Wipfli merges with Sattell, Johnson, Appel & Co.

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Wauwatosa-based Wipfli LLP has merged with Menomonee Falls-based Sattell, Johnson, Appel & Co. The non-cash merger of professional firms closed Dec. 1.

All 33 of SJA’s employees will be retained in the transaction, said Barry Sattell, one of SJA’s three shareholders. Sattell and the other shareholders, Bill Heilbronner and Leanne Buttke, will become partners at Wipfli.

“That was the most important thing to us is that all our team would have the opportunity to continue in the profession,” Sattell said.

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His father, Mickey Sattell, founded SJA in 1954. Barry joined the company in 1975.

SJA will remain in its current office in Menomonee Falls for seven months, until the buildout of additional space is complete at Wipfli’s Wauwatosa headquarters at 10000 W. Innovation Drive, where Wipfli added 15,635 square feet of space in early 2015. The SJA employees will move in this summer, Sattell said.

The SJA office will be rebranded to Wipfli soon. By joining a much larger organization, SJA will be able to offer its clients more services, including more formalized cost segregation studies, business valuations, forensic accounting and big data analysis, Sattell said.

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Barry Sattell

“As we continue to grow during 2017, we didn’t have enough talent to do some of the consulting work that our clients were requesting and needed,” Sattell said. “A CPA firm in the 21st century isn’t going to get by just doing tax returns and audits, so we wanted the opportunity to have a deeper bench and more service offerings to our clients.”

SJA has about 3,000 clients, most of which are in southeastern Wisconsin. They likely won’t see many changes, including in the billing rate per hour, he said.

“Wipfli overall believes in a very … consultative model for our clients,” said Rick Dreher, managing partner at Wipfli. “What we’ve developed is a business model that has many services that add value to clients’ businesses. They had a long, good list of clients that they believe are looking for additional services, so Wipfli has built that infrastructure to allow firms like Barry’s to combine with Wipfli.”

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The combined audit, tax and consulting firm has about 1,900 employees at 48 offices across the U.S. and two offices in India.

Wipfli is already working on its next two acquisitions, Dreher said, as it continues to buy up smaller accounting firms nationwide.

“We’re looking to two new geographies, which we’re excited to announce pretty soon, and those will be new territories for us,” he said. “We continue to expand our footprint outside the Midwest.”

This is the fifth firm that has merged with Wipfli this year. Dreher described Wipfli’s acquisition strategy in a recent article in BizTimes Milwaukee magazine.

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