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Mahlon Rubin dies at 89; co-founded CPA firm when adding machines were in vogue

Mahlon Rubin had been a CPA for only a few years in 1952 when he and two college pals formed what would become one of the largest accounting firms in St. Louis, RubinBrown.

Without computers, accountants were still doing their number crunching on adding machines.

“When I started, that’s all I had,” Mr. Rubin recalled in a later interview. At his first job out of college, “we had a rule that we had to keep all the adding machine tapes and run them back through the other way, too. Back then, that was recycling.”

The firm that Mr. Rubin, Harvey Brown and Sidney Gornstein started now employs more than 450 employees in St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver. It bills itself as the second-largest accounting firm in St. Louis and the 43rd largest nationally.

Mr. Rubin died about 3 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 4, 2014), shortly after leaving his company’s office, his family said Friday. He was 89 and lived in Creve Coeur.

Mr. Rubin grew up in East St. Louis and studied engineering at Washington University. He lived near Union and Delmar boulevards and walked and took a streetcar to classes. “I didn’t have a car, nor was I lucky enough to have a friend who had a car,” he recalled.

In 1943, he went into the Army Air Forces and was trained as a meteorologist. “I was actually in the unit that dropped the original atomic bomb on Hiroshima,” he said.

He returned home, enrolled in business school and graduated from Washington University in 1948. As a young accountant, his soon-to-be-former boss told him he could do better on his own.

He, Brown and Gornstein made the decision to go out on their own. They also decided to start their business in Clayton.

“At the time, Clayton was a pretty sleepy little town with the county courthouse,” Mr. Rubin recalled. During tax season, they could keep working until 6 p.m., go home to eat with their families, and return to work late.

They collected clients from closely held and family-owned businesses.

A 1986 profile of him in the Post-Dispatch described Mr. Rubin as affable. He extolled the family-style partnership that he said ran the company.

But he went on to sum up his management style this way: “A benevolent dictatorship is the best way to run an organization. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Mr. Rubin didn’t disclose profits — the company still doesn’t — but said the firm has been consistently profitable.

Mr. Rubin retired in 1990. He continued to go to the office every day, as he had for the past 62 years, said John Herber, managing partner.

Mr. Rubin was the first St. Louisan to serve on the board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He served on the board of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and was past president of the old Jewish Center for the Aged.

The funeral will be at noon Sunday at Berger Memorial Chapel, 9430 Olive Boulevard in Olivette. Interment will follow at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetary, Ladue.

Survivors include his wife, Maurine Rubin; and three sons, Larry Rubin and Ken Rubin, both of St. Louis County, and Rich Rubin of Philadelphia.