Bob and Al were the ultimate risk takers. They started Barnes Dennig with both having “large” families relative to current standards. Bob had six children with the oldest just graduating from high school and Al had four children with his oldest a sophomore or junior in high school when they started Barnes Dennig. They had no guaranteed clients and as it ended up their prior employer, who promised them access to client files, locked the doors and would not give them access to files. On top of this, any clients who went with Bob and Al received an invoice in some cases double the prior year fees.
Bob and Al took a risk hiring me although somewhat safe as I was hired originally for only a tax season basis. My college grades were suspect, but they took the chance on me knowing that I worked 40 or more hours per week while in school. Before the end of tax season, I was hired on a permanent basis actually more permanent than any of us envisioned.
Fond memories of Bob: How respect, fairness and fun built a business
He was always fair with the employees as well as the clients. He also was the ultimate jokester. He was always the life of meeting and parties. But he definitely had a family side with him. He always surprised me how he would separate them and even did this after he retired. It wasn’t that he did not enjoy his clients but he did not socialize with them to the extent I have or we do now. That did not impact the respect he had for his clients or the respect that they had for him. It was just Bob’s way. I found out more in recent years about how close he was to all of his children and grandchildren.
Bob was the ultimate delegator and teacher. Unfortunately, I did not learn his delegations skills but I do think I learned from him some of my teaching skills and how to interact with employees. He would bring you in his office and go over a problem with you. He would then turn you loose on coming up with a solution. He would let you fail and then show you what you did wrong but he would give you the info you needed to solve the problem. He was extremely bright and could see if you missed an issue very quickly and show you where you missed an issue or a point and how to solve it.
Bob always said, “That even though you might not be the brightest person in a meeting, you can be the best prepared.” He felt if you were the one prepared you could shine over the others which is one of the principals I have tried to live by. He was always prepared for meetings. He would anticipate the issues and come up with possible solutions ahead of time for most of the meetings he attended. If had not anticipated an issue, he was great at seeing the problem and coming up with a solution very quickly. I always said that Bob would be great as a witness in court because he had such a quick wit and could identify an issue and come up with a solution so quickly. Most of us don’t realize that Bob did not have a degree from a “bricks and mortar” university. He received his degree after he was discharged from the Army through an extension course from LaSalle. I happened to have seen it Tuesday when his daughter Patty and I were going through some of his files.
There are so many situations that occurred both with employees and clients that I saw how fair he wanted to be with them. He had seen how people should not be treated and wanted to make sure that did not occur at Barnes Dennig. Everyone he interacted with was treated with respect no matter what a person’s position. He was the same at clients’ offices. I know that is why the firm has had such a great culture because we have tried to do the same.
I remember after I had become a partner talking about the firm and the future. I think this occurred after we lost a couple of large clients. The discussion was around “staying pat” or growing. This was in Bob’s later years. He said we either had to grow or should make plans to close up shop as status quo was not an option. Bob was not one to “stay pat” so we put together plans for growing the firm.
After Bob retired he continued to be a mentor to me. Many a time I called him or went over to visit him and talked about the firm. Of course if it was around dinner time we would have a Manhattan drink and cheese and crackers. He was always interested in how we were doing. He wanted to know about employees and new clients. He always asked if we were growing and how we were doing with new people and partners. Interestingly as much as he was interested in how the firm was doing he would never call to ask that question. I know that he wanted the younger partners to run the firm but was available to talk to and was definitely interested in the success of the firm but did not want to be perceived as being “nosey”.
Over the years, Bob has touched so many people’s lives who were either clients or employees, but maybe he has touched mine and Tom Jones the most because we spent such a significant part of our careers with Bob. Obviously mine, from day one in my accounting career, and Tom close to the same amount of time. I believe Tom met Bob about a year after I started at BD& Co. Tom worked closely with Bob with the Henry P. Thompson Company and then with Bryan Equipment Sales. Like me, Tom would occasionally have a lunch with Bob or see him at the Bryan golf outing. Tom would pose problems for Bob and, although retired, Bob would give Tom ideas on solving the problem. Again, this is an example of his mentoring/teaching skills as well as his excellent business sense.
I could most probably go on and tell more stories but Bob would be embarrassed just hearing all of this and say: “Bill you are wonderful.” I will miss hearing that – which I don’t deserve as he is the one who is WONDERFUL – and seeing his smiling face and telling “war stories.”
Pictures in this post from top to bottom:
– Bill Cloppert, Jim Donnellon and Bob Barnes in 1990.
– Bob Barnes, Jim Donnellon and Kaitlin Newkirk in 2013.
– Al Hudepohl, Bob Barnes, Bill Cloppert and Dave Phelps in 2013.
– Steve Hube, Bob Barnes, Bill Cloppert and Rob McNeese in 2013.
– Steve Hube, Bob Barnes and Bill Cloppert in 2013.