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Straight to the Top

Rick Anderson went to work at Moss Adams the Monday after graduation – and now leads the largest accounting firm in the West

Story by Mary Lane Gallagher

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Even as a young auditor in Yakima, Anderson loved to be on the move, spending a month or so with one client and then moving on to another. “I like variety,” Anderson says. “I master a challenge and I’m ready for another one. Public accounting provided me with those kinds of opportunities.” | Photo by Rod Mar

Sidebar: Anderson: 'I am where I am because of Western'

Anderson: 'I am where I am because of Western'

Lori Anderson was surprised as she watched her husband, Rick Anderson (’73, Accounting) galloping away on the back of a huge horse named Comanche.

“I thought your husband didn’t know how to ride,” the horse’s owner told her.

That was the first time Lori Anderson had ever seen her husband really ride, when he took off on the back of Comanche – or Comanche took off with him.

“Maybe he doesn’t know how to stop,” she answered.

Anderson’s accounting career got a similarly fast start, and he hasn’t slowed down since. He started work at Moss Adams the Monday after he graduated from Western. He became the firm’s 31st partner by age 29. By 33, he was the firm’s director of accounting and auditing. And by 42, he was director of operations.

Today Anderson, 60, is the CEO of Moss Adams, the leader of a 230-partner firm with offices in five western states.

“If you’re not growing, you’re probably going backwards,” Anderson says. “Everyone else is going to move forward – they’ll pass you by.”

Even as a young auditor in Yakima, Anderson loved to be on the move, spending a month or so with one client and then moving on to another. “I like variety,” Anderson says. “I master a challenge and I’m ready for another one. Public accounting provided me with those kinds of opportunities.”

Early on, Anderson displayed a rare combination of superior technical accounting skill and the ability to motivate people, says Keith Riffe, who managed the Moss Adams office in Yakima. “He had the nerve of a cat burglar,” Riffe remembers. “He would walk into any environment and sell his wares. And he was mature beyond his years.”

Before long, Riffe was looking for ways to promote his protégé as a future leader of the firm. Anderson was elected to Moss Adams’ firm-wide executive committee and later moved to Seattle to coordinate operations of all Moss Adams offices. “He won the hearts of all the managing partners throughout our organization and they ended up electing him president of the entire firm,” Riffe says.

But moving up the ladder requires mentoring people who will eventually replace you, says Anderson.

“Any partner who wants access to Rick, gets access to Rick,” says Russ Wilson (’79, Accounting), a Moss Adams partner who first turned to Anderson for advice in the mid-’80s when Wilson was a young, green auditor in the firm’s Bellingham office. “He’s very good at being plugged into his partner groups. Always has been.”

Up in Anderson’s 33rd-floor office in Moss Adams’ Seattle headquarters, framed photos of his two children and five grandsons block his commanding view of the Seattle skyline. Anderson is known for a low-key, down-to-earth business style. He doesn’t employ the persuasive arts of spin. If he tells people they’re doing a good job, he says, they need to know he’s telling the truth. “It is what it is; tell the whole story,” he says. “Trust and respect are very important in this position and very important in this profession.”

These days, Anderson is still on the road. But instead of driving the rural highways around Yakima, he travels around the country and the globe on business for Moss Adams and national accounting organizations. He’s vice chair of the management board of London-based Praxity, one of the world’s largest alliances of independent accounting firms. And he just ended a five-year term on the board of trustees of the Financial Accounting Foundation, which sets national standards for the accounting profession.

When he’s not working, he avoids travel, preferring to spend time on his 20-acre Vashon Island farm. Only Lori rides horses, though. Anderson’s relationship with horses lasted about as long as that one ride with Comanche. But he loves tooling around the pasture and forest on one of his John Deere tractors.

“They don’t buck,” he says.