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Accounting Firms Roar Back: 9.6% Gain in Employees

20 Firms Report 10%-Plus Headcount Growth

Orange County’s largest accounting firms are back with a vengeance.

After posting a 1% decline last year in local headcount—the first such drop in a decade—this year they are more than making up for it with a 9.6% increase to 5,951 OC employees at the 47 largest firms in the county, according to this week’s Business Journal list.

Altogether, 34 firms on the list reported increases, including 20 by more than 10%. A year ago, 23 firms reported an increase, with only nine reporting to be more than 10%.

Seven firms this year reported a headcount reduction, compared to 13 a year ago.

OC employee growth was higher than companywide growth of 5.6% to 1.3 million.

The list includes firms with at least 10 area employees and ranks them by local headcount.


Deloitte Remains No. 1

Nine of the 10 largest firms reported increases, led by a 15% jump at the Costa Mesa office of Deloitte, which once again topped the list with 978 employees.

“Our growth in Orange County reflects Deloitte’s national increase in headcount,” Deloitte OC Managing Partner Marshall Solomon told the Business Journal, saying the firm added 10,000 employees during 2020 and 2021. “Locally, we’re growing across several key sectors, including life sciences, technology and real estate.”

No. 4 PwC, also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Irvine climbed 12% to 414 employees because of growth in sectors such as digital cloud, media, cybersecurity and environmental, social and governance (ESG), Orange County Office Manager Traceè Jones told the Business Journal.

“Our practices are really evolving in those spaces,” said Jones, who took over the office manager position last July (see story, page 24). “It’s a matter of just general capabilities.”

The list shows the number of partners in OC increased 5.3% to 662, while the number of certified public accountants was down by five to 1,869.

Irvine again was the favorite local base for the accounting firms with 30 offices, including eight of the 10 largest firms, followed by Costa Mesa with five.

The nine largest firms on the list retained the same spot from a year ago.
CliftonLarsonAllen LLP moved up a spot to No. 10 by increasing its headcount 14% to 165.

Prior No. 10 Grant Thornton LLP, a Chicago-based firm with an office in Newport Beach, fell to No. 11 by decreasing its headcount by two to 146.


Merger Trend

The previous largest accounting firm headquartered in Orange County was Squar Milner, which ranked No. 7 in 2020 when it was acquired by Baker Tilly US. Since then, No. 7 Baker Tilly has slowly increased its OC headcount, which climbed 5.7% to 223 as of May.

In the past couple of years, at least eight Orange County-based firms joined other firms with headquarters outside the county (see story, page 3). At least six of those firms reported headcount increases since their combinations occurred, including three by more than 10%.

No. 20 Withum, which acquired KSJG in 2020, reported its headcount post-merger climbed 19% to 87.

MGO was the biggest riser on last year’s list, moving to the No. 16 spot from No. 34 a year ago, as a result of its 2020 merger with Hall & Co.

Post-merger, MGO has slowly increased its headcount, growing 3.2% to 98, good for No. 18.

The most recent merger was earlier this month when New York City-based Marcum LLP snapped up Newport Beach based LTSP Inc.

“They work with a lot of closely held entrepreneurs and high-net-worth individuals,” LTSP Managing Partner Mark Murphy said. “We fit in well with their client base.”

Because of the acquisition, Marcum was the third-fastest grower on the list, with a 50% increase to 96 employees, ranking it No. 19, up from No. 23 a year ago.



• Brea-based LSL CPAs is now the second-largest accounting firm with headquarters in Orange County. It reported an 8.3% growth to 130 employees, good for the No. 12 spot.

It has a new managing partner, Bryan Gruber, who took over for Rich Kikuchi, who retired late last year.

• Two companies based in the Midwest had the fastest growth on this list.
Wipfli, a Milwaukee-based firm, reported its Irvine office jumped headcount 131% to 30 employees, moving its rank to No. 38, up from No. 46, making it the largest jumper on this year’s list.

UHY LLP, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based firm, said headcount at its Irvine office more than doubled to 21.

“During the pandemic, our firm did really well,” said Office Manager and Tax Partner Crystal Li. “We started to get more business.”

Andersen climbed to No. 24 from No. 30 by increasing its headcount 39% to 64. Andersen is the successor to the former accounting giant Arthur Andersen, which went out of business in 2002 because of fraudulent practices involving Enron.

• Irvine-based Wright Ford Young & Co. grew 11% to 100 employees, ranking No. 17.

“Growth was across the board,” Managing Partner Jeff Myers told the Business Journal. “We’ve put a lot of money into technology. It’s really paid dividends.”

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

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