How the Big Dogs Eat

Humble beginnings, pivotal moves, innovative ideas, Ozarks values and even near-disastrous mistakes pepper the backstories of six local companies that just won’t quit. Take an inside look at how they’ve become unstoppable.

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BKD’s headquarters and Southern Missouri Practice Unit are in downtown Springfield.

Just after World War I in 1923, a small accounting firm was founded by William Baird in Kansas City and Wade Kurtz and Claire Dobson in Joplin. Twenty-five years later, in 1948, they expanded to Springfield. Here the firm established headquarters for what is now the $537.6 million national public accounting and advisory firm BKD LLP.

Springfield can thank the firm’s first branch director, Hearld Ambler, for BKD’s headquarters. In 1976, Ambler became the first managing partner for Baird, Kurtz & Dobson. “He started building an administrative team that has continued to grow throughout the years,” says John Wanamaker, managing partner for the Southern Missouri Practice Unit, which includes Springfield, Joplin and Branson.

Since the 1990s, BKD has provided clients with specialized services such as business valuations and auditing.

The Springfield practice started in the Landers building, moving to McDaniel, then in 1987 to the Hammons Tower. Outgrowing the Tower led to construction of its current building where the Southern Missouri Practice Unit and national offices reside.

All the money that comes in from southern Missouri partners stays in southern Missouri.”—John Wanamaker, managing partner for BKD Southern Missouri Practice Unit

Today BKD operates out of 34 offices in 15 states to serve clients nationally and internationally. It has two subsidiaries, Corporate Finance and Wealth Advisors, and 263 partners. The firm serves practically every industry while recognizing five major niches: manufacturing and distribution, financial services, construction and real estate, health care and nonprofit government. In 2016 it was named a top five Best of the Best Firms of Distinction by INSIDE Public Accounting

Expanding its Niche

 A pivotal event for BKD was the passage of the Medicare Act in 1965 when the firm entered the health care field by representing providers. “That was a huge decision for us, and health care now is our largest industry niche,” Wanamaker says.

In 1969, BKD expanded to Arkansas, continuing to grow through mergers and acquisitions. By end of the ’90s, BKD was providing specialized services such as business valuations, litigation support, forensics and more. Today these specialties are practiced firm-wide, providing added value for clients, Wanamaker says. “You’ve got people who are 100 percent focused in that niche, bringing expertise to the table,” he says. “From a firm perspective, it made a lot of good sense.” So did the 2001 mega-merger with Olive LLP, doubling the size of the firm, then renamed BKD LLP. 

The company operates under a set of codified standards described in a book that every team member receives. They are: integrity first, true expertise, professional demeanor, responsive reliability and principled innovation. Wanamaker is proud he helped write the book, which was published in 2004. “We started implementing core training of those client service standards, so it’s literally woven now into the fabric of our continuing professional education,” he says.

Client standards are reinforced for BKD employees through continuing education programs.

Contributing to the Community

In 2000, the firm established the BKD Foundation. To date the foundation has given more than $12 million, benefiting Springfield and other locations through grants requested by employees and partners for charities they support. 

Each area has its own foundation budget, he adds: “All the money that comes in from southern Missouri partners stays in southern Missouri.” In 2016, $122,000 was donated in southern Missouri; firm-wide the amount was $1.1 million. BKD also provides endowments to schools where they recruit including Missouri State, Drury and Evangel universities.

“I’d like to think we’ve had a positive impact on the community in giving back,” he says. “It’s not about just the pure business benefit. It’s about giving back to the community [in which] you live and work.”

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