In 1976, at a time when the United States was celebrating 200 years of independence from England, Joseph L. Rippe Sr. and two of his colleagues decided to declare their independence from one of America’s largest accounting firms.

Rippe had worked at Arthur Young and Co. (now Ernst & Young) since he was a student at Xavier University, earning his undergraduate degree in accounting and his MBA in finance. During that time, he also completed the firm’s highly selective residence program at its New York office.

It wasn’t until a salary disagreement arose that Rippe, a CPA, decided to jump ship.

“I got a raise in July of 1976 and in late August one of the partners said, ‘I’ve got to take half of your raise away.’ And I asked why, what did I do, did I do something wrong?”

Rippe says he was told that although he hadn’t committed any accounting sins, the firm’s Chicago office had “kicked back” the raise because it exceeded the firm’s salary scale guidelines. “He (the partner) said it’s not up for appeal. I couldn’t even appeal it if I wanted to,” Rippe recounts.

Rippe’s colleagues — George Kingston and Ed Strickling — agreed that breaking from Arthur Young, one of the “Big 8” accounting firms, would allow them more freedom in their careers. The three quit with the goal of starting their own CPA firm.

Looking back, Rippe concedes that he and his colleagues probably should have taken more time for precise, long-range planning before venturing out on their own. “We weren’t smart enough to know back then that when you start a CPA firm, you ought to have some clients,” Rippe recalls. “All three of us had kids on the way. We all had mortgage payments and so forth, and it was kind of one of those things that, a couple of weeks after you did it, you said, ‘What did I just do?’”

The three partners spent the first couple of years working 60 hours a week to find clients. “We were all making about 25 percent of what we had been making,” Rippe remembers. “We basically would pay ourselves once a week. We would go around the table and say, ‘Did you make your mortgage payment this month?’ And if you said no, we would look at the checkbook and see how much money was there and so you would get your mortgage payment. And if I needed grocery money for the weekend ... it was just kind of one of those things where we worked together to get everybody through.”

One of the company’s first clients was a Cincinnati investor who made a living acquiring small and mid-sized businesses. “He said that if we found him a business he could buy, we would have a client for life,” Rippe says. When the partners provided him with information about a company that was up for sale, the investor made good on his promise and became a Rippe & Kingston client — Strickling left the firm after a few years to practice on his own — until his retirement. The client also introduced the fledgling firm to mergers and acquisitions, now a division that operates as Winton Associates under the Rippe & Kingston umbrella.

Rippe says his company is now the only accounting firm in Cincinnati that has an in-house broker–dealer who is licensed to sell securities for a client who, for example, wants to raise money to make an acquisition.

Today, Rippe & Kingston has 105 employees and a menu of services that extends well beyond the core business of nuts-and-bolts accounting. Rippe says traditional accounting produces about half of the company’s annual revenues, which he declines to disclose. Other divisions are Rippe & Kingston Services, a technology firm, and software that is used by more than 400 law firms to track billable hours. Rippe & Kingston also provides a Cincinnati presence for RSM McGladrey, a worldwide accounting firm that ranks fifth in the United States.

A far cry from sharing a secretary with another business, Rippe & Kingston is now the largest tenant in the complex of fortress-like buildings that were once the studio and production facility for Rookwood Pottery.

Although he says he still devotes about 50 hours a week to the business, Rippe, 59, plays other roles in the community. He’s a member of the board of trustees of Xavier University and Talbert House, a social service agency, and also chairs the board of the Dan Beard Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which has about 32,000 scouts and 10,000 volunteers in Greater Cincinnati. He lives on a farm in Warren County with his wife of 36 years, Melissa. They have three children: Joseph L. Rippe Jr., who works in sales for Conexio Technology Solutions, an affiliate of Rippe & Kingston that has its offices in the Rookwood Pottery complex; Brent, the vice president of Winton Associates, and daughter Kate, who splits her time between a marketing firm in Atlanta and the Grand Prix equestrian competition.

Although some people might find high-tension drama in the Rippe-Kingston-Strickling decision to walk away from mainstream corporate America some 33 years ago, Rippe avoids any histrionics.

“What was the worst thing that could happen? We were all young and certainly employable because we were all CPAs and had good backgrounds, and all of us had master’s degrees. So if it didn’t work, we could take a step back and start over again.”



Joe Rippe’s 5 Tips for Entrepreneurs

1) Have a passion for what you do. If you want to work 9 to 5, being an entrepreneur is probably not your cup of tea.

2)Be willing to take risks, because it’s a risky venture. When you’re working for a big company there’s good news and bad news. The good news is security. The bad news is you don’t have growth potential.

3)Surround yourself with smart people. When you get together with your executive team, you don’t want to be the smartest person in the room.

4) Know your strengths and weaknesses so that you can delegate tasks that others can do better.

5)Be self-confident with an optimistic goal-oriented attitude, because you are going to face challenges. You can’t survive without the right mindset.