Ray dances at the ballroom for charity
Ray Strothman is like any other business man that likes to establish and maintain client relations outside of the office through activities like golf. But more so, he provides publicity for his firm Strothman & Company when clients catch him at ballroom dancing events, a perfect opportunity for networking!
In this episode, Ray and I talk about how expressing genuine interest in your co-workers and their passions outside of work can also lead you to try new things and potentially find a new passion of your own!
Ray Strothman formed Strothman and Company in February 1983. Under his leadership, the Louisville, Kentucky-based firm has grown steadily, and is now ranked as one of the largest CPA firms in the region. The firm now employs over 70 professionals and serves several thousand clients on an annual basis.
Ray received a B.S. in Accounting from Bellarmine University.
• Why Ray ditched the golf clubs for ballroom dancing
• How Strothman & Co. encourages employee participation in sharing their passions outside of work
• How learning about other colleagues’ passions lead Ray to pick up ballroom dancing
• The personal and professional benefits of Ray’s ballroom dancing
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Hi! I’m Ray Strothman. When I’m not ballroom dancing, I’m listening to John Garrett on the Green Apple Podcast.
John: Welcome to Episode 158 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. So they’re basically not what you would think as being the stereotypical professional which makes them stand out like a green apple in a boring stereotypically red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and as in my guest, Ray Strothman, is an accountant and a competitive ballroom dancer which isn’t something you hear every day.
Before we get into that, I’ve got a quick favor to ask. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, don’t forget to hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. Every Monday Rachel Fisch and I talk through an article about employee engagement or corporate culture, and then every Wednesdays I got one-on-one interviews, sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Ray Strothman. He is the President and Chairman of Strothman & Company in Louisville, Kentucky. This is going to be so much fun, Ray. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ray: Well, John, it’s a pleasure for me to join you today. I think you have a great service to our community and our society with respect to making accountants look like real people. I’ve been into ballroom dancing for a number of years, and it’s one of the things I do to really help me be a better accountant.
John: Yeah, no, I love it, man. I love it. I know when we talked about a little bit ago on the phone and I was like, “This is so exciting,” so I’m so happy to have you here. But before we get into that fun stuff, I do have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I’d like to run you through to get to know Ray a little bit better here.
Ray: Sure. Hopefully, I can give you 17 rapid-fire answers.
John: Okay, challenge accepted. Let me fire this thing up here. We’ll fire this up. All right, all right, I’ll start you out easy, start you out easy. Do you have a favorite sports team?
Ray: University of Louisville Cardinals.
John: There you go. There we go. How about a favorite color?
Ray: My favorite color is blue.
John: Interesting, okay. All right. I won’t tell Kentucky that.
Ray: That is Kentucky’s colors.
John: Right, right, right, but just not when it’s on their jersey, right?
Ray: Well, I go both ways.
John: Okay, all right. How about do you have a least favorite color?
Ray: Oh, my gosh! I love everything, at least. That’s really a hard question. Let’s see, least favorite color, gee whiz. I tell you what, like mauve, that is my least favorite color, not pink, but mauve. Back in the ’80s, all the fashion designers, they used mauve. I hate mauve.
John: Yeah, they all watch Miami Vice a little too much, don’t they?
Ray: Yeah, right, right.
John: Okay. How about when it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: Both, nice. I’m impressed.
Ray: I have a number of Apple products. I have a Mac computer, but we use the PC environment at Strothman & Company at work.
John: Sure, sure, absolutely. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Ray: Oh, it’s got to be butter pecan.
John: Ooh, nice.
Ray: It’s Ronald Reagan’s favorite ice cream.
John: That’s a classic. How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?
Ray: Boy, that’s a tough one. We’re in bourbon country here.
Ray: I definitely love bourbon.
Ray: That’s mixed with ginger ale, but it’s hard on a hot day to beat beer, and I love my wine. So I would say bourbon more than a beer.
John: There you go. Really anything. That sounds awesome. How about when it comes to writing, more pens or pencils?
Ray: I don’t believe in pencils. I believe that it takes too much time to make erasures, so I’ll use only pens.
John: Right, right.
Ray: And I love pens. I think it should be a blue pen. It lets you know that it’s not copied from a copy machine.
John: There you go. That’s awesome. I love it. How about more of a Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Ray: I would say crossword puzzle.
John: Okay, all right. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ray: That’s a tough one. I like them both. I like science fiction.
Ray: But I would have to go with — I think Star Trek.
John: Okay, all right. Interesting. Interesting. How about — this is an important one — when it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?
Ray: I’m an over guy.
John: Yeah, yeah, all right. We can hang out —
Ray: In fact, I’ll change it. It’s under. If I’m in a public restroom, I’ll change.
John: I’ve heard that from a lot of my guests. You’re not alone in that. That makes me almost want to go around and flip it around just to drive all of you guys crazy, because I’m an over guy too, but I’m not going to change it on somebody. That’s funny though.
Ray: Like I’ll be in a guest house or whatever, they’ll have a party and if they have it the wrong way, I’ll flip it.
John: It’s even the wrong way. That’s awesome. I love it. When it comes to financials, more of a balance sheet or income statement?
Ray: That’s a tough one. I mean, they’re obviously both important.
Ray: Obviously, it’s all about bottom lines, so I’d say the income statement.
John: Okay, all right, all right. How about do you have a least favorite vegetable?
Ray: You’re asking hard questions.
John: Oh, man, I’m sorry. I’ve got like seven of them.
Ray: I would say the least favorite vegetable would probably be turnips.
John: Turnips, okay, that’s a solid answer right there. Yeah, you don’t get that one all the time either. As an accountant, I have to ask, do you have a favorite number?
Ray: Lucky seven.
John: Seven, sure. Is there a reason why?
Ray: No, it’s just always been a lucky number. I mean, seven come 11.
John: Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s a very popular answer. I figured that out.
Ray: You know, I could say number one. I want to be number one. I could say a lot of numbers, 10, who wants to be a perfect 10.
Ray: But it’s lucky seven.
John: Seven, solid. Solid answer. We got four more, four more. Would you say you’re more cats or dogs?
Ray: That’s a hard question. I would say probably dogs.
John: Okay, all right. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Ray: Well, I’m from Louisville and Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress. I love Jennifer Lawrence. She does an amazing job. She actually went to school in Louisville. She comes back and provides a lot of support for our community. So I would say Jennifer Lawrence.
John: That’s very cool. Very cool. Two more. More of an early bird or a night owl?
Ray: Well, a bird in the kind of both ends, but I would say probably more of an early bird.
John: Okay, all right. The last one is the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Ray: The favorite thing I have is my relationship with my wife, Carolyn. She’s amazing.
John: That’s an excellent answer and also gets you bonus points if she listens. So that’s really perfect, really perfect. And so you alluded to it earlier with the ballroom dancing. Let’s jump into that because that sounds really fun and really different. How did you get into that?
Ray: Well, actually it was a client and friend who invited me and my wife to, gosh, I think it was 14 years ago now. It was one of those things on my bucket list. I wanted to travel certain places in the world and achieve certain goals. One of the things I wanted to do was learn how to ballroom dance. I always enjoyed music, I always loved watching people dance, but I was always kind of envious to that. It wasn’t after on the dance floor doing what the really accomplished dancers were doing.
So when my friend and client invited us, we went, my wife and I. It’s to couples and took lessons. Eventually, my wife and I continued. I didn’t stop. We’ve been dancing ever since. One of the things that it’s done is it teaches you great discipline. It’s great for the brain. There are three great exercises for the brain. One of them is learning a foreign language, learning a musical instrument and ballroom dancing. So it’s good for the brain, good for the body. It really keeps you young. It keeps you sharp.
But not only that, we’d meet a lot of people. We go to various events. I go to a lot of fundraisers. They’ll have a band. They’ll have dancing. It’s great. My wife and I show off. We’re doing all this great stuff that other people look at us like, “Wow! I’d love to learn how to do that.” It’s fun. Actually, there’s a lot of accountants into ballroom dancing because, frankly, it’s a numbers game. You got to count the beat. You got to dance on certain angles. It’s great. It keeps your mind sharp and keeps your body sharp.
John: No, I love it. I love it. All those people are sitting around like you 14 years ago before you took those lessons.
Ray: Right. It’s one of those things that it’s difficult for young couples to do because they have kids and they have soccer games and blah, blah, blah, you name it. We were empty nesters, and we had just become empty nesters. So it was a great time to get into something that my wife and I could do together, plus do with other couples, other people. In fact, there are several of my partners who are also ballroom dancers. We like to have fun. We have a Christmas party every year. We’ll have a nice DJ, and we’ll be dancing here. In fact, one of our employees now is a ballroom dancer. She was a champion, her and her husband, champion amateur dancer. She’s actually from Russia.
Now, a couple of years ago, I was in a local charity, a Dancing with the Stars event. I danced with a professional here in Louisville, Kimberly Foster, Shall We Dance studio. I was able to dance with her. I’m relatively tall. I’m 6’2″, she’s 5’10”, so it was a good fit. We did the Viennese waltz which is a very complicated aerobic type dance. We danced to A Thousand Years which is a very popular song. So it was great. It was like 500 people there. That’s a fundraiser, but we had like 12 different couples. They have you on the video. It’s good for business, good for publicity. A lot of people saw that. They were thinking, “Wow! How did he do that?”
Of course, I didn’t know. I trained for like 12 weeks and lost 12 pounds preparing that dance. I do a lot of spotlight dances with my dance teacher, Judi Marcis. She’s with Continental Dance Studio. I post those on Facebook, and I get all these likes. I mean, the one I did, A Thousand Years, we had over a thousand views. People and viewed and liked it. I usually get 300 to 400 people. I get clients that will look at this, and they’re really amazed at being able to do this. They look at me like, “Well, he is a pretty sharp business guy, but he also has another life.”
John: Right. This is, clearly, something that you’re talking about at work as well. How does that come up in conversation?
Ray: Well, very simply. Well, in fact, I’m doing another one here soon and the ballroom dancer here from our firm, she is amazing. I mean, I’m an amateur. I’m an accountant. I do okay. If you look at my ballroom dancing, if I was on the golf course, I’d be shooting probably in the high 70s or low 80s. She’s shooting far below. But she’s going to be my partner in this. We’re dancing with the Southern Indiana stars. It’s another fundraiser. We’re just organizing that now. I will shoot it out to, you know, I got like 2,300 connections on LinkedIn and 400, 500 Facebook friends. I will try to raise funds for hospitals here in Louisville which is a great organization.
So here, we’re raising funds. We’re helping a community, community service, but at the same time, bringing attention to our firm. I asked that I could dance with her because it’s at least like the Strothman team. It’s a little intimidating maybe to her. I’m her boss. But I tell her on the dance floor, she’s my boss, so she tells me what to do. So we kind of reverse roles, but she’s great. She’s teaching me how to do the tango. I’ve learned it. I know how to do a little bit but not the way that we would do it for a show like that. Have you ever seen Dancing with the Stars on national TV?
John: I have, absolutely.
Ray: That’s a very popular show. A lot of women, a lot of people like it. So we’ll probably have 700 people at this event in September.
John: Fantastic, man. I think it’s so cool too that your name is on the sign. You’re the founder and all that, but you’re willing to say to someone who is a staff person, “You know, in this arena, you’re my boss. We’re the same, and we’re a team.” I think a lot of times people, they don’t want to let that guard down. I think it’s really kudos to you, I want to say.
Ray: Right. We opened an office in Southern Indiana a couple of years ago, so I think it will bring some attention to our presence there. It’s good for the firm. It’s good for getting the name out, but also we’re supporting a local charity and giving back to the community.
John: Yeah, absolutely. I guess, since this started just 14 years ago, was there something else that you would talk about at work, or have you always been like this, or is it more recent?
Ray: Well, I used to like to play golf. When I first started the firm, I didn’t have as many clients, and golf takes a lot of time. I’d play golf. I think the best I ever shot was 80. I would play maybe three to four times a week. I would take clients. I would justify my playing because it’s good for client relation, and it was a good way to kind of pick up business and whatever. But, eventually, it just, gosh, it takes so much time to play golf. I love golf. Don’t get me wrong. Golf is a great game, but it takes so much time. Ass the business grows and succeeds, there’s just so much going on. I don’t really have the time. It almost takes the whole day anytime we go out other than weekends.
I don’t know. Ballroom dancing doesn’t take as much time. It’s something you enjoy. It’s something you can do any time. It’s something my wife and I can do. We can go out and dance whenever at various events. We take one or two lessons a week, but we go to other events. So it’s something I can do with my wife. It’s something I can do with other people in the community, some of whom would be clients or potential clients.
John: Yeah. I mean, definitely, golf is there but I just love how people have different dimensions. Sometimes they’re business development related, and sometimes they’re not.
Ray: You know, your life and your career intertwine. I mean, they’re not separated. If you have a career, part of your identity is what you do in your career.
Ray: I mean, you have other interests and you do different things, but I think a big part of your identity is not only the profession you’re in but also what you do outside the profession.
John: Yeah, no, absolutely. I love that. How much do you feel it’s on an organization to create that culture where it’s okay to have an identity that involves things outside of work? Or how much is it on the individual to kind of just create their little circle in their little department or what have you?
Ray: Well, I think it’s important for our firm to have a culture that encourages our people to get involved in whatever they choose to do, whatever hobbies they want to pursue. In fact, we encourage our people to get involved in the community. If they want to be on a board, we’ll pay their expenses. We’ll support that charity or whatever their choice.
One of the things we do, we’d like to say we had our fun club and our fun club has various activities. In fact, it even has a newsletter. What we try to do is showcase what our people are doing outside of work, stuff that other people at work may not know about them. We have a firm book of our people which shows their family and their hobbies. We have a summer party where we invite their families to attend.
We encourage our people to do whatever passion they want to pursue outside of the work because we feel that anything that’s good for them, anything that’s good for their family, it’s important to have a supportive family and when you’re in a career especially. Our career requires that we work a lot of hours during what we call opportunity season. Sometimes that is known as tax season. If you have a supportive family, if you take care of them at those times of the year, then they’ll be more understanding when you have to work to meet the client demands, client needs. Each individual has to pursue their own interest. They have to pursue what they feel is good for them. We certainly support them 100%.
John: Yeah, yeah. And I love that newsletter piece, if you have something outside of work, let’s share that with people because that’s where real connections are made. It’s not just over the work.
Ray: Exactly. That’s really interesting. Sometimes I’ll read one of these. We try to showcase two people every month, and sometimes they will do something that there’s no way you knew that they did that. I should have known. So it creates conversation. It creates more interests. You get to know the person more as a person versus a worker.
John: Right. Yeah, because imagine if that staff person never mentioned that she was a professional ballroom dancer, then you guys wouldn’t be dancing for this charity event coming up, and you would probably not have that relationship or things like that.
Ray: Well, she really is very humble. She really wouldn’t talk about it frankly other than we see her at these various charity events being one of the professionals. She’s not a professional dancer, but she is in a way. Her and her husband have won these national amateur championships. She works here full time, but then she also gets involved with some of these charity events as the partner with some of the celebrities.
You’re right, I mean, we wouldn’t know it unless she told us. Being her partner in this dance competition, I’m getting to know her better than I did before. I’m really kind of amazed that some of her skills and abilities that I had no idea of before.
John: Yeah. It’s great because that’s really where the magic happens. I think it’s really cool. Why do you think it is that our default mode is to not want to share those outside of work interests?
Ray: Well, I think it depends on the person. Some people are introverted; some are extroverted. I’d say the extroverts, you’re going to know everything there is to know about them. Sometimes the introverts just don’t tell you. It’s just a personality thing.
So what we try to do here at Strothman & Company is we try to encourage people to talk about themselves. We try to encourage them to be comfortable, to really like coming to work, to enjoy the atmosphere, to enjoy the culture. So I think it’s just human nature. Some people just don’t want to talk about themselves, or they just don’t think you would be that interested. The key is for all of us to really ask each other questions about what they’re doing, not so much to pry but just to show interest, that they’re important, things like family. We have young people having babies and people are just involved and just a lot of things. So I think it’s important to just show interest in what they’re doing. If you do, then they’re going to be more apt to share.
John: No, I love it. I love it. You’re leading by example because you’re showing that it is okay to have some things outside of work that are also important, and you can still be successful. So kudos to you, and I really love it. I think it’s fantastic.
So before we wrap this thing up, Ray, it’s only fair that since I’d had you do the 17 rapid-fire question up front, if you have a couple of questions for me, it’s only fair that I turn the table on myself here. So what have you got for me?
Ray: Well, I want to know a little bit more about you in terms of — I know that you’re a national speaker. I know that you consult with CPA firms. I know that you’re a stand-up comic. What I would like to know is have you ever been to Kentucky? Do you have any jokes that relate to Kentucky or bourbon industry?
John: Okay, okay, absolutely. I’ve been to Kentucky. I’ve done shows at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville several times, Tom Sobel there when he owned the club, and then done show at the University of Kentucky actually in the student center there. I’ve been to Corbin, Kentucky, the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and then in Louisville, of course, Colonel Sanders Grave. Yes, so I’ve been to Kentucky, that’s for sure. No jokes about bourbon because you can’t really joke about that. I do make some jokes about sweet tea though.
Ray: Oh, that, yeah, I don’t like that at all.
John: I just think it’s funny that people treat it like it’s a controlled substance, really.
Ray: I mean, they’ll give out sweet tea, the server, and offered sugar, and they won’t — no, no, no.
John: That’s totally different. You’re not making it right.
Ray: But that’s great. Have you ever been to the Kentucky Derby?
John: You know what, I have never been to the Kentucky Derby, and that seems like something that would be really fun to do especially if it was a nice weather. The years when it’s raining, I’m like, “Oh, boy, that looks likes no fun at all.”
Ray: Yeah. Well, it varies year to year. It’s the spring time, you never know what you’re going to get.
John: Totally, but I’ve never been, so unfortunately, no.
Ray: There’re a lot of activities in Louisville that lead up to it that are a lot of fun, a lot of various parties and social activities, community activities. It’s great.
John: Yeah, I’ve heard it’s like a weeklong party.
Ray: It is, two weeks.
John: Two weeks even. Oh, boy!
Ray: In fact, it starts with Thunder Over Louisville. We have the largest fireworks display in North America every year. It’s right outside. We’re on the river, our office, so we have a beautiful view of Thunder Over Louisville. We’ll have our office full of people. We’ll cater food and whatever. There are people who bring side dishes. We have a great day at Thunder Over Louisville. Right over the Ohio River, they have two big barges out there and a half an hour long fireworks display which is the biggest fireworks display in North America every year.
John: That’s really cool.
Ray: That starts and then it ends with the Derby.
John: Wow, yeah. Well, this was so fun, Ray. Thank you so much for this and for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ray: Thank you, John. It’s been a pleasure. I really enjoyed getting to know you better and having the opportunity to talk about our firm and some of personal interests.
John: Yeah, that was really, really fun. I loved how Ray said the key is for all of us to ask each other questions, not to pry but to show interest in what we’re doing outside of work. It isn’t being nosy if you’re genuinely interested in the people around you. And who knows, maybe you’ll even find out someone you work with does things that you also like to do, and then you’ll have a lot more to talk about than just work or the weather or gas prices or whatever you talk about with strangers. I mean, God forbid, if you worked with somebody that you actually enjoyed being around.
So if you like to see some pictures of Ray dancing or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. So thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use, and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.