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Windes Still Bending to its Roots in Irvine

John Di Carlo can’t testify under oath that the founders of Windes Inc. had company culture and employee engagement at the core of their thinking when they opened their accounting firm. It was 1926 and the managing partner hasn’t come across any old work papers with “people first” scrawled across them.

“And I haven’t spoken to the founders,” Di Carlo joked, “but we can assume the answer is yes. The firm started in Long Beach, which back then was a small, close-knit community and community involvement was key to success … attracting the right people was key to success.”

It surely is today at Windes, where getting older at this venerable accounting firm means getting bigger. Its Orange County presence, established in 1986, is its second after Long Beach but now stands as the largest and fastest-growing of the company’s three locations, placing No. 22 on the Business Journal’s June list of accounting firms, up from No. 27 last year.

Recent growth came after a 2018 merger with Irvine-based Allen, Haight & Monaghan LLP, which added about 30 accountants to its local offices.

The merger means the tax and audit-focused accountancy is planning to consolidate two existing locations in Irvine into new digs around year-end, to a top-floor office in the Irvine Concourse Complex at MacArthur Boulevard and Main Street.

But getting older and larger at Windes also means getting better, and better by their people. It ranked third among midsize companies—50 to 249 employees—on the Business Journal’s 11th annual Best Places to Work list.

That’s up from sixth last year.

The list was compiled by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group, an independent workplace researcher that managed the registration process, conducted surveys, evaluated data and selected companies for the list based on overall scores from queries of management and employees.

Continuity is Key

“This is the way it’s been since I joined the firm eight and a half years ago,” said Jeff Fields, partner-in-charge of the Orange County office who moved to Windes from a neighboring OC accounting firm.

“It’s benefitting us even more now with the younger generation, which is embracing how we’re running the firm.”

Fields points to a recent senior candidate from the East Coast, who “had a lot of opportunities, but when we gave her an offer she enthusiastically accepted.”

“I think it was the people,” Fields said. “I talked to her about her future, her career, let her know we were looking for a future leader of the firm … that we always have an eye out for that … and of course our compensation, work-life balance has to be competitive. We were what she was looking for.”

Fields said there’s a low turnover rate at the office he’s run since 2011; a little less than 20% staff-to-manager, which he says compares favorably to public accounting firms.

It’s “some 6-8% below where we see the other numbers,” he said.

The tradition of joining Windes and staying starts with Managing Partner and Board of Directors’ President Di Carlo, who just celebrated another anniversary.

“I’ve only been here 38 years. I’m still trying to figure out my career path … I actually started at Ernst & Ernst … that’ll date me further.”

Pre-Di Carlo, Windes has clung to some “people first” traditions—like long hours during tax and audit season, but then right back to 40-hour weeks, which is not necessarily industry standard.

“We do a lot of events for employees. We have monthly events, our annual April 15th event, [and] an event for spouses and significant others before Thanksgiving,” said Di Carlo.

“And still in all we have employees asking us can we have more social events … that speaks volumes for the kind of culture we developed.”

Among the annual events, the “Windes Gives Back Day,” this year was an environmental restoration event held on May 23 at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Such events at a mid-size company of 165, an all-time high, with offices stretching from Los Angeles to Orange County, aren’t easy to coordinate.

“We removed 83 bags of invasive plant material, trash, and debris that amounted to more than 1,600 pounds of ecological harmful material at the Wetlands,” noted Chief Marketing Officer Craig Ima.

The more impressive number for the accounting firm was the participation, more than 110 employees, two thirds of the company.

“Windes cares about its people,” Ima said. A lot of companies went away from that the last 30 years or so … budget cuts, efficiency, and just burning people out. Windes hasn’t lost that—that’s kind of our X-factor. It’s our people. It’s very healthy.”

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