- change ups
Creston CPA follows in his fathers footsteps
Duane Culver, owner of the professional certified public accounting and financial services firm Culver CPA Group, is a problem solver.
When Culver was in junior high school, his father recognized that computers were the wave of the future. With his encouragement, Culver took a basic computer class taught by a Creston High School student. Upon returning to school, Culver awed his classmates by making his name flash across the screen of a Radio Shack TRS-80.
Culver doesn’t remember learning anything of much significance in that first class; the programming he was doing then is now archaic. What he did take away from it was a way of thinking.
“It took away my fear,” said Culver. “It made me recognize that learning how to program was a manageable task.”
Culver brings that same steady logic and analytical mentality to work at his firm, located in the Creston area of Grand Rapids’ northeast side for 24 years. The company was founded by Culver’s father in 1977 under the name Culver, Wood and Culver.
Culver’s early education in the world of business and personal finance elicits memories of sweeping floors and watching his father file tax returns with pencil and paper. Upon his father’s retirement, Culver strove to maintain the firm’s standards for excellence and fairness, eventually earning the title as one of financial expert Dave Ramsey’s “Endorsed Local Providers.”
In his academic career, Culver has obtained two degrees from Grand Valley State University: a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Taxation. He said he avoids mentioning the latter to people for fear they will “think something’s wrong with me.”
Between degrees, Culver began working at his father’s firm. At some point during this time, he remembers customers coming in with questions he wasn’t able to answer.
After exhausting the resources available to him, Culver started asking himself what he needed to do to advance to the next level. This led him back to school, and has motivated him to make sure he and his employees are always continuing their education in the field.
“I don’t know it all — I can’t know it all,” said Culver. “Even if I did, it changes so rapidly that I would quickly be outdated. So the key is to understand the structure and to know how to research and find out how things are currently applying.”
The original Culver, Wood and Culver was built on personal tax returns, but the rebranded Culver CPA Group has had to adapt to the era of TurboTax and home and business accounting software such as QuickBooks and Peachtree. While personal tax returns still account for around 55 percent of the company’s revenue, Culver anticipates that the increased regularity with which the federal government modifies tax law will lead much of his business to become helping people navigate those ever-changing rules.
Whether out of necessity or due to Culver’s background in both computing and finance, the professionals at Culver CPA Group not only have embraced home accounting systems, they have adapted their services to accommodate those using the new technology. From installing the software to providing customer support, the employees are able to put their structural understanding and up-to-date knowledge of the laws to work for people doing their own bookkeeping.
Given the nature of his work, Culver has seen his share of financial horror stories. The rise of people trying to do their own accounting, paired with the significant increase in auditing by the IRS in recent years, has been a deadly combination for some. He’s seen some of his clients manage their finances with success and “some not so successfully.”
“We earn a lot of business back that way,” he said.
Last year Culver bought out his former business partner when he decided to pursue something else. Since then, Culver has remodeled the company’s two office locations — the Creston location at 1419 Coit Ave. NE and one in Wyoming at 901 Gezon Parkway — renovated the exterior of the Creston location and brought in some new employees.
But the changes Culver is working on for the future extend beyond the business’s walls. Culver and other community leaders in his area are spearheading the Creston Corridor Initiative, a collaborative effort between the business and neighborhood associations and the city of Grand Rapids to breathe new life into the Creston Business District, a commercial corridor on the northeast side of the city.
“We’re an area that’s in transition. It could go up, it could go down. We’re really trying to work together to create momentum for it to go up,” said Culver.
Culver has been president of the Creston Business Association for about four years, but his involvement in the project began nearly a decade ago. When he heard the executive director of the Creston Neighborhood Association, Deborah Eid, describe the vision for what the district could become, it seemed to Culver like a beautiful but overwhelming task.
Community leaders decided to put their money where their mouth was in 2004 when, with the help of a Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) AmeriCorps staff person and architectural/engineering firm Design Plus, they laid out an attainable plan.
What do Culver and his fellow business owners/neighbors envision for their neighborhood?
Bio-retention islands to collect stormwater for plants, walkable streets with bike lanes and more green spaces, gateways at the entrances, refurbished buildings and improved lighting are just a few of the improvements the community hopes will help show off the quality establishments already in business in the neighborhood. “We want people to see what’s here,” said Culver.
Though the project is still in its early years, Culver is enthusiastic about the progress that’s been made. When the task seems unmanageable, he looks at the success of other districts. Here in Grand Rapids, Culver points to a time when you wouldn’t have wanted to walk through the Wealthy Street district, let alone own a business there.
“It felt very unsafe; there were a lot of places boarded up,” said Culver. “You’ve seen them kind of come together, seen some developers come in and make some improvements. Now you look at Wealthy Theatre and other neighboring businesses and it’s exciting.”
Culver’s wife of 24 years, Mari-Clare, and their four daughters, Liz, Emily, Elise and Evelyn — whom Culver says “want nothing to do with accounting” — keep him balanced with summer camping trips and down-time in the non-tax season. He describes his wife as being a perfect complement to him, very in tune with people, whereas his analytical mind can make relationships challenging.
To his family and the excellent staff who work with him, Culver noted, “I’m not always the best at communicating how much I appreciate them.”