Kennewick, Richland accounting firm merge for growth

A Kennewick accounting firm has sold itself, a move that ensures continuity for the 500 or so clients who depend on Marple & Marple CPAs to manage their books and prepare their taxes.

Richland-based PorterKinney PC bought Marple & Marple on Nov. 14.

The move dramatically expanded PorterKinney’s footprint, giving it a new Kennewick office and eight new employees.

“It’s an important chapter in our history,” said Chris Porter, who began the business in 2006 and partnered with Walter Kinney in 2014.

For PorterKinney, the deal helped triple its workforce in 2019. It started the year with six full-time employees and ended with 18.

Marple & Marple brings a wealth of tax and estate expertise and long-term relationships with some of the region’s best-known companies.

For Marple & Marple, the sale opens the door to a possible retirement for at least two of its three principals. 

Bob Marple Sr., 91, established the firm in 1973 and is still practicing today, together with sons Steve, 65, and Bob Jr., 62.

The elder Marple has no intention of retiring. 

He logs time at the office every day, reporting to work after his daily breakfast with friends at a Kennewick McDonald’s. 

He works weekends too, relishing the quiet Saturdays when phones are silent, and no one is peppering him with questions.

“As long as my health is good, I will continue,” he said. 

But Steve and Bob Jr., both certified public accountants, want to retire someday.

The sale closed in November, making the Marples employees of PorterKinney. The Marple & Marple staff is remaining intact at its downtown Kennewick offices.

 “I’m not quitting now, but I guarantee I won’t be working in my 90s,” Steve said.

No path to succession
The transition should be invisible to Marple & Marple clients.

But it’s a major transformation for the Marple & Marple team, one of the Tri-Cities’ oldest family-owned accounting firms.  

Bob Sr. formed the business in 1973, 20 years after he launched his accounting career with another Tri-City firm. 

Steve and Bob Jr. would both join the business after graduating from Kennewick High School, then college —Washington State for Steve, the University of Arizona for Bob Jr. 

The firm employed five CPAs plus support staff, providing tax, trust and accounting services.

Marple & Marple lacked a clear path to the future. 

Steve and Bob Jr. both have children and grandchildren, but they weren’t interested in the family business. There were no internal candidates to take over either.

Knowing that they would have to retire someday, the Marples began looking for options to ensure clients would be served in the future.

They turned to a business broker to find a buyer. 

They wanted a partner to take over administrative functions while assuring clients would have someone to take care of them in the future.

PorterKinney was the first to call.

Young firm ensures path forward
The Marples were drawn to the young Richlanders, who pledged to keep the Marple team intact. 

Even more important, PorterKinney recruits young accountants and has a strong business management culture, both keys to long-term viability.

The transition means Marple clients will have a path to younger accountants when the time comes.

“It would have been nice if one of the kids wanted to be involved,” Bob Jr. said. 

But he has no regrets. His children are happily employed in engineering, education and sales.

The unlikely accountant
Bob Marple Sr. had never heard the term “CPA” when he headed to what was then Washington State College in the late 1940s.

Born in Pullman in 1929, he’s a third-generation Washingtonian and the son of a part-time farmer.

He’d attended school in a one-room schoolhouse and started working on the farm before he turned 10. 

Farm work would help pay for college, but he didn’t see a future in it. 

He wanted to follow his passion—music.

He went to college intent on majoring in music and becoming a big band musician and composer.

He was on his way until a fateful final exam in a choral course. His professor plunked out a few chords and instructed Marple to sing them. 

Marple played the clarinet and saxophone and wrote music. He didn’t sing it. He said “no” and found himself in need of a new major.

He’d enjoyed math and accounting. 

A new path was forged and he went on to graduate with honors in business. 

After graduation, he joined the military and was sent to Korea, serving with an observation team that used radar and other gear to track enemy guns.

He married and after being discharged, moved to the Tri-Cities in 1952 to take an accounting job with Niemi Holland & Scott in Kennewick.

He’d grown up in the Palouse but had never been to the Tri-Cities. 

After 20 years, he ventured out on his own, operating as Robert E. Marple CPA.

“I figured I wasn’t making as much money as I should have,” he said. 

His wife, Leellah, worked as his receptionist and secretary. 

The couple agreed he’d be the boss at work and she’d be the boss at home. Their sons disagree – Mom was the real boss, or “TRB,” as they noted in a company newsletter.

Sons follow in dad’s footsteps
Steve laughs when asked why he followed his father into the family business. He hadn’t really known what his father did for a living.

When anyone asked, he’d said dad was a “businessman.” 

But he signed up for an accounting class at Columbia Basin College and went on to graduate from WSU.

When he joined his father’s firm, “Robert E. Marple CPA” became “Marple & Marple.”

Bob Jr. followed a similar path, but with a detour through the University of Arizona. He was offered an accounting job in Tucson, but his father countered with a bigger salary and he came home.

The family contemplated another name change, to “Marple and Sons.” They decided to keep the old name figuring Bob Sr. would retire before long. 

He didn’t.

Marple Sr., whose wife died 10 years ago, said he loves the daily interaction with his sons and with clients, some now three generations duration.

“I enjoy the clients and working with Bob and Steve. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t work.”

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