Former co-workers don't think twice about combining firms to create BSB Partners (Original article here.)

Published: Friday, January 07, 2011
By Mark Koestner
Jeff Forman/ John Bonfiglio, left, Peter Bellini, Joe Regalboto and Mike Stefanek have opened a new CPA firm in Mayfield Village.
For Peter Bellini, the question wasn't "why would they?" as much as it was "why wouldn't they?"
Bellini is a partner in BSB Partners, a Mayfield Village public accounting firm born officially on New Year's Day with the merger of Bellini & Bonfiglio and Stefanek & Co. This past fall, as the merger evolved from idea toward reality, it became difficult to find reasons not to go forward with it, Bellini said.
"It really made too much sense, once you laid it all out strategically, for it to be a path we shouldn't go down," he said.
So Bellini, his partner, John Bonfiglio, and Mike Stefanek merged their practices and brought aboard Joe Regalbuto as an equity partner in the new venture, which they view as a small firm with capabilities more in line with a larger one.
"We're on very equal footing with firms a lot larger than us," said Stefanek, who launched Stefanek and Co. in September 2007 and focused on accounting and overall business consulting with closely held businesses. "We've got multi-national firm experience, regional-firm experience and, obviously, we're entrepreneurs on our own. We're using very similar resources and databases and technologies that larger firms are using."
The four met, in fact, at the same regional accounting firm in the late '90s and worked together for nearly a decade before Stefanek launched his own Chester Township-based firm in 2007. Bellini and Bonfiglio followed suit in the fall of 2008. Regalbuto, meanwhile, became an independent contractor who worked with both firms on various collaborative projects.
"During that time, we really became more entrenched with the relationships — really through Joe working with both of us," Bonfiglio said.
The idea of combining forces emerged in the summer of 2010 — a flash bulb going off, as Stefanek put it. In the fall, the idea turned to more serious talks and then eventually a checklist of to-dos.
When Jan. 1 dawned, the business cards already printed, the sun also rose on BSB Partners.
The four stress that theirs is a union of strengths, not formed out of economic necessity or made of separate practitioners simply sharing overhead. No one was limping along looking for a shoulder on which to lean. Instead, they view the merger as a way to achieve calculated growth with like-minded individuals whose varying areas of expertise provide added value to their clients, which now number more than 750.
Regalbuto heads up the auditing and assurance services group. Stefanek has an extensive tax background as well as business advisory experience for closely held businesses. Bellini focuses on tax planning and compliance, and Bonfiglio's background is in accounting and financial statement attestation. But being multifaceted alone is not the strength of the new partnership, as they see it.
"We've got some differentiation in what we do, but we've also got a lot of common experiences and skills, and what coming together does for us is allow us to leverage off each other," Regalbuto said.
One common area is general business advice, especially when it comes to smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. It's an area in which they are now well-versed, having started businesses of their own. It has added a level of client service, offered at small-firm price points, that they believe provides more value for clients.
"In the past, I would advise clients about banking and loans, and now I can tell you first-hand," Bonfiglio said. "Worker's comp, unemployment insurance. The forms, the procedures, setting up an entity, getting your first account — I really know the emotional roller-coaster entrepreneurs go through as they try to get something off the ground and take it to an actual viable business."
As for their own business, the four old colleagues and new partners have a plan of what they call "growing smartly." It's a plan of continuing to focus on what they do best and not growth for the sake of growth. They will evaluate opportunities carefully, add to their current staff of 11 carefully and make sure the vision they share now doesn't change.
"I'm sure that there's some HR expert or workplace expert who would look at us and say, ‘Well, you run the risk of having group-think.' Everybody thinking the same way and no different backgrounds or cultures," Bellini said. "I would say yes and no.
"We have tremendous pride and confidence (in) where we came from, and our ability to make decisions. As we grow, we would like to add people with different backgrounds or who have seen things done differently. But to get it to this point, the familiarity that everybody has with each other, it's been one of our strongest attributes."

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