Best Companies To Work For



BUSINESS: Certified Public Accountants

LEADERS: Wayne R. Pinnell, managing partner; Brad A. Graves, partner-in-charge of tax department; Rick M. Smetanka, partner-in-charge of audit & business advisory services


BEST FEATURE: Comprehensive benefits, including 100% reimbursement for college or professional training

The sitcom stereotype of accountants is one of guys in gray suits who are stiff and unhip, forever hunched over their desks crunching the numbers beneath green eyeshades.

This cartoonish image is certainly a far cry from the men and women who ply their trade at Haskell & White, one of the largest independently owned accounting, auditing and tax-consulting firms in Southern California.

This is evident from the moment you step foot inside the company’s Irvine office. No, wait before that, actually. Call up the firm’s website before a visit (, and you’ll hear catchy electronic music as you pore over elements of the 1040EZ Tax Form and strategies for accelerated debt payoff.

Now, head into the office and you’ll see walls lined with stylish contemporary paintings and framed photographs of Orange County theater productions. Bowls of M&Ms, Red Vines and Planter’s peanuts are spread out on tables and filing cabinets. And walking past you are polite, smiling and despite the goodies in their midst fit-looking people (perhaps because Haskell & White pays enrollment fees for employee memberships at 24 Hour Fitness).

The stodgy suits? Most of these people sport bright business-casual attire.

All in all, not exactly a picture of dreary souls toiling in an uptight and stuffy work environment.

Which is not to say the Haskell & White crew doesn’t log major amounts of hours or go to great lengths to meet its clients’ needs and generate hefty revenues. It does.
But as managing partner Wayne Pinnell points out, “We’re trying to emphasize a balance between work and outside life, and make that be a part of the atmosphere here and part of our culture, so that people don’t feel like they have to work all night.”

“The camaraderie here is really good,” he adds. “We make a point of celebrating our successes honoring people who are doing well, letting people know when we’ve gained a new client.”

This kind of positive environment and reasonable approach to business strive hard for success but don’t forget you have a life is why employees say Haskell & White is an excellent company to work for.

“This is the best place I’ve ever been at,” says firm administrator Judy Skelly, praising the package of comprehensive employee benefits H&W offers. “They’re very accommodating to employees with families at this company.”

Toward that end, Haskell & White has shown considerable flexibility in dealing with work schedules. Diane Wittenberg, a partner at the firm who has three young children, works three full days a week, allowing her to be at home the other two (where clients can always reach her by cell phone, e-mail or fax).

A Certified Public Accountant for 20 years, Wittenberg says having this schedule is the only way she can successfully manage her roles as both a mother and a firm partner.
“It’s very clear that everyone here respects your personal life,” she says. “They don’t put it as secondary.”

Jennifer Cavender, a senior accountant who began working for Haskell & White right out of college five years ago, recently had a baby and moved with her husband to Los Angeles to be closer to family members. She now works part-time.

“I don’t mind the drive down from L.A. knowing I’m going to a place where they appreciate what I do,” Cavender says.

Haskell & White focuses primarily on middle-market private and public companies, and it works with companies in a range of industries, including real estate, manufacturing, distribution, technology and retail. Tapped as managing partner last year, Pinnell has been with Haskell & White for nine years, having worked 10 years before that with the national accounting firm BDO Seidman.

The veteran CPA, who possesses a calm demeanor and deft sense of humor defying that stereotype once again says most of the Haskell & White team come from the Big Four or other national firms; that’s why the company occupies a unique niche, he says: It can offer clients seasoned staff at lower cost, since Haskell & White isn’t weighed down with the huge overhead of the major firms.

The 17-year-old company has won several awards from the Orange County arts community for work with Laguna Playhouse and South Coast Repertory. The casual dress code goes for a good cause: On Fridays, employees can dress in very casual garb jeans or even shorts are fine if they pony up a few bucks for that month’s designated charity.