The Withum Way: Jersey firm celebrates its 50th anniversary as model of excellence

Accounting firm points to its corporate culture — treating its clients (and its employees) with respect, dignity and integrity while having fun — as key to its dynamic growth

Ivan Brown, one of the original partners of Withum Smith + Brown back in 1974, said he’s not sure when the firm he created with Fred Withum and Len Smith established what has become known as the Withum Way — an iconic business model based on three principles: Serving our people, our clients and our communities.

“In the beginning, we didn’t have any grand ideas or long-range plans,” Brown said. “We were just trying to figure out how we could be successful. We just knew it started with a commitment to people.”

There was only one rule on Day One: No jerks allowed.

“No one used the phrase, ‘Corporate culture,’ back then,” Brown said. “We just knew we wanted to make this a great place to work. And, I think we’ve been able to do that.”

That’s the understatement of the day.

Withum, which started with just six employees in a small office in Milltown, now has approximately 2,500 in nearly two dozen offices across the state and around the country — and one overseas.

The firm, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last week, has never wavered from its belief that creating a great place to work — doing right by your people, your clients, your community — is the first key to success.

Brown said he has spent a lifetime pointing to one of Fred Withum’s favorite phrases: Our services are for sale, but our integrity is not.

Pat Walsh, who became just the fourth managing partner in the firm’s history when he succeeded Bill Hagaman in 2023, certainly believes that. Maintaining the Withum Way is job No. 1, he said.

“Fred’s vision is the same vision that Ivan and Bill had: Withum is a place that people want to build careers around,” he said. “It’s my charge now to continue to nurture and grow that. We want to be the employer of choice, whether you are a 22-year-old kid coming out of school, or a 55-year-old trying to figure out the last 10 years of a career.

“I think this is a place where both of those profiles can be very successful.”


Outside of the name partners, no one is identified with Withum as much as Hagaman, who joined the firm in 1980, became a partner in 1985, the managing partner in 2010 and CEO emeritus in 2023.

Hagaman helped the firm achieve new heights in all of the important metrics: employees, offices, clients — and, most importantly, revenue.

Len Smith, from left, with Ivan Brown, Pat Walsh and Bill Hagaman.

But for all the success he has had as a business leader, Hagaman can only chuckle at what he’s best known for:

The videos.

They started in 2011. In an effort to jazz up the firm’s annual meeting, the marketing team came up with the idea that they would do a video with various staffers lip-synching to the Black Eyed Peas’ hit, “I Gotta Feeling,” with a “ Hagaman” persona taking the lead.

There was just one problem: Hagaman wasn’t so sure he liked the idea. But, he figured, how many people would really see it?

“At the time, I was like, ‘OK, it’s just an internal thing that we’re not going to use for anything else’ — how bad could it go,” he said. “Well, of course, this was the time when social media was taking over.

“Our team started sharing it with their friends and, all of the sudden, it popped — and we became known as a firm with a very unique culture because the CEO is lip-syncing to the Black Eyed Peas.”

All of sudden, Withum was a firm that needed to top itself. It did.

The following year, it created a flash mob video (remember those?), which truly went viral with nearly 100,000 views. Not bad for an accounting firm.

Hagaman suddenly was a sector star.

“It’s funny, I have built, opened offices, merged firms, managed people — and, when I went to accounting conferences, all people wanted to talk to me about was the videos,” he said.


The videos are nice, but Withum’s real calling card is its location: New Jersey.

Make no mistake: Withum is not a New York City firm with offices in New Jersey. Never has been. Never will be.

Revenue milestones

Key revenue moments for Withum, which was founded in 1974 in Milltown.

  • 1982: Reaches $1 million;
  • 1989: Reaches $5 million;
  • 1996: Reaches $10 million;
  • 2002: Reaches $25 million;
  • 2014: Reaches $100 million;
  • 2018: Reaches $200 million;
  • 2021: Reaches $300 million;
  • 2022: Reaches $400 million;
  • 2023: Reaches $500 million.

Hagaman said it’s part of the persona.

“We do have West Coast offices and offices in Florida and Boston and New York, but, when we work from there — or we go internationally — we feel we reflect our home: We’re honest and direct with the way we deal with people. We’re Jersey,” he said.

That started early on.

Brown said he remembers a specific moment when the firm only had one office, in Milltown, and fewer than a dozen employees. A major client had a major bank tell them they needed to be with a major New York City firm.

“They said, ‘We’ll only lend you money if you get a big accounting firm that we’ve heard of,’” Brown recalled.

Brown said the firm wouldn’t budge. It got the account.

In 1976, the firm opened its second office in Princeton — “a place everyone has heard of, even if they hadn’t heard of us,” Brown said. But Withum wouldn’t move its headquarters out of the state.

The connection to New Jersey goes far beyond buildings.

Hagaman recalls Fred Withum being adamant that the firm be connected to the communities it serves.

“Fred Withum took me on the Walk to Washington in 1982,” Hagaman said. “He talked about how important it was to be connected to the local chamber of commerce — and that led to our connection with the state chamber of commerce. Our involvement in the state grows every day.”

In 2011, the firm had its inaugural Withum Week of Caring, with all team members tasked to volunteer in their local communities during the three days before Thanksgiving.

“We think New Jersey is a great place to live — and we want to do our part to make it a great place to live,” Hagaman said.


The Withum Way has proven to help the firm both retain its existing employees and attract new ones.

Walsh said he didn’t fully appreciate the pull when the firm he was with was acquired by Withum 10 years ago.

Len Smith, left, and Ivan Brown in 1974.

“I just wanted to serve my existing clients and make sure they were taken care of,” he said. “As the years went on, and Bill and leadership asked me to do more things, I began to understand how special this firm is.”

It’s not just the revenue — which has jumped approximately $500 million since Walsh arrived — it’s the spirit, Walsh said.

“It’s a very collegial place to be and — trust me — not all firms are like that,” he said. “It is a place where the partners enjoy each other’s company and share a common mindset. Sure, we’ll disagree on things from time to time, but we aways get together and sort it out.

“I think what fuels our firm is collaboration.  That fuels people’s willingness to share best practices to get the best answer for the team member for the client and the firm. It enables us to be a better firm tomorrow than we were yesterday.”

As for that first policy: Walsh said it still exists — but, he said he doesn’t need to enforce it.

“There are a lot of great firms that have the lone wolf mentality,” he said. “It’s a very competitive market and that works some places. It doesn’t work here.

“We do have a ‘no jerk’ policy, and I can tell you, in the 10 years I’ve been here, I don’t know if those jerks have necessarily been asked to leave. They go on their own. They self-select. They don’t feel comfortable in this type of atmosphere.

“We take pride in that.”

It’s the Withum Way.

Withum’s key moments

  • March 21, 1974: Fred Withum, Len Smith and Ivan Brown form Withum, Smith & Brown P.C.  in Milltown, opening for business with two staff accountants. Fred Withum is appointed managing partner;
  • 1976: Withum opens its second office, in Princeton;
  • 1980: Bill Hagaman joins firm as staff accountant;
  • 1982: Withum reaches $1 million in revenue;
  • 1983: Corporate headquarters moves from Milltown to New Brunswick;
  • 1985: Hagaman is promoted to partner;
  • 1987: Fred Withum retires and moves to Vermont;
  • 1989: Ivan Brown is appointed managing partner;
  • 1991: Withum is listed as an Inside Public Accounting Top 100 firm for the first time.
  • 1995: Firm opens office in Newtown, Pennsylvania — its first outside of New Jersey.
  • 1996: Withum reaches $10 million in revenue
  • 1996: Firm is named to Bowman’s “Best of the Best” list of America’s Top 25 best firms for first time;
  • 2005: Withum has one of its biggest mergers & acquisitions years to date, adding four New Jersey-based practices;
  • 2010: Hagaman becomes CEO and managing partner, succeeding Ivan Brown;
  • 2011: Withum premiers its first culture video at the state of the firm, much to the surprise and delight of the accounting profession that year, demonstrating that “accountants can be fun” and that Withum has a very special culture;
  • 2011: Firm opens office in Orlando, Florida;
  • 2011: Firm acquires EisnerLubin, giving it a New York City office;
  • 2013: Len Smith retires;
  • 2014: Withum surpasses $100 million revenue mark;
  • 2016: Firm rebrands with a market-facing abbreviated name of “Withum,” dropping the “Smith+Brown,” and replacing the 15-year-old “WS+B” acronym. Marketing department also unveils new logo and brand colors;
  • 2017: Headquarters relocates from New Brunswick to East Brunswick, installing a 20-foot high Withum sign at the top of the building, a jewel for the firm’s branding strategy.
  • 2019: Fred Withum dies.
  • 2019: Withum expands internationally, opening a full-scale office in Bengaluru, India.
  • 2020: Irvine, California-based KSJG joins Withum, giving firm its first West Coast office;
  • 2020: Withum airs its first national television commercial on CNBC, amidst the pandemic and shelter-in-place mandates;
  • 2023: Pat Walsh succeeds Bill Hagaman as new CEO and managing partner, just the firm’s fourth;
  • 2023: Withum surpasses “half a billion” in revenue;
  • March 21, 2024: Firm celebrates its 50th anniversary with approximately 2,200 team members across 23 offices in the U.S. and approximately 300 team members in India.