The Change Your Mindset Podcast

Welcome to the Change Your Mindset podcast, hosted by Peter Margaritis, CPA, AKA The Accidental Accountant. Peter is a speaker, expert in applied improvisation and author of the book 'Improv Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. Peter's new book, Taking the Numb Our of Numbers: Explaining & Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity will be published in June 2018.

S2E12 – Courtney Kirschbaum | Give Humanity a Seat at the Table

My guest today is Courtney Kirschbaum, who I had the pleasure of speaking with after her keynote address at the Georgia Society of CPAs’ Southeastern Accounting Show in Atlanta. Courtney’s keynote address was titled “The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?” and it focuses on the idea that everything old is new again, especially when it comes to panicking about the younger generation.

 

This talk was first inspired by a quote from Socrates: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

 

Sound familiar? Because 2000 years later, some older folks are still singing this tune – and yet, things are still getting done.

 

“Everybody thinks that their beginning and their end are like the ultimate beginning and the end… [but] anybody who had been in business for even a short while knows that so much of what we see is just something old with a new name.”

 

Burnout & Karoshi

 

Part of Courtney’s presentation covered the idea of karoshi, which can be translated literally as “overwork death.” Both Courtney and I have seen how this affects the Japanese people first hand, and you can learn even more about it in The Washington Post’s article “Do Japanese really work themselves to death? In some cases, yes.”

 

The sad truth is that the work culture in Japan has led to thousands of deaths, to the point where the government is now involved – and our culture here in the U.S. isn’t so different.

 

“It’s going to come here, I think. It might come more slowly, it might take a different form, but we are turning into a culture that is work-obsessed. Well, we’ve been there for a while.”

 

The average workweek is 47 hours now. Not only that, from 2000 to 2014, the productivity at work increased by 21.6% – but, at the same time, the remuneration only increased by 1.8%. And that is simply unsustainable.

 

“We abandon our humanity, and we’re working people to the point where they can’t take it anymore, and they leave. And I think when we make millennial a pejorative term, we’re kind of doing the same thing.”

 

So let’s all cut each other some slack, let’s learn what we can about self-care from the younger generation, and let’s add a little humanity to the equation; Let’s just bring some humanity into the boardroom, into the conference room, into our meetings, into how we manage our people, and how we interact with our people.

 

Don’t just ask, “Will it work? Is it profitable? Is it right?” – Ask, “Is it humane?”

 

The evidence that treating people like people isn’t just nice, but a financially viable strategy, is abundant. So do you have the guts to do it?

 

Download this Episode MP3.

 

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

 

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:00:00] Give humanity a seat at the table and don’t just ask, “Will it work? Is it profitable? Is it right?” but “Is it humane?” It’s really simple. Just bring some humanity into the boardroom, into the conference room, into your meeting, and into how you manage your people, and how you interact with your people.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:25] Welcome to Change your Mindset Podcast, formerly known as Improv is No Joke, where it’s all about believing in strong communication skills are the best way in delivering your technical accounting knowledge and growing your business. An effective way of building stronger communication skills is by embracing the principles of applied improvisation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:46] Your host is Peter Margaritis, CPA a.k.a. The Accidental Accountant. And he will interview financial professionals and business leaders to find their secret in building stronger relationships with their clients, customers, associates, and peers, all the while growing their businesses. So, let’s start the show.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:11] Welcome to Episode 12. And my guest today is Courtney Kirschbaum. And I caught up with her at the Georgia Society of CPAs Southeastern Accounting Show in Atlanta. Now, Courtney is a global career strategist and a keynote speaker. And she’ll help you manage your talent and create a strategy for more profitable career.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:30] As she writes on her website, “Are you on schedule? And where do you want to be in the arc of your career? Are you happily working at your potential or feeling frustrated beneath it? If you’re not where you want to be, does your employer care? Are they promoting and advancing when you’re ready or at their convenience, usually, long after you’re ready? If you want that title recognition and salary that reflects your high performance and your potential, to put a plan and strategy in place to get the results you want on your timeline, to transition successfully from the employee to entrepreneur, then contact Courtney by going to our website, CourtneyKirschbaum.com.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:16] Our conversation focuses on her opening keynote address in Atlanta: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning? And I’ll let the interview speak for itself. But before we get to the interview, I want to share an interesting blog that I found on Watershed Associates titled Negotiation Lessons from Improv “Yes, and.” I wonder why I picked this one.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:41] In the article, the author discusses two main principles that improv teaches that will make you a better negotiator. Number one, be a better listener. And to do this, you have to be present, and in the moment, and drop your agenda, and listen to what the other person is saying. If you’re rehearsing what you want to say next while the other party is talking, you’re going to miss out on some real important information.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:09] Number two, “Yes, and.” We use “Yes, and” to keep the conversation moving at a positive direction, and to help keep our emotions in check. In the article, the author writes. “Actually, saying yes in negotiations can have dreadful ramifications. So, in negotiations, we want to be a bit more verbose. Try saying, “Yes, I see what you mean and,” or “Yes, I’m beginning to understand and,” or “Yes, you have some valid points and.” You get the idea. So, go find this article, and read it, and become a better improviser during any type of negotiating situation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:50] One more thing, let me ask you a question. Are you tired of getting the deer in the headlights look when you trying to explain an accounting or tax-related issue? Then, read my book, Taking the Numb out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, and let it be the guide in your transformation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:10] When you take the numb out of numbers, that leaves you with ERS, effective relatable stories. And isn’t that the goal of every financial presentation? Hayden Williams, who’s the CFO at the Washington Society of CPAs is quoted saying, “A must read for any financial professional.” The book is now available on Amazon, in paperback, and in Kindle. So, stop what you’re doing and go buy it today. Now, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Courtney Kirschbaum.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:46] Hey, everybody. I’m actually in Atlanta, Georgia at the Georgia Society of CPA Southeastern Conference, big conference. I guess, big-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:04:55] Big conference.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:55] Yes. And one of the reasons why I came down is a friend of mine, Courtney Kirschbaum, was the opening keynote session for the, as they say, SEA Southeastern Accounting Show Conference. And she kicked it off this morning big time. Her topic was The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning? So, I’ve got Courtney here, and we’re going to talk about her session this morning and how it relates to the accounting profession. So, it’s wonderful seeing you. I loved your session. I love taking photos of you for your website. I heard the big round of applause, and I knew you did well. So, welcome, Courtney.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:05:38] Thank you, Peter. It is great to be here with you. I was so happy when I found out we were both going to be here. And it’s great to be at SEA. This is a great conference.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:45] So, what was the premise of the conversation that you had with your audience? But folks, by the way, it was a big audience. I think, there’s like 1200 people here. There had to be, at least, a thousand in that room.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:05:56] It was a big room, a lot of folks. And I’ll tell you how I got the idea for this talk. Every generation, I’ve noticed — I’m old enough to notice this now, which is scary enough — but do you notice how, you know, you’ve got this uncle or someone that, you know, that’s like, “Kids today. The world’s going to hell in a hand basket.” That is the phrase. It’s like we are in trouble.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:06:18] And when I was invited to give this talk, I started doing some research, and I found this quote by Socrates. And the quote is, “Children today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for their elders. They chatter in place of exercise, and they tyrannize their teachers and their parents.” And when I saw that that was Socrates, I thought, “Okay, that was 2000 years ago when we’re still saying this stuff. This isn’t right, you know.”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:06:51] So, it just got me thinking like everybody thinks that their beginning and their end is like the ultimate beginning and the end. And there are so many — anybody who had been in business for even a short while knows that so much of what we see is just something old with a new name.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:04] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:07:04] So, that’s how it started. That’s how I got the idea.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:07] Wow. And when I do talk to the audiences, and we get on a conversation of the generations, I ask the baby boomers to raise their hand, and they do. I say, “You’re the ones that raised the millennials.”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:07:18] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:19] “So, quit complaining about them. And no, it wasn’t us. It wasn’t us.” And then, I ask the baby boomers this question, “How do you remember Vietnam because you had Vietnam in your story today?”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:07:28] Yes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:29] “How many of you had long hair? How many of you smoked pot, dropped acid? What did you guys? Do you remember? And your parents of the Silent Generation, that was the opposite of what they liked.” And they get this really not-me look.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:07:44] It’s not my fault how they turned out.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:46] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:07:47] I think, there’s almost a slingshot effect. Every generation gets the opportunity to observe their parents. And a lot of the complaints I heard about millennials, everybody’s heard this, “Oh, they don’t want to work. I can’t get him to come to work.” And the reason, one of the reasons for this is that millennials saw their parents kind of give their entire lives over to work, and they saw their parents’ marriages fail, and they saw the result of that, and they thought, “Well, what’s so great about work if you give it everything you got, and then you end up divorced and unhappy,” you know, whatever. That’s just one slice of it.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:08:24] But I’ve always been a little bit more empathetic to that perspective. I think, I must be an honorary millennial. I really must be because, you know, I worked for many years, and I’m in the, you know, big four firms, demanding job, and I’ve kind of thought some of what they were saying made sense.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:08:41] So, I’ve always tried to kind of speak for the side of that up-and-coming generation because when you’re young, you don’t have any sense of perspective on your experience. When I think about, you know, what I thought about work, and my job when I was in my 20s and 30s, I get it now. But, now, I’ve got, you know, some perspective on it. And I feel — And this is really corny, but I really feel like when you start, you don’t know a lot. And work is one place where you don’t want anybody to know that you don’t know anything. I mean, and that will stay with you until the day you retire.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:09:13] You know, people are self-conscious about making mistakes. We have stigmatized mistakes in the workplace. So, people come in, they don’t know anything. You know, you’re young and even if you know something, you’ve got a lot to learn. And it’s hard. That’s a hard continuum to traverse. So, I’ve always thought I know that I could have moved ahead faster if I had gotten a little bit more support and a little less, “These kids today are no good.”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:09:39] And I just think that’s universally true. And I talk about, you know, these continuums. I talked about them today. And I’ve always had this natural inclination to think, you know, “Let’s give them a chance. Let’s see what they can do,” because we’re all pretending we know a little more than we know or have at one time or another.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:56] Exactly. And I don’t like to use the M word.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:09:59] I honestly stay away from it too.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:01] I call it the younger generation.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:10:03] Yeah, that’s great.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:05] But we’ve made that we’re evil when it’s really not, and we stereotype a group that, “There’s this millennial you might know, what, Mark Zuckenberger? Facebook. Is he the Facebook guy? He’s a millennial.”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:10:18] Exactly, exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:18] The millennials are, you know, in their 30s now. And we all have different — You know, going in public accounting, why would I want to be a partner of a firm when I see these partners killing themselves?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:10:33] Exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:33] And work as many hours. And they shouldn’t try to figure why I have no succession plan. Well, you’ve got to redesign the firm to make it something that you’d want somebody to do.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:10:43] Exactly. I love millennials. I mean, I’ll just say it straight up. I love millennials, and I love what they’ve done for the workforce because they stand up for themselves, and they stand up for their — you know, that work-life balance. You know, I talked about karoshi in the talk today. I worked in Japan in 2003.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:02] That’s right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:11:02] I worked in Japan in 2003. And I told the story in the talk today. I would walk to work. I walk to the subway station, and then go to work. And, occasionally, I would see somebody asleep in their car. Now, I was in my 30s, and I thought, “Oh they must have had too much sake and lost their apartment keys.” You know, what’s the Japanese word for that?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:11:24] But years later, in 2015, I was back in the States, and I read an article in The Washington Post that said — the headline was, ” Are the Japanese Working Themselves to Death?” And I had been there in 2003, and I’d seen how embedded they were in this work culture, and how that it was so important to them not to bring shame upon themselves. This is fundamental to their culture, and where it shows up is at work.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:11:48] And the people that I had seen in their car sleeping and didn’t know what they were doing, didn’t know why they were there, they were there because they had worked all night, and were trying to get a few hours of sleep, and then go back in, and work again. So, the article was about how karoshi, which means death by work-

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:06] Wow.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:12:06] … has taken hold. In the last 13 years since I was there, it’s taking hold, and thousands of Japanese are literally killing themselves. The government has gotten involved. And I was there at the beginning of it, and burnout is a real issue in our workplace today. Now, in Japan, you can’t leave a job as easy as you can in the States. So, how it’s showing up in the States it’s showing up as churn, as attrition. Somebody begins to feel burnout and they leave.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:12:32] And just like in Japan, but we aren’t as intense as the Japanese in this way, people don’t want to admit that they can’t take on more of the workloads too much. You know, they want to honor their obligations to their boss, to their teams, to their companies. You know, I believe people really want to do a good job at work, and they’re killing themselves in Japan to do that.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:12:53] And it’s going to come here. I think, it might come more slowly, it might take a different form, but we are turning into a culture that is work-obsessed. Well, we’ve been there for a while. The workweek is 47 hours now. That’s like the real average workweek. And interesting statistic, from 2000 to 2014, the increase in productivity at work is 21.6%. The increase in remuneration is 1.8%. And you just can’t continue to do that to people.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:13:29] You know, I’m a career strategist. I talk to a lot of people about their careers, and they say, “You know, I’m getting more work, but I’m not getting anything else. I’m not getting more recognition. I’m not getting more remuneration. I’m not getting more authority.” And 15 years ago, when I was my generation’s version of a millennial, I wouldn’t have known what to do with this information. I didn’t, but I can put it together now because I have the benefit of that experience.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:13:56] And when I first put this together, I thought, you know, does anybody want to hear this? Because when you’re in that work mode, it’s like take one for the team, you know, pull an all-nighter, do you have to do, but that’s what put Japan in the place it is now. And that’s why they have this issue, you know, with karoshi. And the government has gotten involved, and is talking to companies, and saying, “You know, make your employees take their vacation, and be sensitive to this.” And they have a real problem. It is not uncommon for people in their 30s in Japan to have a heart attack.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:28] Wow.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:14:28] That’s just not right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:30] Yeah. I did. When I was Victoria’s Secret, we went to Japan, and I got to witness this firsthand, and we were there for a week. And what you described about the inefficient work style, it’s true. I mean, what time is it? Why do you want to know? I just want to know. They worked 12 hours a day-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:14:47] At least.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:48] But this whole thing about saving face, not make a mistake is real. And, now, we bring it to us. We have that same thing when you’re coming — You know, I call it that stage one competency. I don’t know what I don’t know, you know.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:15:01] Yeah, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:02] But I don’t want to ask the question because I’m afraid to ask because everybody thinks I’m smarter than I probably am. And recently, someone gave me the acronym for the word FAIL, first attempt in learning.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:15:15] I love that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:17] I love it too, and I use it more and more. And it’s good. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to make a mistake because you’re human.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:15:27] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:27] But when you make a mistake, come with the solution. And I don’t know if managers, partners, CFOs, controllers are teaching their people about it’s okay to make a mistake, but figure out the solution before you bring it to me.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:15:43] I don’t — You know, I think the dialogue in every company is different. I would like to point out that while they’ve given a word to death by work in Japan, they do not have a word for work-life balance, which I thought was kind of scary and interesting.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:57] Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:15:59] Yeah, no kidding. Well, here, you know, at least, we’re talking about it. And I heard this other great term, which is work-life integration. I thought that was kind of interesting. You know, old thing, new name.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:08] Right, right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:16:08] Just like I said, old thing, new name. But all of this, and this really is what the talk was about this morning, all of these pivots on one thing, and that’s humanity. Businesses are driven by profit. They’re driven by success. They’re driven by the Japanese not wanting to bring shame on themselves. And over here, it’s another version of, “I don’t want to lose face.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:30] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:16:30] And, you know, we abandon our humanity, and we’re working people to the point where they can’t take it anymore, and they leave. And I think when we, you know, make millennial a pejorative term, we’re kind of doing the same thing. You know, we’re not being compassionate. And that is not cool to say in the office. In the office, it’s, “Buck up. You got to be tough.”. You know, in my generation, it’s this old, “I walked uphill to school in the snow both ways.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:00] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:17:01] And people need to be called out on it because it doesn’t serve the people who are at that, you know, in the beginning and end of those transitions. Like these universal continuums are from curious to in the know, from alone to connected, and from insecure to empowered.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:17:17] So, this is you in the first grade, not knowing anything or anybody, and feeling insecure. And then, you work, and you get to know the system, and you go from curious to in the know, and you go from alone to having friends, and connections, and a network, and being power. And that makes you feel, you know, less insecure and more empowered.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:17:36] And that’s what we all go through continually in our lives. And it’s tough at work, again, because we really stigmatize mistakes. And at school, it’s kind of objective. You’re here to make mistakes to learn. But by the time you get to work, okay, we need you to be perfect now.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:53] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:17:53] So, mistakes are stigmatized. And if we invite people into the workforce or people come into our workforce, they arrive at the threshold of your firm or your company, and they’re not supported through that transition. Nobody wins. And we are all constantly making that transition, you know, from one end of those continuums to the other.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:18:13] So, it really behooves us all. It’s like let’s all cut each other some slack, and let’s add a little humanity to the equation. And that’s really what the talk was kind of saying. Like, if you look at all the situations and all the changes that are going on, in all beginnings and endings, speak up for humanity. You know, speak up and say, “Yeah, this is right, and it’s profitable, and we’ll get the result we want, but is this the humane thing to do?”.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:18:35] Because that’s really what I saw an absence of when I was working in that environment. And I was too inexperienced and too unknowing really to speak up. I thought it, and I talked about it with my colleagues, but it’s really the responsibility of people to kind of say, “This actually is not the direction we should be going in. This isn’t right. This isn’t humane.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:57] It’s funny you should say that because over the last six months, there’s a theme that’s been rolling through Harvard Business Review articles, and that theme is human leadership. That theme is empathy.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:19:10] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:10] That theme is being present. Wait, I’m talking improv again, but in essence-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:19:15] You got it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:15] And it is. It’s about, you know, we might be an asset to a firm, but we’re people because we’re in the people business. And the more that we can engage our people, the more our business will grow versus the more we try to control them, it’s not going to grow. But I think this has always been the case, but maybe it’s this younger generation that’s finally making us realize, you know, there’s another side to this.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:39] I’m a person. I’m a human being. You know, I’ve got a family. I’m growing, and I don’t know what I don’t know. That’s when you graduate from college, and you start your, you know, accounting career, and you go, “I know how to audit.” “No, you don’t. You don’t know how it is to sit for the CPA exam.” “I can do taxes.” “No, you don’t. You’re not ready for the CPA exam, but you-”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:19:59] Like you said, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:01] No, but we got to get them to that phase of asking questions, learning to fail, so they can, “I don’t know. but I want to learn.”

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:20:08] And, I think, people get to that phase faster. Just as you said, you create that environment where you say, “Ask. We don’t expect you to know everything.” And I saw that. You know, I’ve been out of the corporate world for six years now. And I will say, I did see that right before I left. Like, “It’s okay to ask. We don’t expect you to know everything.” So, I think there’s some of it emerging.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:20:33] And, you know, I just want to give it a voice because if you put up with things that you know aren’t working, and you participate in them just because you think it’s the right thing to do, and you’re afraid to question, not just, you know, ask questions about, “Hey, what you don’t know with respect to audit or a tax form?” but, you know, are we really doing the right thing here?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:20:54] You know, that needs to be heard because this new generation is bringing in, you know, some new ideas. They’re the most well-educated group, you know, to enter the workforce. They started interning and taking advanced classes sooner. Now, I’m speaking about Gen-Z. So, they are turning 22 this year. They’re entering the workforce. These are kids who have been going to summer school to get college credit, have been doing free, you know, unpaid internships. So, by the time they get, you know, or trying to get into college, or are trying to get a job, I mean, they’ve been doing internships, some of them since high school. They’re not slackers.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:36] No, they’re not.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:21:36] They felt pressure and worked to deliver from a younger age than any previous generation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:43] You know, my son’s in a Gen Z, Z, Z, Z, Z generation. It’s like he snoozes all the time. But to the fact, there — You said internship. So, I looked at the internship programs right now while you’re in college to be a waste of their time. Especially the way technology is changing, they’re not going to have to do the number crunching, per se. We’re going to have artificial intelligence and block chain to do that, but they’re going to need to know how to communicate and interact with people.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:22:15] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:16] My son was a thumbs-only kind of guy.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:22:19] I got it, yup, very true.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:20] And then, he turned 16. And then, he got a job in a restaurant as a busboy. He’s been there two years. The kid can hold a conversation. We saw this almost automatically.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:22:30] That’s great.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:32] And this is what we need our workforce to be like. The Gen Z, to be able to communicate, don’t put them in an accounting firm, make them go to work in a restaurant. Make them go to work in food service or retail where they got to deal with the public. There’s a benefit.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:22:44] I completely agree. And I think that Gen Z actually will welcome that. I think they’ll really welcome it. There’s a perfect example of the human touch versus this artificial intelligence because everybody is talking about artificial intelligence, block chain, “Oh my god, is it going to take my job?” It’s a great example. So, we’re here in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where Chick-fil-A was found.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:07] Yes, love Chick-fil-A.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:23:08] Oh, me too.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:08] I love Chick-fil-A.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:23:08] I’ve been talking about chick fly all day. So, this is the really interesting thing that Chick-fil-A has done. Chick-fil-A, and you know this if you are a Chick-fil-A fan, and you have been to their drive through, has put people out in their parking lots, and you don’t talk to a box and a speaker, you talk to someone who says, “Hey, how’s your day going?” And they smile at you, and they say thank you, and they show human warmth. You have a human connection. They put your order on a tablet.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:23:38] Now, here’s what’s interesting. Chick-fil-A, the revenue of their restaurants is $4.4 million. That’s the average. Their closest chicken competitor is KFC, right, $1.1 million. Now, at the average fast food restaurant, 60% to 70% of their revenue comes from the drive-through. And you go to a drive-through because you want best service, right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:00] Right, yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:24:01] That’s what you think. But Chick-fil-A, while they get great ratings on accuracy of their orders and the human experience that people are polite, they are 30 seconds slower than the average, than the average fast food restaurant, but they’re still blowing their competition away because people value that human experience.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:24:22] And I think we’re going to see more of this because at the exact same time, McDonald’s, if you’ve been into McDonald’s recently — I know this makes me sound like all I do is eat fast food, but I swear I don’t. You go into McDonald’s, and there’s a kiosk. So, they’ve removed the human element, McDonald’s restaurants — And, of course, we’re comparing apples to oranges a little bit, McDonald’s restaurants, their average revenue in a year is two $2.5 million.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:24:47] So, everybody’s like, “Oh, we have to automate. And the more we automate, the more money we’ll make.” But Chick-fil-A pulled back and said, “No, let’s-” Part of their value system is to have a positive influence on every one that comes into their store.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:03] Wow, what a concept.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:25:05] I mean, it’s really-

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:06] It’s a novel concept. That was in Vogue in the ’70s and ’80s.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:25:10] It’s really more.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:10] And I think flashback, as it relates to that, needs to happen.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:25:12] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:13] And, actually, I was in Greenville, South Carolina last week, and they brought — You know, Chick-fil-A, they brought it in for the meal at the company I was with, and they told me the exact same story.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:25:23] Really?

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:23] In Columbus, Ohio, there’s one Chick-fil-A, and I’m not usually on that side of town, so I haven’t been there in a while. And I said, “When I’m over there, there’s always a line.” They get people now. What? And then, I hear, “All at the line please. Closer to one.” No, there’s a person that’s taking your order and moving you through the system versus “Now what?” They get it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:47] And that podcast I was telling you about, Building the StoryBrand with Don Miller, he interviewed the CEO of Chick-fil-A. And he came out with a book two years ago. I think, it’s called Relevance.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:26:00] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:00] And if you get a chance, it’s an excellent interview. But that culture there will survive.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:26:06] Yes, it will.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:07] How do you translate that culture into our profession?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:26:10] So, here’s some of the things they did to do that, and it goes deep. It’s not just superficial. It’s not just training people. The first thing is it costs by comparison. If you want to open a McDonald’s franchise, you have to ante up $750,000. That’s a serious barrier.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:30] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:26:31] You want to open up a Chick-fil-A franchise, the buy-in is $10,000, and they pay the physical building startup costs.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:41] Okay, okay.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:26:41] $10,000, I mean, that’s nothing. It’s nothing certainly nothing compared to $750,000, which means they’re lowering barriers because their real criteria is, does this person embody the values, and will they run this operation embodying the values of Chick-fil-A? So, right out of the gate, they said values over money.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:00] Right. It’s interesting because we talked about this in Greenville. And you only get one store.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:27:07] You can only have one store.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:08] One store.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:27:09] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:09] And you’re an owner/operator.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:27:11] Absolutely. You can’t just disappear. You have to have a relationship, not only with your team, but you have to have a relationship. They expect you to have a relationship with other store owners. And, in fact, that’s how the in-person order taking, which just becomes — So, you know, what you see at all Chick-fil-As now, that started in Houston. And one store owner had the idea. And, of course, they’re not competing, they’re collaborating. So, now, it’s spread to other stores, and it’s become one of their hallmarks.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:27:38] So, they lowered the barriers, and they said, “Let’s not in-fight. Let’s not compete. Let’s be involved in our stores,” which means it’s like a small community business. It’s a small business in small communities, and they engage. The owner is in the store, and they’re talking to people in other stores. And, sometimes, they’ll even, like, do cooperative promotions with other store owners. But instead of more like the person down the — you know, the person in the next town is your competition, it’s “What can I give them, and what can they give me?”

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:08] It’s a more collaborative approach.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:09] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:09] So, in the accounting profession, whether you’re in public accounting, or in B&I, or whatever, how can we be more collaborative? How can we get more the best practices when we’re in competition, but it should be a friendly competition?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:23] You know who you should ask?

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:25] Who?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:25] The people who are coming into your firms, your youngest, your newest hires. Now, they won’t always be right, but they’ll tell you what they need.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:34] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:34] And if you think about it, the ones who are most going to benefit from collaboration are the people who come in and don’t know that much, right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:41] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:41] When I think about when I started as a project manager and I didn’t know anything, and there are people who will attest to this, what would have helped me more than anything is not carrot and stick, but real collaboration.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:53] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:28:53] And I lived in fear of getting it wrong, which I often did, and I figured it out. But I would have given anything to be asked rather than had assumptions made about what was the best way to get this information to me. Invariably, if you are a leader or a manager, and you’ve got people working on your teams, I think that’s a first step. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything they suggest, but it will really open your eyes, and they really do have the most benefit, I think. It certainly can accelerate their learning a lot if you have collaboration.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:26] I’ve said this many times before, the collective knowledge outside your office far exceeds the collective knowledge inside your office.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:29:34] That’s great. It’s a great saying.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:36] So, you know, just because they’re new doesn’t mean that they they don’t know — They don’t know everything, we’ve already established that, but they know stuff that you don’t know. So, there’s the collaborative aspect. And someone told me, if you want to know what people are thinking, go on Twitter, and follow the people that they follow.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:29:54] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:54] That gives you an idea into their insight and what they’re seeing.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:29:58] It’s a great idea.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:58] So, basically, you’re telling a firm to be more collaborative, or a CFO, or a finance department go to the collaboration aspect of it, and dropping barriers, dropping barriers to work, getting rid of the negativity, and more empathy and embracing?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:30:17] Imagine that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:18] So, I want to know, when you were kind of laying this out for this audience, did you get the stink eye at times?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:30:25] I will be honest with you, when I started writing this talk, when I talked with Jen here at the Georgia Society of CPAs, and she’s been a guest in your podcast, Jen Oleksa.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:37] Yes, yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:30:37] I talked with her and she said, “You know, show them what the future. We want you to show them what the future is going to look like.” And I’ve been to a lot of conferences. We’ve all been through a lot of conferences. And I knew that I could talk about artificial intelligence and robots, but I just wanted to go a little bit deeper.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:30:59] And I have to admit, I was a little self-conscious. I thought, you know, if I start talking about karoshi, and if I start talking about, you know, taking a different approach with people who are coming into our firms and pointing out that for 2000 years, we’ve been picking on the younger generation, and we might want to stop.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:14] Right, right, right, right, right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:31:16] You know, is this is this going to fly? But a lot of people have come up to me since I gave the talk and thanked me for bringing it up because I know from my own experience that this is what you talk about when your boss leaves, you know. And you’re young. So, you think, “Well, this is how the older, more experienced people are doing it. So, it must be right.”.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:31:37] So, I was concerned, but I thought, you know, I don’t care. I really don’t care and here’s why. The last thing that I talked about in today’s talk was this Japanese — you know, the strong part of the Japanese culture, which is not to bring shame on yourself and to protect your honor. And I really thought, you know, I’m honor-bound to talk about this. You know, if they’re going to give me the stage and say, you know, share your point of view, then you have to be honest about it, and you can’t, you know, curtail what you say because some people are still, you know, embracing that, you know, “I walked to school uphill both ways, you know, in a rainstorm or in the snow.” And that doesn’t serve anybody.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:32:22] So, that’s why I kind of held to it. And I really did — I often felt like people who are really wanting to do right, and do good, and deliver good work in work environments were treated — And this is a strong word, but they were treated inhumanely because we’re in a system. You know, it’s bureaucracy. And I saw that a lot. And I’m on stage talking about, you know, death by work and karoshi, and these are heavy topics, but they deserve attention.

Peter Margaritis: [00:32:52] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:32:52] They really deserve attention. So, that’s why — You know, and when you’re as a speaker, you scan the crowd. And people don’t always give up what they’re saying, and especially if they thought you weren’t thinking. At a professional conference, you know, your boss could be sitting next you. I can tell you, I was at a conference a few weeks ago, somebody handed me a note and said, “My boss is in the room, so I can’t ask this question,” this is what the note said, “but I need to talk to you.” So, there’s that, right?

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:18] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:33:18] So, I just kind of thought, “You know what, this needs to be said.” And I can tell by the response that I got today that people are glad it was said. You know, that, if you think about that statistic of productivity increasing almost 22% and compensation increasing 2%, you know, people feel this. This is showing up in people’s everyday lives. And we need to get a — I really do feel like we need to acknowledge this. I said in the talk today, I said if our workforce was a state, it would be California on fire. I mean, right? But it’s true me. I mean, nobody wants to say, “I can’t take any more work.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:55] Oh my god.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:33:58] It’s true. It’s true.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:01] So, as you’re describing this-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:34:03] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:04] … it makes you think of a firm I just worked with. And, actually, I’ve included them in my book. And it’s a firm in Maryland called Deleon & Stang. Now, the two partners who started this didn’t grow up in public accounting. And that was the key because they’ve been around for, I think, 25-30 years, and they just want through — At the beginning of the year, they went through kind of a rebranding. Their mission statement, always put clients before people.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:34:29] Right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:30] They redid that. Now, it’s people before clients. If we treat our people well — It’s almost a Richard Branson thing. I don’t worry about my clients. I worry about my people. If I get the right people, treat them right, they’ll take care of my customers, my clients.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:34:43] They will.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:44] So, they also rolled out two new policy changes. During business season, there were no mandatory Saturdays and Sundays.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:34:53] Nice.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:56] Awoo!

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:34:57] Exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:57] But it gets better. They also rolled out unlimited PTO time.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:03] Yes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:04] And I said — The light bulb went off in my head. I said, “Wow. A firm, an organization that trusts their people.” And that’s where it kind of boiled down to. There’s a lack of trust. And that’s why we get 2%.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:19] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:20] That’s why we’re — But when you trust your people — And research has showed they won’t take the whole of the PTO. They’d probably take less than they did before.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:28] That’s what studies of this are showing that they end up taking less than before sometimes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:32] But you are empowering them.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:33] Yes, you are. And, now, I think there’s going to be an adjustment period for that. Like how do we behave with this new freedom? And I honestly think that’s normal.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:42] I agree.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:42] It’s worth tracking.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:44] And they’re tracking last conversations I had. I mean, they were a little nervous about.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:35:51] Yeah, I’ll bet.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:51] But they’re seeing the benefits. And, you know, I interviewed them for this podcast that aired about a couple months ago, and they talked about this whole culture, what they did, and they were afraid of it, but they’re seeing the benefits of it.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:36:06] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:07] Attrition will go down, and that’s key because if I don’t have my people, I have nobody working. And if I’m beating them up, and they’re leaving, or if I’m not investing into them-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:36:18] Exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:18] … what if I train them, and they leave? What if I don’t train them — No. What if I train them, and they leave? And you go, “Well, if you don’t train them, what happens if they stay?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:36:30] They stay.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:30] Yeah. And it’s — I think it boils down to the way we trust people.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:36:33] Yeah. It’s kind of a fearlessness because, you know, a lot of these things aren’t new.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:39] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:36:39] It’s just, do you have the guts to do it, or are you managing from a position of faith and intuition by trusting yourself because that’s the person you have to trust first and say, “Because evidence that this works, it’s everywhere, it’s abundant, but do you have the guts to do it?” because that’s — I really think it takes guts because it doesn’t take any guts to leave from fear. And I think there’s a lot of fear-based leadership.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:04] Yes. And I will truly — Yes. But I’ve been part of some fear-based leadership, and I witnessed fear-based leadership, and nothing good comes from fear-based.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:11] It’s hard on people. It really is.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:14] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:14] And it’s even hard on those leaders because they have to live in that environment too. You know, it’s not easy.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:20] I call that ego leadership.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:22] Yeah, that’s a great way to put it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:24] Yeah. And that doesn’t work, especially in today’s workforce. It’s got to be more of a collaborative. It’s got to be more of an empowering and embracing. You’ll get bigger rewards, not as much of an investment as you do with ego leadership, and people leaving, and having to continually reinvest.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:43] Well, the baby boomers are leaving the workforce, and I think this is through — I mean, this is going to go on for several more years at a rate of 10,000 a day.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:53] Yeah, there you go.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:53] They are rolling out the door.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:55] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:37:56] Now, some are saying they can’t afford to retire for various reasons. Some are staying longer, but, you know, the millennials are going to take the helm, and then, you know, the generation behind them, and that’s a whole new ballgame. There is a lot of change between Gen X, and the millennials, and then now, the Gen Z. There was a big, big change, not the typical kind of, “We’re learning and changing at the same pace.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:21] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:38:21] There is a big jump. And I think we’re going to start seeing, once the boomers are gone, I think, more and more, it’s going to it’s going to show up. Like what is the real impact of this?

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:33] Hey, easy on the boomers being gone now. I warned of them. Even though as some people described I’m a cusper, you know-

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:38:39] Don’t go anywhere. Don’t go anywhere.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:40] I had, you know — Because I’m a baby boomer, but my time, I had a bottle in my mouth, not a marijuana cigarette. Who takes marijuana cigarettes?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:38:50] Yeah, that’s what you say now.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:52] Yeah, yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:38:52] That’s what you say now.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:52] Yeah, but — So, imparting words.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:38:56] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:57] What would you tell my audience to begin to do today?

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:39:01] Give humanity a seat at the table. Don’t see something that you know is stupid — And that’s the war with, “This is stupid. Why are they making us do this?” You know, think about the numbers that you’ve heard today. And I’ll give you just one or two more to close with. 23% of the workforce, this is a recent Gallup poll, says they feel burned out all or most of the time. Doctors’ offices are overwhelmed with people coming in with these non-specific ailments. That’s stress.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:31] Yeah.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:39:31] HR professionals, as many as 50% think a large amount of the attrition and turnover is from people who are burned out. And we see this. This isn’t a secret. This is just something we’re not talking about.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:43] Right.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:39:44] Give humanity a seat at the table. And don’t just ask, “Will it work? Is it profitable? Is it right?” but “Is it humane?” It’s really simple. Just bring some humanity into the boardroom, into the conference room, into your meeting, and into how you manage your people, and how you interact with your people.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:02] Man, what a way to end. Give humanity a seat at the table. And that will be the title for this podcast episode.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:40:09] Okay, I love it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:10] And I love that our paths crosses. It’s been way too long.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:40:15] It has been.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:15] We did a couple interviews via Zoom, but it’s great seeing you. You did a wonderful job today. I wish you all the best. I look forward to our paths crossing again soon.

Courtney Kirschbaum: [00:40:23] I do too. Thank you, Peter. I love collaborating with you.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:28] I want to thank Courtney, once again, for taking her time with me in Atlanta to sit down and share her keynote with this audience.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:36] In Episode 13, my guests are Kristen Rampe, Founder of Slide Deck Improv, Jason Lieu who is one of her improv instructors, and one of her other improv instructors who will remain secret for now. But, by the way, all three of them are also CPAs. Thank you for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset, and getting out of your comfort zone, and developing new skill set to become more future-ready.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:08] Your call to action is to read the article that I discussed earlier and apply those principles when you’re in any type of negotiation. Remember, a part of being future-ready is being an improviser. Being an improviser is someone who is willing to take risks in order to grow.

 

Resources:

S2E11 – Kate Colbert | Think Like a Marketer

My guest today is Kate Colbert, the Founder & President of Silver Tree Communications and Silver Tree Publishing and the author of the newly released book Think Like a Marketer: How a Shift in Mindset Can Change Everything for Your Business. Kate provides great marketing advice for people in any kind of business, and she tailored this conversation for the financial professional.

 

Now, this isn’t about converting accounting and finance professionals into marketers – It’s about helping people like accountants make better decisions about their accounting practice by thinking like a marketer.

 

In Think Like a Marketer, Kate discusses the five principles that will help you make this mindset shift and change everything for your business:

 

  1. Communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales. (For a little bonus reading on this subject, check out this article in the Journal of Accountancy: “Networking Tips for Quiet People: A Little Preparation Can Take the Fear Out of Networking”)
  2. You live and die by your customers’ insights. You may think accounting professionals are a group of subject matter experts who are all about the data and numbers, right? But thinking like a marketer requires looking at numbers that most professionals just aren’t. For example, when is the last time you did a client satisfaction survey?
  3. Market yourself in a way that’s strategy religious and tactic agnostic. This is not about where you go to church – If that you have a marketing strategy that you’re confident in, you need to be sticking religiously to that strategy. But in terms of the tactics you apply and the activities you do in marketing, you need to be really open-minded and agnostic.
  4. Create cultures and processes that align with your brand. What are you willing to do differently in your day-to-day processes, up to and including the way the building is laid out, in order to really deliver on the story that you’re telling to the marketplace about what makes you a better accounting firm than the accounting firm down the street?
  5. Do everything in service of maintaining a virtuous cycle of creating value for the customer while capturing value for you.

 

I am confident if you execute to these five principles, you’ll begin to see signs that your marketing is resonating with your audience and having an impact.

 

“It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey. Whether we’re talking about a book that you just wrote, or if we’re talking about a business that you founded, or a business that you work in, the perfect time to start thinking like a marketer is now.”

 

Download this Episode MP3.

 

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Kate Colbert: [00:00:00] My book is not about turning accountants into marketers. It’s about helping people like accountants make better decisions about their accounting practice by thinking like a marketer.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:19] Welcome to Change Your Mindset Podcast, formerly known as Improv is No Joke, where it’s all about believing that strong communication skills are the best way in delivering your technical accounting knowledge and growing your business. An effective way of building stronger communication skills is by embracing the principles of applied improvisation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:39] Your host is Peter Margaritis, CPA, a.k.a. The Accidental Accountant. And he will interview financial professionals and business leaders to find their secret in building stronger relationships with their clients, customers, associates, and peers, all the while growing their businesses. So, let’s start to show.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:04] Welcome to Episode 11. And my guest today is Kate Colbert, who’s the author of the newly released book, Think Like a Marketer: How a Shift in Mindset Can Change Everything for Your Business. She’s an author and owner of Silver Tree Publishing. And they were the ones who published my new book. Kate provides great marketing advice for anyone in business and has tailored our conversation to the financial professional.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:31] In Think Like a Marketer, Kate discusses the five principles to guide you to shift your mindset and change everything for your business. Those five principles are communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales. Live and die by your customers’ insights. Market in a way that’s strategy religious and tactic agnostic. Create cultures and processes that align with your brand. And do everything in service of maintaining a virtuous cycle of creating value for the customer while capturing value for you.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:09] Now, Kate will discuss in greater detail each of these five principles. And I am confident if you execute to these five principles, you’ll begin to see signs that your marketing is resonating with your audience and having an impact.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:24] There was an article in The Journal of Accountancy entitled Networking Tips for Quiet People: A Little Preparation Can Take the Fear Out of Networking. After reading this article, it ties nicely with Kate’s first principle: Communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales. First, networking is a necessity in the business world. If you don’t like networking, I blame your mother. That’s right. I blame your mother because your mother always told you never talk to strangers.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:59] In the business environment, think of networking as the pursuit of opportunities to grow your career, your business, and your influence. And it’s not talking to strangers. Nobody in that room is a stranger. A stranger is sitting somewhere with a ball of Mogen David and trying to talk to a telephone pole. Those are strangers. In a business environment, there’s no such thing as a stranger.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:25] The article gives seven approaches to help you become a better and stronger networker. And they are, number one, practice, self-explanatory. Attend more than one networking event. Work on this constantly in your free time. The only way that you can get better is by practice. And also, number two, realize that others are nervous about it as well as you are. So, everybody has a little bit of nerve when they meet new people. That’s fine. And then, probably, say follow the fear. Lean into those nerves.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:00] And always have go-to questions. When I network, one thing I like to do is ask the person to tell me about them and their business. And I listen to what they say because I’ve never met one entrepreneur that won’t stop and tell you everything they know about their business before talking about you or asking about yourself. Listen and ask questions. This also helps increase your confidence level. Always, always, always avoid sensitive topics. I rarely talk about, if ever, talk about religion, politics, or anything along those lines.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:31] Another tip is arrive early because, at times, when you walk in, and the event has already started, there’s a lot of people already networking, and it can be intimidating. If you’re early, you get a jump on everybody. You can start networking and start with that practicing a lot earlier than showing up later.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:50] Know when to end it. And stopping is always a tough thing. We’re there to meet as many people as we can, and have some small conversation, and move to the next. And you can politely say, “I appreciate meeting you. Thank you very much. We’ll exchange some business cards. And I need to run to the restroom real quick,” or “I need to go freshen my drink,” or “I need to go shampoo my hair,” whatever but don’t spend all night with one individual. Networking requires us to spend a short amount of time with as many people as possible.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:22] And follow up, I think, is the key. Usually, at an event, I will gather a fair amount of business cards, and I’ll go through that evening on which individuals I want to follow up with that we have some synergies I can tell from the conversation to explore it even more.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:39] The article is dated on June 11, 2018. And my guest on a former podcast episode, Kristen Rampe is quoted in this article. Now, I know Kristen, and we met through someone who thought we would be a good connection for each other. Well, you know what, they were right because Kristen has launched Slide Deck Improv, and I’ve joined her to be one of her facilitators. This is the true product of networking. Remember networking is all about relationships, so is your marketing. It’s all about relationships.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:14] So, before we get to the interview, let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you want to present financial information with confidence and clarity? Do you want to turn boring numbers into a compelling story that describes your business better? If so, read my new book, Taking the Number Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, and let it be the guide in your transformation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:38] When you take the numb out of numbers, it leaves you with -ers, ERS, which stands for effective relatable stories. Isn’t that the goal of every financial presentation? Hayden Williams, who’s a CFO at the Washington Society of CPAs, is quoted saying, “This book is a must read for any financial professional.” The book is available now on Amazon, and Paperback, and on Kindle. So, stop what you’re doing and buy it today. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Kate Colbert.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:17] Kate, I have been so looking forward to this conversation with you. First and foremost, I know your schedule. I know how busy you are. I know — I don’t think you sleep at all because during the time we were working on my book, I think you were up 24/7. So, thank you so very much for finding some time to let me talk to you and interview you about your upcoming book.

Kate Colbert: [00:07:40] Thank you. Oh no, there’s always more time in the day. I’ve found that it’s really just a matter of perspective.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:46] I’ve always heard that too, but, apparently, I don’t have that group of perspectives sometimes. I need to find more time in my day. Kate, can you give everybody just kind of a little bit of background, so they get to know you just a little bit?

Kate Colbert: [00:07:59] Sure. So, I am a writer by trade. Sort of a brand storyteller is how I am known to clients and in the industry. I’ve spent the bulk of my career working as a marketer for companies of various sizes. They do all business-to-business type of work. I started out as an English professor, which is kind of interesting. So-

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:19] Great.

Kate Colbert: [00:08:19] Yeah. So, I have a background in the literary world. I have a graduate degree in Comparative Literature. So, I have a library in my house. That doesn’t surprise people who know me really well. So, books are sort of my life. And I was one of those few people, I think, who decided to go the writer’s path, who really understood pretty early on that there’s a really good way to make money as a writer, and it’s not about short stories or poetry necessarily, but it’s about telling stories for companies. It’s about connecting brands, and services, and products to customers that are waiting to make use of them.

Kate Colbert: [00:08:56] So, that’s really how I’ve made my career. I own two companies. The parent company, which I started about 16 years ago, is called Silver Tree Communications, and we’re a full-service marketing company. We do a lot of storytelling and writing for various industries, primarily higher education and healthcare but also professional services. We have a fair number of clients in the financial services industry. And I also own a company called Silver Tree Publishing, which is home to several book imprints, but we’re most known in the non-business or sort of the nonfiction book business space.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:32] And once again, I don’t know how you do it. That’s a lot. And by the way, you’re really good at what you do. I heard that a lot when we were at NSA, National Speakers Association Annual Convention. I saw those who you have published, they were all raving about you and about the quality. I am still raving about the quality of books. When I got mine, literally, I was speechless. My wife had hit me in the back of the head to get loose. It was one of those big wows. And a big public thank you for that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:09] But we’re not here to talk about mine. We’re here to talk about yours. And I find that I kind of wish I waited a little bit of time, and then had you publish your book first, so I could read it while my other one was getting done because I am a CPA who’s not a very good one, but I love want communication. I have a passion for the profession.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:31] True story, the first book, when they had 200 copies delivered to my house, people asked me, “Weren’t you so excited?” I went, “No.” They go, “Why?” And so, I looked down, and I went, “Now, what the heck do I do?” And, literally, I had absolutely no clue. So, I’m interested, just as much as my audience is, help us think like a marketer.

Kate Colbert: [00:10:55] Yeah. And the exciting thing is that it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey, whether we’re talking about a book that you just wrote, or if we’re talking about a business that you founded, or a business that you work in, the perfect time to start thinking like a marketer is now. It’s not about worrying about what you could have done if you’d known.

Kate Colbert: [00:11:12] So, you know, I will say to you about your book what I say to all authors, a book is not a piece of fresh fruit that is going to spoil. So, your book is still very, very new. But even if it was a year old or three years old, the lessons in your book are really pretty timeless. And it’s a brand-new book for the people who have not heard about it and not read it yet. And so, it’s never too late to be promoting it really well.

Kate Colbert: [00:11:35] And for those of you who are listening who own accounting practices, or work in accounting practices, or run financial services, it’s never too late to be thinking about, how do I understand my customer better? How do I connect to him or her more meaningfully? How do I get more insights from them? How do I tell my story differently? How do I compete differently? And how do I stop wasting my time on some things that I think are vital marketing activities that I should be doing, and maybe focus my attention on things that will net me a better return in terms of capturing value back to the bottom line?

Kate Colbert: [00:12:08] And that’s what my book is all about is helping business leaders and business owners just be sharper by shifting the way they think about a lot of the day-to-day decisions they’re making. And so, my book is not about turning accountants into marketers. It’s about helping people like accountants make better decisions about their accounting practice by thinking like a marketer. And it’s a pretty, I think, clean sort of formulaic way to teach them how to do that. So, I’m just really excited to bring this book to market.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:37] I think the principles that are in your book, those five pillars, I believe, they will apply to whether somebody is in public accounting, or somebody who works in a finance department for a major corporation, academics who teach in the field, and even governmental accountants because most — And when I ask audiences, “How many of you are marketing people?” guess how many hands go up? Zero, exactly. And I’m going, “But how did you get to-” In a lot of cases, they always come back to the R word, referrals. But now, we’re realizing or I’m realizing that that’s just not enough.

Kate Colbert: [00:13:19] Well, it is not. Not only is it not enough. It’s often the wrong referrals. And so, I think that’s the thing that folks forget about when they think about marketing. They say, “Well, but I’m so busy, right. Like I don’t have time to sleep.” You talked a lot about being busy, and a lot of people who run thriving practices are so busy, they think, “I don’t have to market.” And there’s actually some arrogance, I think, from a lot of business owners around, “I don’t have to market. I’m so busy. I have all these clients.” But are they the right clients, or should you be going upstream? Should you be getting different kinds of clients? But you’re too busy handling the ones that are coming in. And are you getting-

Kate Colbert: [00:13:52] So, a great example of that for me, and I think this will resonate with your listeners. So, I do a lot of communications. I also do crisis communications. So, when someone — And this has been an interesting endurance for this me-too era. So, when somebody gets ousted from a job, or they’re accused of something, or something goes horribly wrong at your company, right, and often by no fault of your own. Your business burns down, there’s a scandal, your CEO is involved in some sort of scandal, my company does a lot of work to help people figure out, how do we message around that? What do we say to the media? What do we put on our website?

Kate Colbert: [00:14:27] You know, I live in the sort of Chicago Milwaukee area, and there’s a large megachurch near us, and they just went through this massive scandal where their entire board was asked to step down. And, you know, I was not involved in helping them, but I did sort of post some things on social media about how they handled it, and the messaging, and they handled it really as well as they possibly could have so that, you know.

Kate Colbert: [00:14:49] But the point is that if you think, “Well, people know me, and they refer to me, and that’s all we need to do. I don’t need to market,” you really need to be asking yourself though, do they know the right things about you? So, for example, if my most happy clients were — Let’s say my happiest clients are the people whose reputations I’ve saved because I’ve handled their media crisis and the people whose books I’ve published because they’re pretty happy, right? Interestingly, those are the two smallest areas of my business, and they’re among the lowest margin areas of my business.

Kate Colbert: [00:15:22] So, if I relied on referrals to keep my business growing, all I would do is handle people’s crisis, and they would be calling me at 3:00 a.m., “Oh my god, Kate. I just got a Google alert. My name just showed up in this horrible article. What do I do? My wife is crying,” and I would be getting tons and tons of book manuscripts, which we already do, and I would never ever catch up, and I would never get to work on the projects that are really what I’m super passionate about, which is brand storytelling and major market research projects.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:52] So, if you count on your clients to go tell your story for you to the marketplace, they might be telling the wrong story. They might be telling people that you’re a great tax accountant when what you really want to be is sort of the day-to-day strategic accounting advisor for business owners. If your clients are telling the wrong story for you, you will continue to get the wrong referrals.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:13] Wow, that was spot on because most accountants that I know or those in financials that they don’t want to be doing the front tax professional accounting. They want to be the strategy. The strategery, as Formal President Bush would say.

Kate Colbert: [00:16:29] Yeah, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:30] And the strategic thinking, being at the table with everybody else, but they spend a lot of time doing their one-on-one professional accounting, nuts and bolts. Well, I will say they should be more thankful about technology because technology is going to take that away. And, now, they’re being forced by the marketplace to be more of a future thinker, more of an adviser than somebody who sits in a cubicle or sits in office, and it’s a 10-key all day. And, again, I still think there’s a support group for you people who are still using this 10-key. So, let’s talk about the book. You’ve got these five pillars. So, what are the five pillars?

Kate Colbert: [00:17:12] Yes. So, thinking like a marketer, the concept is something I’ve developed over the years based on what I’ve seen work for my business, as well as for the many, many clients that I serve. And there’s sort of these five principles of thinking like a marketer. Principle number one is communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales. And I’ll give you some thoughts around that but let me sort of walk you through them.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:34] Yeah.

Kate Colbert: [00:17:34] Principle number two is live and die by your customer insights. So, you’ve got to be listening. What are they telling? Number three is really about what I call market in a way that is strategy religious and tactic agnostic. And no, this has nothing to do with like who you pray to, but it’s about being open to a different marketing tactics.

Kate Colbert: [00:17:53] Then, principle number four is about creating processes and cultures at your organization that align with the brand and the story that you’re telling to the marketplace. And the fifth principle is one that sort of touches everything that you should be doing in your company, but it’s about doing everything in service to what I think of as sort of a virtuous cycle of creating value for the customer, and then capturing it back for you, and how do you always make sure you’re creating enough value and capturing enough value because a lot of folks, they’re a little bit lopsided.

Kate Colbert: [00:18:21] So, let me give you examples of how-

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:25] Okay.

Kate Colbert: [00:18:25] … how the listeners of your podcast can apply these principles. So, principle one is really all about taking the time to communicate with the customers to connect with them, and to create meaning, not just to transact some sort of sales. I would say that in recent years, I’ve been very impressed by professionals in the financial services industries who are starting to communicate more for meaning.

Kate Colbert: [00:18:49] So, they’re starting to tell more stories, they’re starting to share more insights, things that are not just about, “Don’t forget to make your appointment, you know, to file your taxes.” So, they’re blogging. They’re doing a lot of the work that you’re doing in terms of podcasts. They’re writing books. They’re putting out some newsletters. Those things are great.

Kate Colbert: [00:19:05] What I would love to see accountants and financial professionals do more of is find better ways to create one-to-one communications with their clients, with their prospective clients that are not about selling them something, and it’s not about reporting. So, you know, if you ask the average American, how often do you hear from your accountant, or your financial planner, or what have you, and it’s not them trying to get you to do something, and it’s not your annual sort of performance meeting, and it’s not a reporting, right?

Kate Colbert: [00:19:36] So, I happen to love my accounting firm, but right before we got on this call today, I was scanning an invoice from them, right. They were sending the quarterly payroll filings, right. So, the payroll returns. And what does it look like if you can find ways to have conversations not just with the masses, not just the newsletter to your entire database, but what does it look like to bake it into the way you do business to be regularly communicating with your clients and your prospective clients about different things like, “Hey, Peter, I was just reading this interesting article,” or “There’s a change that’s been made for the tax code that reminded me about the structure of your business that I wanted to make sure that you’re kind of up to speed on this. Can we have a cup of coffee?” And what does that look like to be having those conversations when it’s not all about closing a deal or opening a door.

Kate Colbert: [00:20:29] The firms and the professionals who are finding ways to create meaning and connection in the way they communicate beyond just the stuff that’s on their to-do list are the ones that are creating really sustainable businesses for the long haul and, by the way, are capturing a lot more value to the bottom line because they can raise their prices because they’re more meaningful.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:50] You just described your advisory role, in my mind, in listening to that. And the other thing before we move on, the one thing I find out with most people who are not like you, who are not writers, they don’t think they’re professional writers. But I ask them, “You write at work?” “Yes, we do.” “Do you get paid? Yes, you do. You’re a professional writer.”

Kate Colbert: [00:21:12] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:13] But it’s not until Cathy Fyock, and you know Cathy. When she spoke at our NSA chapter, she wrote the book, Blog2Book. She’s a business book coach. When she started her seminar, she goes, “I hate to write that,” and she wrote a book in, what was it, seven weeks or something like that.

Kate Colbert: [00:21:33] Yeah, yeah. Several of her books, I think, she’s written in less than three weeks. Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:37] And that caught my attention because I don’t like to write, but if she could do it. And I’ve been trying to pass that message on to this audience is writing is messy.

Kate Colbert: [00:21:49] It is. And it’s an imperative. So, if you choose to have a job where you have customers, even if they’re internal customers, right, you work in a large corporation where you work an accounting function, and you have all these internal departments that run their paperwork through you, you have customers. No matter what you do, you have customers. And if you do work where you have customers, you have to communicate. And whether it’s hallway conversations or bazillions of e-mails that are gobbling up the hours in your day, you have to be an effective communicator.

Kate Colbert: [00:22:21] And, interestingly, sort of around that, a lot of organizations are not getting the training they need. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people call me for. And that’s actually — So, I do a lot of communications training with really technical experts. So, not too long ago, I did some training at a major pharmaceutical company whose drugs you would know. And they called me up and said, “Hey, we’ve got all these people,” and sort of the folks who write applications to the FDA, and they said, “We need to figure out how to be more effective around that.”

Kate Colbert: [00:22:51] And so we spent a lot of time teaching them, not just how to get the grammar right, but we did that. I spent a lot of time with them helping them understand a formula for how to write more persuasively because they’re trying to get FDA approval for their drugs. And so, being more persuasive is vital in many, many roles, including very technical roles. So, those are the kinds of things that I think people are forgetting about is that you have an imperative to communicate, and you have an opportunity, and you have customers.

Kate Colbert: [00:23:21] If you have somebody who’s writing you a check on a regular basis, whether it’s for, you know, advisory services or for, you know, filing your payroll taxes, those people do want to hear from you and they do want to know you. And I would say 9 out of 10 business owners and professionals are coming up a little bit short in that area of communicating appropriately.

Kate Colbert: [00:23:42] And it’s not about communicating often. So, a lot of people will say, “Well, we put out a newsletter every month. They spend all this time.” First of all, I would be curious to know if people are actually reading the newsletter, you know. And most people aren’t. I don’t. Almost every professional I get a newsletter from, I don’t read it. It’s got to be the right headline to catch my attention. I rarely see that, you know.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:04] So, how do people do better? So, the good news is that, I think, professionals in the financial space can absolutely do better to be connecting more meaningfully. And it does tie back, of course. If you spend a lot of time communicating in a way that’s not salesy, it will make your cash register ring. You just have to understand sort of how there’s a line of sight to revenue. And that is not to say that I think you should be giving away everything for free. And we can talk about that today too if you want to talk a little bit about sampling that kind of stuff. Yeah, you got to start with an imperative to communicate beyond just the transaction.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:38] Cool. Thank you for addressing that. And I wholeheartedly believe that as well.

Kate Colbert: [00:24:43] So, principal number two, live and die by your customer insights. What’s interesting to me about financial professionals is that, you know, here’s a group of subject matter experts who are all about the data, right. They could care about the numbers, right? All about the numbers, right?

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:58] Yeah.

Kate Colbert: [00:24:58] Except I would argue that thinking like a marketer requires that you’d be looking at some other numbers that you’re not looking at. So, we have a fair number of clients in the financial planning space who have been running successful businesses. And when I sit down with them, and I say, “When is the last time you did a client satisfaction survey?” and they usually say, “We’ve never done one.” And they say, “Well, our clients are really happy. Like, we have no turnover. They stick around.” “Okay. Well, what are they happy about?” They’re not sure. They think they know.

Kate Colbert: [00:25:28] So, your customer insights really are about reaching out and finding out. So, here’s a couple of things that we’ve found out for clients in the financial spaces when we’ve done market research with their clients. And, one, I should start with a caveat, I understand that the listeners to your podcast work in regulated industries, right. And it’s very, very easy for people who work in regulated industries to say, “I can’t do this kind of stuff because I can’t get people to respond to my online survey because I can’t do what your other clients do, Kate, and incentivize, and say someone’s going to win a $250 Amazon gift card.” I get that, right. I understand that. But, interestingly, we do get statistically relevant data back. And if you’re running a pretty solid company, as it is, people love you, they will respond to your survey. It’s just about how we ask them to do so.

Kate Colbert: [00:26:18] The things that we’re finding out for a financial services firms when we do the research and look for the insights are things that are game changing. So, we, often, will find out we had a client who really specialized in working with independent women. So, either single women, or women who were divorced, or women who own their own businesses. And that’s really the bread and butter in terms of her clientele. And she was about ready to put a stake in the ground to actually change her brand story, her tagline, everything, her website to really hone in on that, and almost put a hand up to new male clients.

Kate Colbert: [00:26:55] And we did the research. We found out some interesting things. Her most loyal and appreciative clients were male. Now, her female clients are very, very happy. But when we looked to the numbers, statistically speaking, the men are overwhelmingly appreciative of the work she does.

Kate Colbert: [00:27:10] Interestingly, as well, the educational offerings that she was offering, whether it was seminars on Medicare, and continuing care communities for people who are coming up on retirement, or if it’s events at the beginning of the year that’s a more social event that everyone’s getting together to do some vision board, so they can think about, “Do I want to take a trip to Alaska this year? And then, how do I save money for that,” she thought these types of events, especially the social events and the things that are really sort of more community-based, she thought were women, only women want it, that’s a women’s event. Significantly, if you’ll look at the numbers, men are actually clamoring more for that than the women are. And it was really interesting.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:48] What?

Kate Colbert: [00:27:48] Yeah, we were surprised. So, I was surprised too. I usually, like, place some bets on what I think we’ll find out in the research, and I was dead wrong on that one. And the numbers were just unequivocal. But it was interesting for us to find out that in the financial space, and we’ve seen this for other clients as well, the emotions, and the aspirations, and the ego, and all of the things that are tied to money for individual consumers and clients, women are sometimes more likely to be forthcoming about that as a client in the meetings.

Kate Colbert: [00:28:20] But men, sometimes, have a pent-up need to express that and to talk about what they care about for their family, what their goals are, whether they want to be able to, you know, help their in-laws you know when things get tough or when they get older. All those things that they may not be expressing, oh my gosh, if you go do the research, you can find out. Especially if you do anonymous research, men will tell you some interesting things. And if they tell it to you in those, it can help trigger some major changes to the kinds of service offerings that you’re making, the way you communicate about them, the way you price them, everything in that regard.

Kate Colbert: [00:28:58] So, again, I think, that it’s vital that you get beyond just the data in terms of, you know, how is someone’s portfolio doing or whatever numbers you’re looking at every day to figure out what do the insights from the customers say about how happy they are. What’s your net promoter score? So, how likely are they to recommend you? So, back to this whole idea of everyone says, “Well, I live and die by my referrals.” That’s great. Is your net promoter score higher this year than it was last year? Because if you know how it’s trending, you’ll know whether or not your company is going to grow next year or is going to fall off. You can be prepared for that.

Kate Colbert: [00:29:33] So, there is research you can do that will give you leading indicators for the health of your company if you would only sort of think like a marketer to go get that information. And it’s pretty easy, you know. So, I suggest this, wherever you work, whatever you do, start out a sentence, and put an ellipsis in the middle, you know. We would have more money than we would know to do with, or we would be so successful, or we would be able to retire early or sell this company, or whatever your goal is. “We would be able to do X, Y, and Z if only we knew … about our clients.” What’s your ellipsis? “So, if only we knew …”

Kate Colbert: [00:30:08] It is my experience as a market researcher that 95% of the things that people are struggling and guessing at when they’re marketing and guessing at like, “Well, I think, our clients are happy about this,” or “I think, our clients are willing to spend this much,” or what have you, 95% of what people are putting in the ellipsis, “if I only knew …”, are things we can actually find out. And all we have to do is go ask.

Kate Colbert: [00:30:31] So, I encourage folks in professional services space to be doing that exercise. And if you have colleagues and staff, sit around a table and do that exercise. Get out a flip chart and make some wish lists. Here’s what we think we know about our clients. Here’s what we wish we knew about our clients. Here’s what we’re concerned about in terms of whether we’re really hitting the mark with our clients and figure out how do you go fill in those gaps. Almost all of those gaps can be answered and filled by doing the right research. Once you have those customer insights, you know what pivots to make in your company to be able to grow.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:06] Thank you for that advice. I’m actually going to take you up on that one.

Kate Colbert: [00:31:10] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:10] I’m holding my feet to the fire because I never thought about that. Again, that’s good stuff.

Kate Colbert: [00:31:16] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:17] That’s great advice. Thank you so very much for sharing that.

Kate Colbert: [00:31:20] So, let’s talk about-

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:22] You’re on roll.

Kate Colbert: [00:31:22] Yeah, I want to roll. I’m giving you the book for free, which, by the way, there’s a whole section of my book called Give It Away. It’s about sampling strategies. So, I’m giving away a lot. My book gives away a lot. But I trust if you think it’s useful, you’ll call me, right.

Kate Colbert: [00:31:36] So, principle number three is really around this idea of what I talked about market in a way that’s strategy religious and tactic agnostic. And no, this is not about where you go to church. This is about, “If your strategy from a marketing standpoint is …” So, let’s say, for example, you say, “I want to focus my marketing strategy this year or for the next several years is going to be on doing a lot of one-to-one time-consuming, but high value, high-touch marketing and communication with the people who spend more than 30% of the average client spend with us.” Okay. So, if the average client is spending, whatever, $10,000 with you, the people who are, you know, well above that, those are the people.

Kate Colbert: [00:32:16] If your strategy says, “We’re going to have cocktail parties for them. We’re going to do a lot of stuff for those people,” the people who sort of just fit into that average and below average, we’ll communicate with them regularly, but they’re going to get the mass market stuff. They’re going to get the newsletters. They’re going to log into the podcast. They’re going to get the basics, but not the stuff that’s really time-consuming for you as a leader or business owner. If that is your strategy, you need to be religious to that strategy if you believe that that is the right way to go.

Kate Colbert: [00:32:42] But in terms of the tactics you apply and the stuff, the activities you do in marketing, you need to be really open minded and very agnostic about it. So, the right way to communicate might be things that scare you, right. So, it might be producing the right video series and workshop series when you don’t like the way you look on camera and don’t like listening to your own voice, but that may be the right tactic because it’s the strategy. It might be about doing more direct mail. It might be about hosting more events. You might need a television commercial or whatever.

Kate Colbert: [00:33:14] Take a look at the tactics. And it’s not, by the way, always about the tactic of the moment. So, clients say to me all the time, and not so much now as they did like five or eight years ago, “Kate, we need an app.” And I would say, “Okay. Okay, great.” “So, what will the app do? Like, what are the functions of the app?” “I don’t know.” “What problems are your customers or clients having that you would like to solve with the app?” “I don’t know.” “Do you have any evidence that people would download an app sponsored by your company or brand?” “No, I don’t know, but everyone has one, and my competitor has one.” Okay.

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:47] Oh yeah.

Kate Colbert: [00:33:47] Right? Okay.

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:48] Yeah.

Kate Colbert: [00:33:48] So, this is people who are being religious to a tactic saying, “Oh my god, everybody has an app. So, we have to have one.” If your strategy is all about creating convenience and sort of the pocket, right. So, it made sense that Amazon has an app, right, because it could be ubiquitous that people can shop anywhere, one click. They have one-clickified the world. That makes sense. No one has really one-clickified financial services. And, quite frankly, I don’t want my wealth management information available on my phone anyway. I just don’t. I don’t want, from a hacking standpoint or what have you, I don’t want that there.

Kate Colbert: [00:34:22] So, it’s really about thinking about sort of what are the tactics that are available to you, and choosing, and trying them out, and, also, again not being religious. So, if you try something out, and six months later or nine months later, you have some way on your website that you can figure out, you know, you’ve been blogging.

Kate Colbert: [00:34:42] Let’s say your blogging like a theme. That’s your new tactic this year. And you’re posting these blogs on LinkedIn Pulse and various other places. And that should be driving people back to your website to transact a lot of form, you know, schedule a consultation, et cetera. If the data in your Google Analytics shows that no one from who’s reading those blogs is turning into a client, you need to ask yourself, is it working, or should I put less energy into this tactic? And should I go ahead put that on the chopping block and look at something else? And so, it’s about being willing to try new things, and then walk away from new things.

Kate Colbert: [00:35:19] Also remember, too, that if you’re not communicating, again, it’s about connection, there are a lot of a lot of financial services firms that are doing one thing. You talked about advisory services. So, maybe I use my accountant to file my taxes, but maybe I don’t realize that she has these five other services that I could be using her for. If she’s not communicating that to me clearly, I don’t know. And she has to try different marketing tactics to get my attention. We just talked about we’re all getting too much email. So, it’s about understanding what’s your strategy, and then trying out some new tactics.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:53] And to that point, two things. If anybody is out there thinking that they want to start a podcast, I highly recommend you get a great reach. However, you have to give it two years and more-

Kate Colbert: [00:36:07] Yeah, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:07] … on a consistent basis because at one-year mark, I was frustrated. A year and a half mark, that’s branded.

Kate Colbert: [00:36:13] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:13] But then, I talked to other podcasters, I’ve talked to others who are doing it, and they said, “This is something that will eventually take off, but it just takes a lot. It has a longer timeline.”

Kate Colbert: [00:36:26] A longer lead time.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:27] Yeah, than maybe blogging.

Kate Colbert: [00:36:29] And that’s good advice. And it’s about — right. So, you were strategy religious, right. I’m sure a ton of thought went into, “Do I want to do what it takes to start this podcast and maintain it?” It’s a ton of work, right. But you have this interesting brand. I was actually — I was doing a Facebook live earlier today to my book launch team, and I was talking about the fact that I’d be having this conversation with you. And here’s how I described you. I said this, “He’s a really great guy. He’s known in the marketplace as the Accidental Accountant. He teaches people how to take the numb out of numbers.” I talked a little bit about your book, I talked about what you do, and I talked about your podcast, and about how it’s about changing your mindset.

Kate Colbert: [00:37:06] And in my mind, your podcast is a really important part of your story. It’s an important part of who you are even though it took a while to really gain that traction. So, you know, you stayed religious to it because you knew that it sped the strategy. And then, now, it’s really paying off for you, which is great.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:22] And I think I heard you create a new word. Did you create the word clickified?

Kate Colbert: [00:37:29] Oh, I don’t know. I’m not — You know, I may have stolen that from someone, but I’m not sure. But, yeah, always, I’m telling my clients about, you know, how do you make things easier for your clients and customers? And so, the goal is what Amazon has done. How do you one-clickify really? Like, you know, buy with one click, one-clickify, right. It’s a verb now. I’m pretty sure it’s not in the Oxford English Dictionary, but just give it time. I mean, selfie is in the Oxford English Dictionary. So, give it time, but it really is about-

Kate Colbert: [00:37:57] But that comes back to this principle five, creating value and capturing value. Anything you can do to make things easier for your clients, your customers is about creating value. It might be hard work for you upfront. It’s not easy to start a podcast, for example, or it’s not easy to set up all the technologies of that with one click.

Kate Colbert: [00:38:17] So, from my financial services, for example, I have one click, and I can see sort of a whole wealth management view. I can see all of our investments, and our bank accounts, and all in sort of one place. And that has sort of one-clickified my net worth management. I have no idea what that costs the firm we work with, and I honestly don’t care. It set the bar, right. So, if I were to ever have to switch financial planners, that’s the bar I would be looking for. I’d be like, “Well, I want to be able to log in and see it all at once.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:45] So, I know what I’m getting you for Christmas this year, a t-shirt that says clickified.

Kate Colbert: [00:38:51] Yeah, it’s a clicker. Yeah. I know I’m all about — We got to get — I have an easy button on my desk. You press it and it says-

Male: [00:38:55] That was easy.

Kate Colbert: [00:38:55] Yeah. So, we need to want to one-clickify, you know. And then, you know, the other piece that I would say that’s interesting for your listeners is, you know, so principle number four of thinking like a marketer is really about creating processes and cultures that align to the brand.

Kate Colbert: [00:39:14] So, for example, if you are an accounting firm that prides yourself on no surprise invoices, that you never have a client who says, “What is this?” right, then, you’ve got to be thinking about how do you create processes and cultures where you’re continually adding value, but you’re not feeling short-changed.

Kate Colbert: [00:39:30] So, whether that has some sort of retainer in relationship or that your pricing is structured such a way that there is always a little bit of cushion, so that if people are calling and asking for extra advice, you don’t feel like you’re giving it away for free. So, how do you think about what your brand is, and then create cultures and processes that align to it?

Kate Colbert: [00:39:49] A good example outside of the financial space that I think everyone can relate to is Southwest Airlines, right. So, you and I were recently at NSA, and we heard Gary Kelly, who is the CEO and Chairman of Southwest, talk about sort of their brand. And I love the way he describes this brand. He says that, “We’re all about good old-fashioned stability.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:11] Yes.

Kate Colbert: [00:40:11] Now, first of all, there’s no one who uses any phrasing like that at all in the industry, in the airline industry. So, what does it look like to have processes and cultures that are around delivering good old-fashioned civility? Well, they’re all about their planes being on time. And they do that because everybody who works on the plane, when we all get off, they’re picking up. They all clean. It doesn’t matter who you are. You know, it’s not just the cleaning crew. The flight attendants, everyone is picking up stuff, and getting things moving around because they’re trying to create a process that feeds the brand. It’s about nobody having so much arrogance to say, “It’s not my job to clean this plane.” They’re all about making things really easy, and comfortable, and not about nickel-and-diming the client.

Kate Colbert: [00:40:54] So, the customer doesn’t want to have to pay to check bags. So, they don’t check bags. Now, they have gotten a ton of pushback. You know, there have been a lot of articles written about it over the years, and I know that even people on the board at Southwest have said, “When are we going to start doing tiered pricing, so that people can pay for like first class seats? When are we going to start assigning seats? And when are we going to start charging for bags?”

Kate Colbert: [00:41:17] And folks like Gary Kelly keep saying, “We’re not going to. Like that is not on the table,” because he’s one of those people, he’s a business owner who understands, a business leader who understands that your processes and your culture have to align to the brand. And there’s a reason that they, you know, continue to be the leading airline in the industry, and that they’re, I think, the only airline that’s never had a layoff; and yet, their prices are lower than almost everyone’s, right. And so, they get it, right.

Kate Colbert: [00:41:44] They, also, are listening to the customers. They understand the bags flying free matter. So, I was in Florida not too long ago. I was headed out on a cruise. And this side of the parking structures was like, you know, four stories tall, this huge piece of concrete. And it was painted as a giant billboard with the Southwest logo, what have you. And it said something to the effect of, “You look fabulous in all of those outfits. Go ahead and pack them all. Bags fly free, right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:10] Nice.

Kate Colbert: [00:42:10] Right. And I burst out laughing. I’m like, “That’s totally me.” Like I’m the girl who takes eight suitcases on a cruise because I want to wear it all. I took 15 pair of shoes on my last cruise, and I did wear them all. I know, I know, I know, I know. I’m impossible, right. But this is about them having processes that align with what the customers care about and that align with the brand.

Kate Colbert: [00:42:31] And so, you can do that. And if you’re on an accounting firm or a financial firm, you can be thinking about, what do we do, right. Like I know a financial firm that does a really cool thing that their building that they own literally has like a ballroom, like event space, in the middle. The largest part of their building is not offices for the executives. It’s this huge space with round tables, and a stage, and the whole because they’re constantly bringing in speakers and having events. And they’re all about creating value. They’re about communicating for connection and meaning with their clients because they want to create real relationships. So, they literally had an architectural sort of space planning planned that aligned to what makes them meaningfully different.

Kate Colbert: [00:43:16] And so, we need to be thinking about that as business leaders. What are we willing to do differently in our day-to-day processes, up to and including the way the building is laid out, in order to really deliver on the story that we’re telling to the marketplace about what makes you a better accounting firm than the accounting firm down the street?

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:36] So, let me ask you this question as you were talking about Southwest Airlines. And this may go into number five or maybe part of number four. So, that’s my question. I won’t give it away, but the way he ended his presentation, is that a number four or is that a number five?

Kate Colbert: [00:43:52] Yeah, no. And so — Okay. So, the way he ended his presentation, and I cannot stop talking about it, right. So, here is a man who stood up in front of about 1500 professional speakers of various levels of fame and talent. And he gets up there, and he’s kind of this really casual guy who didn’t have like a really fancy script. And he’s like, “I’m not one of you. I’m not a professional speaker.” He was very humble. And he gave this really amazing speech about what they do, and what makes them different, and why he believes in what they do. And he ended it by giving a gift to everyone in the audience.

Kate Colbert: [00:44:24] What I loved is that the moderators for the conference come up onto the stage, and they do this whole sort of like, you know, inner calm voice, you know, “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats for the safety of yourself and other passengers while the flight attendants come up aisle.” And all 1500 of us all turn around and start looking at it. And we’re like, “What do you mean the flight attendants coming up the aisle?” And here come all these flight attendants from Southwest Airlines, not just to hand out pretzels, but to give every single one of us in the audience a $100 gift card.

Kate Colbert: [00:44:52] I happen to have mine sitting right here on my desk, okay. And I just used it. So, I just hired some consultants to help do some brand work for me. And I have to go to Nashville in a couple of months. And so, I just used this $100, and I was thrilled, and I have tweeted about it, and I’ve talked about it on Facebook, and I took my picture with a flight attendant while I was there, right, and thanked her.

Kate Colbert: [00:45:17] So, this is about — And, now, think about this. On one hand, we’re like, “This is so generous,” right. It cost them $1500. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a television commercial. It’s cheaper than a direct mail campaign in an audience of their size. It’s a pretty affordable tactic, but it aligned to their strategy, right. It comes back to the whole strategy religious tactic agnostic as well, and that they thought, “Oh my gosh, 1500 people are going to be feeling this sort of sense of endearment for Gary Kelly who was just on the stage at their event feeling like one of them, right. And he’s going to give real money away.” And then, we’re going to ask them, “If you’re kind of excited about this, could you go throw a hashtag and talk about this on social media?” and a lot of us did.

Kate Colbert: [00:45:59] It created — Southwest Airlines created value, and excitement, and a memory, which is way more important than the $100 to each of us, but it also took some pressure off of us, all of us who had just that money to be at a conference and might have been bemoaning that. Those of us who own our own firms are like, “Crap, I’d have to pay for that,” right. And here is this free $100. He created value for 1500 people in the audience, and he captured value back.

Kate Colbert: [00:46:22] Do you know how many times — I’ve always been a fan, but you know how many times in the last month I have told that story and told people, “If you do not fly Southwest Airlines, you are insane,” right. Talk about referrals. And because I was finishing my book just as that happened, that story actually made it into my book. So, you know, if the book is a big bestseller, lots and lots of people are going to read that story as well. So, it absolutely is.

Kate Colbert: [00:46:48] So, principle five is about sort of maintaining this continuous sort of cycle of creating value and capturing value back. And creating value means, sometimes, you’re going to give stuff away for free. Maybe you’re going to invite people into your audience for a perspective — into your office for prospective clients, and you’re going to meet with them and their spouse, and you’re going to do like kind of a whole road mapping thing about their financial goals, and you’re going to give them — maybe you’re going to build a plan, and maybe you’re going to take some risks. So, you’re going to sample out. You’re going to let them sort of see your thinking. And if they love you, they’re going to sign up for thousands of dollars’ worth of financial planning, you know.

Kate Colbert: [00:47:22] So, it’s about can you create value for people, not just upfront when you’re trying to win them, but continuously, how do you keep creating value? But how do you capture it back? So, at the end of the day, we’re all in business to stay in business. So, it’s not about giving it all away or selling it for too cheap. It’s really about figuring out how do you make sure that you’re pricing yourself right.

Kate Colbert: [00:47:42] I would venture to say that a lot of people who own their own firms are giving away too much, or they’re just pricing their services too low. And that’s really, I think — And, again, we come back to this whole, are your current clients referring the wrong kind of clients to you? Like, could they be referring bigger clients, corporate clients, deeper pockets clients? What does that look like? So, you know, if you’re doing too many touch base mediums that you allow your clients to call you 27 times a year with no fees associated with additional mediums beyond two per year or what have you, you need to be thinking about that.

Kate Colbert: [00:48:15] And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. We all went into business to be able to do something sustainable. You cannot get back to the top of that cycle. You cannot create more value for your current clients, or your future clients, or internal customers, or whoever you serve if you’re not capturing money back to the bottom line. And, again, accountants get this more than anybody, right. You know, it has — It’s like, what is that balance sheet look like for you, you know, in terms of the value you’re creating, the value you’re capturing back. If you’re constantly working on that, your business is going to be around as long as you want it to be. And then, you can retire and go buy a yacht.

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:49] Exactly. And as you were sort of describing that, I’m going, “Well, one, I’ve got my selfless card, yeah.” And two, you said this, and I think that add-on, are they talking about you? Are they telling your story to somebody else? Are they telling that magical story as — You know, how is that sticking? I mean, you’re right. I’ve been talking. I’ve played selfless a lot these days, and I just ratcheted up after I have not. Then, I told my wife, she goes, “You got to be kidding me.”

Kate Colbert: [00:49:22] I know.

Peter Margaritis: [00:49:23] And I’ve been a fan of Southwest from day one. They do get it. There’s one other airline I won’t mention that gets it but that’s what really gets it.

Kate Colbert: [00:49:34] But it’s about delighting. And I think those of us who provide professional services, again, sometimes, we forget about the emotional component of our client. So, yes. You know, when I hired an accounting firm, was I hiring them to help manage the books for my two businesses, and to take a lot of that work off my to-do list, and help me figure out should I be, you know, 1099 or should be an employee, and what does that look like? There were a lot of things, tactical things that I was hiring them to do.

Kate Colbert: [00:50:01] But at the end of the day, I was hiring them to delight me. I was hiring them to take pressure off to make me feel confident, to make me trust them, to make me feel safe, to make me excited every year when we filed taxes about how much money is left over. So, Kate is getting new floors right now actually. So, I’m always spending money on exciting things. Usually, travel or home improvement. But what does that look like? Yeah.

Kate Colbert: [00:50:23] Yeah. So, I mean, I think that it really is. And you talk about the story. What story are people telling you about you? And I think that’s an important thing for folks to remember is that even if you are nailing the story that you’re telling about your own firm or your own company, and what makes you different, you need to be listening to find out what are people saying about you. What story do they tell about you? And is it the story you want them to tell about you? Is it the real story, right?

Kate Colbert: [00:50:47] Again, so, you know, I would be in a bad place if what everyone’s saying to the marketplace is, “Oh, she’s the fixer, you know. If you get in trouble, you behave your way into something, you know, she’ll help you communicate your way out.” That’s not true. That’s just not true, right. Ethically, that’s just not who I am.

Kate Colbert: [00:51:04] And I like to sleep every now and then. And so, client communication is exhausting. Like I have had cameras shoved in my face, and, you know, “Kate, I heard your employer, you know, just did this thing, and 30 cancer patients are all going to die, and it’s your fault. What do you have to say about that?”, right. So, that’s the kind of work that if I wasn’t listening to see what people were telling about me, and then correcting them.

Kate Colbert: [00:51:26] I had a client, for example, who used to introduce me. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, very famous man, very wealthy man. He used to tell everyone that I was his PR person. And public relations is a tiny bit of what I do. And a lot of people don’t know the difference between public relations and marketing. And I thought, I need to sit down with him.

Kate Colbert: [00:51:44] And so, I had dinner with him, and explained to him the difference between public relations and marketing, and why I need him to tell a different story about my company because he was telling the wrong story, he was driving the wrong clients to us, and he’s a goodhearted man. He thought he was helping me, and he was actually sending us the wrong clients.

Kate Colbert: [00:52:00] And so, be listening. Again, this comes back to, you know, live and die by your customer insights. What are they saying about you? If you don’t know because you can’t monitor what they’re saying on social media because they’re not being public about what they’re saying, go ask them. Do a survey, have a focus group, put a bunch of them in a room, feed them some pizza, give them some money. In a regulated industry, you can’t give them some money but find out, you know. Find out what people are saying about you and make sure that story aligns with where your business is today and where it’s headed tomorrow. And if it’s not, figure out how to fix that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:52:30] Kate, you had given my audience a Southwest gift card, and they don’t even realize it. God, how can people find you? How can people find you and your book? Your book is out there now. It’s live just a little maybe under a month or something like that.

Kate Colbert: [00:52:45] Yeah, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:52:45] So, how can they get the book?

Kate Colbert: [00:52:47] Right. So, you can learn about the book if you want to know a little bit more about me or the book at ThinkLikeAMarketerTheBook.com, or you can go ahead and just go over to Amazon. One-clickify it. If you have a-

Peter Margaritis: [00:53:00] [Laughs].

Kate Colbert: [00:53:00] If you have a prime membership, which who in America doesn’t, the book ships free with prime. So, buy a book. Have it about four days later. If you love it, please write a review and let me know. There is a community on Facebook. So, there is a group, a public group on Facebook, Think Like a Marketer group. If you read the book, and you start applying some of these insights, or even just based on a conversation today, if you get some ideas, and you try to go try something new at your company based on these insights, I would love to hear how it goes.

Kate Colbert: [00:53:30] Go to that group. Please join the group. Tell us how it’s going. It’s a great place to meet other business professionals in various professions and functional areas. Bounce some ideas off of each other. Get some free consulting out of each other. So, please do that. And, obviously, you’re welcome to reach out to me directly. All my contact information is on the book site. It’s also available at SilverTreeCommunications.com.

Peter Margaritis: [00:53:50] Kate, I’m actually going to post something on the Think Like a Marketer Facebook group today before the end of the day talking about this. I will post the podcast there. You did great work. I can’t wait to get the book and read it. I can’t begin to thank you so much, one, for taking the time. And so, secondly, the amount of time you put in to ensure that my book came out looking like a diamond. Most I’ve been told, I’m a diamond in the rough. You made it look like a diamond. So, thank you very much. I appreciate you. I’ve got some more work for you coming up here real soon.

Kate Colbert: [00:54:28] There you go. Right back at that lens. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you for letting me come on, and thank you for letting me talk about the book, and thank you for letting me give a little bit of love to the folks out there who might need to think like a marketer and didn’t even know it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:54:40] Thanks, Kate.

Kate Colbert: [00:54:41] Take care.

Peter Margaritis: [00:54:43] I want to thank Kate for taking her time to help us change our mindset and become a better marketer, so we can grow our business. I’d like to personally thank Kate for putting out one heck of a product in publishing my book. I’m still so overwhelmed by it, and the feedback that I’ve received has just been fantastic. Thank you very much, Kate.

Peter Margaritis: [00:55:03] In Episode 11, my guest is Courtney Kirschbaum, who’s been on my podcast before. She was the opening keynote speaker at the Georgia Society of CPAs Southeastern Accounting Show. And we talked about her presentation titled The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning. Tune in. It’s a fascinating conversation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:55:24] Thank you for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset, and getting out of your comfort zone, and develop new skill sets to become more future ready. Your call to action is to begin to apply the five principles outlined in Kate’s interview and start measuring the results. Also, get out there and become a better networker. Remember, a part of being future-ready is being an improviser. Being an improviser is someone who is willing to take risks in order to grow. Thank you for listening.

 

Resources:

S2E10 – Rebekah Brown | The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Why the MACPA & BLI Want to Train Every CPA to be Anticipatory & Future-Proof

Rebekah Brown is the Director of Development for the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute. Rebekah frequently presents to groups both locally and nationally on the future of the accounting profession and, as a certified Insight to Action facilitator, she has guided firms, nonprofits, and accounting professionals in the United States and Canada in their strategic planning process.

 

On top of all the work that Rebekah does, she’s just downright passionate about the profession, taking a “rising tide raises all ships” philosophy to everything she does to train and educate her fellow and future accountants.

 

Rebekah focuses on what she calls the three P’s:

 

  1. People – “I develop people! I am passionate … about helping people find their strengths and find their place in the accounting profession. So, on an individual basis, with each of our members, I want to help develop them and develop their careers.”
  2. Pipeline – MACPA is over  100 years old, and in that time they’ve learned that we have to be constantly thinking about and developing future CPAs. So a lot of Rebekah’s work involves talking to college students, high school students, and even elementary school students about the accounting profession. “So, I’m always thinking about who is our next generation CPA, who’s our next generation member, and preparing them for the profession.”
  3. Profession – The MACPA isn’t solely focused preparing accounting and finance professionals in Maryland. “We really believe that the rising tide raises all boats. So, we want the profession to grow to be successful, to be anticipatory, to be future-ready. And so, as we do that all over the world, we believe we are benefiting Maryland, and we believe that Maryland CPAs are even better positioned to be future-ready because of that.”

 

Speaking of the future of the profession, there was an article in Accounting Today titled “Melancon: It’s time to reimagine accounting” covering a presentation that Barry Melancon, the President and CEO of the AICPA, made this year at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference.

 

My favorite quote from this article is when Barry says, “We’ve changed significantly just in the past year, and we’re never going to see the pace of change that’s slower than what we’re seeing now. And, you know, we won’t be obsolete, particularly, if we embrace these changes.”

 

Just let that sink in. How does that affect you and your business, and how does that affect you as an accounting financial professional as we move forward?

 

I highly recommend reading the article and listening to Barry’s podcast interview with Bill Sheridan on Future-Proof, a podcast for accounting and financial pros.

 

After doing so myself, I have decided to invest my CPE time and dollars into learning more about blockchain and artificial intelligence. I’ve been somewhat reluctant to do this, but I want to have this better understanding of this technology.

 

Download this Episode MP3.

 

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

 

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 10. And my guest today is Rebekah Brown. And she is the Director of Development for the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:10] In her role, Rebekah frequently presents to groups both locally and nationally on the future of the accounting profession. Rebekah is a certified Insight to Action facilitator, having guided firms, nonprofits, and accounting professionals in the United States and Canada in their strategic planning process. In 2017, Rebekah was named one of the 20 Under 40 Superstars Who are Helping to Advance the Accounting Profession by CPA Practice Advisor.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:40] Rebekah earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a dual specialization in Accounting and Sports Management from the Fisher School of Business at The Ohio State University. She’s a CPA and did work has an auditor in public accounting.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:56] Now, in her current role, she uses her talents and experiences to work for the profession rather than inside the profession. She has a lot of interesting insights into the future of the profession, and I know you’re going to really enjoy this conversation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:11] Speaking of the future of the profession, there was an article in Accounting Today titled Melancon: It’s Time to Reimagine Accounting that discusses the future of our profession. Barry Melancon is the President and CEO of the AICPA. This article is based on a presentation he made this year at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:32] He’s quoted in saying, “The opportunities for the profession are immense, but so are the changes we are facing. If we are willing to go beyond, to push on beyond the perceptions of what we do, we can create a profession that is aligned with where the world is headed.”.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:50] Now, my favorite quote from this article is when Barry said, “We’ve changed significantly just in the past year, and we’re never going to see the pace of change that’s slower than what we’re seeing now. And, you know, we won’t be obsolete, particularly, if we embrace these changes.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:13] Let that sink in. “We’ve changed significantly just in the past year, and we’re never going to see the pace of change that’s slower than what we’re seeing now.” How does that affect you and your business? How does that affect you as an accounting financial professional as we move forward?

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:37] So, I highly recommend that you find this article and read it because Barry and the institute’s chair, Eric Hansen, provide us with their ideas on where we need to start, on how new takes on old roles, what things that we need to learn, and their big picture vision of the profession.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:58] Now, after reading this article and listening to Barry’s podcast interview with Bill Sheridan on Future-Proof, a podcast for accounting and financial pros, I have decided to invest my CPE time and dollars into learning more about block chain and artificial intelligence.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:16] Now, I’ve been somewhat reluctant. But, now, I want to have this better understanding of this technology. You can find the Future-Proof Podcast with Bill Sheridan on iTunes. I listen to it. He does a wonderful job. I highly recommend this podcast to all accounting and financial professionals.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:37] Before we get to the interview, let me ask you two questions. Do you want to present financial information with confidence and clarity? Do you want to turn boring numbers into a compelling story that describes your business better? Well, let my new book, Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, be the guide in your transformation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:04] See, when you take the numb out of numbers, that leaves you with ers, E-R-S, which stands for effective relatable stories. And isn’t that the goal in every financial presentation? Because when we tell stories, we engage our audience.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:25] Hayden Williams, who is a CFO at the Washington Society of CPAs is quoted in saying, “This book is a must-read for any financial professional.” The book is now available on Amazon. So, stop what you’re doing and buy it today. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Rebekah Brown.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:46] Hey, welcome back, everybody. Today, I’m with my very special guest who I’ve known now for about 5-6 years. I’m here with Rebekah Brown. And Rebekah, thank you for taking time out of your, I know, very hectic schedule because you work at the Maryland Association of CPAs. And I know for a fact to get you to sit down for an hour is probably a challenge because you’ve got so much going on there that keeps you running in every which direction. But thank you for taking time to be with me this morning.

Rebekah Brown: [00:05:15] Yeah. I’m very happy to be here, Peter. Actually, you probably have only known me for five and a half years, but I’ve known you longer.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:24] Uh-oh.

Rebekah Brown: [00:05:24] Uh-oh. So, because I went to Ohio State, I was the Ohio Society’s Student Ambassador at Ohio State. And I heard you present probably my junior year maybe of college. And so, when I came to MACPA, and I heard your name thrown out, I was like, “I remember that guy. I remember the Improv thing and everything.” Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:48] Oh wow.

Rebekah Brown: [00:05:50] I know, right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:50] You’re just, now, telling me this, which is-

Rebekah Brown: [00:05:53] I know. I can’t believe I hadn’t told you that before. Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:56] Holy cow. Wow. So, I presented at a student event?

Rebekah Brown: [00:06:01] It was a high school accounting workshop thing exposing the high school students to the accounting career. And so, I went and was on a panel of like what it’s like to be an accounting college student. And you were there. I think, either it was that or I also met you there and at the, like, orientation for Ohio Society Student Ambassadors. We did like a little training.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:26] Yeah.

Rebekah Brown: [00:06:27] And I think you talked about like the Improv thing.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:29] Probably did. When they put me in front of students like that, they’d always want me to do talk about the Improv stuff, and because that’s-

Rebekah Brown: [00:06:36] Yeah, it’s a fun set.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:36] Yeah, it’s kind of fun versus, “Let me talk to you about what it’s like at a firm.” And you are a CPA.

Rebekah Brown: [00:06:43] I am a CPA.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:43] Card-carrying CPA. So, give the audience a little bit about your background after you graduate from The Ohio State University.

Rebekah Brown: [00:06:53] So, I actually have a dual major or degree from The Ohio State University, in the Fisher College of Business. So, I majored in Accounting and Sports Management. So, that’s how I got to my 150.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:05] Okay.

Rebekah Brown: [00:07:06] Yeah. So, that’s another fun fact.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:09] That’s another fun fact, wow.

Rebekah Brown: [00:07:09] Yes. So, I actually went into accounting to do sports management. I have a passion for football, always loved football, knew I would never play football. And so, decided to go into the business side. Always been pretty business-minded.

Rebekah Brown: [00:07:25] I went to Iowa State because they were one of the only schools I found that would let me do sports management as part of their business school and not as part of their, like, sports or leisure studies program. And they don’t have that as an actual major. I had to create it. So, I had to research Sports Management majors all over the country, take the best of the best courses, and, like, create the specialization within Fisher, presented, and getting approved, and all of that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:53] Wow, that’s cool.

Rebekah Brown: [00:07:54] Yeah. So, when I started, that was my purpose in going to Ohio State and Fisher. And then, when I had to do my undergrad, you know, the gen ed kind of stuff for the business school, accounting, obviously, was part of that. And I kind of fell in love with the logic of accounting and thought it would be a great pairing with the sports management to kinda go get my CPA, and work in a firm, get that experience, and then move into the sports management field.

Rebekah Brown: [00:08:24] So, that was always my plan, but plans change. So, yeah, when I talk to students, I tell my career path has been like Lombard Street in San Francisco. Like I had made some changes that don’t make any sense to me, but it gets me safely to where I am today, so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:39] But you started off in accounting. That was the focus. And it sounds like the sports management was the add-on, as you said, to get to the 150. What made you-

Rebekah Brown: [00:08:48] It actually was flipped. It was flipped. I started with the sports management. And then, I went into accounting. And then, my perceptions and my ideas on what I wanted to do kind of flipped. And so, then, the sports management was the extra hours, and the accounting was the focus, so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:02] So, what was it about — Why did you become an accountant? What was it about that that when you saw that, you went “Oh, I could do this”?

Rebekah Brown: [00:09:10] Yeah. So, it’s so cliché, but accounting is the language of business. It just was so obvious to me in those courses. It was logical. Now, I know once you get into the working world, in actual application, it’s not always logical. But in school, it was very logical. Everything had a place. I am very analytically-minded. So, that fit pretty well. And to be honest, I grew up around accounting. So, it was familiar to me. And I knew and respected the profession so much that it made a lot of sense for me to kind of go in that direction.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:47] So, when you graduated, who did you go to work for?

Rebekah Brown: [00:09:49] So, I graduated, and I went to work for a large top 100 regional firm in Maryland. Really amazing firm. I had interned with them between my junior and senior year at the end of my — I guess, the summer of my junior year, I got a full-time offer. So, I was able to go into my senior of school with a full-time job. So, that made that a very pleasant experience, and started working, you know, right when I got home.

Rebekah Brown: [00:10:14] Actually, you know what, I took like two months off, and my sister got married, and I started. I had to take one ethics course. So, Maryland requires a specific ethics course to sit for the exam. This was part of the — It was before the 12150. So, now, they can sit at 120. I couldn’t sit to 150. That’s how old I am. So, I had to take that ethics course over the summer. My sister got married. And then, I started at the beginning of August in public accounting and audit.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:49] In audit. And how many years were you in public accounting?

Rebekah Brown: [00:10:54] I was in public accounting a little over three years.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:00] Three years. And you said, “This might not be for me, or this might not — And I want to do something different.” And is that when you came over and joined MACPA?

Rebekah Brown: [00:11:12] So, yes. So, what I found was I went and got the CPA, I got promoted to senior. I probably had been a senior for about six months, or no. No, about maybe six or eight months, and got really stressed out. I had kind of taken on a special project to help train all the incoming staff and interns. I loved that, poured a lot of time and passion into that. And the client work kind of piled up because I was pouring so much love and passion into that, and then got kind of bogged down.

Rebekah Brown: [00:11:49] It was a summer. I did most of the employee benefit plan audits over the summer, got kind of drowning in that client work, and just wasn’t feeling great about what I did. I had a training session of all things, a CPE session for all the seniors, and what we did was this leadership style assessment. And my results came out that I was spirited and considerate. Those were my two defining words of my leadership style. And every single one of my colleagues came out as direct and systematic.

Rebekah Brown: [00:12:29] And so, it was kind of at that point that I realized I, like, fundamentally went about things differently than they do. And that wasn’t a bad thing, but it did kind of make sense now why I was so stressed out and struggling, and they weren’t. It wasn’t that I was given more work to do, or my hours, or anything like that. It was they strive in that kind of environment and did well because it fit their strengths, and what I was doing didn’t fit my strengths. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t fulfilling to me; and therefore, became stressful. And when you’re under stress, you start making stupid mistakes. And that’s kind of what had started to happen.

Peter Margaritis: [00:13:11] Can I get an amen from the crowd please. Because, like you said, yeah, I was different as well, and realized what you just described just took me back to when I was in public and when I was doing accounting work. Yeah, I’m not that by far. I’m kind of like spirited, and yeah.

Rebekah Brown: [00:13:32] I actually asked the instructor that was teaching it or whatever. I actually said out loud, “Oh my gosh. Should I have been a kindergarten teacher?” Like those are my results, and it came out, and I was like, “My sister is a kindergarten teacher. Maybe I shouldn’t have taught. I’m at the wrong way.” But it was it was a life changing moment that day.

Peter Margaritis: [00:13:52] But I will say this, and I think it’s why I love the profession and accounting, it seems like there’s so many ways that you can make a living in this business without having to do the accounting work, that it just opens a lot of opportunities. Like with some, you know, fields and some professions, if you don’t do, there’s nothing there for you, and you go find something completely different.

Rebekah Brown: [00:14:16] Exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:16] There’s a lot that can be done for folks like ourselves who are not that stereotypical, but we can add value to the profession. And that’s what you’re doing now at Maryland Association of CPAs. You are the director, director. Director, director. Director, right?

Rebekah Brown: [00:14:34] Director of Development, yes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:35] Director of Development. And you were explaining to me before we started the conversation that it’s out there. It’s a little confusing, but you want people to ask you. So, what is the Director of Development? What do you develop?

Rebekah Brown: [00:14:53] Sure. So, I think of it in three areas, three Ps, like the alliteration in letters in this profession, right?

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:01] Right.

Rebekah Brown: [00:15:02] So, the first is people. So, I develop people. I am passionate on the individual basis about helping people find their strengths and find their place in the accounting profession. So, on an individual basis, with each of our members, I want to help develop them and develop their careers.

Rebekah Brown: [00:15:21] The second P is pipeline. So, we are, gosh, over a hundred-years-old organization that supports CPAs. And so, part of that is that we have to be always constantly thinking about and developing future CPAs. So, a lot of my work deals with the pipeline, both college students and high school students. I’ve also done some, you know, elementary school presentations about the accounting profession. So, always thinking about who is our next generation CPA, who’s our next generation member, and preparing them for the profession.

Rebekah Brown: [00:15:54] And then, the third one is the profession, in general. So, whether that’s inside of Maryland, and speaking to our member firms and organizations about how they can be more anticipatory, or really find those success skills in their organizations that we teach through our Business Learning Institute, or through our Business Learning Institute, being able to go outside the State of Maryland as well, developing the profession as a whole, speaking, facilitating, doing strategic planning for firms and organizations, actually, globally. And then, all that knowledge that I get from speaking with CPAs throughout the world, and bringing that back to Maryland, and sharing that with our members.

Rebekah Brown: [00:16:36] So, everything always comes back to Maryland. That’s our purpose. But, I think, the Business Learning Institute, and the speaking, and teaching that we do outside of the State of Maryland is super important too because we really believe that the rising tide raises all boats. So, we want the profession to grow to be successful, to be anticipatory, to be future-ready. And so, as we do that all over the world, we believe we are benefiting Maryland, and we believe that Maryland CPAs are even better positioned to be future-ready because of that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:11] I agree wholeheartedly. The work that you guys do outside of the State of Maryland, and then you bring it back in through Tom’s PIUs and the content that you’re pushing out, yeah. They probably heard anticipatory way before many other CPAs in this country heard the word anticipatory. And that’s a hard word to say, especially when you’re a graduate of the University of Kentucky. So, what is anticipatory? How do you frame that?

Rebekah Brown: [00:17:38] So, it’s interesting actually. I heard a definition through CPA.com’s study of the future of CPA and the skills needed that they did, basically asking, are our CPAs future-ready? And the results came out. Well, no, unfortunately. CPAs themselves, so CPAs included in the survey, only about 8% said that they felt that they were future-ready.

Rebekah Brown: [00:18:02] And they defined future-ready as the capacity to be aware, predictive, and adaptive. So, aware of future trends and environment, what’s going on. Predictive, being able to see those trends and kind of see where things are heading, predicts what might happen. And then adaptive, being ready to pivot when things change, and being able to take the skills that you have and apply them in different ways as you go for it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:34] I think, now, after you just described that, I said, “God, 8% sounds like it’s high,” because, I mean, adaptive, the profession had been that overly kind of adaptive. We’re a little bit more in that risk-averse side. And being adaptive takes on additional risks, which, you know, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But we all know that we need to be adaptive. We need to take risks in order to grow.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:02] And I know Daniel Burrus helped out a lot in this development of this anticipatory. And I had the pleasure of meeting him last week in Dallas at the National-

Rebekah Brown: [00:19:14] Wow.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:14] … National Speakers Association Annual Convention. Actually, he and Mike Rayburn are co-chairs of our convention in 2019.

Rebekah Brown: [00:19:23] Wow. That’s so cool.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:24] Yeah.

Rebekah Brown: [00:19:25] Yeah, we’ve learned a lot from Dan. His Anticipatory Organization; his book, Flash Foresight; and then the second book, Anticipatory Organization; and then the Anticipatory Organization for Accounting and Finance that we helped kind of co-create, his learning platform, the Anticipatory Organization and adapting it for accounting and finance professionals. We’ve learned so, so much through that experience and that process.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:52] Yeah, I’ve got the book. It’s on my stack of things to read. But, you know, I almost think it’d be a letdown because I’ve heard so much from Maryland from Tom about it, and Bill, and you. And some will say, “Okay, I probably already read the book. I just haven’t read the book.” I’ve been around it for a number of years.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:11] And I remember the first time when I had my big aha moment was I presenting at NABA, National Association of Black Accountants, and we were in DC at the time. And Tom couldn’t make it, and they asked me to do his PIU. And that’s when he was talking about the second machine age. And once I prepped for it, and got into it, and went, “Oh my god. This is really cool.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:35] And, you know, I know, at that point in time, people weren’t even thinking that this was ever gonna happen. And Tom was such a visionary. And then, it seemed like overnight, boom. And, now, we’re in this future-ready stage. And you did have to present or go talk to some pretty highfalutin, as we say in Kentucky, some highfalutin folks in the accounting profession recently. Would you like to share that with the audience?

Rebekah Brown: [00:21:01] Yeah, I do. I had the, gosh, amazing pleasure and honor to speak to and with two groups of IFACs. So, the International Federation of Accountants. The IESBA, the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants, and then the IAASB, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board. So, they had a joint meeting of their consulting advisory group. So, not their full board but, you know, the people that, kind of, advise them on things. And I got to talk to them about, you know, the future-ready CPA, the future of the accounting and finance profession.

Rebekah Brown: [00:21:50] And a lot about what I did, actually, was walk through those three things: aware, predict, and adapt. I kind of broke my presentation down into, “Okay, let’s be aware.” First of all, what is anticipatory? What does that mean? What does the future look like?

Rebekah Brown: [00:22:08] Then, aware, what are the trends that we’re seeing? We talked about three types of hard trends: demographics, technology, and regulatory. So, those are trends that because they’re hard trends, they’re almost like certainties. We can really predict well where they will go.

Rebekah Brown: [00:22:26] So, then, we’d move into the predict phase of that, and being able to go, “Okay, here’s the hard trends. Now, when I look at hard trends, how I categorize them and things like that affect how I think about them and how I predict what might happen because of that.

Rebekah Brown: [00:22:41] And then, we go into the adapt, which is really about the skills needed. It is really about being able to, you know, pivot and move to things, and those future-ready skills, one of them being anticipatory, but also being things like communication, and leadership, and the importance of those softer but often very hard skills that really set you apart as a professional and are really going to be the game changers in success, I think, in the future. And, currently, I think that’s very true of what sets people apart as successful.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:20] So, this audience, we talked about the kind of demographics of this, and mostly white male, some diversity with race, some diversity with gender. Average age, we figured probably somewhere in the mid 50s, somewhere around that.

Rebekah Brown: [00:23:37] So, the IFAC audience was a little different. So, IFAC, the both groups, so because it’s an international standards board, it has representatives from all different countries. So, the actual chair of the ethics standards board was from Greece. Fascinating.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:57] Oh boy. Oh boy.

Rebekah Brown: [00:23:58] Fascinating guy.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:01] Being Greek, that makes too fascinating.

Rebekah Brown: [00:24:04] Yes. Stavros was one of my favorites. And then, so they had representation from all … It looked like the United Nations.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:14] Cool.

Rebekah Brown: [00:24:14] It was an amazing experience to talk to these individuals from all over the world that literally had, you know, flown into New York to work on the future of the accounting profession. So, the first thing I did when I got there is I had to thank them, like, “Thank you for taking-” This isn’t like a paid position, right. This is a volunteer thing that they’re working on our profession and setting standards, hopefully, that will make our profession future-ready and future-proof.

Rebekah Brown: [00:24:42] So, that experience both with the IAASB and the IESBA were very diverse and international. Still probably majority men, but it wasn’t drastic to me by any chance. Somebody I met at the time was, right now, he is the former chief auditor of the PCAOB. And he invited me to come and speak to PCAOB standing advisory committee or a group of standing advisory committee, the SAG. I didn’t think that was a great acronym, but that’s what they call themselves. So, PCAOB SAG. That group was much less diverse-

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:27] Okay.

Rebekah Brown: [00:25:28] … and not international. A couple, you know, but not very — More US-focused. Not a lot of diversity at all in that group.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:51] So, with the response to this anticipatory, this predict, looking at trends, the skills, we need to develop the skills of communication and leadership, was that well-received or is that looked at kind of, “What are you talking about? We’re accountants”?

Rebekah Brown: [00:26:08] So, it’s interesting. I think both groups, it was fairly well received.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:13] Okay.

Rebekah Brown: [00:26:14] So, the IFAC community, they were mostly standard setters and auditors in that group. The PCAOB group was kind of split into thirds with auditors, investors, and public company chief accounting officers.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:34] Okay, yeah.

Rebekah Brown: [00:26:35] So, all three groups in the room, getting all three of those groups to agree on something probably is more difficult than a lot of things. They all seemed very receptive to it. I think, the chief accounting officers were really interesting in the conversation because, especially with the trends in regards to technology, they were like, “We’re doing all these things, and we’re worried because our auditors are falling behind.”

Rebekah Brown: [00:27:01] And these are, you know, huge, huge organizations that have big four auditors, and they were saying, you know, “We’re doing robotic process automation in our accounting department, and our auditors don’t know what to do with it. And so, they need to level up and get ready because we’re doing it regardless.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:20] Wow.

Rebekah Brown: [00:27:20] So, that was an interesting conversation. So, our message is all about, you know, the profession, and making it better, and things like that. The investor community was less interested, I think, in our conversation because it was about — our conversation was about improving the profession, and the skills, and things like that. And they’re just like, “No, just give me my opinion.”

Rebekah Brown: [00:27:41] We talk a lot, especially in the profession now, about that consultative. That’s where a lot of things in the profession are going, and they don’t want to see that. They don’t want us to consult with them. They want to give us, you know, the unbiased opinion, which I understand. So, that was the interesting dynamic was the investor community going, “I don’t want you to be more consultative. I don’t want you to, you know, help your clients more. I just want the black and white opinion.”.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:07] And actually they were interesting too because they were like that’s not — the financial statements is, now, a very small percentage of the things we look at when we’re making investment decisions. And it was a very interesting group at the PCAOB group.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:23] Wow. And with the firms within PCAOB group, we had the chief financial officers and investors. That third group who sounds to me like they’re lagging behind, what was their thought, or their opinion, or their comments as it relates to futuristic?

Rebekah Brown: [00:28:40] Yeah, it was interesting. They were probably the least vocal group. I think, they are overwhelmed. I think they agree and see everything. I think they completely understand. I think they’re just trying to do what they’ve always done, I think, to a degree. They’re like, “This is what I know. I’m going to continue to do this.” But I think they know they need to be different.

Rebekah Brown: [00:29:05] And so, I think that was a little internal battle almost. The desire and the intent is there. And I think they understand it. I didn’t hear from a whole lot of them. So, that, I found interesting as well that, I think, when you’re hearing from the investor community, and from their clients, and their clients’ clients basically are in the room. And I don’t know.

Rebekah Brown: [00:29:29] Their pushback was always, you know, we’re making it harder to do the audit. And so, the audit is being commoditized. So, it’s like the more regulations that we put on the standards, the more that we have to increase our cost. And then, the chief accounting officers don’t want to pay for it, but the investors want it. And so, there’s kind of like almost the middleman thing going on maybe.

Rebekah Brown: [00:29:49] And so, they were a little more quiet, at least, in my group. So, maybe that could also be because when we broke the group into four separate groups, I took a group into a room to facilitate conversation, and it could just be my group was, you know, skewed the other way.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:04] But, I think, we sit and look at firms nowadays, and the makeup, and how they’re put together, and how they run, a majority out of them, they run the same way they did in the ’90s, in the ’80s. The way it’s built, the way that, you know — But then you have firms. And my favorite firm is in Maryland, Deleon & Stang, they’re very anticipatory. I mean, the things that they’re doing in their firm this year is they get unlimited PTO.

Rebekah Brown: [00:30:34] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:35] Yeah. And you see, I’ve said that in audiences, and some of these partners go, “How do you? What?” And this look of, “We don’t trust them.” But that’s always been kind of the mindset. And, you know, to change that mindset, it’s really going to take the non-baby boomer generations, the ones that are coming up now is to get into those leadership roles and make those changes in a lot of cases because, like you said, they don’t want to change the way they’ve been doing things.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:09] And, you know, talk about technology. Excel has been out there for how many years. I’ll ask the audience, “How many of you still have a 10-key on your desk at work?” and about 75% raise their hand. I go, “Folks, there’s a support group for you. Haven’t you heard about Excel?” And it’s like, “Come on, get into the 2018.”.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:35] And I see the profession’s going to have some parts of it, there’s going to be a big shakeup. And that shakeup is going to happen sooner than later. So, we had the 2025 Project for ’18. This was released, I think, in 2011-2012. And most members don’t even know what it is. So, when I explain it to — And really that talks about that skill set that’s needed for the future.

Rebekah Brown: [00:32:07] It is so interesting because both the Horizons 2025, which you’re right, was done in a ’11-2012, it was kind of the redo of the 1997 Vision Project that went to 2011. That is grassroots CPA saying what the skills needed are. Like they’re coming up with the right answer, they’re just not doing it. I don’t understand why, but it’s true. They have the right answer. They see things. It’s not that they’re — But I think it’s it’s that ability to really pick their head up and to start thinking about the future differently.

Rebekah Brown: [00:32:46] I think our greatest stress or challenge in the profession and probably in a lot of professions is whatever the work is right in front of us. Like we spend so much time heads down looking right in front of us trying to do the next thing that we’re completely missing out on huge opportunities to really grow. And it’s that mindset, again, shift of, “Yes, I need to, you know, do my day-to-day job, but part of my day-to-day job needs to be looking out to the future.”

Rebekah Brown: [00:33:18] There’s a great blog post from Seth Godin talking about a job, and that your job being a historical artifact. It’s this like list of procedures and things that you have done that have grown over time. And you do this, this, and this every day, and lots of meetings, and things like that. But your real value isn’t your job, it’s those special skills that you have, the real things that you can do like no one else. And that, if your job is getting in the way of you doing that, then you need to consider changing your job. Like that’s basically what he said. If your job is getting in the way of you doing real valuable work, then you need to change your job.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:01] Exactly. I agree wholeheartedly. And talking about this futuristic, there was an article, the CEO of this rather large regional firm of Sikich wrote an article about the future of CPA firms are going to be led by non-CPAs, which ties back into the whole consulting aspect of it, which ties back into-

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:22] I mean, I met a gentleman in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. And he’s a managing partner of a firm. And he’s already transformed his firm out of audit and tax into more of a consulting because he sees that as the future. And if he wants young people like them to come and work for him, he’s got to change his firm in order to attract them. I go, “You get it. Can you help spread the word?”

Rebekah Brown: [00:34:48] Yeah, it’s interesting. So, I was thinking about that the other day that, you know, I totally believe the CPA of today is not going to be the managing partner of the firms. But I don’t think that you have to get rid of the CPA in order to do that. So, I think, in our mindset of what a CPA does and is, I don’t think that will be the person leading organizations or firms in the future, but I think that person can be a CPA if they have the right skill.

Rebekah Brown: [00:35:19] It’s not the acronym itself. It’s not the fact that you’re a certified public accountant that makes you not the leader of the future. It’s that you’re operating in the past. And so, if you’re an anticipatory CPA, if you a future-ready CPA, 100% you can be a leaning and managing partner of a firm in the future. It’s the idea of what we believe a CPA is right now that we don’t think can be the leader in the future. But I think we need to change what we think a CPA is, not take them out of the equation in the future. Does that make sense?

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:52] Yes, it does because we just went full circle because, basically, what you just described, there’s a place for you and I to lead firms because we are that anticipatory CPA. We’re not-

Rebekah Brown: [00:36:02] Exactly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:03] We’re not described as, you know, the stereotypical CPA because we bring other skill sets that current CPAs don’t have. So, maybe that’s our whole career path is now going to be taking a change. And we’re going to be recruited by the big guys who come in, and be the CEO, and help lead these firms into the future because we can see it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:23] Yeah. And I want to point, I want to get somewhere where all CPAs are that. Like that it’s not just ones that maybe have a special personality type or something like that where they’re able to get, but I wouldn’t change the stereotype of the CPA. Man, I can tell you, since I work with a lot of students, that stereotype is strong, and it is not true all the time.

Rebekah Brown: [00:36:48] Now, our Student Leadership Academy, I guess, a little over two months ago, almost two months ago, I had this dynamic student, going to be, you know, a force to be reckoned with as she enters the profession. And she said to me, “You know, I gave my commencement speech for my university because I was the valedictorian.” So, you know, super smart.

Rebekah Brown: [00:37:06] You know, she gives her commencement speech. She says she walks off the stage, and a gentleman standing there goes, “Wow, that was such full of passion. That’s so awesome for you, but you’re going to have to tone that down a little bit when you get into the accounting profession because that’s not going to-” And that just broke my heart. I said, “That is not true. In fact, we need more of that. We need that passion. We need that. And we need people to show it.”

Rebekah Brown: [00:37:31] I think there’s a lot of people that have it that have just been told at some point that they can’t show it, that we’re hiding these things about ourselves. I mean, that’s like John Garret’s podcast and kind of the premise for his thing is, you know, bring your full self to work. Talk about those kind of fun aspects of yourself that really set you apart. And I think, we’ve got a profession right now that, in a lot of different ways, doesn’t value those special kind of quirks, or diversity, or all of those things that really make people who they are.

Rebekah Brown: [00:38:06] And I think what really — If they can embrace that, I think those are the organizations that are going to kind of win out because it is diversity of thought. It’s that passion. It’s that zest. That’s what creates successful people and successful organizations, not, you know, making the person under you look just like you and work just like you because that just creates more of the same. And we don’t want more of the same right now because that’s not the environment we live in.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:35] Right. And some have described that as leadership by checkers versus leadership by chess because with checkers, all pieces can move in all the directions. Chess, you can be strategically moving those pieces. So, it’s looking at the individual and going, “How can we make this person successful within this organization? Where’s their strengths? Where’s the weaknesses?” And let’s put them in the right role versus, “Oh, you passed the CPA exam, you get the lows behind that. Then, you should be able to do this right here.” And you’re going, “No, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not me. I can help out the firm in other ways.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:10] And I hope, someday, we get to that way to make the firms a very diverse organization in thought, and in leadership, and in appearance. It’s not as linear and black and white as tends to be these days.

Rebekah Brown: [00:39:25] Yeah, it’s not the environment that we’re all operating in. And so, we’re trying to operate in a complex, and ever changing, ever, you know, just transforming almost environment. And yet we’re trying to do things the way we’ve always done them and even structure-wise of a firm. I think all of those things are going to need to change. And not just change. This is how we have thought about it.

Rebekah Brown: [00:39:48] So, we think of change as just doing something differently. So, think about — And the CPA profession isn’t great with that either. So, think about how hard and long it took for firms to go paperless, or to go from the, you know, paper ledger to excel. There’s something about that, right. So, that’s changing. That’s doing things differently. Doing the same things, but just doing them in a different way; whereas, transformation, I think of as actually doing different things.

Rebekah Brown: [00:40:16] And so, what does that mean for the profession? I think we’re going to need to transform the profession. I think we’re going to be able and need to do different things with the same amount of ethics, with the same foundational business knowledge, but different things, and not just trying, you know.

Rebekah Brown: [00:40:33] And that’s what I see with technology in a lot of organizations, they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to go get AI or block chain, and I’m going to plug it in to the system that I’m currently doing.” And it’s like, “That’s not what this is about.” You know, it’s not a new computer program that you log in, and then you do your whole process the same, except, you know, one step new is you do this AI thing. No, it’s completely looking at the entire workflow and the entire product and service that you’re giving, and completely transforming it based on a technology and based on, you know, what the client needs, not what you’ve always done.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:13] I couldn’t have said that any better. And the word transform, I’m hearing more often than not, that we’re getting away from the word change and transform. Daniel Burrus is doing the chair of our convention next year. And the theme of the convention is — Just take a guess. What do you think? They’ve themed it Transformed.

Rebekah Brown: [00:41:31] Transformation. Wow, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:31] Yeah, yeah. And, now, I’m reflecting back on just the little words that he did say. And he did say it’s not about change. It’s about doing things completely different than we’ve done it. And when people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” in my mind, that means we need to change. We need to transform.

Rebekah Brown: [00:41:53] Transform, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:54] Yeah. We need to do it a completely different way. So, before we wrap up, I got a question for you. I mean, you’re very busy. You get a lot of things going on. So, what do you like to do in your free time? What’s your hobby?

Rebekah Brown: [00:42:09] What’s my hobby?

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:10] Or hobbies?

Rebekah Brown: [00:42:12] Hobbies. So, I have to say, if it’s an acceptable hobby, and I’m not sure that it is, but I’m owning it, it’s food. I love to eat. And it is probably — You know, I’ve heard that there’s two different types of people in this world. There’s people that eat to live, and there’s people that live to eat. I’m a live-to-eat. Like I just enjoy good food, and I enjoy watching people prepare good food. If there’s a chef table at a restaurant, that’s where I want to sit. I love learning about food, about wine, and cocktails, and pairings, and all of those things.

Rebekah Brown: [00:42:47] That has been something, I think, probably, I was a little bit born with. My mom’s side of the family is a deep southern family. So, you know, they know how to make good food. My great-grandfather actually owned a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi in a hotel that’s actually by the wonderful, you know, pleasant Providence. I was able to stay at the — They had just completely renovated and redid the hotel, and I got to stay in the hotel-

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:13] Cool.

Rebekah Brown: [00:43:14] … where my great grandfather’s restaurant. It was such a cool experience. But, yeah, food, I just enjoy it so much. And it is about the people that you’re with too. It’s an experience. My dad called it dinertainment, you know. It’s you eat, but you’re entertained, and you enjoy company of other people. And that’s probably my one hobby is if I have to say one.

Rebekah Brown: [00:43:38] If being an aunt is a hobby, an acceptable hobby, that’s probably my number one. I got to put her above food. But I absolutely adore my niece. I have a wonderful dog. I’m currently attempting to build a home. So, that, plus my job, keeps me pretty busy. But I just love this profession. And so, the fact that I do work a lot, I do work really hard, but it’s in my strengths. I value it so much it. I love the people I work with and I work for. And so, it makes it not like a job. I am excited for the future of this profession. I’m passionate about it. And so, I love what I do.

Peter Margaritis: [00:44:19] That’s awesome. And I can’t speak highly enough about MACPA, BOI, your group. I’ve been with you guys for — I don’t even know how long. I’ve been doing work for you guys, I think, it’s about eight years. Maybe longer.

Rebekah Brown: [00:44:32] Wow, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:44:32] And I get it. I love the passion that you all bring, and the direction, and the voice that’s out there to help change the profession. But I have to take one quick step back. You live in Baltimore, which is like foodie heaven.

Rebekah Brown: [00:44:48] We make some good food.

Peter Margaritis: [00:44:49] You make some good food. What is your favorite restaurant in Baltimore?

Rebekah Brown: [00:44:53] Favorite restaurant in Baltimore. So, I love to try new things. So, there’s a couple restaurants that I go back to over and over again. But I’m trying to think. That’s so hard because I do, I love to go different places. I really like that farm-to-table kind of fresh thing. So, there’s a place called Woodberry Kitchen that is amazing. Great farm-to-table concept, and fun cocktails, and things like that too.

Rebekah Brown: [00:45:23] But I have to say since I moved, so I moved almost, I guess, two years ago now out to the country. I’m about 25 minutes from the city. Eating at home has become more and more enjoyable too from that because I literally have, you know, this — Where I’m trying to build a land, I’m building a house, I’m living with my parents now, just these beautiful surroundings, and like lambs, and horses, and donkeys next door.

Rebekah Brown: [00:45:49] And so, I haven’t eaten at a whole lot of restaurants in Baltimore recently because I love being home all of a sudden. So, that’s interesting when you said was your favorite restaurant in Baltimore because I don’t go out. Like when I travel, that’s like all of our vacations since I was little revolved around food. Like when we’re eating breakfast, we’re talking about where we’re going to have lunch. And when we’re having lunch, we’re talking about where we’re going to have dinner. That’s just been my family’s thing. So, I guess travel and food go together more for me than home and food, which is interesting. I never really thought about that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:46:21] Okay. So, if travel and food, what’s your favorite restaurant outside of Maryland when you travel?

Rebekah Brown: [00:46:27] So, the best meal I’ve ever had was in Nashville, Tennessee at a place called The Catbird Seat.

Peter Margaritis: [00:46:35] Okay.

Rebekah Brown: [00:46:35] And it was the epitome of that dinertainment my dad jokes about because, I think, was it eight or 10-course meal, and it was the smallest restaurant I’ve ever been in. You just, basically, sat around a counter in their kitchen and watch them cook. And as they cooked, they told you what they were making you. And the waiter just had — The menu was a blank piece of paper at the beginning of the meal. And as the chef made things and gave them to you, he wrote them down. And so, at the end of the meal, you get to take home the menu that was all handwritten of everything you had. And it was just things I would never put together. I love trying new things. And it just was a phenomenal experience and really good food. So, yeah, that was probably the best meal I’ve ever had. And it was really about the experience.

Peter Margaritis: [00:47:29] Yeah. I’ve got to go national just to go to that restaurant. I mean, being Greek, I’ve grown up in restaurants, I cook, I get the food thing, and I’m pretty critical when I go out because I want the experience. You can give me great food, but if you give me horrible service, the food doesn’t taste that good.

Rebekah Brown: [00:47:46] Exactly, yup.

Peter Margaritis: [00:47:47] So, there’s got to be that balance there. But, yeah, I have to make a special trip to Nashville because I’m already hungry.

Rebekah Brown: [00:47:56] Yeah, it was an amazing experience.

Peter Margaritis: [00:47:59] Cool. Rebekah, thank you so very much for taking time out. I see people in the back going, “She’s got to get back to work. Cut the podcast.”

Rebekah Brown: [00:48:04] Oh gosh.

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:08] Good but thank you. I’ve enjoyed the conversation, a lot of great information. And I continue to wish you success. And hopefully soon, I’ll be up in Maryland, and I can see you face-to-face versus through a Zoom camera.

Rebekah Brown: [00:48:20] Yeah. Always love to see you, Peter. Thanks so much for having me. Just a wonderful time of discussion, you know, about the things that I’m passionate about. So, thank you.

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:28] And you can tell the passion’s there in your voice, which is the really cool thing. So, I look forward to it next time, and keep doing the good work you’re doing up there.

Rebekah Brown: [00:48:38] I’m trying. Thanks, Peter. It’s a lot of fun.

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:42] I want to thank Rebekah for taking time to share her thoughts and wisdom on —

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:48] I want to thank Rebekah Brown for taking her time to share her thoughts and wisdom on the future of the accounting profession.

Peter Margaritis: [00:48:56] In Episode 11, my guest is Kate Colbert who’s the author of the upcoming book Think Like a Marketer: How a Shift in Mindset Can Change Everything for Your Business. And in full transparency, Kate is also the publisher of my new book. Now, her book provides great advice for anyone in business, and she has tailored her conversation to meet the financial professional — She provides great advice for anyone in business. And our conversation is tailored to the accounting professional.

Peter Margaritis: [00:49:32] Thank you for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset, and getting out of your comfort zone, and develop new skill sets to become more future-ready. Your call to action is to first become — Your call to action is to become more familiar with artificial intelligence and block chain, so you can begin to become more strategic in your organization and with your clients. Remember, a part of being future-ready is being an improviser. And being an improviser is someone who’s willing to take risks in order to grow. I thank you for listening.

 

Resources:

 

S2E9 – Byron Patrick | Staying Ahead of Technology: Trends You Need to Know & What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Are you overwhelmed by trying to stay current with the rapid change in technology? Do you have sleepless nights because you fear that someone will hack into your company? Do you just need IT help?

If so, then this episode is a must-listen because we discuss those questions and many more.

My guest today is Byron Patrick, who oversees Network Alliance’s strategic growth within the Accounting and CPA market.

Byron really knows this stuff, evidenced by the fact that the AICPA asked him to present five sessions at this year’s AICPA ENGAGE Conference: Managing a Business/Firm in the Cloud, Latest Internet of Things to Get Excited About, Latest Trends and Strategies, End User Security Awareness, and Prepare for Cyber Attacks Across the Globe.

Byron’s most popular session at ENGAGE was about End User Security, because that was focused on the human element of security.

We hear so much about firewalls and encryption algorithms and all that noise, that stuff that kind of makes everybody’s eyes glaze over, but this session was focused on what you can do to protect yourself.

75% of data breaches occur because of the human element – Byron is just trying to close that gap.

Some of the key points that Byron covered at this session include:

  • When you get an email, your first line of security is your gut check. “If you feel like you might need to forward that email somebody else to verify it, you probably already know the answer. So, delete and move on.”
  • Be wary of anything that is inspiring urgency, or fear, or panic, especially in your email inbox.
  • Be aware of the Internet of Things. Vendors are putting IP addresses on all types of analog devices – things like toasters and speakers that were never smart before – and they’re doing it without a lot of forethought with respect to security. “So, if you are going to introduce something in your home or in your office specifically, you want to make sure that you’re working with the veteran who has put some time and energy into putting security into that device.” You don’t want someone to be able to remotely turn that smart speaker in your board room into a microphone.
  • Be particularly aware of the increasingly popular virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home. “They don’t only listen when you send them commands. They’re listening to every single thing that you are saying. So, privacy concerns are rampant with respect to these types of devices, especially in the workplace.”
  • You need to make sure that any devices you’re putting on the WiFi network are segregated, isolated, and require additional authentication. Because just by virtue of being on the network, someone could install the app and potentially gain access to it.

Taking the Numb Out of Numbers

When you’re giving a presentation to a client or prospect, is your heart racing? Is your internal critic working overtime? Do you just want to get this thing over with even before it starts? While you’re delivering your message, do you feel like the client or prospect looks confused, disengaged, or maybe even uninterested?

Well, you are experiencing the presentation gap – and my new book, Taking out Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, will help bridge that gap!

To learn more about or purchase the book, go to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com.

 

Download this Episode MP3.

 

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

 

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 9. And my guest today is Byron Patrick, who is Network Alliance’s Managing Director, CPA Practice. He oversees Network Alliance’s strategic growth within the Accounting and CPA market.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:12] Now, let me ask you a question. Are you overwhelmed with trying to stay current with the rapid change in technology? Do you have sleepless nights because you fear that someone will hack into your company? Do you need IT help? If so, then this episode is a must listen to because we discuss those questions and many more.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:35] Now, Byron knows this stuff, and it was evident when the AICPA asked him to present five sessions – That’s right, five sessions – at this year’s AICPA Engage Conference. Those sessions were Managing a Business/Firm in the Cloud, Latest Internet of Things to Get Excited About, Latest Trends and Strategies, End User Security Awareness, and Prepare for Cyber Attacks Across the Globe. We will cover a lot of ground during this interview, but if there’s something specific that you would like to ask Byron, please e-mail him at BPatrick@NetworkAlliance.com.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:15] Before we get to the interview, let me ask you a question. Does this describe you? When you’re giving a presentation to a client or prospect, your heart is racing, your internal critic is working overtime, and all you want to do is have this thing be over even before you start? While you’re delivering your message, does your client or prospect look confused, disengaged, or maybe even uninterested? Well, you are experiencing the presentation gap and my new book, Taking out Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, will help bridge that gap. To learn more about the book, go to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com. And it’s also available for purchase on Amazon.com. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Byron Patrick.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:09] Hey, welcome back, everybody. Today, I’m with my good friend Byron Patrick out of Maryland, former chair of the Maryland Association of CPA’s Executive Board. Welcome back, my friend. Good to see you.

Byron Patrick: [00:02:22] Thanks so much, Peter. Good to see you. And really excited to be on again.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:26] Yeah. I’m looking forward to this conversation because a while back, about mid-June, I had seen you had posted or read somewhere that you were speaking at AICPA ENGAGE Conference, and you did five sessions at ENGAGE, which, one, your topic must have been very hot and very pertinent to the membership and anything around IT these days. We know that it is. But to do five sessions is utterly a superhero type of performance.

Byron Patrick: [00:02:58] Well, thanks. It was, you know. It was a bit of a sprint that should have been a marathon, but it was great that the topics, like you said, were IT. So, incredibly popular. And just that, you know, I was excited for the opportunity that, you know, they wanted to hear from me that much. In the span of three days.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:20] Well, that says a lot about you, and your business, and how well you do it. So, what was the overarching problem you were trying to solve for the members or teach them how to solve?

Byron Patrick: [00:03:31] I would say, you know, obviously, security is this huge topic, major concern on everybody, front of their face every day. So, a lot about IT security. And then, just other IT topics, in general, trends that are going on. It’s such a fire hose of information in today’s world. You don’t have time to consume it all. So, it was a great opportunity to provide relevant detail that was filtered down into things I felt people could, you know, take away and value.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:07] Being a solo entrepreneur, I think that’s one of my biggest challenges is just the IT aspect of the business, and making sure that I’m backed up, making sure that I’m safe, my information is safe. And it is overwhelming even for just a one-armed paper hanger here.

Byron Patrick: [00:04:28] Absolutely. It’s incredibly overwhelming. I speak to new opportunities and clients all the time that are one, two, three-person shops. And you have the same challenges that a 50 or 100-person shop has with respect to technology, and keeping it up to date, and making sure all the pieces are there. So, you know, being able to assist on that, so you can really focus on what you do and not worry about back-up routines is, you know, where we can bring value to the table.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:03] Yeah. I got a new desktop, and I forgot to hook up Time Machine on it, and I was working on my book. And, all of a sudden, we got power surge, and I lost my update, and I put a lot of work into that day. And it was completely fried. I couldn’t recover from it. I lost probably about 30 pages that day. So, I learned a lot about that. And yeah, I’m backed up.

Byron Patrick: [00:05:31] Yeah, yeah. Probably in triplicate at this point.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:33] It’s actually a duplicate, but I could go triplicate on that because it’s just — You know, I said if I lose my information on the computer, I don’t know if I could ever replicate any of the stuff again.

Byron Patrick: [00:05:47] No. It’s an incredible amount of work to try to recall and put that all together. I mean, like, just take away the professional side, the personal side, I mean, I’ve got all my family photos. I’ve got them on my workstation. I’ve got them backed up to Amazon Prime. I’ve got them backed up to Google Photos. And then, I have an extra on a hard drive. I mean, you’ll never replicate, you know, memories like that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:13] Right, and I’ve-

Byron Patrick: [00:06:13] And so, we’ve got to do it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:13] I’ve got stuff out on iCloud, and I’ve got stuff on Dropbox. And they’re probably the exact same thing, but they’re just in two places now.

Byron Patrick: [00:06:22] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:24] Yeah. So, what was one of the topics? What was the topic that had the biggest crowd and that you had most of the attention? You had probably what, a couple of hundred people in the room?

Byron Patrick: [00:06:34] Yeah, absolutely. I would say, definitely, the End User Security session was, you know, standing room only because that was focused on the human element of security. You hear so much about firewalls, and encryption algorithms, and all that noise that kind of makes everybody’s eyes glaze over. And my session was focused on what you can do to protect yourself, like not clicking the link, how to recognize threats against you. And 75% of the data breaches occur because of the human element. So, we were discussing, you know, how to try to close that gap.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:18] And the crooks have gotten craftier these days because a lot of times, I’ll see something, and I’ll go, “I’m not really sure about this,” and I’ll send it to my marketing people. And they’ll go, “Yeah, this is bad because, Pete, when did you start speaking on strength and fitness?” I went, “Oh, I guess I don’t.” But I’m able to, at least, look and get an idea. But, you know, if somebody clicks something, I’ve heard horror stories. I bet you got ton of horrible stories on situations like that.

Byron Patrick: [00:07:52] Absolutely. And to your point, I mean, the crooks now, honestly, have the skill set to be incredibly employable on the marketing side. I mean, their ability to convince us to click, to reply to an e-mail, to allow access, they understand what motivates us as human beings, and they’re able to leverage that better than most marketing organizations. So, it’s real.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:22] So, what should the end user be looking for in an e-mail that may look or sound real but is a threat or can hold your computer and data hostage?

Byron Patrick: [00:08:36] Right. So, the first thing is I tell everybody, gut check, even remotely. Like if you feel like you might need to forward that email somebody else to verify it, you probably already know the answer. So, delete and move on. The gut check is number one.

Byron Patrick: [00:08:55] The number two is just anything that is inspiring urgency, or fear, or panic. I can tell you, we do security tests where we send phishing emails to our clients and see who clicks. And, you know, we’re helping to teach them what to look for, and put the fear of God that they’re going to fail the test and get in trouble with the boss, which protects them. But, you know, the biggest successful phish we did was when the Equifax Breach happened.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:28] Oh yeah.

Byron Patrick: [00:09:28] This had fake e-mails that said, “Click here to get your credit monitoring.” And everybody who had been doing really great passing those tests, they were clicking as quick as possible.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:39] Right, wow.

Byron Patrick: [00:09:41] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:09:41] Wow, yeah. And, actually, correct me if I’m wrong, but I did hear that they said that Equifax came out and said if you go to this website, but that was a fraud.

Byron Patrick: [00:09:53] Yes. Somehow, somebody at Equifax got a hold of a link that was a fake website, and they forwarded it via social media to their customers.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:07] Yeah. Guess who else filled that out and bit that hook because it’s coming from them. But even my software, my computer said don’t do it. I’m like, “This is weird.” I should’ve known at that point, but I didn’t listen. And yeah, luckily, everything’s okay, but-

Byron Patrick: [00:10:27] Right, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:28] So, when you send these fake phishing, what happens when they click on it? Does your picture show up and go, “You shouldn’t have clicked”?

Byron Patrick: [00:10:38] So, it’s funny actually. There’s a number of different landing pages we can do. A lot of times, I actually just had the page fail to load because if it, you know, has my picture and says, “You shouldn’t have clicked,” they quickly e-mail all of their buddies and say, “Oh, don’t click the e-mail that just came out.” So, usually, it just goes to 404 bad website, and, you know, people just move on. But we can put a rickroll video up there. We can do, you know, “Hey, buddy. You clicked the link you shouldn’t have.” The other benefit is it enrolls them in a short 5 to 10-minute training that they, then, have to complete because they failed the test.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:25] That’s cool. What other topics did you discuss at this user piece?

Byron Patrick: [00:11:30] So, we also talked about the Internet of Things. And just, you know, basically, we’re putting IP addresses on toasters, and staplers, and, you know, everything else, and everybody wants to bring them into the office. And, you know, the latest trends going on there and what you should be looking for, especially as you want to introduce the stuff into your office.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:51] So, what should I be looking for?

Byron Patrick: [00:11:54] Well, one of the big challenges, again, it’s going to be security, is all of these vendors are putting IP addresses on all types of analog devices, things that were never smart, never intelligent, and they’re not doing it with a lot of forethought with respect to security. So, if you are going to introduce something in your home or in your office specifically, you want to make sure that you’re working with the veteran who has put some time and energy into putting security into that device. So, you know, you can’t turn a smart speaker into a remote microphone and listen in to all the board of director moments. You know, it could be a challenge.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:39] Wow, I didn’t think about that. You could turn a smart speaker into a listening device.

Byron Patrick: [00:12:46] There you go.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:46] And you know how to do that.

Byron Patrick: [00:12:49] I plea the Fifth.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:51] Yeah. I’m thinking, do you ever send me any listening devices or?

Byron Patrick: [00:12:55] [laughs]

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:56] Yeah. Oops, there we go. So, with that end user, we have these tools called Alexa and Google Home. And, you know, she’s having trouble connecting to the internet. Did you hear her?

Byron Patrick: [00:13:12] Yeah, I heard that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:13:14] Yeah. So, how do this play into that security aspect?

Byron Patrick: [00:13:18] Well, they are at the very top of the list because these devices, they don’t only listen when you send them commands. They’re listening to every single thing that you are saying. So, privacy concerns are, you know, rampant with respect to these types of devices, especially in the workplace.

Byron Patrick: [00:13:39] So, there are a lot of conversations where the recommendation is don’t bring these into the workplace yet because it hasn’t been flushed out of what information is being captured, if that information is being cataloged anywhere, could somebody potentially get unauthorized access to that information. You know, there’s all these great opportunities to use these devices potentially in the workplace, but it could come at a cost. You have to weigh that out and, you know, evaluate the risk versus reward.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:13] Yeah. An attendee shared a story with me about how she caught a crook, a robber, at their office. And she said that she had petty cash, and there’s an amount of petty cash because of some fundraising, and came in the next day, and realized some was missing, and knew that she couldn’t pull the whistle because she didn’t have any evidence. She thought she knew who it was. So, she went out and bought a nest camera.

Byron Patrick: [00:14:42] Okay, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:42] Put it on her bookshelf, and then get the alert on her phone that somebody was — and she looked, and there was the person that she thought. So, she had him dead to rights. But I’m sort of thinking through that. So, basically, somebody could hack into that to watch her and watch the office if, yeah, you’re not in.

Byron Patrick: [00:15:07] Yeah, absolutely. There’s been stories of crooks gaining unauthorized access to things such as baby monitors, watching the home, and learning the behaviors and activities, and they can figure out when the home is empty and go right in. So, you know, obviously, that goes beyond the home.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:29] Is there a way to encrypt it or put some security around these devices, so they can’t — Well, no. I guess, they’re going in through your WiFi system.

Byron Patrick: [00:15:39] Yeah. And it depends. A lot of these devices, they hook up to your WiFi, but, sometimes, if the crook can just hack into your WiFi, they can then get access to all of the devices that are hanging off your WiFi network. So, that’s where you need to make sure that devices you’re putting on the WiFi network are segregated, isolated, and they require additional authentication. So, just by virtue of being on the network, I could install the app and potentially gain access to it. You want to make sure it requires additional authentication, passwords, or something.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:19] Okay. So, my system here, I’ve got a password required to get into, have access to it. You’re saying there’s probably a two-step verification process that I could install or it’s there and activate. So, if anybody get on the net, then they would-

Byron Patrick: [00:16:38] Yeah, absolutely. And you brought up another good point is that that multi-factor authentication or two-step authentication, a lot of devices, a lot of apps have that, and nobody configures it because, you know, God forbid, that extra 20 seconds to my day to log in is just way too inconvenient. And, you know, it’s-

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:01] I just thought of my son.

Byron Patrick: [00:17:04] Right, right. You know, if it’s there, man, you got to set that up.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:11] Yeah. Well, I think I know what I’m going to do after this call is over is to set that up. As we move forward, we’re talking about artificial intelligence. And did you talk about AI in your sessions?

Byron Patrick: [00:17:25] It definitely came up as a topic. It wasn’t the focus, but yeah. You can’t avoid it today.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:31] Because I finally figured out, all of a sudden, all of these websites had this, “Let’s chat,” and the person, yeah. And it’s a chat bot, right?

Byron Patrick: [00:17:40] That’s right. Nine times out of ten, you’re talking to a robot.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:45] Robot. And someone told me that they didn’t — I don’t know if this is college or whatever, but, basically, the people thought they were actually talking to a person for over a long period of time when, in fact, they were not. They were talking to artificial intelligence.

Byron Patrick: [00:18:00] Well, and I’ll take one step further. After you finish listening to this podcast, go out and google the latest Google assistant that can make phone calls on your behalf, and make reservations at restaurants or for a hair appointment. And it’s an actual voice. And the person on the other side has no idea it’s a computer calling them.

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:26] Shut the front door.

Byron Patrick: [00:18:28] It is amazing.

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:30] Really. So, I’ve got Google Home, and I’ve got Alexa, and I can put stuff on my calendar. So, there’s a step even higher than that?

Byron Patrick: [00:18:40] Right. So, where that’s going is you’ll be able to say, “Hey, Alexa, give me, you know, a restaurant, a nice Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood.” “Okay.” “Can you make reservations for a Friday night for five?” And then, next step-

Peter Margaritis: [00:18:56] Wow.

Byron Patrick: [00:18:56] … is calling the restaurant and making that reservation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:00] So, the app calls the restaurant and makes the reservation?

Byron Patrick: [00:19:03] That’s right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:04] “I’m going to make a reservation for,” yeah. Can you keep it? I’ll let Bill Clinton’s voice to be on mine. I’m making reservations for Pete Margaritis’ family.

Byron Patrick: [00:19:16] That would be phenomenal.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:18] So, how do you bring that — How does that work in the workplace with that type of technology?

Byron Patrick: [00:19:26] Well, think about the administrative assistant’s role, and the things that they do to coordinate meetings, to coordinate various travel, things like that. If you can have a bot sitting on your PC, on your desk, or whatever that you can just ask, “Hey, I’ve got a trip coming up to Las Vegas in June. Coordinate hotel, airfare, and such,” and it will just go do it based on your preferences, and even if asked to make phone calls, it will do it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:59] And they’ll actually make that reservation, airline reservation and hotel reservation for you, but you, obviously, got to be specific with the parameters.

Byron Patrick: [00:20:09] Absolutely, absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:12] Can it work on Excel and create databases?

Byron Patrick: [00:20:15] I’m sure it’s coming. They’ve got bots that can do programming and scripting, so, you know.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:23] And if I think about Grammarly, I use a lot. And that’s technically a bot itself because it’s grading your homework, grading what you’re writing, and providing suggestions and corrections.

Byron Patrick: [00:20:36] Absolutely. And, in fact, the latest version of Gmail will recommend replies. So, you hit reply, and it will actually pre-fill a suggested reply to that email.

Peter Margaritis: [00:20:50] Interesting. I know a lot of businesses are using G Suite. And I’m just learning about G Suite, and trying to figure out how that’s going to help me in the business. How does G Suite help a business in managing their contacts, and their email, and all things assorted to that business?

Byron Patrick: [00:21:12] Well, you know, G Suite is just kind of an alternative to the Microsoft platform. And the beauty is that Google innovated what was a very stale platform. Microsoft Office, Outlook e-mail was all very boring and very mundane. And Google, you know, kind of has taken it to the next level, introducing machine learning, and artificial intelligence, and all types of the add-ins for, you know, like Grammarly, and Boomerang, and these types of things.

Byron Patrick: [00:21:45] Microsoft has, now, been forced to step up their game. So, Microsoft Office 365, now, has a lot of those features and functionality that G Suite provides. And they’re working to go even beyond. They have entire Cortana Cloud, which is their artificial intelligence virtual assistant that they are now putting on top of Office 365 to give you all of those benefits, staying inside that Microsoft platform.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:18] Oh my god, my head’s full because I run on a Mac, but I’ve got Windows also on the Mac, and I run 365, and trying to — I’ve just kept my 365 for Word and Excel, and that’s about the extent of it. But then, I get these e-mails from Microsoft, and I’m reading them, I’m going, “This is cool. I just don’t understand it.”.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:43] And I got frustrated one day and made a comment to my son, who’s now 18, and his reply back to me was, “Dad, if you don’t understand, just google it. The answer is out there.” You know what, go away. You know, nobody likes a smart aleck. But he’s right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:59] And I think of my generation, the Baby Boomers, that’s not the first thing that pops into our head. It’s, you know, “Go find it. I need some help,” versus “I can get the help. I just got to google it, and ask a bot, and receive that information.” And that’s pretty cool.

Byron Patrick: [00:23:19] You know, and you nailed it. I will never forget when — I have daughters. They were probably, you know, five and seven. And we’re unpacking Christmas decorations, and one of the decorations is a snow globe, Coca-Cola snow globe that had polar bears. And, you know, one of my daughters turned to me and said, “What in the world does a polar bear have to do with Coca-Cola?” and you know. So, I was like “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” So, we get on the Google and do some research. And, you know, we find an article in the Library of Congress that, basically, talks about the entire origin of the polar bear marketing campaign from Coca Cola.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:08] Yeah.

Byron Patrick: [00:24:09] Yeah. And so, like, I do all of this, and then I can sit back, and think about it. Actually, you know what, when I was their age, I never would have thought to ask that question because there’s no way in hell I ever would have gotten the answer to it.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:25] Right.

Byron Patrick: [00:24:26] But they know they’ve got the world at their fingertips. So, why not.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:33] That’s interesting, but yeah. I mean, that’s what they’ve grown up with. They didn’t grow up with the Encyclopedia Britannica that sits on a shelf in your house, or, you know, I can’t tell you the last time I looked in an encyclopedia. My friends never looked in an encyclopedia. And it really is at our fingertips.

Byron Patrick: [00:24:53] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:54] So, what are the other hot topics that you’re speaking about an ENGAGE?

Byron Patrick: [00:24:59] Well, managing your business in the cloud. It is huge. So, for many years, we’ve been stuck installing Quickbooks, and Microsoft Office, and all these apps to our local computers, dealing with like a Windows parallel along our Mac to try to work in there. And the future, which is happening as we speak, is the world of browser-based applications. And organizations are now adopting all of these browser-based applications. They’re adding multiple logins to all their staff. They’ve got data all over the place. And talking about how to gain control of that browser-based computing platform for your business, and how to do it efficiently, effectively, and securely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:52] Browser-based applications, and you’re saying something about parallels, and Microsoft, Mac on a browser-based application, which-

Byron Patrick: [00:26:04] Well, in the world of browser-based applications, you will eventually be able to throw away parallels, throw away running Windows on your Mac because everything will just run in your browser. You will have access to — I mean, even your office 365, you can access all of that within your browser. And I’ll tell you, you have the large majority of functionality that you have today with the locally installed Microsoft.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:36] Wow, because I’d never — So, I can log into Microsoft under my password and pull it up on a browser?

Byron Patrick: [00:26:45] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:46] Without having to go through parallels?

Byron Patrick: [00:26:48] That’s right.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:49] And I guess I could have done that initially without even going through parallels. It’s just sign up with Microsoft. So, I don’t really have to have Windows on my-

Byron Patrick: [00:27:01] That is right. The decision of the operating system is becoming irrelevant.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:06] Wow, wow. And I can just see the benefits to that for businesses.

Byron Patrick: [00:27:14] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:15] Because they always say, you know, Microsoft is the analytical aspect of the computer, and the Mac has always been the creative side. Now, basically, instead of being predominately one side of that right or left brain, you can have both sides together. And, man, that’s going to unleash a lot of opportunity.

Byron Patrick: [00:27:31] Absolutely. You can put your peanut butter with your jelly.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:36] And put a banana with it there.

Byron Patrick: [00:27:40] There you go.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:40] Oh man. So, we’re rapidly moving, transforming our businesses. Technology is becoming a lot smarter, a lot more helpful. But I feel like that we’re still working twice as hard.

Byron Patrick: [00:27:55] All this code for efficiency is really just squeezing more out of you.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:01] I have a feeling that that’s true because it just seems like we keep adding another layer, another layer, but it does make the work easier to accomplish. And I think it allows us to take on more work, and we try to multitask, but that’s a whole other issue. What were some of the questions that people asking you during your sessions?

Byron Patrick: [00:28:20] Well, I mean, one of the big topics is password management. You know, we’ve been talking about it forever.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:28] Oh god.

Byron Patrick: [00:28:29] Right? So, a lot of conversation of, “You know, well, is this okay? What if I, you know, write it down in a hieroglyphics?” you know. So, there’s always a lot of questions about that. That’s big discussion. And then, a lot of discussion on the decision of what apps to begin using. There’s so much innovation going on. And this fear of better options in the sense of, you know, “I’ve signed up for this application. I’m now using it to, you know, process all of our expense reporting. And now, there’s a new one that does that, plus,” you know. It’s like, at some point, you have to pull the trigger and say, “I’m married to this cause.” So, there’s a lot of decisions. People are having a hard time with that decision.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:27] And this, the platform I’m using right now, Zoom, has I think taken over what Skype had built at one point in time because the other person doesn’t have to have an account. And the video aspect of it is a lot cleaner and nicer than Skype’s was, and it’s very user-friendly.

Byron Patrick: [00:29:48] Yes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:49] Because we’re having this conversation, you’re in Maryland, I’m in Ohio, and I can even see this being brought — Because we use Adobe Connect. I could facilitate an eight-hour session for the Washington Society of CPAs in Bellevue, Washington. Of course, they had enough participants, but not enough to cover the expenses of bringing me out there. So, I held a class, and I could see them, they could interact with me. And that’s, I think, part of where learning is going to go as I’m still having the interactions. It’s better than webinars. It’s one sided. It creates that conversation. So, what’s your favorite app?

Byron Patrick: [00:30:29] My favorite app. I tell you. So, about a year ago, I would have said Evernote.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:35] Evernote.

Byron Patrick: [00:30:35] I’m a huge, huge Evernote fan.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:35] Yeah, me too.

Byron Patrick: [00:30:35] And you know what, Microsoft — So, I was a OneNote fan for years, and that just got boring, and very plain. So, then, I went to Evernote, fell in love with Evernote. And, now, I’m back to OneNote because I have a touchscreen and a stylus. I love to write on my screen. And in OneNote, I can write my notes in there and keep it all organized. And if I get really crazy, it’ll convert that to type text. So, yeah, I’m really crushing on Office 365 just because of everything they do in there.

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:17] I do agree with that. Chris Jenkins, who’s the South Carolina CEO of the CPA Association, he was a big Mac guy. And when he was here in Ohio, he took his job at South Carolina. And somebody goes, “Well, what’s that?” He goes, “That’s a Surface Pro.” “What?” He goes, “Pete, 365 has blown away a lot of stuff that Apple was doing at the time.”

Peter Margaritis: [00:31:42] And what sold me was the fact of he showed us how when you’re developing a presentation, however you do it, but you can go into Word, and you could use the outline feature in Word, lay it out as an outline form, save it that way, go and open PowerPoint, and PowerPoint will bring your outline, and populate your slides, and you can start developing your slide deck at that point in time.

Byron Patrick: [00:32:12] Yup.

Peter Margaritis: [00:32:12] Which I went, “Holy cow, that was a winner winner chicken dinner.” I’ve told a lot of people about that. Obviously, you’ve got to smile. You’re going, “You know about that?” They go, “Really, you can do that?” I’m like, “Yeah. It does save time.” Yeah, it doesn’t save time if it’s already developed. Yeah. So, 365 is very powerful. I didn’t know about OneNote. So, I need to look into that because I love Evernote.

Peter Margaritis: [00:32:37] And I tell you what, I’m amazed how many people don’t have some type of note taking app on their devices because at these conferences, you know, we’re talking about stories, and developing stories, and they’re out there everywhere, and you can’t commit it to memory because you’ll forget about it, but all I got to do is take out your phone app, Evernote or whatever, just write a few words down, so you can come back and revisit. I go, “How many of you use Evernote?” And they’re looking like, “What’s that? I don’t know.” I’m like I can’t. If an app ever crashed on me, I would lose so much information because that’s my primary note taking.

Byron Patrick: [00:33:16] Yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:17] Now, sometimes, I don’t use it when a speaker is talking because I don’t want them to think that I’m texting, or playing Angry Birds, or something. But, at times, prior to, I’ve said, “You’re going to see me on my tablet here. I’m just taking notes. I’m not doing anything else. I promise you that,” because I know how sensitive that can be that, as a speaker, and when you see folks on their phone or on their tablet, it kind of throws off a little bit because, in your mind, for just a brief second, you go, “I wonder what the hell they’re really doing.”

Byron Patrick: [00:33:48] Right. And that’s one of the reasons why I moved to the stylus with my touchscreen. I have a Lenovo Yoga, which I can slip back like a tablet. And now, I can just hand write. And that way, there’s no question. I’m not doing Candy Crush. I’m actually taking notes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:06] But I’ve tried writing on my iPad, or some of these note taking. My handwriting is bad enough, but it gets a thousand percent worse when I do that. And the styluses, I don’t know if it’s because of my hand position and it’s on that. And I’ve never been able to master that. And I’d love to be able to.

Byron Patrick: [00:34:28] Yeah. Next time we see each other, I have to give you a little demo on my Yoga because I tell you, I had the same challenge, but I feel like it is so darn close to actually being pen and paper. It does a nice job.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:44] Wow. Yeah, I do need an update or a class on that, some instruction from the master. So, what app would you suggest or what apps would you suggest CPAs have, the must-have apps for their business, whether in public, or an industry, or government, or education?

Byron Patrick: [00:35:06] Oh man. Well, it’s such a large span of apps that are out there. I mean, obviously, some form of online accounting, I think, you know, is definitely where you need to be. I mean, begrudgingly, Quickbooks online is really common around to be a solid product that, you know, a lot of people are using, and there’s just so many integrations in the marketplace that are out there that it just gets the job done really well.

Byron Patrick: [00:35:43] You know, after that, I mean — Gosh, you’re putting me on the spot here. I mean, Zoom is, in my humble opinion, wonderful, especially for a remote workforce. Our business, we have employees in West Virginia, in Western Virginia. I’m sitting here in Maryland. And to be able to jump on a Zoom and have a face-to-face conversation with staff is just a real game changer, for managing staff meeting with potential clients. I can’t say enough about that.

Byron Patrick: [00:36:20] And then, you know, one of my favorites is Camscanner. It’s this little app for your phone that allows you to take pictures of paper and convert it to PDF. And, in fact, actually, now that I say that, I’m going to take it back because Office 365 now has an app called Office Lines that is far superior for taking pictures of whiteboards, pieces of paper, and all the such, and turning it into a PDF, or JPEG, or whatever you need it for.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:54] Wow, that’s cool. I’m going to have to be able to check that out. But you said something about Zoom, which takes me to another huge benefit of using Zoom. You can have a conference call on Zoom. You can see the individual, but whoever’s running it can mute everybody.

Byron Patrick: [00:37:13] Such an underutilized feature.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:17] It is.

Byron Patrick: [00:37:17] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:17] It is. And they can control the person’s microphone at anytime. And I told you, I’m the new president of NSA Ohio, and our conference calls are going to be — our board meetings are going to be conducted on Zoom. And I have the controls, and they’ll know. I’m going to say, “We’re going to do this in some kind of order,” because when you get a bunch of speakers together, and on a board, you can’t get a word in edgewise, and it tends to go on for too long of a time. With Zoom, you know, you can control that. You can control people stepping over each other. And that’s another reason why I love Zoom.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:01] And like I told you, I take my iPad to our chapter meetings. We just started this last year. And we’re Zooming our chapter meetings out to our membership and others who want to participate, if there’s a reason they can’t make it to the meeting that day. You know, we’re not trying to get people to stay home. We want people to come. We still want that aspect, but it’s when you can’t, something’s come up, you need to be home, you can still participate and still get that information.

Byron Patrick: [00:38:34] Yeah. Yup, absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:36] Yeah, I love it. And, you know, I guess, I didn’t realize I could use it on an app. See, baby boomer mentality. I just thought I had to use it on my laptop or my desktop. The first couple meetings, we were Zooming off of a laptop until someone said, “You know there’s an app for that.” And, technically, I could Zoom the meeting off my cell phone.

Byron Patrick: [00:39:01] Yup.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:02] Yeah. Yeah. That’s — Yeah.

Byron Patrick: [00:39:03] Yeah. I do that on a regular basis. If I’m out and about and need to attend a meeting with staff, I just fire it up on the phone.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:14] Cool. And I can only imagine what it’s going to look like five years from now.

Byron Patrick: [00:39:21] Yeah. Wait for the 3D hologram of Peter Margaritis that’s running next to me.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:28] Oh man, that would be scary enough to get a hologram on the show at any time. I think, folks like yourself and your business are so critical to CPAs these days because of the complexity of what goes on from an IT internet world versus, you know — And we’ve got enough as it is just trying to figure out, you know, the regulations and compliance that we need. You and your company, and your company is Network Alliance, are critical to the success of the profession in a lot of ways.

Byron Patrick: [00:40:11] Hey, I really appreciate that. I mean, it is a ever-changing world. And, you know, we’re trying to pivot and stay up to date to make sure that we can keep bringing that value to, you know, the industry and keep everybody relevant.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:31] Yeah, and I can imagine. As I think well, you know, CPAs, we’re always trying to stay current, and especially when the new tax law comes out, everybody would want to get up to date with it. But in your world, everything is getting updated almost on a daily basis to some degree. I don’t know how you keep up with everything that’s happening.

Byron Patrick: [00:40:50] I don’t feel like I do. You know, I wonder what I’m missing.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:58] Yeah. And you’re probably not missing anything. It’s just the amount of volume that’s coming out, but I would rest assure that anything big and major, you’re all over it. Well, let me figure it out this way, anybody can do five sessions at ENGAGE, and one to be asked to do five, and then to do that, you’ve got a breadth and depth of knowledge associated with this subject. You’ve got the name and the profession. You’re recognized that the AICPA level. You’ll have it covered. You got it covered. You got it covered, my friend.

Byron Patrick: [00:41:32] I’m glad we disabled the video because I’m cherry red, blushing red now. I appreciate those kind words.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:40] You’re more than welcome. You know, in the show notes, we’ll put your information, how people can contact. How can people contact you?

Byron Patrick: [00:41:49] There’s a number of ways. I mean, obviously, the Twitter, the LinkedIn are great ways to get a hold of me. In fact, I just recently connected with a firm in Alaska via Twitter, which is kind of fun. And, you know, obviously, good old email, BPatrick@NetworkAlliance.com. I would love to hear from you there. And if you so desire to pick up a phone, and you’re above the age of 35, you can, you know, call me at 703-715-4948.

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:26] I hope your phone blows up now that you gave everybody your phone number. That is great. Well, I greatly appreciate you taking time. I always enjoy our conversations. The problem that we have is we live too far apart. Hopefully, our paths cross sooner than later.

Byron Patrick: [00:42:49] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:49] And I look forward to future conversations.

Byron Patrick: [00:42:54] Thanks, Peter. I definitely look forward to it. And speaking of looking forward to, I cannot wait to get my hands on that new book of yours.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:02] Oh, thank you very much for the plug. Yes, by the time this goes out, the new book will be live on Amazon. And the name of it is Taking the Numb Out of Numbers. I appreciate your call out. Yes, you’ll be receiving a signed copy from me.

Byron Patrick: [00:43:18] Can’t wait to put it on my shelf.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:21] Thanks, man.

Byron Patrick: [00:43:21] Thank you.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:23] I want to thank Byron for filling our heads with a lot of IT information that, hopefully, we will be able to apply in our businesses. Thank you, Byron.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:33] In Episode 10, my guest is Rebecca Brown, who’s the Development Director at the Maryland Association of CPAs. Thank you for listening, and begin the process of Changing your Mindset and getting out of your comfort zone, and develop new skill sets to become more future-ready. Your call to action is to ask yourself if you can do more to have a greater impact on your career and in your community. Remember, a part of being future-ready is being an improviser. So, yes, and – I’m out.

 

Resources:

 

Ep 8 – Owen Wyss | The Value of Volunteering (For You & Your Community)

Owen Wyss is the Financial Controller at Thompson Concrete Construction, and he can best be described by a quote he gave in a recent AICPA article titled “Tired of Getting After-Hours Work Email?” Owen said, “Given the fact that my company does pay for me to have the ability to access my email on my smartphone, I believe they expect me to be available in an emergency or in order not to delay a project or task, especially since we operate globally.”

 

Now, most CPAs don’t feel that way – and that is what makes Owen a great leader!

 

Owen embraces the essence of leadership. He is currently Vice Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs, is also on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association, and has been on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (an organization close to my heart).

 

“I encourage, first, for everybody to find something they’re passionate about; and second, to find an organization that aligns with them and realize that what will come of that are some great friendships, some great networking opportunities, and business connections.”

 

That’s a lot for one person, in addition to having a job and a family, so our conversation covers a wide variety of topics: his role as a financial controller, why the construction industry needs to embrace more lean practices to become more efficient, and his volunteer time.

 

As you’ll hear, Owen is passionate about everything he does and is a great role model for both young and old. I am very proud of him, and I’m envious of his drive.

 

I also have an exciting announcement: my new book, Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, is available for purchase on Amazon.com! If you’d like to learn more about the book, head on over to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com.

 

Download this Episode MP3.

 

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

 

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode eight. And my guest today is Owen Wyss, who’s the Financial Controller at Thompson Concrete Construction. Owen can be described by a quote he gave in a recent AICPA article titled Tired of Getting After-Hours Work E-mail? Owen stated, “Given the fact that my company does pay for me to have the ability to access my email on my smartphone, I believe they expect me to be available in an emergency or in order not to delay a project or task, especially since we operate globally.” Now, most CPAs don’t feel that way, and that is what makes Owen a great leader. Owen embraces the essence of leadership, and he currently sits on two association boards and chairing a committee on another one. Owen is able to manage his time effectively between his job, his volunteer work with the associations, and he does have a wife and a daughter, and his daughter is not even two years old. So, our conversation does touch on his role as a financial controller, his volunteer time, and his family time. I think you’ll find this conversation between Owen and I to be very interesting, and he is very inspiring.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:23] A quick announcement before we get to the interview, my new book Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity is available for purchase on Amazon.com. If you’d like to learn more about the book, go to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com to learn more. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Owen Wyss.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:48] Hey, welcome back, everybody. Today, my guest is Owen Wyss. And Owen and I go back a number of years. And correct me if I’m wrong here, Owen, I think at one time when you were on the Ohio Society of CPAs Young CPA Board or on the committee, I think I was your mentor at one time. Is that correct?

Owen Wyss: [00:02:09] That is correct. Actually, I still tell my wife to this day that when we’re, you know, meeting up after work for a drink or an appetizer that I still consider you a mentor regardless of whether the official designation is now gone.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:25] I appreciate that. And I will have to say when I remembered that, I went, “Holy cow. Look what he’s done in his career.”

Owen Wyss: [00:02:34] We definitely go back further than that though. All the way, I think, to the first year of my career when my employer at the time brought you in for one of your seminars.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:49] Yes. You were with the Battelle & Battelle at the time, and that’s when I did my Humor at Work presentation. And that was the time when I said something like, you know, when you laugh, it has physical benefits it because it releases the endolphins. You know, the endolphins, those crazy fish that swim through your bloodstream to help you fight stress, anxiety, and depression? There were five folks who, on my evaluation, came back with “Mr. Margaritis, dolphins are mammals, not fish.”

Owen Wyss: [00:03:19] And in that group that day, that’s not all that surprising really.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:25] I tell that story a lot, but I forgot about that, yeah. We met when you were at Battelle & Battelle, but I am amazed how your career has evolved since the first time we met many years ago. And if you can give the folks, the audience, a little bit about your background, where you started, and what you do today.

Owen Wyss: [00:03:46] Yeah, absolutely. My background after graduating from Wright State started out in public accounting, and really remained there for nine years at two different firms Battelle & Battelle in Dayton, and then Crowe here in Columbus where I’m at now, primarily focused on auditing, manufacturing, distribution, clients. It’s simply stated.

Owen Wyss: [00:04:06] From there, I moved on to a role for four years in a manufacturing plant here in Columbus, Diamond Innovations. Then, known as Sandvik Hyperion, went through several evolutions, but, ultimately, they press diamonds for use in tools. They didn’t actually make the tools, but press the diamond right here in Columbus, and then send it out to the toolmakers. And I’ve spent four years there working on — Mainly, it was a controller role mainly focused on the financial side or finance side, I guess, I should say, related to budgeting, forecasting, and assessing results against that, forwarding it to our executive management team.

Owen Wyss: [00:04:50] Well, not a whole lot of place to go there based on growth, and thought it was time to make another move. And I’ve moved over to Thompson Concrete now, a family-owned concrete excavation construction company located just south of town, serving nearly all of Central Ohio, and recently expanding a small operation into Louisville, Kentucky.

Owen Wyss: [00:05:10] Here, I call myself a hands-on CFO without the title. The title is financial controller, but I’d say that I do about anything and everything other than my job description originally thought I was going to do. Anywhere from finance and accounting, you know, 20 to 40 percent of the job, to responsibility for HR and benefits, IT, contractor, you name it. It has really become a jack of all trades, and couldn’t say more about the learning experience just over a little over three years now. An opportunity to learn more than I ever thought possible on three-year period with lots and lots more to go.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:54] You just described every CFO that I’ve come across what they do. And I always hear HR and IT, usually, somewhere in that sentence of the responsibilities that they have. But I forgot that you were at Crowe, which jogged my memory. I had lunch with Andrea Meinardi a few weeks ago, and we were talking about you, all good, but I just wanted to let you know she said hello.

Owen Wyss: [00:06:19] Well, I hope she would say that because she recently took over our 401k audit. So, if she’s badmouthing, then we’ve got something to talk about.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:28] No, it was all good, my friend. It was all good. The question I want to ask is, what made you or why did you become an accountant?

Owen Wyss: [00:06:37] Unfortunately, I can’t give a great answer. I will say that it was dumb luck. There is no accounting in my background. There is really no business in my background. I come from a family of farmers out in the country. My mom was an underwriter in insurance for 45 years. And the dumb luck really came down to, at some point, I can’t even remember, my junior or senior year in the high school curriculum, I saw an accounting class. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I thought it might be something good to know when I get out in the world. And that class had a great teacher, and it just stuck. It felt like something I was really good at.

Owen Wyss: [00:07:22] And so, when I went to college, it was definitely something I thought, “There’s a real opportunity here,” but my dad did have somewhat of an engineering background, so I was balancing between the two. And I will say, to my luck, I think I chose the right way. I ended up declaring a designation or a major in accounting while I was at Wright State.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:43] Did you have Maggie Houston as a professor?

Owen Wyss: [00:07:47] Absolutely, first class, first year.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:50] Oh wow.

Owen Wyss: [00:07:51] One of the greats. I hope she listens to this and gets a chance to hear that. But I will tell you, Wright State was definitely unappreciated for its accounting program, whether it’d be Maggie Houston or Dr. John Talbott, just some great professors I had while I was down there. Really drove me to want to excel in this profession.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:12] Well, it started with that high school professor. Your teacher, who was a good teacher, raised your interest. And then, at your first accounting classes with Maggie, you’re hooked.

Owen Wyss: [00:08:22] Yeah, absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:23] Yeah. She’s a great lady. I haven’t seen her in a few years, but I hope she is listening because, I mean, she’s dynamite in the classroom. She’s dynamite outside the classroom. She gets so much energy. She’s just a really wonderful person.

Owen Wyss: [00:08:36] Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:38] So, you kind of fell into this. You just kind of stepped into it. But, man, when you step into something, you build something with it. I mean, thinking about your career and how you’ve embraced the profession, how you’ve embraced your role, but I have to ask this question because knowing CPAs, we work a lot, we have a lot of responsibilities, we never retire, but we get sleepless nights. So, what keeps you up at night other than your 16-month-old child?

Owen Wyss: [00:09:11] I know. Actually, I will tell you, she’s been a great sleeper since 10 weeks. So, hopefully, there’s no one listening to me that is very jealous or hates me for having said that. But my wife figured out a trick somewhere in there, and she’s been a great sleeper since then.

Owen Wyss: [00:09:26] You know, I would say it’s nothing on an overall professional basis or even personally. It’s really where I’m at now. I found a very interesting industry when I entered construction. It really is. It’s a different world. And a lot of people when they’re interviewing an accountant for construction, nobody can figure out the debits and credits. There are still debits and credits. That’s just a given. Anyone can pick it up that’s got a good accounting background, but it’s a different world from the perspective that it’s a different way of doing business. There’s not a lot of planning. There is a lot of, “That’s always the way we’ve done it.”.

Owen Wyss: [00:10:15] And, you know, those are the things that keep me up at night. And It’s a very, to me, antiquated and fragmented industry. And, actually, I stole that from an article that I can’t give accurate credit to that I read a day or two ago that really needs to adapt. And so, I’d say what keeps me up at night is trying to help our leadership be on the cutting edge of adapting. And that’s a hard road to tow. It’s difficult, you know, especially in this environment where there are contracts galore, and we’re trying to make sure we’re picking the right ones. You know, change is tough to get behind when you’re operating as lean as we do, and there’s so much opportunity out there.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:02] Wow. I wasn’t expecting that, but that’s interesting that you bring that up because construction, I have a very little background, and I used lend to it, but it is a different world. But you said the word leadership. You used it in a broad sense. So, you weren’t more or less talking about the leadership within your organization. You’re talking about the leadership within the construction financial arena?

Owen Wyss: [00:11:26] Both. You know, not only within our organization, you know, realizing that, you know, there’s some bad things, there’s possible bad things ahead that we need to avoid in our own company. But also, then, being part of several different organizations and going back to that fragmented way of doing business. Just the whole owner-contractor-subcontractor creates so many different self-interests in the way that construction is done or the way that things are built that I feel like we’ve got to find a way to to start to align the best interests of all if construction is going to be a successful industry into the future where we expect to keep cutting costs of building.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:14] Wow, yeah. You said self-interest. And, yes, construction has always kind of been more in the self-interest side. And to get them to adapt to a much more bigger picture will be a huge undertaking. And it sounds like, to me, there — Well, let me ask it a different way. Has there been some movement in adapting to a newer way, or is it still pretty much this is the way we’ve always done it?

Owen Wyss: [00:12:42] I feel — I would say the majority of the industry is still this is the way we’ve always done it. But I am receiving some feedback from the field related to some of the GCs, some of the experienced general contractors that we are finding ourselves working with, are really making an effort. And the one that sticks out to me is Turner Construction who seems to really be pushing down lean manufacturing ideas into the way that they construct. And that, I appreciate.

Owen Wyss: [00:13:16] You know, it’s kind of — I’ve been talking to our guys, our leadership here locally, just about the Toyota way and Honda way a lot, and how they worked with their manufacturers and subcontractors that weren’t within their own plants, and really forced down their ways to realize better margins and more profitability. And I think that Turner’s been taking that on from a construction perspective and with the ideas of lean. And we’re trying to start adopting some of that ourselves.

Owen Wyss: [00:13:45] I think that’s just a small piece though, as I believe it is important though that the owners, GCs, and subcontractors, and even sub-subcontractors, and suppliers start to find a better way to align their interests. It’s not all going to come from lean manufacturing ideas.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:05] Yeah, that’s a good point. There’s a thought process that I was just exposed to about a couple of months ago from a gentleman with the National Speakers Association, and he works at IBM. Have you heard of this called design thinking?

Owen Wyss: [00:14:21] No.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:22] And I will butcher this, but the concept is, you know, as a manufacturer of something, I build this, you buy it. And then, you’re not part of that input. To me, you’re the consumer. Well, design thinking is going to the point where the organization is partnering with the customer and helping to design the product that meets their needs to eliminate a lot of errors, a lot of — You know, when you implement an SAP system, somebody goes, “Okay. This is not going run smoothly. There’s going to be some type of interruption. There’s always something like that with an ERP system,” which stands for entities reoccurring problem.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:04] But with design thinking, it eliminates that because they’re partnering with their major customers and helping to design what they need versus, “We’ve got our engineers. We think we know what you need. We’re going to build it.” But a lot of times, it doesn’t work properly for a while.

Owen Wyss: [00:15:24] And interesting that you say that because maybe from that perspective, construction might actually be a little bit about out front, given the fact that the owners go in with an idea of what they need, and work with the GCs and design people to figure that out. I think it’s a little bit more of the actual process of getting it built that needs to come a long way; whereas, I think, manufacturing is out and front on that piece, and then needs to get more involved in the design piece.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:56] Okay. So, it sounds like — So, it’s with the subs that seems to be the issue from the GC and the subs, getting that that’s done smoothly, and efficiently, and on time, and under budget?

Owen Wyss: [00:16:10] I think that — Wow, you’re asking me to dig into the details here.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:16] No. Just for a second. I’m just curious.

Owen Wyss: [00:16:18] It is. It is a function, I think, of all three that you just mentioned. I mean, they’re pushing. Owners are pushing margins lower, you know, which obviously should drive the general contractors to push costs lower, which ultimately should drive the subcontractors to push costs lower. But I believe what you’re seeing is just shrinking margins because there’s not a great effort to look at how we can make construction more efficient. And like I said, I kind of keep going back to what I think. There are some GCs out there who see major opportunities with lean thought processes to do that and are trying to work with some of their closer general contractors to do or/and subcontractors to do the same.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:06] Cool. That’s interesting. Like I said, I’ve got a limited — I have to be a little bit dangerous. I haven’t been able to get rid of that memory of lending back in the — Well, just way back in that time, but still have some of that floating around. So, I was really kind of curious about that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:24] We’ll change gears for a bit. The one thing that I’m so happy that you’re doing, and I’m really envious of you and how you’ve approached this, is you find it very important to give your time back to the profession and to the community. And I’d like for you to talk about that because you’re currently Vice Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs. You’ve been on the board of JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. You’re currently also on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association. Am I forgetting anything?

Owen Wyss: [00:18:07] Not that — There were a few earlier in my career, you know, young CPA, young leadership boards that I participated in around the state and Columbus for that matter. But other than that, no, not at all. Not that I’m trying to fill any gaps either there, but, you know, it really started off as —

Owen Wyss: [00:18:31] And it’s interesting because I hate to say this, it was never meant to be giving back, but it really did start off at Battelle & Battelle in Dayton where they were very connected to a charitable organization. You know, for that matter, JDRF. They had a corporate bond with that organization. And, you know, therefore, it was easy to get involved because it was being driven from the top. And that was just a great chance to network, and get out, and do something. But it became more than that. You know, it really. You go, and you hear the stories, and it became much more of a connection outside of the networking and getting my own name out in the community. So, it really stuck.

Owen Wyss: [00:19:15] And when I moved to Columbus, actually, I passed up a chance to be more intimately involved with the board at the Dayton chapter, but I still wanted to continue that connection even though where I was moving to, I had no connection with that organization, it was important for me to maintain that. You know, it really is just finding something that you’re passionate about. And I stick with it to this day. I did the boards then. Now, I’m co-chairing their annual walk here in Columbus. And it’s just something I’ve become passionate about and has given me — Not only am I passionate about it and continue to do it, I’ve also met some amazing people around this city because of those connections.

Owen Wyss: [00:19:56] So, I encourage, first, for everybody to find something they’re passionate about; and second, to find an organization that aligns with them and realize that what will come of that are some great friendships, some great networking opportunities and business connections.

Owen Wyss: [00:20:13] And then, you know, the connections with the Ohio Society and with the CFMA, Construction Financial Management Association, those have both been driven from my professional relationships, and you find some really, really great and passionate people when you are working in organizations like that, people who want to drive change in industry. And it’s just a great opportunity to meet passionate people and other successful people in their profession, and get a feel for how they got to where they’re at now, which is where I’m aspiring to go in the next 20 or 30 years.

Owen Wyss: [00:20:58] So, I can’t encourage it more. It is a drain sometimes on personal life. And I shouldn’t call it a drain. It does take away from from being able to be at home or even sometimes at work. You know, there are during the day meetings, but it’s delivered tenfold back to me, not only for how I interact daily at work, but also how I interact at home.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:23] So, just so the audience knows, let’s go back to JDRF for a little while. You’re very passionate about this organization, but you’re not a diabetic.

Owen Wyss: [00:21:33] That is correct, I’m not. But I’ll you what, you hang around some people at that organization who are diabetics, and who are passionate, and it’s hard not to feel the same way they do.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:45] Yes. And, obviously, being a diabetic, I tip my hat to you because I applaud the work that you’re doing at JDRF and have done at JDRF. And I’ve met some folks at JDRF. I’ve met some of the doctors whose children have had diabetes, and they do a lot of work at JDRF. And that’s another organization. That’s kind of how — I didn’t realize, you had posted something on Facebook. It was around the Super Bowl or something, tickets to JDRF.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:19] And you were the one who introduced me, who is the Executive Director, Cathy Paessun, at the time. And I went talk to Cathy and wanted to volunteer. And then, she moved to the Central Ohio Diabetes Association. And we’ve talked about this. Honey, my wife, if you’re listening to this, please turn it off because you’re going to get really upset with me. But like I told you, I would still like to do and help something out at JDRF as I do at the Central Ohio Diabetes Associations. I’m just going to put that out there. And it’s recorded, so it can’t be taken back. And I know you can make it happen, like I said. And hit me up here soon. We need to get together for another afterwork appetizer and talk about potential opportunities over there.

Owen Wyss: [00:23:05] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:05] But you’ve been on the board for how many years now at the Ohio Society?

Owen Wyss: [00:23:11] I believe I just entered my fifth and final. And when I say final, I mean final, as in I do have to roll off for a period of time, but that’s going to be tough. I’ve made some great, great relationships there. And it’s going to be — It will actually be quite a system shock to not be able to catch up with some of those fellow board members, at least, quarterly for an all day meeting, and then at our annual retreat. So, it’s going to be a shock. But, you know, that’s also a teaching opportunity for myself. And then, I realized that I’ve got to make sure even if we were not assigned to be together that I continue to reach out and stay in contact with them, which sometimes, personally, will be tough for me.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:58] And you had a very unique time on the board because I believe when you first started, didn’t Clarke Price has retired, and Scott had just come on as a new CEO?

Owen Wyss: [00:24:11] I believe I became a board member in Scott’s second year-

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:17] Okay.

Owen Wyss: [00:24:18] … as CEO. So, Clarke was transitioned out, but, you know, it’s been a five-year string of that. I can’t wait to talk more about that when the opportunity allows. And I shouldn’t say not that I can’t, but just it hasn’t been — You know, I don’t get a whole lot of interest from my friends who aren’t accountants to talk about this. But it’s been so interesting to watch an organization try and fight through the supposed dying membership model and pick a strategy that will help the organization survive for years. I will be able to use things I’ve learned in this five years throughout every piece of my life, primarily in business, but I’m sure in many things.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:05] Yeah. You’ve been on the board for as long as you have. It’s a wonderful experience. I’m remembering when I first was on the board, I thought it was a cool thing because they really didn’t talk technical accounting. They were talking about the big picture things. And at the time, it was all about IFRS, and was it going to happen, and some things about peer review, and look at the profession, you know, five years ahead, and realizing, we’re five years there.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:31] And, yeah, a lot of this did happen. Some of that didn’t. But it’s — Yeah, you’re going to miss being that connected. Trust me. When I rolled off the chairs, I was off of all communication, and I was going through withdrawals. I was shaking, you know. Just foaming at the mouth at times because you’re so connected. You’re in the know. Then, all of a sudden, you know nothing.

Owen Wyss: [00:25:56] Yeah. You know, I will say that that’s probably a little bit of it too is is trying to figure out. I’m so passionate about the mission now in navigating this dying membership model that it’s going to be hard to not be in the know. And not even the decision making part of it or helping the organization make decisions, but just being out of the loop. And I know it will be hard to figure out how to get back, stay in that loop even if it is on the edge.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:26] Can you talk about anything about this dying membership model and the approach that the Ohio Society is doing, or is it still at board level and hasn’t trickled out to the general public?

Owen Wyss: [00:26:39] No, absolutely. I can absolutely talk about it. And it is still very much an evolving process. First, it would be my contention. And, you know, I’m sure that the society could summarize this much better than I will, but I’ll give my take on it here. You know, at first, the first evolution, I think, was to experiment outside the membership model with an organizational membership model. And we’ve learned a lot from that. And that is still something that we are pushing forward on, maybe not quite as we did on day one, but still today just with some tweaks to the plan.

Owen Wyss: [00:27:23] And then, you know, I think the other big change and evolution that we’re going through, and this is going to take years to perfect, if ever perfected, I guess I should say, is moving from a place where we deemed what learning that accountants in Ohio and beyond needed to a place where we’re working and consulting with organizations on their training needs and trying to bring solutions to them. And so, I think from that perspective, maybe both things I’m saying you can kind of hear us moving slightly away from our membership model and even more towards mainly an industry or business model.

Owen Wyss: [00:28:07] And, you know, we’re still so early. It’s hard to tell whether we’ve achieved success because, at this point in time, the organization still is very largely based on individual membership. So, we’re really trying to turn that slide around and hoping that we see that slide reverse course here shortly, maybe even the next four months.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:29] And that membership model, yeah, too. That’s a big battleship to turn on a dime, to move away from that, even though that membership model is any more. It’s like how do you engage the younger generation to join, to be a part of?

Owen Wyss: [00:28:52] And you’re absolutely right. I mean, it is. You know, we’ve talked about my involvement from a board level, and I’ll even extend this into a membership level, you know. And I won’t get into naming generations. I will say I’m one year out of what is considered a millennial. So, you know, many people probably would still lump me in there, not that I think that they need designated names.

Owen Wyss: [00:29:18] But, you know, just even talking about the friends that I hang out with every day, who many of them are outside of this profession. And, really, it enlightens me as to why the Ohio Society is not the only organization having membership trouble. The younger generations, really, it’s not something that they –At least, from what I personally experienced, it’s not something that they feel is just something they have to do. If you can’t find a way to make that personal connection, they’ve got no problem paying.

Owen Wyss: [00:29:52] But, sometimes, I think it’s tough. You know, I look back at myself and realize that if it wasn’t for jumping into the Ohio Society as a volunteer because I wanted to expand my network, I don’t know that I would have spent enough time reading e-mails or watching Facebook videos to understand what the Ohio Society really is doing for me. And it’s because I made a decision to want to network that, today, I’m so passionate about what I know that organization is accomplishing on a daily basis.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:26] Amen, brother. I mean, it’s kind of — I remember when I got involved because I was teaching at Franklin University, I felt like I needed to get involved. And I think the same thing. If it wasn’t for that, and I wasn’t — You know, I’m just trying to do it for the students, as well as build my network within the state. And, over the years, I think I did a very great job of doing that. I met some wonderful people.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:49] But it gets frustrating from those who are active, and from those who don’t read e-mails, or don’t get involved. But then, you ask, “Well, why are they members?” And a lot of the feedback I get is like from an AICPA level, I’ve heard some AICPA members say that the reason they keep their membership is for the insurance, which I find really amusing to some degree, but it’s life insurance. And I hear some say that, “I just want to, you know, make sure I’m still in the know,” or “I take it for the cheaper CPE.” And I still look at this much more to that organization than just that, but I might have been — Just like as you said, I might have been one of those folks if I hadn’t throw my hat in the ring, and jumped two feet, and became a volunteer.

Owen Wyss: [00:31:49] I mean, absolutely true. I mean, sometimes we’re — And we’re wavering on how to sell, you know. Sell is such a bad word, but how to sell the organization because I can tell anybody that’s a CPA that needs CPE that the Ohio Society provides 12 hours per year, and just for paying your membership fees. And if you look at the cost of CPE, that pays for itself. I mean, you’ve officially paid for your membership if you take all 12 CPE hours.

Owen Wyss: [00:32:21] The organization is doing so much more. You know, we’ve got the advantage of being a sizable state and having a heavy membership for the Ohio Society. So, I think, you’d never know if you don’t take the time to sit and listen or read an article. But Ohio, from a business and tax perspective, especially the Ohio Society of CPAs, is not only playing in Ohio. I mean, they really are and do have a national presence. And it’s an organization I can speak to accomplishing so much that if anybody, an Ohio CPA and not a member is listening to this, I couldn’t encourage them more to do their research and get involved.

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:02] Yeah, it’s finding that value, “What value are you bringing to me as a member?” versus, back in the day, we were taken. You need to do this. It’s kind of like the told model versus now. But when you look at the members, you can’t — Well, I look at it this way. We’re looking at our members as like we’re playing checkers or we’re playing chess. Because if you think of the game of checkers, each piece can move in any direction it wants to, but in checkers, it’s a strategic move. So, it’s almost like an a la carte. I can’t give it one thing to the masses. I have to tailor it to meet those different audiences that I’m trying to appeal to.

Owen Wyss: [00:33:46] Absolutely. And it’s tough to — And, you know, we’re seeing it in social media every day today. It’s tough to strategize those communications to know that you’re getting the right communication to the right member or potential member. You know, here at Thompson, we’re talking about taking on some social media presence. We have the slightest right now that I manage also myself, but we’re really talking about bringing in somebody who is an expert at aiming social media.

Owen Wyss: [00:34:20] And that just shows you how poorly I can speak about this when I say aiming social media, but, you know, if we’re looking to hire, we do have demographics that fit what our typical employees ought to fit in best here. I have no idea how to direct that. But, you know, that person does, and it’s become an incredible expertise, And I continue to hear more about that other organizations should definitely be looking into.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:48] Exactly. There was some committee meeting the other day. Somebody mentioned that they hired a social media expert intern. And within a 12-month period of time, their social media activity followers just exploded. It was up, I feel like, about 300% or something crazy like that. But if you think about that, and a lot of conversations being had out in social media, you’re just raising your visibility, your presence.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:18] And having a social media strategist for, I think, all organizations, all businesses, to raise their profile, that’s more than likely an investment that would provide great ROI, But, a lot of times, we go, ” But what does it do? Am I not be getting sales? I might not. How do you measure?” But I think it’s much more than that, the aspect of just that visibility and being out in front of people. And when I need something done, social media, that’s first place I think of, and I’ll go to, and that’s my lifestyle.

Owen Wyss: [00:35:54] And I hate to admit, you know, I get asked the question on a survey here that I find myself taking, what’s your primary news source? And my primary news source is Facebook. And I know I just dated myself there, but my primary news source is Facebook. Now, don’t get me wrong. The news sources on Facebook are still your ABCs, and your CNNs, Fox News, and whatever else it is that I might have liked in the past, but I’m not even doing a search. If it’s important, it’ll show up in my newsfeed.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:27] That’s interesting. I used to be a newspaper guy. But then, they took them all away. So, I get my news via some apps that will go out and gather information from a variety of sources to bring it in. And that’s the first thing I do every morning is kind of sift through. I just kind of go through it. But I still have the Wall Street Journal on my app on my iPad, and I still struggle at times to read through the Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business Review. I can do that, which is really that’s not like a CPA to say something like that.

Owen Wyss: [00:37:03] And I will be completely honest here, you know, I am of the generation, whatever generation that might be, that still likes its news, and/or does like its news, and does like what it reads to be 30 seconds or less. You know, if you want me to delve into a longer thought process on it, it’s got to be something that I’ve become incredibly interested in in the first 30 sec.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:31] And in journalism, they call that don’t bury the lead because the lead gets you to dig in. And I forgot where I was reading this. Don’t bury the lead, the lead gets your interest, and the major content has to be of those first three to four paragraphs of that because the longer the article is, they probably won’t get to the end or even halfway through, but they’ll consume that first three or four paragraphs, and then move on to the next. But if the lead doesn’t attract in today’s age, we’re just going to move to the next. And that’s kind of like the top process towards that audience. How are we getting their attention? What’s that lead that we need to create and not bury?

Owen Wyss: [00:38:16] And I think you’re absolutely right. And, you know, a little bit of me even equates that to what I do at work every day. It’s a jack of all trades. And yes, I need to be a subject matter around some things, but, in a lot of cases, it’s better that I can speak at a high level about a lot of things. You know, and then if I need to dig into something, I will set that time aside or develop a team here that can help me do so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:46] Exactly. I find that Sundays are a nice quiet time where I can go through and dig deeper in some of the stuff. I put a lot of my articles that I want to read for that Sunday out on my Evernote account, so I can just pull them up, sit on a couch, have a cup of coffee, and read through about an hour, an hour or two every Sunday, and try to get, you know, a little bit deeper.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:08] The one that I still haven’t done yet, and I’ve got a lot of articles on it is that new intestinal disorder called block chain. I am starting to begin to understand it, and I need to dig into it deeper, but that one kind of, yeah.

Owen Wyss: [00:39:27] I need to ask a favor then because I have tried, and I still have no idea what it is. I understand what I think it does. I don’t know what it is or how it does it. And I’ve made an effort. So, next time we get together, I’m going that you give me a little training and schooling.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:50] I most certainly will, and that will be in 2020. You know, actually, I was speaking at the National Association of Black Accountants, and one of our colleagues was doing a session on block chain. So, I sat to his hour long session, and I walked out with, “I think I got it. I think I finally kind of understand what they’re talking about.” So, yes, I will brush up on it the next time that we get together.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:16] Before we wrap up, so, let’s recap. You’re a husband, you’re a father, financial controller, volunteer at a variety of organizations. So, what do you do if you have any spare time just for you?

Owen Wyss: [00:40:34] This time of year, yard work. And the rain has been killing me this year. It makes it really tough to get to. And now, I’m going to jinx myself with that because we’ll have drought the rest of the summer, and my yard would be brown, which would even frustrate me more. You know, I have a passion for a lot of things. It’s so interesting. And my friends would probably tell you that my passions for a lot of things last for about a year and a half to two years at a time.

Owen Wyss: [00:41:05] Anything with an engine, I am a complete car guy. I have a few and love to tinker. I don’t know that I’m diving into them if I don’t know what I’m doing. I do have that hold up, but I do love to tinker with them. And then, just, you know, love to be outside. The summer is a great time of year, and just play some softball here and there. Kind of have slowed down in the past few years from the three to four nights a week of softball and volleyball with marriage and a kid. But when I do get a chance to get out, I still love to do so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:36] That’s cool. That’s great. And I was talking to someone recently, and in their interview, they asked, “What do you do in your spare time?” because, basically, if they don’t do anything, that means — And this is the way it was told me, and I agree that they don’t have an outlet. And anymore we need an outlet, a place that we can get rid of that stress, so it doesn’t continually build up, build up, build up.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:59] And I applaud you on so many accounts. I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished, but the cool thing is I’m going to be around to watch you do even more. And I’m looking for it. And I’m not going to jinx it, but I truly believe. But I will put it on the record that I believe that somewhere in your near future that you may actually be the chair of the Ohio Society of CPAs, and run that organization, and be the face of the organization for a year.

Owen Wyss: [00:42:29] Thank you for that. Now, I don’t have to publicly speak in front of a room of 400, I’d be much more open to that than what I might even when I first joined the board.

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:40] I can fix that for you. I can fix that publicly speaking piece to 400 people. And they may tell you to look at them naked, don’t ever do that. That’s the worst piece of advice, but I can help you in that realm.

Owen Wyss: [00:42:53] I know you can. And we’re probably going to need to start that training sooner than later if I plan to reach all of the heights I’d like to in my working career.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:05] We have it on record. I’m going to hold you to it. Owen, I can’t thank you enough spending time. I look forward, and I’ll send you an e-mail on trying to figure out some time between now and the end of August to get together. And, man, just keep knocking it out of the park, my friend. Just keep knocking it out of the park.

Owen Wyss: [00:43:26] Peter, thank you very much for your time. This has been a thoroughly enjoyable. And I hope that it sounds good to everybody as it did in my head.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:33] Yeah, mine too.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:39] I want to thank Owen again for taking time out of his very busy schedule on being a guest on my podcast. As you can tell listening to our conversation that Owen is passionate about everything he does and is a great role model for both young and old. I am very proud of him, and I’m envious of his drive.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:59] In episode 9, my guest is Byron Patrick, who is the Managing Director at CPA Practice at Network Alliance. He recently presented five sessions at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference on a variety of IT topics, and that is the focus of our conversation. Thank you for listening. And begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone to develop new skill sets to become more future-ready. Your call to action is to ask yourself if you can do more to have a greater impact on your career and on your community. Remember, a part of being future ready is to be an improviser. Yes, and – I’m out.

 

 

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