One of the proudest Michigan State Spartans in recorded history donned his cap and gown for graduation ceremonies on June 9, 1957. Sporting his newly minted degree in accounting, Robert L. Gerbel wasted no time whatsoever in landing a job in his career field of choice when he signed on the very next day with the certified public accounting firm of Herkner, Smits, Miskill & Johnson in Benton Harbor, Michigan. That's the institution that eventually became the modern day Plante Moran, one of the most admired professional firms in the nation.
For more than a decade, Bob toiled on behalf of the company, handling the tax and accounting work of clients across the southwestern corner of the great state of Michigan. In 1959 he married the love of his life, Carol Hays and their family life began. Having teased Carol with the dream of someday owning his own accounting agency, she finally threw down the gauntlet. One Sunday evening in August of 1968 Carol said, "You've talked about this and talked about this. What are you going to do? Either start your own firm or quit talking about it!" That was the only ultimatum that Bob would ever need, saying, "I'd really like to give it a try."
The reality of it is that for Bob Gerbel, there is no "try," there is only "do!" Less than a month later on September 23, 1968, a simple black and white shingle was erected on the front of a two-story building at the corner of Main and 6th Streets in the heart of downtown Benton Harbor. Robert L. Gerbel, CPA Room 203 said the placard. A straight set of stairs led clients and prospects to the spartan offices of Mr. Gerbel's firm above The Office Equipment Company. From his second-floor perch, Bob could see the J.C. Penney Company from one set of windows and the Vincent Hotel from another. In fact, he and his business cronies would gather every morning in the coffee shop of Blake's Restaurant inside the Vincent for their daily roundtable on the issues of the day.
Thanks to the changing face of Benton Harbor's central business district and the fact that he was rapidly outgrowing his physical space, Bob decided to move the business in the early 70's to a relatively new commerce center at 806 Ship Street in St. Joseph alongside the popular Hennes Company Clothing store in what is today known as The 800 Centre, home to a number of business enterprises and the district office of Congressman Fred Upton.
A dozen years later, in November of 1984, Mr. Gerbel and his colleagues became the first tenants in The Peoples State Bank Building at 830 Pleasant Street, a healthy field goal kick away from his 800 Centre space. They moved in even before the bank did, taking more than half of the top, or fourth, floor of the building known today as the Fifth Third Bank Building. Gerbel was on of three groups to invest in the condominium-style building, joining the bank itself who the first and second floors, and businessemen Jack Sparks and Alton Wendzel who purchased the third floor and leased it for many years to Indiana Michigan Electric Company. Mr. Gerbel owns 6,000-square feet of the top floor, and the bank has retained the remaining 5,000-square feet for lease to other clients.
Over the years, the accounting firm has also been known alternately as Gerbel & Butzbach, CPAs, and Gerbel, Butzbach and Maki, CPAs, until anchoring on the simple Gerbel & Company, P.C. of present-day.
Gerbel & Company today is home to eleven (11) people including four certified public accountants, three staff accountants, and four support staff.
Brian Wisneski has been with the firm for 18-years now and has joined Bob as a shareholder in the corporation. Brian, who is married and has two daughters, launched his career with Bob, left for a while to work as a corporate accountant, and has returned as an investor and CPA in the agency.
Bob attributes the success and longevity of his powerhouse firm to an excellent crew of very outgoing, very hard-working, and diligent associates who clearly make a difference for the organization's myriad clients. He holds a special reverence for his right-hand administrative aid, Marcia Graham who has been with him for 44 of the 45 years he has been in business on his own. They first crossed paths in the mid 60's when he was auditor for clients at Glenlord Lumber Company of Stevensville and she was a clerk and bookkeeper there. The two would kibbutz regarding one another's "battle of the bulge" as each would struggle with personal weight gain. For several weeks, they would wager a case of beer on who could lose the most weight in the ensuing week and Bob is proud to reveal that he has never had to spring for an ounce of beer. Several years later, she joined him at his new firm and she's been anchoring the team ever since. Bob will be the first to tell you that his loyal side-kick keeps the engines humming and the firm running smoothly, while admitting they are like brother and sister...to which she wryly adds, "We've had out moments."
Handling financial and tax matters for clients large and small is a daunting challenge and one that Bob and his crew welcome daily, but he is the first to admit that he is "Never happy!" He will perpetually work to grow and improve while assuring that his clientele will be delivered the goods: "Right. On time." That's the brand that Bob continues to nurture, contending that no documents ever leave the offices of Gerbel & Company without double-checking by a second set of eyes. Nor will those documents ever be late. Mr. Gerbel is an absolute stickler for on-time delivery. In fact, he does not like to file for IRS tax return extensions unless the client just can't get all of the information to his team in a timely manner.
Bob and Carol have been happily married for 54 years now, and have three adult children that they are clearly very proud of. Daughter Nancy Kodis and her husband Jim have three children of their own. She is a pre-school teacher at 1st Church of God in St. Joseph. Daughter Karen Homan has two children and is Vice-President and Commercial Loan Officer for a bank in Florence, Kentucky. Steven Gerbel and his wife Claudine have two children an dlive in Winnetka, Illinois. Steven commutes daily to his office in downtown Chicago where he is the founder of half-a-dozen hedge funds specializing in arbitrage.
All three of the kids worked at some point in their lives for Bob and learned a great deal from Marcia, who brags that she kept Steven humble by making him clean the extensive system of window-blinds at the office.
Bob will freely tell you that his wife Carol was the absolute catalyst to jumpstart his business and has always been his prime motivator and tremendous source of moral support without which he would be a considerably lesser man.
Mr. Gerbel has labored both in the spotlight and under the radar for decades in the community of Michigan's Great Southwest from his long-time role as President of the St. Joseph Improvement Association to his position as Treasurer for Upton For All of Us campaign team of Congressman Fred Upton dating back to his first election to office in 1986. Bob loves to do a lot for the City of St. Joseph under the radar, but played an instrumental role in the creation of the St. Joseph Development Fund, a million dollar revolving loan fund that stabilized the central business district at a critical time and set the stage for the vibrant community we enjoy today.
Gerbel & Company is a full-service CPA firm handling tax preparation, tax research, accounting and auditing researchh, business valuations, budget and estate planning, computerized bookkeepinig, and considerably more.
When Bob Gerbel launched his accounting career...there were no computers...there were no calculators...there were no 10-key adding machines...and even photo-copiers had not been invented! What they did have were typewriters, carbon paper, the drive to succeed and an indomitable spirit that prevails today when virtually everything is electronic.
Many firms celebrate milestones of longevity, often times showcasing second and third generations of a family business carrying the torch in the moden day world. Bob Gerbel can justifiably point to 45 years at the helm...and happily note that he now calls is 45 years and beyond as his rewarding life's journey continues.