Seventy-five years of stories and service

This month our Tauranga office celebrates its 75th anniversary. Director John Donald has been with the firm for 53 years and director Neville Grey for 49 – almost as long as they’ve been married to their wives, they joke. They talk about what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Time to read: 6 mins

From left: John Donald and Neville Grey with photos of Vince Crossman (left) and Tom Murray.

Read on for the history, as related by John and Neville, or click here to read about the office as it is today.

The era was the early 1970s. The days were long and the office hazy as collared men in ties puffed on cigarettes and calculated figures with nothing but pencils and razor-sharp minds.

“We used to do budgets and cashflow statements on multi-column paper by hand,” says John. “So if you did a budget for several years and changed one thing, you had to rub it all out and change it right through.”

John joined the firm in 1969 when Tauranga was a township of about 30,000. If you walked down the main street, you’d likely know a lot of people, he says.

The practice had been set up in 1947 by Royal New Zealand Air Force serviceman Tom Murray, whose accounting studies had been interrupted by World War II. John and Neville (who joined in 1973), remember him as a conservative man with a keen business acumen, who did a great job of building up the practice before bringing in the gregarious and popular Vince Crossman (a former tax inspector) as a partner in 1952.

In 1955, they secured Len Speir and became Murray Crossman & Partners. Len – who would become John and Neville’s mentor – worked there until he was 90 and was sharp as a tack. “Len never had to use an adding machine or a calculator,” says John. “All the multiplication and division were done by hand. He was one of the people who could go up and down a row of figures and come up with the right answer at the end.”

Stewart Willoughby, who pioneered management accounting, later joined the practice, followed by Eric Coleman, a specialist in farm accounting and IT.

Their Grey St premises had a concrete-lined “strong room” for documents, with a heavy safe door, says Neville. “But they used to say we didn’t need security because Len was here until midnight every night – and Tom (who lived up the road) used to walk down and start working at 2-3am in the morning.”

They provided many of the services still on offer: Accounting, financial advice, trust advice, succession planning and more. The years also brought flexibility around the likes of break times, hours worked and working from home, along with a cultural shift to a “work-life balance”.

In 1954, Murray Crossman & Partners was reportedly the first Tauranga practice to use Burroughs Sensimatic accounting machines with keyboard and ledger cards, an early step in its progression to modern PCs and software.

These days John and Neville have second- and third-generation clients, and they’ve enjoyed watching those families and businesses grow. “As a mid-range firm, we’ve got a lot of interest not just in the businesses, but in the families themselves,” says John.

It’s probably the secret to its longevity, he says – offering very good service at a competitive price. “I think we’ve gone the extra mile in terms of providing good service. We take an interest in what people are doing and encourage them. We’re not just accountants who do account returns or compliance work, we take an active interest in their business affairs and try to provide the best advice possible.”

The team also has a solid history of supporting New Zealand’s national body of accountants (these days known as Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand) and providing community service. “It’s something I’ve encouraged the younger staff to get involved with because it’s serving the community we exist in and that’s been part of the firm since the beginning,” says John.

In 2002, the office joined the Staples Rodway network and in 2019, that wider group rebranded to Baker Tilly Staples Rodway.

Now it’s turning 75. The firm owes much to those who have served it and has expanded from one partner and two fulltime staff in 1947 to 10 directors and 65 staff. “It’s a good place to work isn’t it, John,” says Neville. “We all get on. John and I have worked together for 50-odd years, just about as long as we’ve been married.

“It’s a great firm,” says John. “And the younger generation are carrying on the heritage.”


The staff celebration last week included this magnificent cake.

With deep roots and history in the Bay of Plenty region, Baker Tilly Staples Rodway Tauranga takes pride in providing a great environment for staff to work, learn and develop their careers.

The firm has a core philosophy of providing great service and being a trusted advisor to clients. It’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the people.

Seventy-five years has seen significant change in the accounting profession and the firm has been at the forefront of adapting to provide the best possible service to clients and help them grow their businesses.

Real time accounting and valuable business advice go hand-in-hand with traditional services such as account and tax return preparation. The firm also provides services such as audit and assurance, specialised taxation advice and valuation.

Joining the Staples Rodway national network of firms (along with the Baker Tilly International network) in 2002 gave the firm the ability to expand its specialist and international services while remaining locally owned and operated.

From inception to this day, the firm has prided itself on involvement in the community (at an office and personal level) and service to the accounting profession. The latter has seen six of its members receive fellowship awards from Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand – the highest honour you can receive from the accounting professional body.

The firm’s family-like environment is important to staff and many have been in its employ since leaving school many years ago. The firm regularly celebrates milestone achievements such as 25 years of service, and although staff may head overseas after becoming qualified, they regularly return when coming back to New Zealand.

Baker Tilly Staples Rodway Tauranga has a tiered management structure, with a large group of client managers and associates, which allows for the efficient use of resources when providing service to clients.

The team is ably run by directors Chris Downey, Brent Rogers, John Donald, Shirley Seales, Neville Grey, Lisa Stirling, Mark Robinson, Ian Renner, Fiona Welten and Sybrand van Schalkwyk, and together the wider office is looking forward to the next 75 years of service.

Our Tauranga team

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