Julia Stauffer has always done things her own way. When she was three years old, she frankly announced to her mother that she didn’t need any more assistance, thank you very much.
“My mother told me that there was something in my voice that day that made her believe me,” said Julia, eyes crinkling in a bright and mischievous smile.
That in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine that when Julia decided to start the first female-owned accounting firm in Elkhart County 32 years ago, she was more than ready to rise to the occasion.
“Accounting is a very male-dominated industry, even more so when I was first getting started,” said Julia. “So I’m sure there were difficulties and challenges, but I didn’t see them at the time. I was too focused on what I knew I was supposed to be doing.”
More than three decades later, Julia is the founding partner of J.A. Stauffer CPA, P.C., one of the most well-established and longest-running family-owned accounting firms in the county. At the helm of the firm with Julia is her daughter Deb Stauffer, a CPA and co-partner. The team also includes Cathie Cripe, enrolled agent, Judy Beard, office manager, Karen Horn, receptionist, and Rachel Baird, paraprofessional.
The firm serves over 500 individuals and small businesses in and around Elkhart County. Many clients have been contracting with J.A. Stauffer for decades, some even since the business’s launch in 1984. This persistent loyalty speaks to Julia’s long-held mission for the firm: to value client relationships above all.
Founded on relationship
As a young mother, Julia earned an Associate’s Degree in accounting from the International Business College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was a natural with numbers, acing her CPA exam in two settings and working full time as a staff accountant at a local accounting firm (oddly enough, the firm was called Stauffer & Co., though she had no relation to the business owners). She excelled in the field, but her real passion was, and continues to be, people.
“Some accountants have technical skills to help people with their numbers, and that’s necessary –– but that’s not what it’s all about for us,” said Julia. “We’re about relationship. We want to help people understand that it doesn’t make a difference how much money you make. I want to help people understand that it’s less important to worry about money, and more important to love what you do and to gain success from that.”
On multiple occasions, says Julia, clients have called her before anyone else when impacted with a significant life event, such as the death of a family member or the loss of a business.
“Some clients call me on bad days and say, ‘What do you have for me?’” said Julia. “Some have fears about money and would rather talk about those than about finances. I think that’s telling about the support our clients feel.”
Another of J.A. Stauffer’s strongest values is a dedication to helping small businesses grow and entrepreneurs launch new ventures.
“My original concept was that we wouldn’t take a business with an annual income of more than 5 million dollars,” said Julia. “We want to help grow our clients to a point where they may need to switch to a larger big-four firm.”
But, Julia added with a smile, “many of them don’t want to leave us once they’ve grown.”
‘In Goshen, relationships work’
For Deb Stauffer, Julia’s daughter and partner at the firm, working in business has always been in the cards. But living in Goshen? Not so much.
“I swore I would never come back to Goshen,” said Deb with a laugh. “I wanted to be in a big corporate environment.”
Deb graduated Goshen High School in 1986, then went to Butler University to study accounting on a full-ride tennis scholarship. After graduation, she moved to Indianapolis to work at a large accounting firm. She was there for a few years, then went to work as a corporate controller in Dearborn, Michigan. Eventually, she realized she missed the tight-knit community in Goshen. In the early 2000s, she moved back to Goshen to work alongside her mother at J.A. Stauffer.
“I’m so glad I came back [to Goshen],” said Deb. “People here say hello to each other, they respect one another without competition or judgement. I loved raising my kids here.”
Soon after Deb started at the firm, the mother-daughter duo began diving into community work. Julia served on the Goshen Health Systems board and volunteered regularly at the Elkhart County Humane Society and at The Window, Inc.; Deb has been on the Chamber of Commerce board for over 15 years; and both Cathie Cripe and Judy Beard serve or have served on the Goshen Community Schools Board.
“We are so community involved,” said Deb. “It’s become part of our value system.”
Both Stauffers, mother and daughter, say they feel grateful to serve their community, whether it takes the form of financial support, volunteer work, or simply enjoying time with loved ones.
And for Julia, doing things her own way is made easier with the support of a thriving community.
“I don’t think our business model would be successful in any other city,” said Julia. “But in Goshen, relationships work.”
“I want to help people understand that it’s less important to worry about money, and more important to love what you do and to gain success from that.”
“We want to help grow our clients to a point where they may need to switch to a larger big-four firm.”
“People here say hello to each other, they respect one another without competition or judgement. I loved raising my kids here.”
Good of Goshen Editor • Liz Shenk
Good of Goshen Photography • Ashley Ganger