Business Press Correspondent
In 2007, Fort Worth-based Weaver and Tidwell was the largest independent certified public accounting firm in the southwestern United States, with 300 employees earning $41 million in yearly revenue from consulting, tax and auditing services to corporate, government and nonprofit clients. Six years later, the 63-year-old firm is ranked among the top 40 nationally with 500 employees in Texas, Colorado, Connecticut and 16 countries who have doubled the firm’s annual revenues through traditional services and a rapidly expanding energy compliance practice serving clients who need help dealing with the increasingly complex maze of federal rules and regulations affecting the energy industry.
While the firm – rebranded in 2009 as Weaver – has grown geographically, adding five Texas offices to its Fort Worth-Dallas core – it owes much of its explosive growth to mergers with smaller firms that specialized in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, specifically those dealing with renewable fuels.
Now the largest provider of EPA auditing services, Weaver is one of six firms pre-approved for its Renewable Fuel Standard Quality Assurance Plan for domestic and foreign renewable fuel producers. Weaver CEO and managing partner Tommy Lawler said the energy compliance practice, which garnered nearly $6 million of the firm’s $83 million revenue for the fiscal year ending May 31, helped the firm thrive during the latest recession. “The last couple of years we’ve grown in double digits – the 12 to 13 percent range,” Lawler said. “This new area is growing at a clip of 25 percent per year. Whereas it was just a blip on our revenue in 2007, it’s now approaching 10 percent of our revenue. It’s become a much bigger factor in the firm over the last six years.”
When Weaver merged with McDonald, Fox & Lund in 2007, the Houston firm’s annual revenue included about $500,000 in client services related to the EPA’s renewable fuel regulations and mandated goals for using those fuels. “”We looked at it and saw something that we thought we could grow,” Lawler said. “Each year, the EPA comes out with a new regulation. It’s an expanding market. We saw a lot of potential.” The next year, Weaver acquired Patterson, Newman & Associates, which had tapped into a large chunk of the clientele for the specialized services with just three full-time employees.
“It was absolutely good for both of us,” said Wade Watson, a Patterson Newman CPA who now heads Weaver’s energy compliance and renewables practice as assurance partner. “Weaver had a decent-sized practice in this area but not as large as ours and not as specialized. They wanted to continue to grow that part of their practice,” he said. “We knew that with some of the new regulations coming up, we needed additional personnel. We were pretty much tapped out.” For about 2 1/2 years, Watson managed the renewable fuels services – about $2 million when the firms merged in 2008 – as part of Weaver’s overall Houston practice. Besides corporate clients, Watson brought with him a contract to audit compliance with the state of Arizona’s cleaner burning gas program. In some respects, Watson said, auditing a client’s compliance with environmental regulations is much like auditing compliance with IRS and SEC regulations.
Instead of auditing dollars, however, the EPA regulations require auditors to ensure that Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS) – representing gallons of renewable fuels produced or imported into the U.S. – match the number of gallons owners report as used or transferred to new owners. “If we’re reporting batch volumes of ethanol produced, we have to file reports with the EPA to show that we have the reporting documents to support that,” Watson said. “It’s no different than a financial statement audit. We’re just looking at volumes instead of dollars.” But explaining environmental regulations to clients requires more than financial expertise, Watson said. That’s why he has built a 25-member team that includes chemists, engineers and attorneys as well as CPAs. One of Watson’s most experienced team members is Sandra Dunphy, an engineer who was managing partner at L.T. Hawthorne & Associates when that firm merged with Weaver in January 2011. “Sandra is the foremost expert in the U.S. on the RIN standard,” he said. “We shared a lot of the same client base,” he said. “With their owner nearing retirement, it was a natural fit for us to join forces.” Other team members include Vance Kopp, a chemist and engineer who has worked for clients such as Sunoco and Conoco Phillips; owners of several of the merged firms; and, since June, Erv Pickell, a veteran attorney with the EPA’s fuels regulatory, policy and enforcement divisions.
“Erv was the guy who wrote and enforced all those regulations we deal with,” Watson said. “He understands what they were thinking when they wrote those regulations.” Lawler, who has led Weaver since 2009, said adding the energy compliance services practice has brought the regional firm to the forefront nationally and even internationally. “We have some very talented people in this area who have helped states write regulations and testified before Congress,” he said. “Having people well-recognized in the industry leaves us in a good position. Clearly, we’re the best in this type of service. “This is a way for us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, particularly in the energy field.”