Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

A Guiding Light Hall of Famer Frank Hayes Inspires Others

Mar 28, 2022 05:36PM ● By Dwain Hebda
frank hayes in wide atrium

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 Frank Hayes, longtime CPA and founder of Frank Hayes & Associates, was a 2009 inductee into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. This remarkable moment was part of a remarkable life, and the capstone of a journey so unlikely that years later, he still speaks of it in tones tinged with awe. 

“It was absolutely, positively, something I thought would never happen,” he said. “Keep in mind who I am: I’m a person from a little town, Mendenhall, Mississippi; 10 brothers and sisters; raised on a farm, some days when I was a little kid not even having food to eat; went to segregated schools; didn’t have much money, didn’t have a lot
of mentors.”  

He continued, “Going from that to where the business community recognized me for my accomplishments is amazing. Omaha has so many great businesspeople, and to be in that group is still almost unbelievable.” 

If Hayes’ life had played out as typecast, he might still be scraping a subsistence out of the Mississippi earth as his father and grandfather, farmers both, had done. From a young age, however, Frank Hayes has dreamed differently.  

“Living a farmer’s life meant working very hard, because we farmed the land with our hands. There wasn’t a lot of equipment,” he said. “School became an escape for me. My mother encouraged that; my dad, not so much.” 

His mother moved him to Omaha in search of better opportunities and it didn’t take long to pay off. Originally bent on medical school, Hayes’ life was altered by his high school chemistry teacher.  

“He said ‘Frank, this came across my desk and I thought of you,’” Hayes recalled. “I looked at the information and I was like, OK, this is about accounting. I knew nothing about accounting. But it had a scholarship component, so I was going to look into it, because I wanted to go to college.” 

Hayes was able to attend Creighton University, where he majored in accounting and, as was allowed then, passed his CPA exam as an undergrad. He also earned valuable experience working part time for the Internal Revenue Service, which continued full time after graduation. By age 24, he’d taken his career into the private sector, landing with Grant Thornton LLP.  

Three years later, in 1983, he hung out his shingle. It was his boldest move yet, as he faced the dual hurdles of being a person of color and perceived as an inexperienced youngster. 

“I made a strategic decision opening the firm,” he said. “I’d noticed there was a demarcation line in Omaha; there were people who lived west of 72nd and those who lived east of 72nd. There were people in Omaha who would not go north of Cuming Street.  

Frank knew where he wanted to practice accounting. “I decided I was going to open my firm west of 72nd and south of Dodge,” he said. “I know that sounds trite, but I thought, ‘If a person doesn’t want to work with me because of the color of my skin, so be it. But I’m not going to give them the excuse they can’t come to a certain part of town.’” 

Hayes augmented this strategy with multiple community service activities, leveraging the power of social networking long before the digital version was invented.  

“I became a member of the [Omaha] chamber of commerce, I participated in Leadership Omaha, I joined a couple of organizational boards. That let people know who I was,” he said. “Then, if they needed accounting or tax services, or any kind of consulting services we were providing, they’d at least give me a shot.” 

Of course, Hayes’ community service was about more than client recruitment; he was investing time and resources in his fellow citizens and in future generations. 

“What stands out for me is he is very humble, a good mentor, good coach, and good person to reach out to for advice. He makes anybody he’s dealing with a better person,” said Eric Ewing, executive director of the Great Plains Black History Museum, of which Hayes is a board member. “He’s brought great leadership to the museum and brought more awareness to what the museum does.”  

Hayes’ shared expertise advanced organizations, and individuals. He was among a group of involved citizens who founded 100 Black Men of Omaha to provide guidance and mentoring to local Black youth. Also part of that group was Rick Bell, whose son Marcus is now the group’s executive director and CEO, and said the organization still reflects the mentor mentality of its founders. 

“One of our mottos is ‘What they see is what they’ll be.’ That truly was the foundation of the organization and we’ve carried that forward with our youth. Not just telling them do this or do that, but actually showing them and living it out in our own lives,” Bell said.  

He continued, “Frank is one of those guys who is just the epitome of class. When you think about somebody who represents Omaha well, he’s the epitome of someone to truly look up to in business and pushing organizations forward.” 

“100 Black Men of Omaha pretty much defines who I am,” Hayes said. “We wanted to show young Black kids that if you did things right, if you worked hard, if you maintain your dignity, you can succeed. And then we gave them models of that success so as they saw it, they could dream, ‘That can be me.’ It’s truly been the highlight of my life to make this
community better.” 

Visit hayes.cpa for more information.


This article originally appeared in the April/May 2022  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.