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Indiana's big four: four Indiana CPA firms are among the country's 100 largest.

When members of the international business community talk accounting, they often speak of the "Big Eight" firms (now the "Big Six"). The national Big Six CPA firms are well represented in Indiana, but so is Indiana's own "Big Four."

Indiana has four firms that show up on Public Accounting Reports national top 100 ranking. The PAR 100 is comprised of the 100 largest public accounting firms in the United States, ranked by annual revenues. Crowe Chizek & Co. of South Bend ranks 12th; Geo. S. Olive & Co. of Indianapolis is 16th; Katz, Sapper & Miller of Indianapolis comes in 59th; and Blue & Co. of Indianapolis is 63rd.

Besides making the PAR 100, three of Indiana's Big Four can also claim the accolades of gold and diamond anniversaries. Geo S. Olive & Co., founded during World War I, is the oldest of the three, and is celebrating its 75 year. George S. Olive Sr., who started the firm, stumbled into the accounting profession when his dream of becoming a doctor vanished after he witnessed an operation. Realizing that the medical field was not for him, Olive tried his hand at several different occupations before he found his first accounting job in 1907.

Ten years later he went out on his own, starting the accounting firm that bears his name and hiring three employees. "We have grown mostly through acquisitions and mergers," says Tom Landis, partner in charge in Indianapolis. The mergers and acquisitions have been exclusively with local and regional firms, and Geo. S. Olive has resisted many opportunities to merge with what used to be known as the "Big Eight."

In 1926 and 1958, the large New York firm of Haskins & Sells tried to merge with Olive so it could gain a presence in Central Indiana. George S. Olive Sr., in an October 1958 letter to Haskins & Sells, made his feelings known about the attempted merger. "There is a definite place in the practice of public accounting for a local firm; in any sizable community there is an obligation to build a local accounting practice very much as good law firms are built. I have been somewhat shocked that so many of the outstanding local practices have been merged." The growth of Geo. S. Olive & Co. has continued to this day, and last year the firm ventured outside Indiana for the first time, opening its 10th office in Decatur, Ill.

Celebrating 50 years of operation are Crowe Chizek & Co. and Katz, Sapper & Miller.

In 1942 Lewis Levy left his accounting position at an Indianapolis trucking company and opened a public accounting office at 7 E. 21st that would eventually become known as Katz, Sapper & Miller. In those first years of operation the firm "specialized in the trucking industry," says Curt Miller, the managing partner.

To expand its operations the company soon diversified and began working with companies in many other industries, including construction and real estate. One of its first construction clients was Melvin Simon, who was a young developer engaged in one of his first projects. Miller attributes much of Katz, Sapper & Miller's growth to the success that Melvin Simon & Associates has achieved over the years.

Originally Levy & Calderon, the company has gone through a handful of names as partners have changed. Even though Katz and Sapper are retired, those in charge now plan to keep the name, because it has become so well recognized in the community.

Fred P. Crowe Sr., a local practitioner in South Bend, and Cletus F. Chizek, an accounting professor at Notre Dame, probably had no idea that the practice they founded half a century ago would eventually become the 12th-largest accounting firm in the country. Crowe Chizek opened its doors 50 years ago in The State Theater Building on Michigan Road in South Bend, and employed only the two founders. From that point on the firm experienced consistent but moderate growth up until the '70s, when growth became explosive.

"In 1972 we moved to a new office, and by 1979 we had to move again into a 40,000-square-foot building built entirely for Crowe Chizek," says Ronald S. Cohen, the managing partner. "By 1985 we had to double that building to 80,000 square feet to continue to accommodate our growth."

The foundation for expansion was laid in 1966, when the firm made the first move outside of South Bend, opening an office in Elkhart. Crowe Chizek opened two more in the '70s, four in the '80s and one so far this decade.

"Until 1982 we considered ourselves a local firm, but now we think of ourselves as regional in some services that we offer and national in others," says Cohen. Crowe Chizek now has nearly 600 employees in eight offices within four states, and expansion plans continue. "We want to broaden the scope of our services to existing clients, including human-resource management, mergers and acquisitions, and computer-related services."

Blue & Co. turned 22 this past October, and in its comparatively short existence it has had a great impact on the state. The practice was founded in Indianapolis by Ron Blue, David Windley and John Durkott in 1970. The three had become friends while earning their MBAs at Indiana University, and went into business together after graduating.

Lou Meiners, the managing partner, claims that much of Blue & Co.'s growth can be attributed to Indianapolis-based American Trans Air, which has been a client since the early '70s. Says Meiners, "We grew up with them."

Today Blue & Co. has offices in Columbus, Rensselaer, Seymour and Indianapolis.
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Title Annotation:Business Services; certified public accountant
Author:Jones, Clay
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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