Profiles: Burton Armstrong

Burton Armstrong

Burton H. Armstrong

MS Taxation 89

Senior Audit and Tax Partner at Brown Armstrong CPAs


Burt Armstrong's roots stretch all the way back to the gold fields near Sutter's Mill when his great-grandfather Isaiah came west as one of the 49ers. In 1922 Armstrong Family Mortuary started in Los Angeles and is still run by the Armstrong clan.

Burt initially considered following his father into the family business. He swept the sidewalks, cleaned the cars, answered the phones on Sunday, and was later licensed as an apprentice embalmer.

He was a competitive swimmer throughout his life, attracting the attention of Cal swimming coaches at a regional competition. College days at Cal were in many ways a replay of the popularity he'd enjoyed in high school, where he'd been a sports star and the senior class president. In many ways, Burt Armstrong embodied the image of a successful 1950s college man. He swam competitively for two years, lettering in his freshman year in water polo. College was a whirl of classes, sports and social life. To support himself through college, Burt taught swimming at the Berkeley YMCA, was as a lifeguard, and was a potboy for a sorority. When in his senior year, Burt was married and dropped out of college, following the norm at that time. During the next two years, they juggled new parenthood, college and jobs, like many other young couples of the day. Then a fraternity brother encouraged Burt to go for an MBA and become a CPA.

In the summer of 1965, Burt's wife received her teaching degree and the young couple moved to Northridge, where Burt started in CSU's accounting program. Within two years, Burt had graduated with a degree in accounting and was making the rounds to the big accounting firms. He started at KPMG in June 1967. After three years, he decided to switch gears, return to Bakersfield and join a small national firm that was just starting in California.

Things changed in 1974 when Bud Reid walked into Burt's office. Reid had spent 20 years in his family's business -- Occidental Petroleum of Bakersfield -- as Executive Vice President of worldwide gas and oil production. When Bud and Burt met, Reid was starting a new gas and oil company. As it turned out, Burt learned about the gas and oil industry and taught Reid about commercial accounting and tax procedures.

Bud Reid introduced Burt to Lee McFarland, who was starting McFarland Energy. The idea was to audit Lee's company, audit Bud's company, merge them, and go public. That merger would end up falling apart but soon there was a new target in their entrepreneurial scope: a troubled public company that was in bankruptcy.

McFarland was using a new technology that facilitated secondary recovery on old oil properties, and business was literally booming. He, Bud Reid and another colleague started a trade association for the independent oil operators in California. It was named the California Independent Petroleum Association.

Members got together, discussed common problems and made trips to Washington to talk to representatives. They've met with the IRS and discussed oil and gas regulations.

Burt started attending meetings, playing golf and tennis with the guys, networking, present information on tax issues pertinent to the industry, and was later invited to join the board of directors. It was the beginning of a years-long relationship that found him serving on the CIPA board several times

In the fall of 1984 Burt was remarried and partnered with Pete Brown. Business at Brown, Waits and Armstrong was growing. Peter's tax practice by then was at least twice as big as the one Burt left at Fox. He had a very active network, and an individual kind of practice. The firm has grown steadily since the partnership began. In 1976, the entire firm was 22 people. Today it has 12 partners, more than 90 people total and audit rules the roost with about 60% of the company.

His commitment to future generations is equally important outside the office. He's long been involved with the oil and gas industry's social organization, the Wildcats, and is a supporter of its R.M. Pyles Boys Camp for urban youngsters living in challenging situations. In 2007, Burt was named to the camp's board of directors. He's also been active as a coach for youth soccer and basketball and part of the Gladiators Basketball Club, a booster organization. He also teaches classes occasionally at the local universities.

Burt plans to retire, but continue as a consultant for the firm. He still trains regularly as a Masters Swimmer.