The Barrett and Co. story is integral to its day-to-day work in a way that elevates the very concept of family business. Owner and founder Lance Barrett hails from a rural Eastern Oregon family with origins in the railroad, trades and construction. Inspired by a local mentor who was a CPA, he made his way out of Burns, Ore., and into business school, ultimately landing as CFO of Jackson Marine on the north shores of the Columbia River in Vancouver. When Jackson got stiffed on a construction contract, the company filed for bankruptcy and reorganized.
Long story short, Lance Barrett started his own accounting firm in 1986 and took Jackson Marine on as his first client.
Pounding the pavement from his Portland office, his reputation quickly spread and he was amassing clients across the Northwest. Eventually Barrett and Co. moved to an office in Camas and became a small, but powerfully specialized accounting firm in a sea of competitors that include national firms with offices across the country. Barrett’s clients, among them 175 in the construction trades alone, do business in more than 30 states.
Today, his eldest son Drew Barrett, Business and Firm Development manager, has been working with the firm for 10 years, and his middle son Accounting Manager Alex Barrett has been there for nine. Lance’s wife Teresa is the firm’s administrator. The family has countless classic small-town family business stories to tell, like the time Lance Barrett was paid in sausages during a two-month period when a client was down on his luck.
The firm’s approach to business development appears simple but profoundly rewarding. They specialize in construction, manufacturing, transportation and real estate, growing their client base and areas of expertise organically, as valued clients moved into other industries or purchased real estate or referred their contacts to Barrett. The firm also focuses on small- to medium-sized business.
“By no means are we limited to a geographic area. We focus on making sure our values align with our clients’,” said Drew Barrett. “We’d rather be really good at a couple things than average in a lot of things.”
He said his dad is still in the office, though he makes his own schedule and sees the clients he is able to. The company has been working on a succession plan for two years, which will be announced sometime later in the year.
“For us, long term, the vision that my dad has and the vision we carry on as a company, is that we want to be able to serve clients and help them make businesses better. We have a fantastic team here, we have that specialization and focus,” he said. “In the long term, the sky is the limit – we can all be owners if we want to be – it’s a matter of making sure we are doing the right thing for our clients.”
Drew Barrett said the company’s unique way of onboarding and relating with clients means that Barrett turns down the vast majority of prospects who approach them. All but a few legacy clients receive a scope of work and pay up front for that. When something out of the ordinary comes up, Barrett issues a change order to the client and it must be mutually agreed to before moving forward. If a change order falls through the cracks for some reason, Barrett does not charge for that service. It’s a system their specific clientele can relate to.
Drew Barrett said the deliverables the firm provides to its clients are a “byproduct of the relationship that we have with our clients. We want to work with people who value the assistance and guidance we can provide them. We turn away 95% of the business that comes to us. I’ve turned down at least 50 people in the last two weeks.”
He said family dynamics do play into the business operations especially during unusual times like when his immediate family was building a new home and moved into his parents’ house in the interim, or when the “oldest brother” persona comes out during a disagreement. But he said he has strong models from Barrett’s clientele that help inspire his own business.
“So many businesses we work with have three generations of family members, and the overwhelming majority have at least two generations of family working in it,” he said, adding that his father Lance Barrett has always stood by one measurement. “At the end of the day we all need to make sure we can sit at the dinner table for Christmas, holidays and birthdays and enjoy being around each other.”