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Friday, April 15, 2016 - 5:04am

Thomas Bonadio acknowledges he was a risk taker in 1978-leaving one of the "Big Eight" accounting firms and a chance at a partnership to launch his own accounting firm. "It was important for me to stay in Rochester near my family-and the first person my partner and I hired was my mother, Rose, who took a three-month leave from her administrative job at a local law firm to be our secretary. We couldn't pay her-our budget the first year was $60,000 in revenues, and $20,000 was to cover our total overhead."

Bonadio, CEO and managing partner of The Bonadio Group, has never second guessed his entrepreneurial decision. The firm now serves more than 17,000 clients, with 74 partners and more than 750 employees in 10 offices. It is the 38th largest independent accounting firm in the U.S.-with revenue for 2016 that tops $100 million.

In recognition of his business success in the local community, Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology has named Bonadio as recipient of its 2016 Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award. The entrepreneur will be honored at an invitation-only luncheon at Oak Hill Country Club on April 21.

Saunders College Dean Jacqueline Mozrall said accounting gives companies the financial grounding they need to make solid business decisions.

"Accounting remains a very popular discipline at Saunders College because the career opportunities have continued to grow. Under Tom's leadership, The Bonadio Group has realized remarkable growth and created a significant number of job opportunities in our local community and beyond. We are so very proud to recognize Tom's efforts and longtime commitment to Rochester and upstate New York."

Bonadio said receiving the Vanden Brul Award was a very special honor because he was recognized not just as a CPA, but as an entrepreneur. "I've always wanted to own my own business and love what I do. At first it was survival and just making a living, but now we are the dominant player in New York for accounting firms," said Bonadio, who graduated from St. John Fisher College and lives in Pittsford with his wife, Heather Farnsworth. He has two daughters, Renee Celeste and Danielle MacGowan, and four grandchildren, Celeste, Thomas, Lucas and Spencer.

"But we have had some tough times-and hit rock bottom in 1994," said Bonadio. "My partner left and we split the business, so I had to lay people off and for the few of us remaining, there were weeks when we didn't have paychecks."

He said what got him through was perseverance, surrounding himself with "like-minded" individuals, and incorporating a forward-thinking strategic plan to expand the firm's tax and audit services to a wide range of accounting and financial services. The firm now has different pockets of industries with experts who deal only in that field. "It could be audits and reviews, government, construction, or information technology-where we work to keep criminals from hacking into files," said Bonadio.

Bonadio strongly believes that what the current economy needs is more entrepreneurs.

"Smart people are great, new products are great, but entrepreneurs are unique because they not only are willing to take a risk, but they know how to measure a risk," he said. "Through that process, they can take what other people don't see and turn it into something wonderful."

Bonadio is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, and is active in the community. He serves on the Monroe County Case Commission and Monroe County Jobs Creation Task Force, and is past chair of the St. John Fisher College Board of Trustees.

The Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award was created in 1984 and annually given to a successful individual who developed a business that improved the Rochester economy or whose innovative management skills have changed the course of an existing business.

Past Vanden Brul recipients include John Smith, IT serial entrepreneur; Ronald Ricotta and Michael Nuccitelli, co-owners of Century Mold Inc. and Parlec Inc.; Robert Morgan, CEO, Morgan Management LLC; the late Ernest J. Del Monte Sr., E. J. Del Monte Corp.; Douglas Brush and Jim Brush, Sentry Group; William K. Pollock, Optimation Technology; and Kitty Van Bortel, Van Bortel Group.

For information about the Vanden Brul Award luncheon, contact Barbara Balcaen at 585-475-7630.

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