ernst & Whinney. I joined the firm in June 1982, at a starting salary of $23,000, and within a month, Penn Square Bank collapsed. By the summer of 1987, we were down to some 40 people — from 140. I'd been promoted to a manager the previous year, and felt like I was on a fast track to becoming a partner. The silver lining (to the oil bust and banking industry collapse) was, with most of our partners and managers leaving or transferring, that left me with significant client responsibility early in my career. In the fall of '87, Ernst & Whinney closed its offices, and three of our accountants, from the longtime local firm that Ernst & Whinney had acquired in '82 and was known for years prior as Billups, Arnn & Co., formed Cole & Reed. I felt like our newly formed firm was going to make it, so I stayed and was promoted to senior manager in January 1988. I made partner three years later.
Q. You share a name with the Jim Denny whose children survived the Oklahoma City bombing. Does that confuse people?
A. It does. He has an unlisted phone number, but my number and address, here at the office, have always been public. After the bombing, I received several letters, some from crackpots and others with money, which I passed on. I also got phone calls from the “Today” show,” “48 Hours” and other reporters nationwide. I still get calls on anniversaries and significant dates, like when Timothy McVeigh was tried. Of course, many of us lost friends and acquaintances in the bombing. My grade school “girlfriend” was the woman who happened to visit the Social Security office that day to take care of business. A former employee's husband was killed. And my stepson's stepmother lost her father. I feel like I narrowly missed being a possible victim. I had a board meeting scheduled 30 minutes later, and my route from our downtown offices out of town would have taken me right by the Murrah Building.