Magazine Article

A Most Tangible Asset

August 25th, 2011

By Carol M. Newman

Rob Fleming’s nose is deep in a book. It’s John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce, a true story of “myth, madness and greed” centered on British Columbia’s old-growth forest. He’s just one of several WAC basketball players who fancy the flip of a good page-turner as much as the swish of all-net. No fewer than two book clubs grew from their desire to further friendships formed on the court. So, a mostly solo activity was transformed into a social one. On tap next: the Scandinavian thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

Moving easily from hoops to books to community makes perfect sense for Rob, who came to the WAC for basketball and ended up cultivating friends and community.

In August, he’ll take it one step further—as Chairman of the WAC.

Due Diligence

As he takes the reins from Immediate Past Chair Lane Hoss, Rob seizes on his vast experience.

He’s tallied more than 20 years as a CPA with Clark Nuber, a CPA and consulting firm specializing in the nonprofit sector, along with serving high net worth individuals and privately owned businesses. Of the more than 45,000 CPA firms in the U.S., Clark Nuber is a recognized leader. Rob proudly points to the wall of honors in the lobby of the Bellevue headquarters: Best Accounting Firm to Work For, Top Corporate Philanthropist, Community Service award. The list is long. And the firm does 2 million dollars of pro bono work a year. “That’s a big deal for us,” he says.

Rob heads Clark Nuber’s not-for-profit arm, consulting with diverse charitable organizations on topics such as board development and governance and exploring alternative revenue sources. He began this chapter as a one-man show and grew a mere seven clients to serving a whopping 700 nonprofits that encompass social service organizations, arts and recreation, foundations, health care and life sciences. The numbers show great success, and the sum of these experiences have influenced Rob’s life immeasurably—and will likely do the same for the Club.

“I don’t believe in getting involved unless you are active, take a leadership role and give back to the organizations with which you are associated,” Rob says.
And he walks the talk. Rob chaired the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants and he’s a past board member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club, Seattle Children’s Home and The Group Theatre—to name only a few.

“The WAC always seems blessed to have the right Board Chairman at the right time,” says Jim Johnson, WAC President & CEO. “Careful financial management in recovering from the recession is mandatory for the WAC, and with his deep commitment and years of experience helping not-for-profits manage the bottom line, Rob Fleming is an ideal Chairman of the WAC Board.”

Banking off the Boards

Rob has served on the WAC Board for the past eight years, but he joined the Club in 1979 to crash a different sort of board: the ones on the basketball court. Thirty-two years later, he’s graduated to the Platinum Division (for players 60 and over), and, in February, his team won the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference championship.

“Rob is a very good basketball player and a good teammate,” says Jerry Ernst, who met Rob playing basketball about 25 years ago. “He has a well-rounded game; he plays good defense, rebounds well, passes well and is a very good shot. I coached the PCC championship team and know Rob made a significant contribution to our success.”

Hooked on hoops since high school, Rob played on the Ballard High School team and with the Amateur Athletic Union while attending the University of Washington. After graduating with a business degree from UW in 1973, Rob accepted a position at Price Waterhouse in Seattle (moving to Clark Nuber in 1989). “I’ve always enjoyed math and numbers, was in the accelerated math classes, and accounting was just the logical step,” he says.

He joined the WAC in 1979, but shortly thereafter was transferred to Lagos, the economic and financial capital of Nigeria, to supervise the office’s audit practice. He retained his membership, and came back to Seattle, basketball and the WAC a year later.

And he returned to much more—a budding romance with fellow CPA and Price Waterhouse colleague Deborah, whom he fondly calls “Deb.” The Ballard High boy married the Roosevelt High girl and they went on to have three children together.

There’s Danielle, 31, with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Her office across the street from the WAC makes it convenient for dad/daughter visits. Jack, 29, is a financial analyst at Amazon. Rob laughs about the family’s linear trend, taken in a new direction by his youngest, 25-year-old Michael, “the social one” of the bunch. He’s with online real estate brokerage Redfin. The family is as close-knit as they come.

The couple may make their home in a condominium in downtown Bellevue, but their activities extend far beyond its urban city blocks. For the fit Flemings, family activity is a way of life. “We all climbed Mount Rainier together.”
Rob has climbed Mont Blanc and attended the Swiss Open and French Open with his racquet-swinging sons. The family has bicycled the Loire Valley, went on a safari in Kenya, river-rafted the Grand Canyon, traveled to Italy for his daughter’s wedding in the Cinque Terra, and toured Milan, Sorrento, Rome and Capri.

Value Appreciation

This coming year will be busy closer to home as Rob steps into the Chairman’s post. He has several priorities.

First on the list is increasing revenue. “The Club is in good shape. It’s a first-rate physical structure,” Rob says. “We want to get the membership back up. And we need to look at the formula and sources for revenue.”

Second, he aims to take care of the employees, whom he credits for the WAC’s success. “The WAC has proved itself in quality service. The garage guys, the front desk folks, the people you see all the time—are fabulous,” Rob says. He advocates the reinstatement of WAC team member benefits and a return to paid holidays.

Also on his to-do list—the formidable task of leading the search for a successor for President and CEO Jim Johnson, who retires from his post after 15 years in January 2012.

“We’ll do a national and local search to hopefully find someone of Jim’s caliber,” he says. “We can only hope to have as much success to find a successor.” The special search party tasked with the job includes outgoing Chairman Lane Hoss, who has nothing but praise for her successor.

“I have had the privilege of working closely with Rob this past year,” Lane says. “He is a dedicated WAC member with a deep understanding of the Club thanks to his volunteer service on numerous committees and the Board of Governors. Combined with his strong financial background, Rob’s strengths and talents will provide great leadership for the WAC as we plan for the future.”

Past Chairman Rob Dunlop appreciates how his colleague balances humor with seriousness. “Rob is a truly thoughtful professional and engaged WAC member who not only understands how the Club functions as a member leader but as an active user of many different areas. I have been impressed with his sage advice on various issues we have wrestled with as well as the light-hearted nature and good sense of humor he brings to the conversation.”

Rob Fleming credits the congenial gene (also present in son Michael) to his father, a national sales manager for a men’s clothing manufacturer. Run into Rob at the Club, and it’s likely he’ll have a pertinent CPA joke at the ready, like this one he dropped into our conversation: “How do you tell when an accountant is an extrovert? He looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you and not his own.”

And you are likely to run into him.

Between downtown business meetings, the WAC serves as Rob’s home base.
“If I have a meeting in Seattle, I’ll head to the Sports Café, Library or Lobby Lounge. I try to arrange luncheons here,” he says. “We do client seminars at the WAC all the time. And, one of our staff just had a huge (400-plus) wedding here.”

He frequently encourages fellow members to take advantage of the Club’s many benefits. But even after 30 years, Rob still discovers new perks and privileges to being a member—like one night last winter.

“It was supposed to snow, so I stayed overnight at the Inn to practice a speech on enterprise risk management I was giving the following day,” he says. The unpredictable skies never released the frozen wet stuff, but Rob further realized the usefulness of the WAC, while honing his presentation in the San Juan Suite.

Rob hopes to inspire others in his new role at the WAC. He’ll keep the words of his friend and Past WAC Chairman Pete Shimer close as he begins his tenure, his leadership guided by “brevity and levity.” He boils that counsel down even more: “I won’t drone on, instead, make it fun.”

Rob calls Seattle a “phenomenal, charitable community” and is excited to work with several of the WAC’s community partners, including United Way. It goes without saying that Rob’s dynamic energy will influence others to seek new ways to enhance their lives at the WAC.

Carol M. Newman is a Seattle-based
freelance writer.