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Small town business hits it big

Kevin Hartwick of Cholwell, Benz and Hartwick in Crescent City does paperwork at his desk on Tuesday. CBH began in Crescent City, but has since branched into an international company. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).
Kevin Hartwick of Cholwell, Benz and Hartwick in Crescent City does paperwork at his desk on Tuesday. CBH began in Crescent City, but has since branched into an international company. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).

By Kelley Atherton

Triplicate staff writer

CRESCENT CITY — What started out as a small accounting firm in Crescent City more than 50 years ago has branched into an international company. However, that small town charm remains an intricate part of Cholwell, Benz and Hartwick (CBH) Certified Public Accountants (CPA).

"We have a legacy of clients," Kevin Hartwick, a managing partner, explained. "We take great pride in that."

In September 2007, the London-based Management Consulting Group (MCG) acquired CBH Consulting for $11 million. The name and company will remain the same. Being under the umbrella of MCG—a $600 million company—provides the company with more resources for consultants to do their job better, Hartwick said. Now they'll be able to hire more people and take on more clients.

"Their resources will give us better success to pursue the dreams of our clients," he said. "The risk for MCG is a lot less."

Jack Harper started the public accounting company 50-some-odd years ago, and in 1989 it evolved to CBH in both Crescent City and Brookings. Hartwick said the company has about 2,200 accounts from "$75 million companies to mom and pop stores and individuals." They do accounting services, payroll, booking, estate and trust cases.

In 1996, the company expanded to CBH Consultants. Currently, there are about 70 consultants internationally. Offices span from Irvine to Seattle to Dallas. CBH handles accounts for Disney, Visa, IndyMac Bank, Patagonia and Columbia apparel. The heart of CBH's story is their commitment to local people. Hartwick doesn't anticipate packing up and moving the company far away—it'll remain where it was born.

"This company was grown by local people," he said. "Doing consulting with Rumiano (Cheese Company) is really responsible for our growth."

The story is sort of like Hartwick himself. He was raised in Del Norte and then journeyed off to Chico State University for college, only to return to his roots. He didn't go to an Ivy League school nor was he groomed for success from childhood. He said that success comes from not being scared to take an opportunity.

"You can and will succeed coming from a small place," Hartwick said. "There are opportunities for those who want it. I was born and raised here. I didn't go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). I studied accounting at Chico."

The technology emerging in the late 1980s presented an opportunity to do business faster and further away than before, Hartwick said. He came along at the right time.

"There are no limitations to success except for those that are self-imposed or those who have lost the desire to dream," Hartwick said. "Whatever it is, coming from a small town you just have to work longer and harder than the next person."

CBH has also delved into financial services and real estate with CBH Financial and CBH Properties. The former provides professional medical billing and consulting to health care centers and doctors.

"You build the company off that one thing," Hartwick said. "We started off with one client and now have eight or nine."

CBH Properties is a land development and real estate company, mainly dealing with office buildings, that started about 15 years ago.

"Do what you can in a small place," he explained. "You grow from business to business ... Nobody believed that was really possible."

The consulting firm also started off with one project. Headquarters was moved to Irvine once bigger companies started building accounts, Hartwick said. Having a location in Southern California allows the firm to be in closer proximity to clients like Disney.

One idea he emphasizes is that a key to success is starting young. Hartwick said he has seen the change in high school students and they seem to have more of an "entrepreneurial spirit." Not everyone has the drive to be successful, but there are those who don't believe they have the tools or abilities to achieve their goals. Then there are those who are repeatedly told that they won't succeed.

"There are people out there trying to help them. It doesn't seem like it, but their are," Hartwick said. "Take on a leadership project, do it the best you possibly can and people will take notice."

It's the responsibility of a community to create an environment for young people to believe in themselves and strive for success, he said. They learn by example and CBH can be an example of where hard work can lead to. He reminds young people to look at the reward at the end of their struggles and think about what success may mean for them.

It's also important to remember those small town values. CBH's commitment to customers, Hartwick said, is an important element of their services. That keeps clients coming back. The real growth of CBH was their engagement with Rumiano. Based on that job, they were able to hire more people, which led to more referrals and then the big break.

"Disney opened the floodgate to more companies," Hartwick said. "That gave us the credentials to compete."

Once that break came, he said they took full advantage of it and didn't shy away from the work. It hasn't all been easy either—it took a lot of miles and ruined stomach acid to get where the company is now.

Hartwick attributes a portion of his success to growing up in a small town. Most important is that sense of community and working together for a common goal.

"For one to succeed, all have to succeed in a common mission," Hartwick said. "It's more difficult to learn that in a big city."

Reach Kelley Atherton at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 
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