Kevin runs a racing company and a consulting firm
Kevin pretty much fell into consulting a lot like how he pretty much fell in racing. He went on to win a number of races and even setting records while eventually working his way up to co-founding his own consulting firm.
In this episode, Kevin and I talk about sharing your passions at the office, even when it feels natural not to as an introvert. Also, how running a racing team helped Kevin gained the skills in stress management and even handling sales.
Lehman, Wesley & Associates has been a leading provider of Business Management Application and Information Technology consulting to Small and Medium Sized Businesses throughout Michigan since 1998. They offer their clients experience servicing and supporting Sage 100, Sage 300, Sage CRM and all forms of Information Technology required to run a successful enterprise.
• How Kevin got into consulting and racing
• How Kevin developed a more ambitious approach to taking risks in the office through running a racing team
• Feeling like you’re bragging or your passions are irrelevant in the office
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Hello, this is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 161 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or any interest outside of work. It’s something that you would never expect them to do based on their profession. They’re shattering what you think is the stereotype. It makes them stand out like a green apple in a boring red apple world. I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to stand out by talking about our technical skills and expertise. I’m here to shine a light each week on someone who understands that expertise isn’t always earned in degrees and certifications. Sometimes, it’s experiences from our passions outside of work that actually make us better at our job; but only if we share them.
Really quickly, I’m 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. Click the big green button there. Answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help for the book that I’m writing that will be out early part of next year. Thanks again to everyone for subscribing to the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Kevin Wesley. He’s a partner with Lehmann Wesley and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. Kevin, thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Kevin: Thanks. I’m glad to be here.
John: I’m excited to get into it. But before I do, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions before I get on a plane and fly to your next race and just ride shotgun in your races. I don’t know. If you need a navigator, that’s where I come in I guess.
Kevin: I gave up on rally a while ago. I haven’t had navigators in a few years.
John: Okay. All right. Well, I’ll be somewhere. I’ll change the tires. I’ll be in the pit. I’ll do something. But I have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run you through, just have a little bit of fun here, get to know Kevin. Here we go. How about do you have a favourite place you’ve ever been on vacation?
Kevin: I went to London once. Actually, Europe is probably my favourite. Well, also Europe as a whole, but I haven’t ventured there enough. But I want to go back to London again.
John: That works. That works. How about do you prefer pens or pencils?
John: Okay. Do you have a favourite cereal, even as a kid?
Kevin: No. I hate Cereal, really.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right, fair enough. Would you say you’re more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kevin: At the moment, I’d say Star Wars.
John: Okay. All right. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Kevin: Neither. I hate puzzle games.
John: Okay. Right. How about what’s your favourite kind of oil?
Kevin: My favourite kind of oil at the moment is Pennzoil.
John: Okay. There we go. How about do you have a favourite colour?
John: Orange. Nice. All right. How about a least favourite colour?
Kevin: Probably not a least, but probably pink I would guess.
John: Pink. Okay. All right, fair enough. Fair enough. When it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
Kevin: Definitely PC. Mac does not pay the bills around our office.
John: Right. There you go. How about a favourite ice cream flavour?
John: There you go. Nice. Nice. Now I have to ask you. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
Kevin: I’m an income statement guy. You can solve all the problems with more revenue. That’s my theory.
John: There you go. There you go. Exactly. Bigger problems, but you’re solving them either way. Okay, this is an important one. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, would you say you’re over or under?
Kevin: Definitely under. That’s been determined with arguments with my wife.
John: Okay. All right. Do you have a favourite number?
Kevin: Seven. Actually, I take that back. My current favourite number revolves around 22. Our car number this year is 222 so I should say that. Seven was the first thing that came to mind, but 222 is the current favourite number.
John: Okay. All right. All right. Would you say you’re more oceans or mountains?
Kevin: Mountains, definitely. I don’t know how to swim so I avoid the water.
John: Okay. There you go. That’s also where the sharks live so you’re winning. Three more. Three more. Do you have a favourite actor or actress?
Kevin: No. I just don’t.
John: Okay. All right. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Kevin: Early bird, definitely early.
John: Yeah. The last one, the favourite thing you own or the favourite thing you have?
Kevin: That’s a tough one. I have so much stuff. I really don’t have a favourite I guess. Probably something simple that I would recognize if somebody said it, but I really don’t have a favourite.
John: Yeah. Or anything cool? Your car maybe? Something?
Kevin: The funny thing is no, I really don’t. I mean probably my bed actually because that’s the thing I loved to lay in the most. I get the least amount of time with it.
John: There you go. All right. That’s actually a solid answer actually. That’s maybe one of the best answers. That’s actually really good. It’s like, “If my ass is on fire, what am I grabbing on the way out? Yeah, my bed. I mean that’s where I spend a lot of time.” One thing that I like to ask everybody that’s on the show is just how did you get into accounting to begin with?
Kevin: I got into accounting, actually, when I was in high school. I was working for a plumber. The plumber decided that he didn’t want to really own his business anymore and was going to go to be an inspector for the state. He came out to the shop and said, “Hey, I’m going to close up the place. My accountant has a job opening. Do you want to go over there and maybe work in his office? I said, “Sure.” I mean I realized at that point that I didn’t like manual labor essentially anyway. I ended up actually going over there and applying for the job. The person that was the accountant, which I was completely oblivious to, was actually a neighbour down the road. We used to hang out with his son all the time. It was a connection there. I, basically, started working there in high school doing just regular office type functions, getting coffee and filing and stuff. It grew from there and start doing write-ups and tax returns and going on audits and doing fieldwork and work papers and the way it went.
John: Wow. You were in there early. That’s impressive.
Kevin: I was really bad in Accounting 101 when I went to college because I just sat there and shook my head and said, “No, this isn’t how it works. I already know all this stuff.” I was a bad student when it came to accounting.
John: Yeah, the 101 stuff really, this isn’t how it is in the real world, everybody.
John: Yeah. It’s not always this clean. Well, that’s cool man, very cool. Then, yeah, it clearly worked out for you. That’s fantastic. Let’s jump into the racing and get into that. I mean how did you get into racing? I mean you can’t just fall out of bed one day and then be in a racecar. How did you get started on that?
Kevin: Actually, it’s not too far from falling out.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. It’s easier than I thought.
Kevin: Yeah. For me, it was at the right place, at the right time. Somebody, kind of a friend of a friend type thing needed somebody to fill in for an event that they were doing, which is called One Lap of America, which isn’t technically a — it’s not a wheel to wheel race. But you basically drive between different racetracks around the country. You race at these tracks. You’re scored and timed and things like that. They needed somebody to be a co-driver, just to run transit sections between tracks. I was a young kid. I really didn’t have much going on at the moment so when they needed somebody at the last minute, I said, “Sure, I can go.” I hopped in the car and away I went for a week. When they threw me in the car, it’s actually at one of the races and said, “Hey do you mind taking a crack at it? We’ll see if you’re any good.” Lo and behold, I was good. That’s actually how it started.
John: Wow. Okay.
Kevin: From there, I just kept getting thrown into the car. I ran other people’s cars for quite a few years and floundered around. Because I was a young kid and didn’t have any money. Until I got a couple breaks and people put me in faster cars. I won a few times. It just kept going from there.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That’s really cool.
Kevin: It was interesting. I went to a driver school my first time. This was about the same year that I got thrown into that car. My instructor came back. I was 18 or 19 at the time. They just told my parents who went with me. They said, “He’s a natural.” I went to my second driving school and my instructor came back and said, “I can’t teach this kid anything.” It just went from there. It can happen, right? I mean I’m fully of the opinion that there’s something that everybody is really, really good at in life and hopefully, you find it. I think that’s just my natural ability that I’ve been good in a racecar.
John: Right. Yeah. I mean did you grow up doing go-carts or things like that or I mean video games, something that maybe led you to develop that skill or is it truly just natural?
Kevin: I completely, truly think it’s just natural. I think a lot of it has to do with a comfort level. I mean I’m comfortable in a car. I’m comfortable doing what most people would consider to be stupid things in a car. It doesn’t scare me.
Kevin: But it was always interesting. As a kid, we were always into motorcycles. I was always the slowest person on the motorcycle. My brother and my dad are always faster than me. I was the slowest one on the motorcycle. But as soon as I got in the car, I felt safe. I was fast in the car.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s really neat. Do you have any more rewarding stories? I know you were just out in Colorado at Pikes Peak for that race. But are there any of the races that stand out to you as being really memorable?
Kevin: Well, last year we did a Fiat program with Fiat 124 rally car. We did Mount Washington. As soon as you say Mount Washington, everybody thinks the west coast. But Mount Washington is actually in New Hampshire. That’s probably the most rewarding race in recent memory because we won which is awesome. We set the record, which is awesome.
Kevin: Probably going back further, Pikes Peak in 2016 was great when we set the record for qualifying. Had some problems on race day, but going back before that, my claim to fame was that race that I got thrown into in 1993. Actually, won overall in 1999 by essentially getting thrown into a car again that I had never driven. I went to tracks that I had never been to before. I beat a whole bunch of pro guys that I shouldn’t have.
John: That’s awesome.
Kevin: Those things are fun.
John: Yeah, man. That’s really cool. Because it’s one thing to race, but I mean you’re winning and setting records. It’s like wow. That’s pretty impressive.
Kevin: It’s a hard trend to keep sometimes.
John: Right. I mean it gets that all the records all the time. I mean eventually there’s a barrier, right?
Kevin: Yes, yes, yes.
John: That’s really cool, man, really cool. Would you say that any of that skill set of running a race team or driving the racecar translates to work at all?
Kevin: Unfortunately, I think it translates to work in sales where I have no fear of selling anything that I feel like not good for everybody else in the office. But not having fear in having a high level of stress I guess. What’s the word? I’m looking for another word.
John: Performing under stress?
Kevin: Yeah. That’s good and bad, right? I mean it can be very bad at the office because I’m much more ambitious to take on risk than maybe some other people in the office are tolerant of. That’s honestly one of the reasons why my partner and I — my business partner — get along so well. We’ve probably been so good together over the last 20 years just because we’re yin and yang. I always describe it as we balance each other out. I’m super aggressive. He’s more conservative. We end up meeting somewhere in the middle.
John: Right. Yeah. I mean that’s really fascinating. Yeah. I mean it’s very anti-accounting really when you think about it. I mean I guess my stand-up comedy is pretty far off as well. But it’s really cool how both of those things really do make you better at your job.
Kevin: That’s one of the reasons why I ended up leaving. I worked at the accounting office that I started at in high school for a number of years. Ultimately, that’s why I left. It was because of I just felt it was too conservative for me. I wanted to be out of the office more. Certain things, I didn’t fit the traditional accountant role. I was out trying to sell stuff and make a bunch of money. Well, that’s not always the way the accountants want to do it.
John: Right. This is true. This is true. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that accountants aren’t necessarily the best business people. They’re really good at accounting, but not necessarily running a business. But that’s my own two cents.
Kevin: Well, I will completely agree with that. I mentioned I’m an income statement guy. I like to fix it with the revenue.
Kevin: The traditional accountant tries to fix it on the expense side and where can I cut expenses. That’s not good for running a business necessarily. I mean it has its place. But just trying to cut costs doesn’t always make for success.
John: It cuts everything, really.
Kevin: Right. “We’re not selling anything so I’m going to cut the advertising budget.”
John: Right, exactly. Exactly. That’s perfect. That’s exactly what it is right there. The racing, I mean I’m sure you talked about it at work. How does it come up?
Kevin: Honestly, at the office, it doesn’t come up a whole lot.
John: Oh, okay.
Kevin: I’m pretty quiet when it comes to that stuff. I’m a little conservative about running my mouth about – I’m not the racecar guy when it comes to running my mouth. A lot of racecar drivers in particular are — they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. They’re this and they’re that. That’s not me. I choose to stand in the background and let other people run their mouths and that I just close it for.
John: Oh, okay. Right, right. Okay, fair enough. Is there a reason why you try to keep them separate?
Kevin: Yes and no. It’s hard to relate to a lot of things that I do. I mean it’s hard to explain sometimes. Maybe it’s just me. I get tired of explaining it. Because every time somebody says, “Oh, you race cars,” they think you’re a NASCAR driver. That’s the polar opposite of what I like to do as far as racing goes. Or, “Are you a drag racer or this or that?” When you try to explain that, “No, I go all over the country to race.” “Well, what pro series do you race in?” “I don’t race in a pro series, but I do stuff with pro drivers and…” It gets into a long explanation process that sometimes people just don’t get.
John: I can relate to that totally because when I’m on a plane, which I fly a lot, speaking at conferences and firm events and things, yeah. I mean people are like, “Oh, so what do you do?” If I say, “I’m a comedian and a speaker.” Then we’re talking the whole time because it’s, “Oh, let me tell you. My favourite comedian is…” It’s never me. It’s like, “Oh, sweet, bright.” Where if I say, “I’m an accountant.” There’s never a follow up question. We’re done talking. I mean it’s just — that’s it. I don’t have to explain what I do. “Oh, are you a motivational speaker?” “No, I’m not a motivational speaker. Never mind.” It’s just, “You know what? Forget it. I’m an accountant.” I can appreciate that.
Kevin: I’m a really bad race watcher. I don’t follow a stick and ball sports. I don’t follow racing. I don’t know who is winning which championship. People will sit there and quiz me about this stuff. I’m like, “I have no idea.”
John: They’re like, “I don’t think you really race, Kevin. I don’t believe you.
John: That’s a good point. I can see that. But for the people that you have shared it with, do you feel like they’re at least interested or that relationship is a little bit different or maybe you come across somebody who actually does know racing?
Kevin: Yeah, I mean it definitely helps. I mean we always run across various clients. There’s somebody in the office that has some interest in what’s going on. They’ll follow it a little bit. But it’s just not top of the subject. Most of it comes across as, “I can’t believe how crazy you are.”
John: Right. Right.
Kevin: That came up this morning when we were on a conference call with somebody. They were familiar with what I do on the weekends for fun. They’re like, “Yeah, we’re not racing up any mountains today.” It’s like, “Okay.”
Kevin: I should probably share it more. I just don’t. I don’t know. It’s just me. I’m too quiet when it comes to that.
John: But I can appreciate that where you have the over explain every time. It is not what people see on TV. It’s a much harder explanation. I can definitely appreciate that. But it’s cool that the handful of people that do know that are genuinely interested, then that relationship with them has to be a little bit different I would imagine overall.
Kevin: It is. You’re able to share what’s going on and where I was and what I did last weekend and things like that. But I mentioned I want to go back to Europe. I mean the type of racing I do is much more popular outside of the US. It’s one of those conversations where if I was standing in Germany at the coffee maker, everybody would probably be interested because they know what the heck is going on. Whereas in the US, the type of racing that I do is just not as popular so it’s not a common conversation.
John: Sure, I understand. It’s like soccer conversation. Same thing, right?
John: No, that’s really interesting and an interesting point that you bring up there. Absolutely. When it comes to your firm where you’re at now, do you feel like people are open to share those hobbies and passions and interests that they have if they would like? Are there things that you do specifically to encourage that?
Kevin: There’s nothing that I do specifically to encourage anything around the office unfortunately. My wife is fantastic with encouraging. My wife works in our office. She controls. God bless her. I love her because she helps me in that area where I would sit in my office and not share much of anything about anything that’s going on and probably not ask anybody what’s going on in their lives. But she keeps that going in our office. Everybody can share a little bit about what they like to do. I mean I know one of the guys in the office is doing beekeeping now so we’ll talk about that a little bit. It generally revolves more around beer I think more than anything else, with craft beer these days and making beer and stuff like that.
John: Right, yeah. The bee guy, I mean I would be like, “Dude, what? Are you crazy? How dangerous is that?” You should flip the script on him, right? Yeah, I also feel everybody says that to me all the time. Yeah. “I only know those are wasps.” I could ask any dumb question. That’s cool though that you have someone there in the office that keeps things moving and keeps people engaged and keeps people talking because it still is a human-to-human interaction. I would imagine it keeps the team a little more balanced and a little more well oiled I guess if you know somebody.
Kevin: It does. If it was left up to me, it’d be completely dysfunctional because that’s just kind of who I am.
John: Right. Right. Why do you think that is that it’s typically our default mode to not really talk about things.
Kevin: Well, I think it’s the introvert-extrovert, right? I’m very much an introvert. I don’t really talk about anything because it’s just the way I am. I don’t know why. I don’t like to brag or I always think I’m bragging, right? I mean one of the biggest problems I have now is going to some of these events. People ask for my autograph. I’m like, “What do you want my autograph for?”
John: Because you’re setting records, Kevin. Come on.
Kevin: Apparently, yes. I hear you.
John: It’s not bragging if it’s true, though.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s just this.
John: That Midwestern roots that’s beaten into us. “It wasn’t that big of a record. I won the race. I mean I just beat the other people, but they weren’t.” It’s like, “No, no. You did great.” It’s hard. I mean I remember there’s sometimes in comedy shows where people come up, “You were my favourite.” I’m like, “Well, the other guy went up late. The girl went early,” like whatever. Making excuses for them. Basically, I’m just – you’re punching the fan in the mouth because they’re telling you how much they like you and you’re like, “No. Bam.” I should let them — appreciate the love and let them hear that with me and don’t let it go to my head of course. But sometimes, it’s nice to let that. No, but that’s all – that’s interesting.
Kevin: I’m the same way. Even when I win, I basically analyze whatever I did. I can find all the flaws. It’s like, “No, it should’ve been better.” “You’re right. Yeah, I just set the record. But I could have went four seconds faster.”
John: Right. Exactly. Right. But I think it’s cool how you’re so into it. I mean you have a whole race company and team in a car. I mean it’s fantastic, what you’re doing. It’s also neat that in the moment you’re able to see how it translates to work. No business school’s ever telling us to go, “Be a race car driver because you’ll be better at accounting.” But clearly it does.
Kevin: No, it definitely helps. But I mean really for me, racing is taking the skills that I developed at the office. Essentially selling stuff and just went out and decided I’m going to sell stuff to keep a race team.
Kevin: It’s a lot of work though. I mean don’t get me wrong. I mean somebody told me a long time ago, “You can race one of two ways. You can beg and plead and basically scrape along and see what you can do racing. Or you can take some time and run it like a business and go out and get everybody else to pay for it.” That’s essentially what I’ve done. It’s been working the last few years. It’s a lot of work though. I mean I told somebody last year for the program that we ran, I think I had over a thousand emails just in one program. That was essentially one race program.
John: Wow. Yeah.
Kevin: When you equate that time, yeah. I mean that’s quite a bit of time. Thankfully, the company that we have and we’ve worked hard and struggled for a long time to get to a point where, yeah I have a little bit of extra time. Believe me, I still have to come to work every day and do my regular job. But that becomes your hobby instead of doing anything else, that the hobby just ends up being another business essentially.
John: Right. Yeah. I mean absolutely. You didn’t start out that way necessarily. It was like, “Hey, I like racing.” Then all of a sudden, yeah. I mean it grows. But I mean I guess one thing that I’m always curious about is sometimes people feel like if anyone has any interest at all outside of work, it’s a distraction from the job. I don’t feel that way as long as you’re doing well at work and you’re getting your work done. I don’t think it matters what you’re doing outside of work. How do you feel like if there’s a staff person that also was into something where — like racing where they had it, almost it became a company.
Kevin: It wouldn’t bother me at all. But we have an interesting policy for outside of work or even vacation. Our office doesn’t have a vacation policy. Our office doesn’t really have time-off policy. You have goals for billing or revenue generation or work product or whatever it might be. As long as you’re meeting that goal, I don’t really care if you’re not here. If you can get all of your work done and meet your revenue goal in three weeks, then take a week off. That’s completely fine. If somebody had a hobby similar to mine or something that took up a lot of time, then as long as your work’s done, go for it.
John: I love that. Because I mean you hired adults so let them be adults, right?
Kevin: Yeah. I’m not a micromanager, never have been, never want to. When I hand a project to somebody, “Just call me when it’s done. Or if you need a problem or help or whatever, I’m always here. But otherwise, don’t carbon copy me in every email.” The office knows that.
John: Well, I’d probably still be in accounting if I came to work for you. Because that was my last CORBA job I had. It was definitely a hover. I turned into a five year old where I’m like, “Oh, really? Every time you walk by my cube, I’m going to have ESPN’s website up just so you know.” Yeah, I get my work done. But you’re going insane.
Kevin: I learned a long time ago because of events that happened to me at work that I didn’t enjoy. I had decided that I’m not going to put somebody else for that. I’ve had that experience too where somebody’s handing your work product back with some red mark and not just because they couldn’t find anything else. They decided that was going to be the thing they were going to glom onto.
John: Right. Right.
Kevin: It’s like whatever. I remember where I would intentionally leave something wrong on my work product so that they would just catch that and leave everything else alone. I would just fix what I already knew. I would go —
John: I love it, man. That’s so fantastic. That’s so fantastic. Well, this has been really great. I just love what you’re doing. You’re so successful at it as well on both sides, the racing and the accounting and proving that it can be done and that the stereotype isn’t true. I think it’s fantastic. Thanks so much, Kevin, for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Kevin: Well, thanks for having me, John. I really appreciate it.
John: That was so great. I loved how Kevin said, “If somebody had a hobby that took up a lot of time, as long as your work is done, go for it. I absolutely love this philosophy and appreciate that it’s coming from someone that’s at the partner level. Because let’s face it. You don’t hear that every day. Because I get so frustrated when I see organizations that hire people because of their extracurricular activities. Then they never give them time to go do those extracurricular activities. Then they wonder why engagement’s so low and turnover’s so high. I mean as long as you’re getting your work done, people in leadership roles should follow Kevin’s lead and encourage others to pursue their passions outside of work.
If you’d like to see some pictures of Kevin’s races 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 firm culture. Thanks again for subscribing to the show 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.