Paul travels his way to better business relationships
Paul Panabaker didn’t start travelling until after he graduated and had some work in Australia. Now, he travels all the time, especially for DFK International conference and also to visit friends in Thailand, where he’s been able to catch some monster fish. He’s also a pretty huge Toronto Raptors fan and has collected a lot of memorabilia over the years.
In this episode, Paul and I talk about how his travels have allowed him the ability to be engaged in other parts of the world and how business might be done there. The conference trips allow him to have in-person meetings with people that he does business with, making it a true connection that lasts. He feels that having a personality means having the ability to communicate with clients and coworkers, saying, “If you can have a relationship that’s a little bit more, then having a personality at work certainly doesn’t hurt.”
Paul Panabaker is a Senior Partner with Davis Martindale in London, Ontario, Canada, known as “Accountants with Personality!”. He’s also the Vice President of the Americas for DFK International.
He graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Arts, Economics.
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Hello, this is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 151 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a passion or an interest or a hobby outside of work, making them stand out like a green apple in a stereotypically boring red apple world. I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to stand out with our technical expertise. “Look at my degrees. Look at my certifications, all the letters after my name.” I’m here to shine a light each week on someone who understands that expertise isn’t always earned this way. Sometimes, it’s experiences from your passions outside of work that make you better at your job. This week, you’ll hear from one of the originals, since he helped coin his firm’s tagline “Accountants With a Personality,” which is awesome.
Really quickly, I’m also doing some research. It’s a super short, one-minute anonymous survey about corporate culture and how the green apple message might apply in your world. If you’ve got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. You can click the big, green button there. Answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help for research for the book I’m launching later this year. Thanks so much to everyone for hitting subscribe on the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests, like this week’s Paul Panabaker. He’s a Senior Partner with Davis Martindale in London, Ontario, Canada. I’m really excited to have him on the show. But to get things started, Paul, I want to say thanks so much for being with me today on the green apple podcast.
Paul: Happy to be here, John.
John: I’m so excited to have you on after meeting you at the DFK conference in Vegas a couple of years ago and hanging out at dinner that night. I remember your business card always saying “Accountants With a Personality.” I was like, “That’s fantastic.” I’m so happy that we’re able to make this work today.
John: Yeah. I gave everyone a little bit of an introduction to you, but maybe in your own words, what you’re up to now and a little bit of how you got there?
Paul: All right. I’m a Senior Partner with Davis Martindale, as you say, the “Accountants With Personality.” Also, you referenced DFK, I’m presently a Vice President of the Americans for DFK international. But day to day, I’m an accountant here in London, Ontario and part of the time in Toronto.
John: Nice. When you’re not being a Senior Partner at Davis Martindale, what passions and interests outside of work do you love to do?
Paul: I’m a Toronto Raptors basketball fan. Certainly, that’s had its trials and tribulations over the years. I referenced the DFK aspects and early in my career, I volunteered within the profession in various capacities. That led to some travel here and there. Ultimately, I’ve been very blessed to, as you referenced, travel to some of these conferences and been able to combine that with a passion for travel and visiting interesting places.
John: Yeah, yeah. Were you interested and travelled before that or was the DFK really kicked it up a notch?
Paul: It kicked it up a notch. I was fortunate very early in my career, was seconded to go and work in Australia. That was three months working in Australia and a month of travel. That really opened your eyes to the world. It’s been great ever since.
John: That’s really cool. Do you have a favorite? I’m sure that there’s a lot of favorites, but some of the cooler places that you’ve been or more rewarding stories?
Paul: Well, one of the things that I referenced in our communications was I had a client situation; very, very good friend of mine, who happened to be working in Korea, number of years ago and contract issues, et cetera. I was taking these phone calls at ten o’clock at night because of the time difference. I came back in one evening. My wife said, she looked at me and she said, “You’ve got a great friend who is over in Korea. You haven’t gone to visit them.” Of course, it was in the middle of tax season. That was the last thing on my mind. But shortly after that, the opportunity came up to go and visit my friend. The crazy part about that is he had been a competitive fisherman in his days back in Canada, in North America and happened to spend a weekend in Thailand. Now to commute from Korea to Thailand is like a five or six hour flight. But that’s what he did on his weekend, to go deep-sea fishing.
John: Oh, wow.
Paul: The crazy part about that is the deep-sea fishing wasn’t so good. Someone referred him to a manmade lake in the jungles of Thailand. He said, “Meet me there. Meet me there.” My once in a lifetime trip to that part of the world, I landed two o’clock in the morning in Thailand, met by a gentleman holding a wooden fish with my name on it, didn’t speak any English. Off we went on a two-hour venture into the jungle. I woke up in what would otherwise be a Jurassic Park. It was spectacular in the sense that I’ve done some fishing, but I hadn’t done this kind of fishing. Which essentially was big game hunting, but you don’t harm the animal. You’re fishing for this monster, freshwater fish from the shore. We continued on our trip, ended up in Korea, et cetera. That was all fine. My once in a lifetime trip was amazing.
John: That’s crazy man. That sounds awesome. Yeah. I mean you really have to trust your friend to go to a manmade lake in the middle of a jungle in Thailand.
Paul: That was eight or nine years ago.
John: I mean I imagine, since a fair amount of it happens with the DFK, it does come up at work. But do these other stories creep in at work, in the office?
Paul: Absolutely. When you look at the pictures of some of these fish that can be hundreds of pounds and then you catch them. Pose in the water for a picture. They’re released. The care and feeding of the animals is pretty good. People are quite fascinated when they see the pictures. Clients, especially, inquire, “Well, where have you been traveling to?” It’s a very interesting conversation.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Is this something that you would say makes you better at your job? Maybe, even from a technical skill side even?
Paul: Absolutely. John, we’re accountants. The ability to have engaged in other parts of the world, other societies, other economics, I think makes you more interesting.
John: Yeah, for sure.
Paul: When you are speaking with your clients, often you’re able to share experiences, whether it’s in Europe or Asia or wherever, downtown USA, somewhere that you share those experiences. That, in turn, creates an interesting bond with your clients or even with your staff. I’ve had a number of discussions with young CPAs who are saving for their next trip or along with their husband. They like to travel, et cetera. It’s been fun. I won’t say coaching or mentoring, but just sharing as peers, their plans and what they’re hoping to experience when they go to a different part of the world.
John: Yeah. I love that how it’s sharing as peers, you’re no longer this senior partner in the corner office. You’re just Paul who went on this cool trip that I want to go on to.
Paul: Exactly. You can share, you know, you’d really enjoy this restaurant or this particular tour. Make sure it’s free if you go on Tuesdays, or something like that.
John: Yeah. It sounds like you just genuinely care about the people around you. It’s like, “Let me help you out,” or vice versa. Maybe they’ve been somewhere that you are getting ready to go.
John: It opens that door to have a human-to-human conversation instead of a partner-to-staff conversation.
John: Do you feel like that dynamic carries over to more than when you’re just talking about travel?
Paul: It has the opportunity to, as I say, tie the economy or the way business is done in different jurisdictions. Taxation could include a lot of different things. Or certainly, from a client situation, you have the ability to provide a network of contacts, not just so-and-so from a directory. You’ve met with them. You’ve seen them, perhaps visit their offices, had a beer. Well, then when send the email to say, “Could you assist this particular client,” or, “We have a question about something,” or other related to their particular geography, it’s a true connection.
John: Right. That’s huge. But why do you think it is that people are reluctant to share what their outside of work interests might be? Even if someone asks, “What’d you do this weekend?”
Paul: People tend to be very private. I can certainly respect that. Sometimes, there’s a fear of success versus being able to share your successes.
John: Right. Yeah. Because we each define our success differently.
Paul: Often, that’s defined by stuff. I jokingly say, “We don’t need any more stuff.” They get back to the community when you’re attending many charitable events, et cetera. They have the silent auctions, et cetera. We almost operate on a “No stuff” rule. We don’t need another piece of artwork. We don’t need another this, that or the other thing. But if there’s an experience, if there’s an opportunity, that work.
John: No, that’s true. That fear of sharing what your definition of success is and then people judging you, you think that people are going to judge you or like we’re in sixth grade again, where they’re going to make fun of you or whatever.
John: Which I’ve never found to be the case, but it’s still very real. It’s on the firm to create that culture, that atmosphere, which you clearly are leading as an example, which is great. But not all firms are like that. How much is it on the firm to create that culture versus how much is it on an individual to step up and maybe be a source of that change or to at least buy in?
Paul: I think it’s a combination. Certainly, the partners of a firm lead by example. It helps, obviously, to have good human resources people, marketing people that also buy into what you’re saying that a strong culture in the firm is really important. Certainly, today with resource shortages in certain parts of North America, with respect to our future accountants or specialists, having a good culture and being open to different opinions, different ways of doing things, different ways of sharing how they like to work. That includes the travel. That includes the community involvement, all those types of things.
John: Yeah, yeah. I guess the “Accountants With a Personality,” which I absolutely love as a tagline, how did that come about?
Paul: We actually trademarked that almost 20 years ago.
Paul: At that time and a bit of the back-story and for your younger listeners, you’ll find it hard to believe we didn’t have the internet one day, not that long ago.
John: This is before our podcast, right?
Paul: When I travelled back in those days and you got to a hotel room or wherever you’re relaxing, I’d actually look at the yellow pages of the phonebook. Yes, listeners, we actually had books that listed names of people and phone numbers. They also had ads from accounting firms. The other thing, we used to have newspapers that would list jobs and have great, big ads as to, “Help Wanted.” You’ll see these, “Executives needed here,” or, “This type of job was needed there.” Way back, when I saw an ad that said, “Wanted: Whiz kid.” I just thought that’s brilliant. It was for a tech company. It went on below that with blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, which I thought the rest of the ad could have a bit more pizzazz to it. But I actually kind of known. I thought, “I’m going to use this someday.”
Fast forward, a couple of years and one of my other partners and I were in a conversation with a magazine company or something and the ladies turned to us at one point and said, “You guys can’t be accountants. You have too much personality.” From that comment, over the course of another year or so, it just percolated a little bit. The first time we officially used that was for a job ad that said, “Wanted: Accountant with Personality. Come and join the dynamic team in a funky building and blah, blah, blah.” It wasn’t just, “Well, you need to have these credits. You need to be this.” We tried to make it a little bit more of a personality type of ad.
The crazy part that happened was, during that week, as you met with clients or ran into people or was up at the golf course, out of the blue someone would say, “Oh, I see you’re looking for people.” “Yes, we’re expanding, et cetera.” I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” It often wouldn’t reference it or more specifically, “Oh, yeah. Ha-ha. What’s this Accountants With Personality? What do you mean you’re blah, blah, blah.” You realize that people had made a connection to the ad. The power of that brand started almost immediately. We integrated into the firm back in the day when there was no professional branding of accounting or professional firms.
We took some criticism. We were borderline professional misconduct having a brand like that, say, 95, 96, 97, in that timeframe. Because you couldn’t hold the profession. You disrespected all, et cetera. By saying that, “Maybe we had a personality,” was perhaps picking on some of our peers in the industry, but, nonetheless, it carried on. At one point in time, we were actually better known in town as Accountants With Personality than Davis Martindale.
John: That’s awesome. That’s really great.
Paul: That was partly shocking because our positioning and our strategic plan at the time was to make sure that we were in the conversation so that if there was a RSP coming up, there was an opportunity coming up. Some of them said, “Oh, we’ll you should consider Davis Martindale.” I did get the feedback one time where they said, “Oh, Davis Martindale, oh, I’m not sure we’ve heard of them.” The person giving the recommendations said, “Oh, they’re the Accountants With Personality.” “Oh, those guys? Yes, of course.”
John: Yeah. That’s great man. That’s really awesome. It’s not your fault that the other accountants don’t have a “personality.” I think it’s hilarious how they worried about you being disrespectful to other accountants that may or may not have a personality. Well, if you say, “We’re the accountants that are really good at taxes.” Well, is that okay? Like, just because someone else doesn’t do taxes, now am I– That’s crazy. But I guess, the thing that I’m really curious to hear you talk about is why is it so important for accountants to have a personality?
Paul: It goes back to what I said earlier about culture and the ability to communicate with your clients. The clients want a trusted advisor. They want someone and a team of people that they can deal with, get the professional assistance that they need. But we’re all human. If you can have a relationship that’s a little bit more than that and learn from one another, the personality side, et cetera, doesn’t hurt.
John: Yeah. If anything, it’s just gas on a good fire.
Paul: That’s true.
John: It accelerates everything. It makes those relationships a lot stickier. I love how you said that, the trusted advisor. We’ve got the advisor part nailed right as soon as you passed the CPA exam and you get all those CPE credits. The advisor part’s what you’re good at. It’s the trusted side that I don’t think so many people are really doing anything for. The personalities where that’s at. That’s fantastic, man. I love it. I’d love to know who the person was that you hired from that ad that walks in the door and says, “Yeah, I have a personality. Let’s do this.” It’s like, “Wow.” That’d be pretty awesome just to see that. That’s great.
Paul: I will tell you. It was a few years later, a billboard in front of the office had said, “Wanted: CPA with Personality.” In Thailand, in Canada, we had a couple different accounting designations. This lady applied. Basically, first words that were developed were, “What’s wrong with a certified management accountant? What’s wrong with a CMA with personality?” I said, “Okay, bring it on. Let’s talk about that.” That conversation was, I want to say, 15 years ago. She’s our first or was our first female partner. We actually have five female partners.
John: That’s awesome.
Paul: Yeah, cool. Cool story from that stand.
John: No, that’s really great too. Because when you think about it, it’s the personality side that’s what really mattered. The designation that came with the personality, “Eh, we will work around it,” or, “We’ll make a place for you.”
John: There’s need for that. It’s the personality. It’s really what the lead is, which is really telling. That’s awesome. That’s really cool. Are there things that Davis Martindale does specifically to help encourage people to share those passions and interests outside of work?
Paul: Interesting question. I think we’re similar to a lot of the firms across North America with the tax parties and summer events and various things like that. I’m not sure we do anything particularly special. You hope that having a proper lunchroom, having the picnic table outside, having lots of space for engagement, even if it’s around the coffee machines, allow for some of that sharing.
John: Yeah, I know. That’s true too. You just create that space that’s away from work so you can get your mind out of it. It’s also people like you that take the time to just get to know the people that are there and talk with them as opposed to just only work-related stuff. That’s fantastic. This has been awesome. I love that “Accountants With a Personality.” It’s so fantastic.
But before I meet you in a lake in the middle of a jungle of Thailand to hang out, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions I’d like to run you through because that’s a long flight. We’re going to be hanging out for a while.
Paul: All right.
John: Yeah. Here we go. Here we go. Now the first one I’ll ask you, first one, are you more suit and tie or jeans and a T-shirt?
Paul: Jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket.
John: Oh, look at you, snazzy. When you’re on that airplane, are you more a window or aisle seat?
John: Aisle. Yeah, me too. Me too. Would you say you’re more oceans or mountains?
Paul: I’m a Pisces, got to love the water, oceans.
John: There you go. There you go. Do you have a favorite color?
John: Black. Interesting. Okay, how about a least favorite color?
John: Brown. They’re almost cousins. That’s interesting, right? Would you say more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Paul: Star Wars.
John: Okay. All right. All right. When it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
Paul: I’m definitely a PC guy.
John: Yeah, yeah. Me too. Me too. Then, on your mouse, would you say you’re more left click or right click?
Paul: Depends where I am. I’m right handed at home and left handed at the office.
John: Look at you. You’re like a crazy pitcher in the majors. That’s interesting. How about do you have a favorite Disney character?
Paul: Favorite Disney character, not particularly.
John: Okay. How about more balance sheet or income statement?
Paul: Income statement.
John: There you go. Okay, all right. Well, would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Paul: Night owl, definitely.
John: Nice. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Neither. You don’t have time for that. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Paul: Hugh Grant.
John: Hugh Grant. That’s a solid answer. Nice. How about a favorite number?
Paul: Number five.
John: Five. Is there a reason on that one?
Paul: I like the number between one and ten.
John: Right. It’s right in the middle. That’s great. All right, this one is important. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?
John: Over. All right. All right. Two more, two more. What’s a typical breakfast?
Paul: Typical breakfast, coffee and a cereal bar.
John: Okay. All right. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Paul: One of the most interesting things I own goes back to my Toronto Raptors basketball passion. I actually collect things related to their inaugural season, specifically the very, very first game. At that game, at what’s now the Rogers Centre in Toronto, there were 150 floor seats. Each one had a little brass plaque on it. Here we are 22 years later. I have six of them.
John: Six of the 150.
John: Holy cow, man. You have a monopoly on that. That’s awesome.
Paul: It’s different. Let’s put it that.
John: That’s really cool. Well, thanks so much, Paul, for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Paul: My pleasure. Thanks, John.
John: That was so great. I loved how Paul said if you can have a relationship that’s a little bit more, then having a personality at work certainly doesn’t hurt. Not only will it not hurt, it’ll make you stand out from all the other professionals offering exactly the same services you do. If you’d like to see some pictures from Paul’s travels, including some amazing pictures from Thailand with some huge fish, like three people have to hold it kind of fish and connect with them on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com.
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