Accounting for change: New CEO expects bigger advisory role for firm

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Christopher West is scheduled to begin on July 1 his new role as chief executive officer of Dalby, Wendland & Co. a public accounting and business consulting firm based in Grand Junction. Given changes in the accounting industry, West says he expects the firm to play a bigger role as an advisor in helping clients achieve their goals. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Christopher West loves the numbers. But accounting has never been just about the numbers.

“It’s always been a people business,” says West, who begins on July 1 his new role as chief executive officer of Dalby, Wendland & Co., a regional public accounting and business consulting firm based in Grand Junction.

West says the most rewarding aspects of his 23-year career involve working with people, whether that’s his colleagues at the firm or clients. Consequently, he says he’s excited about a job in which he’ll work to develop both staff and clientele.

Given rapid changes coming in the accounting industry, among them the increasing use of technology and artificial intelligence in auditing and tax preparation services, West expects Dalby Wendland to play an even bigger role as an advisor in helping clients achieve their goals. “It has to be even more so now a people business.”

With a staff of more than 90 and offices in Grand Junction as well as Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Montrose, Rifle and Telluride, Dalby Wendland operates the largest locally owned public accounting firm in Western Colorado.

Dalby Wendland ranked 77th among the top 250 privately owned companies in Colorado in a 2018 list compiled by ColoradoBiz magazine. The firm ranked 253rd among the 300 largest public accounting firms nationwide in a 2018 list compiled for the Inside Public Accounting newsletter.

West says he was appointed CEO by the board of directors to implement the firm vision through client services and technology as well as staff development. Greg Keller remains president.

West says he’s both anxious and confident. “I feel like I have the skills to do it, and I’m excited to get to show it.”

Moreover, West says he’s hardly alone in efforts. “I’ve got good people surrounding me.”

The position is the latest at Dalby Wendland for West, who’s worked his entire career at the firm — since graduating from what’s now Colorado Mesa University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

West says he initially studied marketing, but was convinced by an accounting professor who noticed his aptitude to change majors. West says he considers accounting the language of business and loves the stories accounting tells about a business and its operations.

At Dalby Wendland, West has been promoted through a succession of roles, including tax principal and principal in charge of the Grand Junction office. He worked in auditing and tax preparation early in his career and more recently has focused on corporate taxation, mergers and acquisitions and estate planning for high net worth individuals.

West says he’ll have to strike a balance between working with clients — what he says long has been his “day job”  — and his new duties. “The firm is the No. 1 client as CEO.”

He says he brings a servant style leadership to the role along with a collaborative approach. “I don’t pretend to know all the answers.”

West says he’ll focus on the firm vision, developing leaders through coaching and mentoring and adapting to a changing industry. Those changes could affect the services the firm provides and the way they’re provided, he says. “Our world is changing, and Dalby is proactively changing with it.”

Technology has changed the accounting industry from the days when ledgers and tax returns were completed by hand, he said.  While there are still clients who bring in their records stuffed into shoeboxes, records are more often scanned or downloaded. Software fills in forms.

With additional advances in software and artificial intelligence, more aspects of auditing and tax preparation will be automated, West says. In the process, accounting firms must shift operations, he says. “We have to be more advisory focused to our clients.”

That means meeting with clients more frequently than just for financial audits or tax season, he says. That also means listening, offering advice and helping clients achieve their business and individual goals. “Learning about what they want to do, helping them achieve what they want to do. It truly should be our passion as advisors.”

Certified public accountants already rank among the most trusted professional advisors, West says. “We’ve got a nice leg up to be in that position.”

But that advisory role must expand, he says. And accounting firms could have to hire other types of professionals to help, among them experts in cybersecurity, human resources and data analysis.

A different mindset is required as well as accounting firms prepare for the future, West says. “What got you here won’t get you there.”

Some aspects of the industry won’t change, though. “People are such an important part of our business.”

And while West says he loves the numbers, he also loves working with people. “Definitely the people.”

Dalby, Wendland & Co. operates offices in six locations in Western Colorado and provides a range of audit, tax and consulting services to businesses, organizations and individuals.  For additional information, call 243-1921 or log on to www.dalbycpa.com.