Family Owned Business profile: Opsahl Dawson

‘Step back, watch the other family member work their magic and watch it all come together

Opsahl Dawson
Courtesy of Opsahl Dawson

After purchasing the tax preparation firm started by George Opsahl in 1979 in 2009, current owners of Opsahl Dawson – Aaron and Jen Dawson – quickly grew the firm from a Longview-based firm with 18 employees to a leading-edge firm in Vancouver that today has more than 65 employees.

“Our firm is an industry-leading CPA firm,” Aaron Dawson said. “We staffed with 65 of the most talented and hardest working individuals I have ever worked with. I manage our business every day with amazement of how we managed to put together such a great workforce. Our primary specialty is tax preparation and tax planning for businesses and individuals. We also provide Review and Compiled financial statements for businesses. There are many things that a CPA firm can do to help businesses and individuals make sure that they are applying the tax law in the most advantageous way. We are constantly mastering the interplay of how our national and state tax laws affect our lives.”

Opsahl Dawson currently has four owners – Aaron, Jen, Matt Lee and Sierra Eckman. Aaron has eight CPAs in his family and three of them (including Aaron and Jen) work at Opsahl Dawson. Nick Dawson, CPA, works for the company as a tax associate/IT department.

“Working with family is great,” Aaron said. “We are all cut from the same cloth. The advantage of working with family is the incredible alignment, we know what each other are thinking before we even say it. Of course, with family you always hold each other to another level of expectations … the joy is when you meet and exceed those expectations … that is when the force of family really shines. Work hard/play hard is great when you get to enjoy both with family.”

Aaron also acknowledged that there are sometimes challenges associated with working with family. He said that he and Jen have learned that keeping your discipline and respect for each other is the best way to manage.

“It is really easy to let your guard down and get emotional or frustrated with family,” he said. “If you focus on the big picture and always remember how much you care for one another … nothing can stop a family business.”

“Some advice that has worked well for us (Aaron and Jen) to survive working together as husband and wife is to give each other ownership of various parts of the business,” Aaron continued. “If you can split the business up into departments, it is really fun to watch each other’s success in their own segments. Think ahead, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and build the job description the suits each person the best. Then step back, let the other family member work their magic and watch it all come together.”

Jen and Aaron have grown Opsahl Dawson as a business five times what it was in the 12 years they have owned it, Aaron said. He said they have grown the firm by introducing paperless technology and the servant leadership.

“The culture is strong at Opsahl Dawson,” Aaron said. “It is full of enthusiasm for growth, powerful teamworking and mentorship. The leadership of Opsahl Dawson constantly recognizes that its success is attributed to its dedicated workforce that carries on the firm’s mission each and every day.”

Aaron said Opsahl Dawson continues to succeed in the local economy for several reasons, the first being that they are focused on doing good business 100% of the time. He said they have built the firm on the basics of good business, they are a competitive firm and strive to be better each day. Aaron said they are also blessed with the trust of the many retiring local CPA firms that have joined the Opsahl Dawson firm as they look to acquire additional firms looking for a succession plan.

“Opsahl Dawson has grown with organic growth but we have also enjoyed the growth from acquired six local firms in the past six years,” Aaron said. “We like controlled growth and that means keeping ongoing conversations with many of the great local CPA practitioners all year long. Utilizing technology has also given us an edge, we have been paperless for eight years and constantly invested in new technologies to bring the CPA world to the next level. We have seen our technologies shine thru this COVID period; we never missed a beat when our employees started working from home. We were setup and ready for this exact situation.”

Aaron said the future is bright for Opsahl Dawson, and the firm continues to grow at a comfortable pace. He said the biggest source of pride for him is the team they are assembling.

“Our firm has a very strong culture of development,” he said. “One of my favorites sights to see is a senior employee working through a tough tax problem with a junior employee, as we all have to slow down and remember where we learned our traits from and make sure we are passing our knowledge down to the next generation. I think any organization can flourish if you create the right culture, stay disciplined and demand excellence from your team. I plan for Opsahl Dawson to be the premiere CPA firm of Southwest Washington.”

Joanna Yorke-Payne
Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start

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