A Century of Culture

Client Service, Work/Life Balance & Fun Shape Eide Bailly’s Culture

When he’s asked to describe Eide Bailly in one word, CEO and Managing Partner Dave Stende doesn’t hesitate.


Some call it fun, others say it’s the people or being innovative— and the word family comes up, too. But one word brings all these others together—culture, and it’s at the heart of Eide Bailly’s century of existence.

“To be able to grow like we have and maintain that culture is incredible, unique. It’s a strong culture. People aspire to work in a place that has that kind of environment,” Stende said.

Simply stated, company culture is the personality of a business. In a Forbes article about culture, WebpageFX President William Craig says culture isn’t something that employees bring with them. Rather, it’s “preexisting in a company’s genetic code.” Company vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits contribute to culture.

Although Eide Bailly’s culture has been around since its beginning, it became official when Charles Bailly and Eide Helmeke merged in 1998 to form Eide Bailly. The partners met to discuss the values of the new firm, and the culture statement was formed.

The culture statement consists of 10 principles that focus on client service, work-life balance and having fun, to name a few. It’s the firm’s identity, and it’s how staff and partners interact.

“The culture shines through. First and foremost, it’s a really fun place to work, and that builds a strong team,” said Eide Bailly’s Director of Human Resources Lisa Fitzgerald. “We’re all just trying to work toward a common mission.”

As Eide Bailly grew by acquiring firms and adding staff, the need to maintain a strong culture became even more important. Jerry Topp, retired managing partner of Eide Bailly, says the firm’s always been people-focused.

“It was very important to our staff and partners that we didn’t do anything that would upset the culture because it became such a noticeable identity of our firm,” he said.

When staff and partners are asked about the firm’s culture, they share stories of fishing trips, golf outings, support through tough times and celebratory parties. Many say their colleagues are more than just coworkers—they’re close friends.

Arlene Huseby worked at the firm for more than 30 years as a secretary. She retired 20 years ago but still keeps in touch with her former colleagues. That’s just how it works at Eide Bailly, she says.

“It has always been about fun, it was always a great work environment,” she said. “You can work anywhere, but it’s the people you work with that make it fun. Working 12-14 hours a day during tax season, you have to like it to keep coming back.”

Many HR professionals agree that, at its core, culture is about positive, caring relationships.

People want to work for companies that care about employees’ well-being, both professionally and personally, Fitzgerald said.

A 2014 survey of 200,000 people by the Boston Consulting Group found that the No. 1 factor for employee happiness is appreciation for work, followed by:

  • Good relationships with colleagues
  • Good work-life balance
  • Good relationships with superiors

The work-life balance at Eide Bailly stands out particularly to Barb Aasen, Midwest chief practice officer. She joined the firm before the birth of her first child and remembers a story about a staff member at another company who couldn’t miss work to care for their sick newborn baby.

“I didn’t realize what an amazing culture we have or how much I took it for granted until I talked to people who were at places that didn’t have a similar, supportive culture. I’ve always worked at a place where you do what you need to do, you take care of your sick child. I couldn’t imagined working for a place that doesn’t support that. Our culture is something that we are really proud of, and we should be,” she said.

Statistics show that a company’s culture affects employee turnover, productivity, loyalty and success. The University of Warwick found that happiness makes people more productive at work, too—12 percent more productive, in fact.

Eide Bailly’s culture is lived by its people, and the firm intentionally hires people who will be successful in its environment and culture. The firm’s recruiters look for collaborative, fun people who are innovative, creative visionaries, Fitzgerald says. “We hire people who really look at the profession differently, not just the technicalities of accounting. An entrepreneurial skill set is more and more important for us moving forward,” she said.

From the beginning, Eide Bailly encourages its staff to get know each other, and learn from each other, too. “Getting together across the firm, that’s how you cement this one-firm culture,” Stende said.

Departments have regular outings, like picnics, movies and sporting events. Individual offices take time out of busy season to lighten the mood with games, food and camaraderie. Students are introduced to the firm with themed events that encourage professionals to dress up in 80s outfits, or like Star Wars characters. And it all comes back to that simple, yet so important element that sets the firm apart for Stende—fun.