Year of Local
This is the fifth in a series of submitted stories produced by the Year of Local, a collaborative project highlighting businesses and not-for-profit organizations in Sarnia.
When Bill Hazlitt came to Sarnia in 1981 he discovered what so many local residents already knew: Sarnia was not only beautiful but had great people as well.
Born in Toronto and raised and educated in Montreal, Hazlitt had worked for accounting firms large and small before he joined Deloitte and transferred to Sarnia.
“I got to know the partners from Sarnia at the national partners meetings and I really liked them,” he said. “When they offered to relocate me here, my wife and I agreed to come down and check it out. We bought a house the first weekend we were here.”
Hazlitt found success as a partner with Deloitte in Sarnia, but economic changes meant the company no longer needed a local office and closed it 1998.
“I had the choice of moving to London and working with my clients from there, or staying in my house and travelling to London two or three days a week to see my clients there. I didn’t like either of these options,” Hazlitt recalled.
He wanted to stay in Sarnia and continue to offer accounting services locally. Brent Steeves, a tax manager from Sarnia who had moved to London to work with Deloitte, also wanted to settle here. Together they opened a new firm, Hazlitt & Steeves Chartered Accountants, on Sept. 1, 1998.
The biggest initial challenge was reassuring their contacts they could continue to offer the same services as they had with Deloitte. They relied on referrals from local lawyers in particular, and they wanted to ensure the referrals continued.
“When we were Deloitte they knew that we had all of the resources of a national firm behind us, but suddenly it was just Bill and Brent,” he explains. “We went to meet as many lawyers face to face as we could. We were able to convince them all, but it took a sales pitch for us to win them over.”
Of course, they were also freed in many respects. They understood the big national firms needed lots of rules, but they also wanted to remove as much red tape as possible.
“After we took over, we could make up our own rules and regulations. We liked to think that we operate like a big national firm, but with a personal touch,” Hazlitt said.
The firm grew quickly. Randy Dunn and Jason Harris were both employees of Deloitte in London and both originally from Sarnia. Dunn joined Hazlitt Steeves in late 1998 and Harris the following January. They even managed to keep Deloitte’s former office manager, Sharon Raaymaker.
Scott McKay also recently became partner of the firm, which is located at 301 Front St N.
Relationships continue to play an important role in the, Hazlitt said.
“We’ve had a lot of luck hiring locally. The people make our firm.”
For more stories, please visit www.yearoflocal.com.