The Curchin Group Celebrates 60 YearsJune 8, 2015
Still a “Down Country Firm” at Heart
If you’re heading out to lunch in Red Bank with someone from The Curchin Group, be prepared for friendly interruptions. The firm has been a community anchor in one form or another since 1955, and relationships go back for decades. Clients and colleagues regularly stop by Curchin tables to say hello, just as they did in the earliest days of founder George Curchin’s fledgling enterprise some 60 years ago.
The firm wasn’t known as The Curchin Group back then, and it almost wasn’t a firm at all. When the time came for Curchin to launch his career in the early 1950s, the University of Pennsylvania economics major hadn’t accumulated quite enough accounting credits to sit for the CPA exam. Thanks to his World War II service, the GI Bill permitted a waiver of the minor missing credits. With that, he passed the exam and hung out a “George Curchin, CPA” shingle in 1955. Though years would pass before the present day name was adopted, The Curchin Group had been born.
The new venture was a modest one. Curchin had little more than a desk in Long Branch, and he shared a secretary with another nearby businessman. His first client paid him with a bottle of cognac. Still, the young accountant was eager, and he recognized the opportunities that were all around him. By 1960, the office had gained new staff members, Curchin had a full time secretary, and new clients were keeping the team working day and night to keep up. The busy secretary finally voiced the obvious. “You need more help,” she told her boss bluntly one day.
More staff members were brought on board, but The Curchin’s Group’s founding partnership wasn’t cemented until 1972. Alan Schneider was an accounting professor at Monmouth College, with a one man accounting practice on the side. He, too, was feeling the pinch of too much work and too little time. Curchin and Schneider joined forces, adding Douglas Stives, a newly minted CPA from the existing firm, to round out a new partnership trio.
The accounting firm of Curchin, Schneider and Stives began as a handshake. With it, the men pledged to do high quality work and to be thoroughly honest with each other and with their clients. Curchin referred to the thriving practice as a “down country firm,” one that would remember its roots and stay close to the community that was already encouraging and supporting it. “Down country” description notwithstanding, the partners were beginning to do some very sophisticated work.
The early partnership followed an operating philosophy that included the same culture of service that defines The Curchin Group today. The trio stayed very active with local charities and professional organizations, with Curchin taking on a statewide leadership role when he assumed the presidency of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJSCPA) for the 1977-1978 term. Stives followed him in the role a decade later, the first time a CPA firm had generated two NJSCPA presidents. Present day partners have continued the community service tradition, and the firm’s signature fundraising event, The Curchin Open Miniature Golf Tournament, is now in its ninth year of generating thousands of dollars in annual proceeds for area non-profit organizations. Community involvement is, quite simply, in the Curchin DNA.
By 1975, the firm had outgrown its Long Branch offices. The move to Red Bank signaled a new chapter and brought fresh opportunities for growth and development. New clients were abundant, and the fortunate challenge was not to grow too quickly.
A fourth partner — the first “home grown” — joined the trio in 1978, an early testament to the firm’s support of female colleagues at a time when the accounting field was virtually male only. Susan J. Widdis had been Alan Schneider’s advisee at Monmouth College, and she was hired after graduating in 1973. She credits the partners with being “wonderful mentors and teachers” and remembers the genuine closeness of their group over the years. Lunches together were the norm, as were happy celebrations after tax deadlines were met on April 15th. Ask partners from that time, and they just might tell you about something called an “Attitude Adjustment Seminar” at the Globe Bar in Red Bank!
Rounding out the team, Dave Ferullo and Bob Fouratt joined the Curchin family in 1977 and 1978, respectively, and immediately set to work building a vibrant auditing practice that has become a firm mainstay, now reaching statewide and beyond. A new era was dawning as the seventies drew to a close, and The Curchin Group was ready.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
From the The Curchin Group’s earliest days, the partners knew that the objective, informed, and up-to-date advice they provided to clients as informal business advisors was just as important as the work they did as traditional accountants. Business advisory services would later become a formalized pillar of the firm, and today the partners consider themselves advisors first, accountants second. Now as then, they wear their advisory hats proudly and understand the responsibilities inherent in their roles as trusted and key members of client teams.
As the firm’s advisory services evolved, so, too, did the accounting profession. In the early days, work was done painstakingly by hand. Tools of the trade included pencils, erasers, and 14-column paper. Documents were held in hands, not viewed on screens. A Telex typewriter was an exciting new addition to the office, as was the electric adding machine that sat on Bob Fouratt’s desk. The team was using a G.E. “time share” computer by the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1980 that Dave Ferullo oversaw the purchase of the group’s own computer. The massive central processing unit with its 10 MBs of storage had to be situated in an air-conditioned closet to keep it from overheating. Wary of the new monster’s accuracy, the team continued to do “parallel calculation runs” by hand until it could be trusted.
As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, laws and regulations were becoming as complex and fluid as the era’s technology. Agreements to buy or sell a business that had once been concluded in a clear and concise 15 pages began landing on desks with a thud, hundreds of pages long. Accountants who had always been generalists began to specialize, and keeping up with the constant flow of new information was sometimes daunting. The Curchin team didn’t miss a beat, continuing to deliver the same premier service it always had.
Though they now crunched numbers at lightning speed, Curchin partners and staff were keenly aware that understanding those numbers and offering sound advice would remain the same deliberate, thoughtful process it had been in 1955. Through all the changes, the firm’s focus on family owned and operated businesses never wavered. What started as George Curchin and Patock Construction’s Frank Patock, Sr., working at the family dining room table in the 1950s matured into the contemporary, highly regarded Family Business Advisory Practice. The importance of family resonated within the firm as well, and a healthy work/life balance has been a Curchin priority from the very beginning.
Passing the Baton
George Curchin always knew that talented people would hold the key to his firm’s growth and continued vitality. Pete Pfister came on board right out of college in 1981, becoming a partner in 1993. Lynn Conover and Carolyn Giunco Kvalo became partners in 2003, both after tenures with the firm that had produced exciting and innovative new services. The Curchin team has always been a body in motion, reinvigorated each time a new partner or staff member brings added depth and breadth to all that the firm has to offer.
Secrets to Success
If there’s a “secret” to The Curchin Group’s success, it has to be found in the longevity and depth of the firm’s relationships, both with clients and internally, as existing talent is developed and new CPAs are nurtured. The firm’s staying power, symbolized by the navigational buoy logo, has helped it to weather any and all challenges. Even with a growing business trend toward consolidation, as smaller accounting firms are regularly gobbled by behemoths, The Curchin Group has stayed grounded “in the family.” Today’s third generation of partners is as committed to upholding George Curchin’s original ideals as the founder himself was. And, as Bob Fourat will tell you, “We’ve maintained the practice the way we like to practice.”
From working on behalf of individuals and start-up companies growing out of garages and basements to guiding established businesses generating hundreds of millions in yearly revenue, The Curchin Group’s dedication to its clients is as enthusiastic and steadfast as George Curchin’s was in 1955. The founder sums up his long career: “It was a delight – only a few headaches and a whole lot of joy.” As they remember their firm’s rich history and anticipate its bright future, those at The Curchin Group today feel just the same way.