Cathleen Anderson runs her way to better client relationships
Cathleen received her BS in Business Accounting from Indiana University and then went to work for a payroll processing company in her hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. She later moved to Pennsylvania where she worked in public accounting and earned her CPA. And for the last 14 years, she’s been at Burnham, working her way up to Tax Manager and Retirement Plan Administrator.
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John: Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to Episode 10 of the Green Apple Podcast. My guest today is someone I met after speaking at a CPE event so I’m really excited to give her thoughts on being a green apple.
Cathleen Anderson received her BS in Business Accounting from Indiana University and then went to work for a payroll processing company in her hometown at Elkhart, Indiana. She later moved into Pennsylvania where she worked in public accounting, earned her CPA and for the last 14 years, she’s been at Burnham Holdings working her way up to Tax Manager and Retirement Plan Administrator.
Thanks so much for being at the show, Cathleen. It’s great to talk to you again. I’m a little nervous though since you spend every day in the corporate tax world.
Cathleen: Yes. I am the Tax Manager but I finally do some accounting as well, and pension insurance accounting, 401(k). When you’re good with numbers, they kind of pull you in all directions.
John: Yeah, I was just going to say, did you lose a bet? Like those sound, like all the worst possible things.
Cathleen: Oh, no. No, I find them very interesting.
John: I’m just teasing, I’m teasing you, I have no clue of any of that. I remember when I worked at PwC, the tax people I just referred to as the dark side because I think it’s all magic, dark magic, I don’t know what’s happening over there. It’s all make believe to me. They don’t go outside, they don’t talk to clients, I don’t know what they’re doing. No, I’m just giving you a hard time. But one question that I love to ask other accountants that I meet is, how did you get into accounting?
Cathleen: It really was the 9th Grade, which for me that was freshman year of high school, we get to take different elective courses and I took Accounting. I think I always gravitated more toward Math. When I was very young, I had a speech problem, I couldn’t say J’s. So like my friend, Jimmy, it would come out Zimmy. I found out later, I actually took a Linguistics class in college as well, and found out that, like those sounds are the last sounds you learn, so for some reason, I decided not to learn those sounds.
Anyway, during my elementary years, I went to speech therapists and did different things during school, so I missed like geography, so I don’t know the states very well, and some other things like that, but I was always good at math because I didn’t have to say anything. I could just do the numbers, do the homework, I didn’t have to read out loud. I hate reading out loud, so I wasn’t really a word person, I consider myself more of a numbers person. So I actually got into an Accounting course, I loved it. I just thought “Wow, this is just great.”
That was 9th Grade and I just took it through high school and then went into college for accounting in business and have just found that numbers — Kind of like a puzzle when you’re doing tax returns and payroll taxes and different things, you kind of do all your little parts and it comes together in the end, and you can put them in a little package then start your next year. So I kind of like that process of completing something and then doing the same thing the next year.
John: That sounds great! Whenever I do taxes I actually just ask the people what do you want the number to be? And that’s why I do this now. That’s fascinating, wow! That’s so perfect, you were meant for this, that’s so great. Obviously, doing that is fun, and working at Burnham Holdings is a good time but what do you do when go home at night, on the weekends, what do you do, what occupies your time outside of work?
Cathleen: The main thing I was saying as far as through something I could think I can tie back in to work is running. I started to do a lot of 5K for charity reasons, thru American Cancer Society, and various local things. And one year I started to look and I was like, “I’ve done six to eight 5K’s, that’s a half marathon. Why don’t I just train for that?” So two years ago, I did to do the Harrisburg Half Marathon.
And then last year, I didn’t do as much running and I did find that I more stress at work and just wasn’t half as happy I had been in the past. I also knit and I also read so that definitely helps with calming but I did find that the running, setting a goal, and actually doing the dedication of doing in what you need to do, training for a half marathon, that helps me keep my focus away from work. I try to give 110% when I’m here but when I’m not at work I need something to focus on, stay in that mindset.
John: Exactly. So that’s great. I’ve actually ran one half-marathon, myself. It was in the Indianapolis and I retired from running after that actually. That was far enough. I had run far enough. But what was your first half-marathon that you did then?
Cathleen: That was Harrisburg, two years ago, and I thought that would be my only one. And then like I said, I didn’t do it the next year because I didn’t think I’d ever do one again. But then this year I just had some more stress and I just thought I need a different focus from work and so I started to run with a local group. We’re trying for the Baltimore half-marathon, so it will begin on October. And I don’t know if I’ll do anything after that, I don’t know. I mean I do hope that I’ll continue to run like maybe three miles every other day versus the training we’re doing now.
John: Right. Well if you follow your logic, two half-marathons is one marathon.
Cathleen: Yeah, exactly
John: And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
Cathleen: Right. I mean honestly, the training you have… Like I did five miles yesterday, I’ll do five miles Monday, and I’ll do eight miles on Saturday. So basically, I’ve done a half-marathon this week. It just wasn’t all together.
John: Yeah. I think you should just mail everybody and be like, “I’ve done it. We’re done. Just send me my medal. Let’s go eat a big dinner.”
Cathleen: You don’t need to pay the registration fee, exactly.
John: Oh, yeah, that’s the other part, exactly! That’s the accountant in you, see? That’s good, I like it!
Cathleen: We did it for free!
John: Right. So These 5Ks that you started doing, how did you get into those?
Cathleen: Like I said, I did one for American Cancer Society and one was for a friend who had passed from cancer, so it was more to raise the money for the people than to actually run. I just kept signing up for different ones and it’s like, I’ve done enough that I could do a half-marathon now.
John: Yeah. That’s cool, though, that’s very cool. Do people from work get involved at all?
Cathleen: Yeah. A friend of mine we did like a Couch to 5K, that’s how we started. It was more through our wellness program as well here, just trying to be more healthy so we did that Couch to 5K. We would run together. She’s still a co-worker, we still run together sometimes, sometimes not. She has smaller children than mine so she can’t get away as often. So, yeah, we started running together and then… It’s just interesting when you talk to even — I deal a lot with third party administrators for like our pension and our taxes and that kind of stuff and usually someone there is a runner. So runners talk, we can talk about different things that no one else understands. Runners understand that you actually run and then go ice your knee every time you run or run with a something on your knee because you have bad knees, it’s like “Why you’re running? Just stop.”
John: That’s my question is, you cannot run.
Cathleen: Yeah, but there’s definitely benefits, yes. It’s to get rid of the stress. I’m not a swimmer.
John: So when you’re talking with clients especially, it sounds like it’s able to break through on another level and have a connection with them through this.
Cathleen: Right. You see them at races, they’re pretty local so you kind of see the same sort of people. “Oh, did you run this? Are you going to run that?” That’s definitely a conversation starter.
John: Yeah, absolutely, because I would imagine that without that, sometimes, conversations can get a little bit awkward or they go straight to work.
Cathleen: You’re right.
John: And so now, with having this in common, it’s a lot more fluid and I’m sure that they’re a little more open and willing to help out with things.
John: That’s fantastic! So then before you got into this hobby with the running, was there anything else that you shared at work or was it more this is what made you want to open up more?
Cathleen: I do think it made me open up more just because you have a commonality with people. I am a numbers person, I always say I’m a tax department of one, and I’m okay with that. I always say I like to be an island. I know I still am not very outgoing right now but when I’m in a group of people, I’m the type that I’d rather just be home reading a book than going to a social engagement and talking to people.
Professionally, I think I do much better because I know my job, I’m good at it. So if people ask me questions, I have the answers, that kind of thing. I came from accounting and auditing and public firms so when I’m dealing with our public accountants and our public tax people, I give them the information right away, like, “Wow! We don’t have any client like you that gives us the information right away”. And I was like, “I was you. I was waiting for my clients to give me information and then getting it at the last minute and now I have to rush around. So I have appreciation for you. I was you”.
John: Yeah. Sitting in the room with no windows, you’re just waiting for the client to deliver whatever you asked for.
Cathleen: Exactly. So I do think just having something to talk about, to start the conversation with is easier for kind of introvert, which I don’t know if all accountants are introvert. Most of the ones I deal with, we kind of like our calculators and pencils all to be in a row. I think we’re type A personalities, I don’t know what type they call it but we like detail, we like things where we put them.
John: Exactly, yeah. I tend to be type A even though I left the accounting world, it’s still inside you. You can’t escape it, it’s still a part of you.
Cathleen: Yeah. I think being deadline-driven, you can’t procrastinate. How can you procrastinate on tax returns? The government is not going to say, “Oh, sorry. This didn’t get done by December 15, too bad!” You have to, there’s no option.
John: Exactly. Which is the type of the person that you want to have doing that so that’s so perfect, that’s so perfect. And so that’s interesting that the running is what made you want to open up more because it’s a common hobby that a lot of people have.
John: What might be basically some words of encouragement maybe for someone else, maybe run but they don’t share with their team or their clients?
Cathleen: Well, I do think that it’s important that people realize you do have a life outside of your profession. It just helps break the ice, helps have something to talk about, so it’s not always so high-stressed and focused on just your job.
John: Yeah, most definitely. And like you said, when you’re able to create those connections with people on another level then it makes work better for everyone involved, whether it’s a client or coworker or what have you. That’s excellent.
Do you have any specific stories of where something might have helped out.
Cathleen: I do have a pretty funny story. I don’t know if it’s one of the pictures, I guess it wasn’t one of the pictures I sent you. Well, one of the pictures I sent you is myself and another girl who is also an accountant for one of our subsidiaries, her building is right behind mine. Her and I both kind of trained at the same time for Harrisburg, we ran together. And her husband, I run 5Ks a bit slower than she does but we were running a lot at the same events. And I always seeing this gentleman who was about my pace, running with me. And he was a bigger, kind of more like a football kind of guy, and so I finally met him and found out it was her husband. So the very next year, our office, we were doing a wellness program and we have a wellness committee and it’s one of the thing we’re doing to help employees was to do a warrior dash, to train for a warrior dash and run that race. So we ran that warrior dash —
John: So what is a warrior dash?
Cathleen: A warrior dash is like Spartan but easier.
John: Oh, like a Tough Mudder type of thing?
Cathleen: Yeah, like a Tough Mudder. So I ran that and then the very next day, I signed up for a 5K that my family always run. It’s called the Honey 5K, Dutch Gold Honey in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So we’ve always done that race, so even though the warrior dash, which was kind of intense, I still said I’m going to do that run. I may end up walking at the end but we’re committed to do this as a family. So my husband and I were running, and my husband was actually running backwards because he was just showing off, no, he was trying to encourage me because it was toward the end and I was exhausted. We actually wore the shirts that we had done for warrior dash with our company name as Burnham so they do flames at the end you have to jump through at the warrior dash, so our slogans on the back of our T-shirts says “Burn them up”.
So this gentleman starts running next to me because I started to walk at that point, and he said “If I can finish this running, you’re going to finish this running.” So he grabbed my arm and started running with me, and my husband was running backwards, so he turned around and the guy looked at me and he said “What’s your name?” And I said, “Cathleen”, and he’s “What’s your last name?”, I said “Anderson.” And he said “You work with my wife, Beth” and that was the gala he had ran the half-marathon where there was your husband Chuck who I haven’t seen Chuck many times but he had glasses on, he had lost some weight so he looked different. Then he looked at my husband shirt’s and he’s like, “Oh, my gosh! You just did the warrior dash yesterday. No wonder you can’t finish this 5K.” And he’s like, “Well, we’re almost to the finish so let’s keep running.”
So we came around the corner to the finish and his wife was standing there. And so she took a picture of us and we told her the whole story. So it was just perfect illustration of how life, it’s a small world and you don’t know what connections you’re going to make in the running world. But it was just, “What’s your name?”, why is this guy asking me my name.
John: Yeah, like, are you following me home? What’s up, dude?
Cathleen: Exactly. Stalker!
John: Yeah, exactly. But that’s so amazing because had you not opened up, had you not participated, had you not shared with your coworker this is what you’re doing, then none of that would have ever come together at that same time. So that’s really a funny story. Yes, and I do have that picture of you guys with the medals. So that’s funny. That will be on the website, that’s so perfect. That’s really funny, yeah. That’s an excellent example of what you can get out of by something that’s so simple, something that you’re already doing anyway, running, for charity and for yourself, or stress, setting goals outside of work and things like that, you’re doing that anyway. But by sharing it at work, it’s really paid some dividends, so that’s super cool. That’s really neat.
And so I feel like we’ve gotten to know you really well, but I don’t feel that we get to know you totally until I do my rapid fire questions. So I have 17 questions, and they’re all super fun and really quick. So this is a getting-to-know Cathleen moment, really fast. So PC or Mac?
John: Balance sheet or income statement?
Cathleen: Balance sheet.
John: Pens or pencils?
John: Favorite cereal?
Cathleen: Captain Crunch.
John: And wow, you do tax returns on pen? That’s impressive.
Cathleen: Oh, yes. I have Whiteout.
John: Okay, I was just going to say you make no mistakes. Okay, all right. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Cathleen: Star Trek.
John: All right, you’re guessing. Neither. That’s a fair answer. Cats or dogs?
John: Favorite number?
John: Favorite sports team?
John: Oh. Diamonds or pearls?
John: Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Cathleen: Sudoku, for sure.
John: That was a trick question. Of course, it’s Sudoku. Movie that makes you cry?
John: Oh, wow, going back.
Cathleen: The old one. Yeah.
John: Yeah. That’s a good one, though. Favorite color?
John: And least favorite color?
John: Favorite ice cream flavor?
Cathleen: Usually mint chocolate chips.
John: Oh, that’s a good one. And favorite comedian?
John: Oh, wow! All right. That’s a good answer. I had to ask. And two more, heels or flats? Or running shoes, I guess in your case.
Cathleen: Flats when I’m training, heels when I’m not.
John: Yes. And favorite thing you own?
Cathleen: Probably the bag of peas I use to ice my knee right now.
John: That’s so great. Well, that’s really fantastic, Cathleen. I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the Green Apple Podcast and sharing with everyone your experience and that’s been really fantastic. And good luck with your half marathon coming up in the next couple of weeks.
Cathleen: Right. Okay. Thank you.
John: I really hope you enjoyed what Cathleen had to say because you’ll never know who you’ll run in to who’s connected through your hobby or your past. Please be sure to visit greenapplepodcast.com to see some pictures of Cathleen in action. And since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for all of you that are listening and sharing with your friends. If you know any accountant who’s known for their hobbies, please tell them to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can have them on the show.