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Transition at the top: Looking at further expansion, Eide Bailly taps new CEO

From left are Jerry Topp, Dave Stende and Mike Astrup of Eide Bailly in Fargo.

FARGO -- Dave Stende has some big shoes to fill and a big goal to reach.

The 53-year-old assumed the role of managing partner and chief executive officer of Fargo-based Eide Bailly in May as Jerry Topp stepped down after a decade in that position.

It was a decade that saw the company expand from nine offices to 21, tripling its revenue from $54 million to $167 million. The accounting and business advisory company now has a goal of doubling revenue in the next five years, growing to $350 million.

Stende played a big role in the growth that happened under Topp, having served as chief operating officer for the last seven years of Topp's tenure.

"We've had just a great working relationship and kind of figured out quickly what the complementary strengths were and what areas we needed to focus on to really make a coordinated team and really act united on a firm-wide front," Stende said. "And that's what's made this transition so easy. I took over May 1, but from my perspective it's almost seamless because we've worked so closely over the past 7 years, it's not a major change for me."

Stinde tipped his hat to Topp's intelligence, vision and caring nature as well as his "courage to make tough decisions."

Topp, who now holds the title of chief executive partner, will remain with the company for a time. He said he was pleased with Stende's selection.

"There's no doubt he was the leading contender all the way through the process because of the experience that he has garnered over the last seven years," said Topp, 60.

He said Stende brings a tremendous amount of energy and creativity to the table and that he knows the profession and has developed relationships in his role as COO.

Eide Bailly may be Fargo-born-and-bred, but Stende is taking the reins of a company whose reach goes far beyond the Red River Valley. The company has 21 offices in 10 states and was listed as one of the 25 largest accounting firms in the nation in the 2012 Inside Public Accounting Report. It had 49,000 clients as of the end of the fiscal year, employing more than 1,200 people, including about 300 in Fargo.

Stepping down

Topp has been with the company since 1978, but it wasn't his first career.

After graduating from Valley City State University, Topp became a high school teacher. He later pursued an accounting career. He'd seen friends go into that field and increase "their compensation from $6,000 a year to $14,000 a year, and I thought, 'Wow, how could I not do that?'"

He rose through the ranks to the top of Eide Baily, but believes it's time for new leadership.

"You have to have a significant amount of energy to do this job, and I'm not sure that I'm bringing the same amount of energy that I did 10 years ago," he said. "So in fairness to the firm, I think it's time to hand it off to those folks that have the energy to do a great job for it."

He's also aware of people looking to advance within the company.

"To stand in the way of those opportunities, I wouldn't feel very good about that," he said.

Along with the change in managing partner/CEO, the company has also beefed up its upper management, creating new positions to deal with expanded work that comes with size. Prior to the new management structure, much of that responsibility filtered through Stende as the COO.

"Dave's job had become one that no one human being could do anymore," said chief administrative officer Mike Astrup, whose position is part of that new structure.

History of merging

Eide Bailly does tax work and provides assurance services, which deal with verifying that financial statements are fairly represented. The company also provides other services in areas such as technology, employee benefit administration, state and local taxes and estate and financial planning.

The company traces its roots to 1917. That year, Minneapolis firm Bishop Brissman & Co. sent Jack Cull to establish a branch in Fargo. The name was later changed to J.A. Cull & Co. Oliver A. Eide became a partner of the company in 1944, and the firm changed its name to Cull Eide & Co.

Maynard Helmeke was admitted as a partner in the firm in 1956 and it was renamed Eide & Helmeke.

The firm underwent a number of subsequent name changes and acquired offices in Bismarck in 1968, Sioux Falls in 1969 and Aberdeen in 1970.

In 1981, the firm became Eide Helmeke & Co., adding firms in Phoenix in 1984 and Minneapolis in 1990.

The "Bailly" part of the "Eide Bailly" name comes from Charles Bailly, who came to Fargo in 1950 to open an office of Broeker Hendrickson and Co., a Twin Cities-based firm.

In 1978, when Broeker Hendrickson merged with an Iowa firm, the nine North Dakota-based partners of the firm withdrew and formed Charles Bailly & Co. The firm added offices in Sioux Falls in 1979, Minneapolis in 1983, Billings, Mont., in 1985, and Dubuque, Iowa, in 1990.

Eide Helmeke & Co. and Charles Bailly & Co. merged in 1998, taking the name Eide Bailly.

A Midwestern company

The backgrounds of Topp, Stende and Astrup speak to the strong connections the company has to the Midwest.

Topp was a farm kid, a native of Grace City while Stende's parents owned a grocery store in Mayville.

Astrup grew up in Fargo, and his bio says he cheers for "the NDSU Bison and the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves."

Even though the company has expanded, Eide Bailly's footprint is tied to this section of the country, being contained in the central part of the U.S. to the west of the Mississippi River. Stende said the company intends to continue growing within that region.

Astrup believes Eide Bailly's Midwest roots have a "huge impact" on what Eide Bailly is and how it does business.

He points to core values like trust, loyalty, integrity and work ethic.

"You know, the people from the Midwest are not afraid to roll up their sleeves," he said. "You'll see people up here nights and weekends if there's a project that a client needs."