Humble Beginnings and Strong Roots: Half a Century of Grimbleby Coleman

By Clive Grimbleby, CPA

October 5, 2023

It was 1973. The city of Modesto was growing but still small (only 60K people!). After a long period of post-war prosperity, America was experiencing a rough patch. Interest rates were over 8 percent. OPEC had just instituted a punishing oil embargo. The U.S. economy was just beginning to slip into a recession that would eventually hit the pocketbooks of every American.

So, it was not the most perfect time for Roy Grimbleby to buy a small accounting practice in Modesto, California. But Roy had a vision for something bigger…Perhaps he never conceived of or dreamed that his decision would lead to a 50th anniversary celebration for Grimbleby Coleman Advisors and Accountants, one of the largest CPA firms in the region, with an impressive global network.

Putting Down Roots

From the beginning, the firm achieved success by directing its attention outward and actively contributing to the city of Modesto. By 1981, when Roy sold the business to his son, Clive Grimbleby, CPA, he had already established strong relationships that would lay the foundation for the firm’s early success.

“We saw a future in Modesto,” Clive says. “A lot of our early decisions revolved around, ‘What can we do to connect with the community while utilizing our skills?’”

For Clive and his first employee (and only employee for a while), Claudia Cannell, fun involved building connections within Modesto and the accounting profession, including serving on the Memorial Hospital Foundation board, joining the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA) and investing in steady growth. Relationships formed the foundation of Grimbleby Coleman’s ongoing mission: “Building success for, and connections with our colleagues, clients, and community.”

Grimbleby Coleman Advisors and Accountants still values and furthers the tradition of giving back to the community that began decades ago. Grimbleby Coleman team members donate thousands of hours to community projects and organizations every year, which led to a CalCPA statewide Public Service Award several years ago. The firm’s outreach list includes 86 local charities and causes in the Modesto area.

“When we hire people, we talk about our commitment to being focused on the greater team and the community at large,” Clive says.

A Commitment to Fearless Learning

Grimbleby Coleman has always benefitted from continuous education and an eagerness to embrace technology. During the early years of business, resources were tight, but the firm found ways to consistently improve skill sets. Dedicated to improvement and continuous learning, Clive once drove to San Francisco with a singular purpose: to obtain stacks and stacks of tax reference books. In the pre-internet world, Clive provided the essential tools needed for the team, no matter what it took. GC also hired consultants to analyze the business and discover necessary improvements and potential growth areas. Back in those days, the team listened to advice and industry updates on cassette tapes.

“Often, we act as our own guinea pigs with regard to technology and services,” Clive says. “Early on, I joined a computer software advisory board that helped me understand what other, bigger firms around the country were doing. This led to many important connections and investments in technology. We have a willingness to figure out what is happening in the world and implement tools to make our clients’ lives better.”

A commitment to exploration and early adoption led to many innovations now considered standard — computers to start, followed by QuickBooks, cloud-based accounting services, and mobile and integrated apps. The learning continues to this day as the firm has begun exploring the power and potential of AI to identify trends and potential issues. 

While there have been many innovative improvements, it’s important to highlight the human side of GC. These tech trials were not always successful, but embracing failure as a means to move forward can be a key driver of growth and change.

“We’re sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but we’re never complacent,” Clive proudly states.

Smart Growth and Focused Services

By the mid-1980s, GC was growing and welcomed another Partner in 1986, Herb Hamby. The firm became Grimbleby & Hamby CPAs. Then, in 1989, the firm hired Jeff Coleman and Sue Hudgens. Jeff Coleman went on to become a Partner in 1992 upon Herb Hamby’s retirement, and our name changed to Grimbleby Coleman CPAs. Sue Hudgens became a Partner in 1994.

Then, as now, Grimbleby Coleman’s focus on relationships paid dividends in the form of sustainable growth. Clive met Mark Dunker and Dave Aced through his outreach in the community, and their firm, Dunker & Aced, merged with Grimbleby Coleman in 2008.

“Every time we merged with another company, we gained professionals who expanded our expertise and possibilities,” Clive says. “When Ristau & Co. joined forces with us in 2021, the move brought along both professional expertise and a diverse client base. This marked a significant professional development, and the merger expanded our services and collaborations.”

As Grimbleby Coleman grew, their focus shifted from tax compliance issues to assisting clients in achieving exponential growth. In 2013, the firm chose to focus on two significant niche practice areas — construction and agriculture — which have played a crucial role in their continued success. Growth didn’t stop there; Client Accounting, Advisory Services, Estates and Trust Services, and Nonprofit Services have continued to develop and evolve, further rounding out their offerings.

“Helping clients grow requires a different mindset and a different set of skills,” Clive says. “Instead of seeing clients once a year at tax time, we have ongoing interactions. We help clients plan for taxes instead of reacting to them. We work with them on the timing of major purchases and decisions. We train and advise their teams. We ask them about their goals for the future, including the potential of passing on the business to the next generation. Advisory is a holistic approach that requires collaboration and skill on our part. The result is stronger businesses and, therefore, a stronger community.”

Creating a Solid Culture and Investing in the Future

Grimbleby Coleman has been recognized many times as a “Best Place to Work,” a direct result of the firm’s hiring practices. For nearly 20 years, Jane Johnson, now COO and Partner, has carefully evaluated how potential team members fit into the culture and observed their willingness to embrace a service-oriented mindset.

Many of the current employees joined Grimbleby Coleman through word-of-mouth and professional relationships with existing team members. Grimbleby Coleman is unwavering when it comes to cultural norms, and the staff reflects the diversity of the Central Valley, which has been essential to our overall success.

Proud of our reputation for cultivating leaders, GC utilizes internal training programs to impart skills to clients, thereby developing their abilities in resilience and effectively distributing resources and tasks.

The firm values advancing the next generation of accountants, with many interns having grown and honed their skills here, including several current managers and one partner. In 2021, Grimbleby Coleman initiated a $10,000 accounting scholarship at CSU Stanislaus, extending its ongoing collaboration with the university. This partnership includes employee participation in department advisory boards, free student tutoring, open houses, and “Meet the Firms Nights” at the College of Business Administration. Many CSU Stanislaus graduates work at Grimbleby Coleman, reflecting the firm’s commitment to fostering skill development, sustainable careers, and community prosperity.

Embracing the Next 50 Years

Grimbleby Coleman is committed to growth and development, but nowhere is that commitment more evident than in the events of the past five years. The firm recently reinvested in itself by launching an ambitious brand refresh, resulting in the renaming to Grimbleby Coleman Advisors & Accountants, which better reflects the connection with clients and the community.

In 2020, Clive’s son, Ian Grimbleby, took over as President/CEO and Principal. “We took our own advice about succession planning,” Clive says. “Succession planning is not easy, and many business leaders choose to avoid it because it brings up tough questions and decisions. But we have seen how successful it can be and offer real-world insights into the emotions and logistics behind a transition.”

As the firm looks forward, the focus continues to be on developing expertise, expanding services and skill sets, and providing value to the community. Forward-thinking is an intrinsic part of the culture at Grimbleby Coleman.

“Being open to outside ideas takes more time and energy than putting your head down and staying in your lane,” Clive says. “I think the longevity of the firm feels very settled and stable because of that willingness to look forward and ask, ‘Where are we going next?’ We look forward to the next 50 years with enthusiasm and optimism.”