Executive Q&A: Former band teacher finds niche in public accounting

Denton showed up unannounced at John Arledge’s accounting firm and, perhaps because he dropped the name of a church friend who was Arledge’s banker, was granted an impromptu interview with the owner.

“If I don’t know something, I go to the master tax guide and look it up,” Denton replied.

“That’s just what I wanted to hear!” boomed Arledge, who gave Denton his chance.

Today, Denton is managing partner and similarly prods associates to look up, in the now online tax codes, what they don’t know. “Young people often want to just ask someone, because it takes less time,” he said.

Arledge Associates employs 26 including bookkeeping services director Mona McCool, who’s been with the firm since it opened in July 1983. Denton expects annual revenues to top $3 million this year.

From his firm’s 13,000-square-foot office building at 309 N Bryant, Denton, 56, sat down with The Oklahoman on Tuesday to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: My father was from Denison, Texas, studied geophysics at SMU and worked in mechanical engineering for 35 years with Conoco. He met my mother when he was working in Yoakum, Texas, her hometown. I grew up in Ponca City with two younger brothers. I’ve lost both parents and one brother who had Down syndrome.

Q: What was your thing growing up?

A: Music. I played Little League baseball (my dad was the coach) and some football until ninth grade, but music is what stuck. I started playing bass in the fourth grade, and played in Putnam City High School’s orchestra and jazz and concert bands. I took private lessons in high school, and won a full scholarship to UCO (then Central State), where I earned a bachelor’s in vocal and instrumental music education. My late father-in-law, Coleman Smith, was my professor and choral director in the men’s glee club. My senior year, Dr. Smith recruited me to play bass for the coed, touring group “The Tunesmiths” in which his daughter and my future wife, Cathie, sang. Cathie and I dated all that year, got engaged soon after graduation and married a year later, in May 1981.

Q: So you started out as a music teacher?

A: Yes. I taught two years of high school band at Pond Creek-Hunter, north of Enid. I loved teaching one-on-one and choosing music for contest. But I realized I wasn’t cut out for teaching over the long haul. It was difficult being an outsider in a small town, and I was nervous being in charge of a roomful of students. I oversaw the marching and concert bands, but not orchestra, which is what I was trained in.