By Pam Kasey - email
Good accountants are essential to business — but an accountant whose interests and talents run to financing packages and even to venture capital can make a real difference in the state.
Certified public accountant Jim Cava of Bridgeport is such an accountant.
Co-owner of Cava & Banko in Bridgeport, Cava grew up in Clarksburg, the eldest child in a family of seven children. He majored in accounting at Fairmont State University — then Fairmont State College — and graduated in 1987 with a bachelor of science in business.
It wasn't a great time for a fresh accounting degree in West Virginia — new hires were getting $13,000 or $15,000, Cava said, a salary he could have made without going to college. Instead, he got a job in Bethesda, Md. with a firm that paid for him to go to graduate school, and by 1989 he earned a master's degree in taxation from American University.
Cava had not been at his next job, with a firm in Washington, D.C., for very long when he learned that the FBI would be moving to Clarksburg.
"I'm looking at this picture on the front page of the Washington Times and said, ‘I've been on this street,'" he recalled. "I couldn't quite place it but, if the picture had been a little larger, the back of my high school would have been in it."
After Cava traveled home to explore the possibility of opening a branch in Clarksburg, the firm decided it would wait a few years. But in exploring it, Cava met Chuck Smith of the Charleston public accounting firm Smith, Cochran & Hicks, and Smith invited him to open a branch of his office in Bridgeport.
In 1990, Cava returned home.
Even as a local, it wasn't easy developing a client base from scratch. Good clients already had relationships with established accounting firms. Cava had the idea that he could distinguish his services — and in a sense create good clients — by pulling together financing packages for start-ups and for businesses that wanted to expand. He made it irresistible: If he failed, they owed nothing. But if he succeeded, they had to pay his fees and switch their accounting over to his firm.
It worked. The Bridgeport office of Smith, Cochran & Hicks grew.
But in the late 1990s, Cava had another opportunity. Kevin Adrian and Rob Hytner had started Information Manufacturing Corp. as a division of a D.C.-based company and, when they got the chance in late 1998 to buy it, they asked Cava to negotiate the deal and raise the funding — and, ultimately, to join them in Rocket Center as a partner.
"We converted documents to digital formats, hosted the documents in our own data centers, and developed our own software for managing and mining the knowledge in the data," Cava said.
Cava and Hytner soon bought Adrian out. They found their services were in high demand. They grew the company to 500 employees and $63 million in revenue and, in 2007, sold it to DC Capital Partners — which turned around and sold it to IBM.
Cava & Banko
"Now I've got some resources — what can I do from a charitable standpoint?" Cava asked himself. "And I thought, what I can do for my community is what I've always done: to help start-up businesses, and to help existing businesses grow. If I can do that and they can create jobs in this community, that's the best help I can give."
He remembered the deal flow that had developed at Smith, Cochran & Hicks in Bridgeport — "That was exciting to me. It's just what I like to do," — and persuaded Smith to sell him the office. He and former employee Andrew Banko became partners and, in 2008, Cava & Banko was born.
They set about expanding further still on the notion of being more than accountants, bringing brother Vincent Cava in as another partner. He spent 20 years in banking and adds to the firm's expertise and connections in financing.
The company also offers management consulting, with partners and employees operating in clients' businesses as chief financial officers, chief operating officers, controllers and general managers.
"That really separates us from other accounting firms," Cava said.
And, with all those deals coming through the office, getting involved is an occupational hazard.
The partners in the company — now five, with Larry Cottrill and Sam Sedosky — formed an insurance company, WatchTower Insurance. They also own three independent Best Care pharmacies in Bridgeport, Belington and Lumberport.
And with a friend, Cava co-owns Ryan Environmental in Bridgeport, which provides construction services and emergency spill response for the oil and gas industry; with another, he is a partner in Saven Inc., owner of the Oso Sweet Onion brand.
With the Jan. 1 acquisition of Clarksburg public accounting firm Meredith, Quinn and Stenger, Cava & Banko has grown from revenue of $400,000 in 2008 to a projected $2.5 million this year.
Dealmaking for economic development
Cava is a dealmaker. The greatest part of his job? "When one of my customers gets a loan they've been trying to get. It's exciting when the banker calls and says, ‘We've approved your customer for the loan.' Some of our customers have been unsuccessful in trying to do it for themselves."
But what he likes ultimately is what follows.
"I like to think that we help our customers be successful, and those customers provide jobs, which provide livelihoods for their families," Cava said, when asked how his business has improved the region.
He enjoys that at all scales. In the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area, he credits James LaRosa, who developed Eastpointe shopping center and the Pete Dye Golf Club; Jamie and Jennifer Compton Corton, developers, with others, of the Charles Pointe mixed-use development; and Woody Thrasher and Jack Keeley, who are developing White Oaks Business Park.
"They're people that were very successful in their businesses and they had a choice — to take their money and put it in the stock market and go live on a beach some place and really, retire wealthy," Cava said. "By reinvesting in the projects that they've done in West Virginia, they've risked some of their fortune to make West Virginia a better place to live. Their projects are going to help my business grow, indirectly."
And at the state level, he got involved in the early 1990s when he joined the loan committee of the West Virginia Capital Corp., which provided financing to start-ups, and later joined its board; later on, he served on the board of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust.
Cava now serves on the board of MVB Bank and of the Robert Mollohan Foundation, which provides scholarships, loans and internships to West Virginia students. He is a member of the Clarksburg Lions Club.
Cava's large family all still live in Bridgeport, where he and wife Laura also live with their very athletic sons James, 12; Alessandro, 11; and Anthony, 9. Daughter Jennifer lives with husband Bryan McMullen in Georgia.