Cate takes a hike for charity
Like many others in the accounting world, Cate fell into accounting. Eventually ending up working long hours, typical for those in the industry. However, as part of DHG, she was encouraged to get out of the office and participate in extracurricular activities. This lead to her passion for hiking for the Make-a-Wish Foundation!
In this episode, Cate and I discuss how DHG encourages handling stress in a positive way and how this culture affected her overall compassion towards working with others!
Dedicated client focus and relationships have been and always will be our touchstone. Here at DHG, you’ll receive personalized service provided by a team of professionals who are eager to share their knowledge and experience with you. We draw on our extensive resources to combine comprehensive assurance, tax and advisory services.
• How DHG got Cate into hiking
• The culture of ‘life beyond numbers’ at DHG
• Relationships first, projects second
• Why it is typical to work so much when starting out in accounting
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Welcome to Episode 162 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. They’re doing something that you wouldn’t always associate with someone that has that profession. If you were thinking of the stereotype, they’re basically shattering it, making them stand out like a green apple in a stereotypical red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and” as in my guest. Cate Miller is an accountant “and” is an avid hiker. She even used that passion to fuel another passion for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I’ve got a quick favour to ask. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes, your favourite Android App, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. Maybe even leave a review on iTunes or whatever Android app you’re listening on. Because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Cate Miller. She’s the director of DHG University for Dixon Hughes Goodman in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now she’s with me on the Green Apple Podcast. Cate, I’m so excited to have you on the show.
Cate: It is my pleasure to be with you, John, today.
John: Oh, I’m so excited to share this with everybody. But before we get into the real meat of it, we’re going to have a little bit of fun of “Get to know Cate a little bit better.” Right out of the gate with my 17 rapid-fire questions before I get on a plane and fly and we go hiking together, which I imagine is going to take a while. I’ve got to make sure we can get along well, get to know you a little better. Let me fire this thing up here. All right. First one I’ll ask you, first one, do you have a favourite colour?
John: Purple, okay. How about a least favourite colour?
Cate: I’m going to have to go with yellow.
John: Yellow. Okay. All right. How about would you say more diamonds or pearls?
Cate: Absolutely, diamonds always.
John: Always and forever. Okay. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
Cate: Ooh, tough one. I’m going to go with Sudoku.
John: Okay. All right. All right. I have to ask you. Do you have a favourite number?
Cate: Two is my favourite number.
John: Two? Is there a reason why?
Cate: That’s just my birthday.
John: Okay. That’s solid answer, solid. I think this is a slam-dunk. But do you prefer oceans or mountains?
Cate: Mountains, always.
John: Yeah, yeah. That’s what I figured. Mountains of diamonds, that’s even better, right?
Cate: There you go. I can’t swim. Ocean, they don’t think it would do me much good.
John: Right, exactly.
Cate: I’m going to sink in the ocean.
John: Right. Okay. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Cate: Absolutely, Star Wars. Trilogy all the way.
John: Nice. Okay. How about a PC or a Mac?
Cate: PC during the day. But at night, bring me my Mac anytime.
John: Okay. All right. You do both. Interesting. All right. Do you have a favourite ice cream flavour?
Cate: Ooh, that is an easy one. Chocolate. Love me, the chocolate ice cream.
John: Right, right. Okay. All right. How about would you say you use more pens or pencils?
Cate: Pens, purple as always.
John: Okay. All right. There we go.
Cate: Unless you’re signing a contract, I will switchover but purple.
John: That should be fine. I don’t know why that’s not acceptable. What would you say is a typical breakfast?
Cate: Now that’s an easy one. I workout in the mornings so it’s good to start out with some eggs. Then I’m going to switch over to some cereal and then a protein shake. But I go heavy in the morning. I’m always hungry.
John: That’s impressive. All right. Then since you’re with an accounting firm, I have to ask whether you prefer more balance sheet or income statement?
Cate: Oh, balance sheet; always got to know the assets.
John: There you go. There you go. This was critical. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?
Cate: Ooh, now that could go either way. But me personally, over.
John: Over. Okay. All right. I agree. I agree. That’s how the patent is on the picture. Now would you say you have a favourite actor or actress?
Cate: There are so many I respect. But if I’m going to relax, I always turn to Sandra Bullock. She’s just my staple.
John: Yeah. No, she’s classic.
Cate: Very much so.
John: All right. We’ve got three more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Cate: Four thirty a.m. every day.
John: That is a real time? I didn’t know that that was a time. That’s amazing.
Cate: Four-thirty. Get that workout done. Get it over with. Get it behind you. But I crash early though. Nine o’clock, I’m out, lights out.
John: That’s all there is. All right. All right, fair enough. Do you have a favourite food?
Cate: Ooh. Probably, I’m going to have to go with Italian. I love my spaghetti pasta.
John: Oh, yeah. No, that’s solid answer, solid. Last one, the favourite thing you own or the favourite thing you have?
Cate: Something I treasure a lot is family. I’m going to stick with my family photos, just cannot get enough of them. Always wonderful memories, treasure them to death and just love them so can’t get enough from them.
John: No, that’s a great answer, great answer, really good answer. All right. Excellent. Now we get into the real meat of it, the question that I never asked you when we talked before for some reason. What made you want to get into accounting to begin with?
Cate: In school, I went for my MBA. I just loved the business side of it, loved the numbers side of it. I just loved the structure. It just worked for me when I was in undergrad and in graduate school. It just kind of what I did. I was surrounded by it. I was natural at the time.
John: All right. That makes sense. Yeah, yeah. Some of us, like me, just trip into it so good for you. Mine was on accident. But that’s fantastic. You alluded to it earlier with the mountains and the hiking. I just love what you’re doing there especially with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Give a little bit of the back-story to that to the listeners.
Cate: Sure. I’ve been in public accounting for about ten years now. It’s been wonderful. It’s been a great career, but the hours and the projects. I just came into an experience through here at the firm, DHG, and working with a lot of colleagues here in North Carolina. They knew I loved the outdoors and said, “Hey, Cate, you’re spending a lot of time here at the office. You need to get outdoors. We’re working with this organization called Make-A-Wish. Why don’t you go on a hike with us?” That started probably back in 2015. I really had just moved into North Carolina. I didn’t know enough about the organization. But I was trying to meet people. I did. Boy, meeting these people, they are salt of the earth. I really enjoyed my time. I have not looked back. That was my first hike. Three years later, I’ve put on a lot of miles. I’ve met just an amazing community of people through Make-A-Wish. They’re awesome.
John: That’s so cool that your colleagues recognized like, “Hey, you’re working a lot. You need do not work so much and burn yourself out,” and cared about you enough to want you to help you out a little bit.
Cate: Yeah, I was my own worst enemy. They said, “Come on. Let’s just get out. You’re new to the area. We need to meet people.” They were really awesome team members. That’s how it all started a couple of years ago.
John: That’s fantastic, really fantastic. The hiking in general, is that something you did growing up or was it something you got into as you got older?
Cate: It was not something I did growing up. In fact, I really hadn’t been outdoors a lot. It was something I touched on when I came here to the south, when I moved to Atlanta and just had this beautiful weather. It was awesome. The weather was really nice pretty much all year round. It was out there and just got connected when I moved here in the south and played hard outdoors.
John: Do you have any cooler, more rewarding experiences or interesting hikes that you can recall?
Cate: Oh, gosh. There have been so many training hikes I’ve done here when I was in Atlanta or here in the Carolinas. But I would have to say my favourite place on earth is the Blue Ridge Mountains whether it’s hiking in the winter when I’m training with people who might be practicing to summit Mt. Rainier. They’re probably more physical hikes or something different to do for New Year’s Eve celebrations. When everybody else is going to a fancy party, there’s a couple of us who actually about ten o’clock at night, we start night hiking. We spend maybe New Year’s Eve up on the top of a summit and toast and say, “Hey, this is how we’re going to bring in the New Year under the moon.” It’s kind of fun trips like that.
John: Wow. I mean these aren’t one or two mile hikes. I mean you’re going hardcore. I mean what’s the longest that you’ve gone?
Cate: Well, I started out three, five miles. Get started and get my feet wet. But through Make-A-Wish, my longest distance came through their Spring Trailblaze Challenge, which was 28 miles, 28.3 miles in one day, believe it or not.
John: Wow. Yeah, that is impressive. That is a challenge. I’m glad that they call it a challenge so you know what you’re getting into, right?
Cate: There is definitely some training miles to get across the finish line. I mean from 5:00 a.m. when we started in the dark of night and finished probably 6:00, 7:00 o’clock at night. You had to finish all in one day. But you did it for the spirit of the kids and their families. It was all worth the burn.
John: Yeah. No, absolutely. Not only that, but I think that was really cool. That is not only hiking, but you’re raising money for Make-A-Wish. Not only raising money, but you raised more than anyone else in all the Carolinas. Is that right?
Cate: For my second attempt at that Spring Trailblaze Challenge, I did. There’s probably about a hundred miles logged in in training. But when I did this, I was turning 50. John, I needed to do something bigger than me, bigger than my career, bigger than the hours, bigger just. I wanted to do something that was so impactful. The firm was really encouraging us to have a life beyond numbers so to speak. Yeah, I would hike on a Saturday with the Make-A-Wish community. Then on Sunday, I would spend my days fundraising. When I started out, I knew the number. My fundraising goal had to have a five in it because that’s my milestone birthday. I kind of set it out there. I said, “Let’s just set it at 50. Let’s see what the universe responds with.” I ended up with 18,000. I was very fortunate.
John: Wow. Yeah. It’s so cool that DHG is behind you in a lot of that as well and so supportive of that. Not only gets you out hiking and even introduce you to this whole thing, but through the whole process and everything else of celebrating that with you. It’s really cool.
Cate: I am so fortunate to be at DHG because they — through our CEO, Matt Snow and our chief people officer, Effin Logue — they have created a culture that encourages that balance and encourages you to get out of the office and that #lifebeyondnumbers. They encourage you to disconnect. When I really reflected on it and the milestone birthday, John, I really hadn’t accomplished that. I didn’t have that balance. That really meant a lot to me that they were encouraging me to do that. I felt very grateful and wanted to make a difference doing that.
John: Yeah. Do you feel like there was a change after you started to open up and realize like, “Oh, wow. Yeah.” Has this made a shift in you in the office or just life overall?
Cate: Gosh. My whole life changed once I got connected to Make-A-Wish. I mean personally, during that Spring Trailblaze Challenge, yes, there was a physical challenge to it and that I could accomplish that, the fundraising, and that I had so many financial backers to cross the finish line with $18,000 that they were rooting me on and believed in me. But yeah, when I’m hiking with the parents, my pain of that one day is nothing compared to the lifestyle of what those kids go through. Meeting those kids, gosh, yes, it changed my perspective. Anything I can do to help those families, you count me in absolutely. I crossed the finish line into something different.
John: Totally. Then do you feel like any of this translates to the office? As far as probably a little more compassionate with people around you or a different mindset when you go into work?
Cate: Oh, without a doubt empathetic. I mean asking more questions and really trying to understand that other side beyond the projects we now have. I think because of that experience. One of the experiences in the university that I created is relationships first, project second. Get to know the people that you’re working with. No matter how fast paced or how many projects you have, get to know the people you’re working with. Understand what they’re going through. Get to know them on a personal level and not just on a professional level. Yeah. Because had I not taken the time to do that, oh gosh, yes, it’s completely different.
John: Yeah. Yeah. Do you feel like early on in your career — obviously a different mindset, projects first and only projects really. It was probably a lot of that mindset coming out of school. Why do you think that is our default mode for when we’re new at this profession?
Cate: I think, yes, when I was in my 20s. It’s interesting. I do a lot of mentoring with people in their 20s or in their 30s. I connected with one person. She looked at me. She goes, “Cate, because you’ve been so transparent with your story and because you’ve been willing to share your story as to now what you would have done differently, you are really helping me change my career path in things I’m doing differently. Because I see I was on that same path you were.” I think a lot of it was that career first. You had to prove yourself. You had to wear this particular persona in that your milestones and your sense of accomplishments for all professional. But because the firm has done such a phenomenal job, I think creating this culture of or trying to bring this level of authenticity inside, that you’ve got that better balance. People are coming in saying, “Yes, career is important. But what’s the family side of it?” To that earlier tagline “life beyond numbers” what else is out there? I feel people make different decisions that have that better balance. That wheel of life is more well rounded because you had that encouragement. Not just from me as if they’re their mentor, but from leadership. Leadership’s encouraging it. That culture is changing because of it. DHG is a pretty cool place to be because of that encouragement. It’s amazing that they’re changing their course in their 20s, which I couldn’t be more grateful for because of that.
John: That’s really cool. It’s really cool that you’re open and willing to be a little bit vulnerable and willing to say, “Look, I didn’t know all the answers. I’m not perfect. I’m not super wizard, whatever. I’m just a regular human being and so is everybody else.” I think it’s great too that DHG has that perspective from the top down of, “Hey, a lot of pressure all the time isn’t necessarily good for you. We feel like you’re more productive when you can breathe a little bit.” I think that’s really neat that that’s going on there.
Cate: Well, they ran a course. Our leadership has been so supportive. Me, being the director of the university, we ran a course last year called Energy for Life, which is in partnership with Johnson and Johnson entitled Corporate Athlete. They have some pretty core principles in there about stress and recovery. Yes, the nature that we are going to uncover stress, but with all intentionality, being mindful that when there’s stress, to be mindful that yes, you do need recovery and that balance and so work hard play hard mentality. They encourage that. That culture connects to that. We ran this course last year maybe about a year and a half now. It was required. Our CEO did something so innovative in our space that he required every one of our professionals, over 2,000 people, that that’s a required leadership course. It’s 12 hours. He pulled everybody out of the field to say, “You’ve all got to take this course.”
Now we all have that same mindset to say, “Hey, your old story is this. It was all work. Now, retool. Get a new story. Get some new tools and tricks in your bag to say stress and recovery, habits and rituals and figure this out. But definitely need to have that balance.” The firm supports that. It’s pretty cool. It was one of the things, John, to be transparent and vulnerable. I was teaching one of these courses. One of the 20 year olds sitting in this course in, to the point I was telling her my story and she’s just like, “Cate, I don’t want to be like you.” I say, “You’re right. You want to be like you. You want to tell your own story. I’m going to tell you what I did. But now what are you going to do with this information? You’re now accountable to do something different.” She did. We’ve stayed connected. She’s been able to make some big differences. She’s much happier. It’s pretty cool story that FNM hadn’t been able to put in place over here.
John: Yeah, I know. I love it. I love how your whole identity isn’t work. Your only successes aren’t from work. Actually, I believe there was a study done at Duke several years ago where people that have more dimensions to them are less prone to anxiety and depression because not all your eggs are in one basket. If something bad comes down from work, well, if that’s your only source of identity, then you just took a pretty huge blow to the face. Where if you have other identities and other sources of confidence and identity for who you are, then yeah, it stings a little. But it’s not going to really knock you down type of the thing. I love that you guys have that mentality and that people are thriving. It’s really cool to see it come to life like that and that it’s possible.
Cate: It really has been transformational. There’s four dimensions of that energy pyramid that they do. Not just in this class, but it’s tied to the culture. It’s also tied to the physical. You’ve got now standing workstations. You’ve got diet, menus. Everything that we do now on a day to day has changed. You bring that into the conversation. You do have I think a healthier, happier person. I mean you and I have talked about engagement and what that does to somebody in their fulfilment. It makes a huge difference. It’s amazing.
John: Yeah. No, it just needs to hear you genuinely care about the whole person because you hired the whole person not just the accounting part. I mean it’s just like with IT machines or things like that. I mean if it’s broken down or are not working properly, then you can’t get your job done. It’s the exact same thing with your people except it’s more important because they’re actually human. They have feelings on top of skills. I just think it’s fantastic what you guys are doing there. I think it’s really cool. I guess do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that maybe think, “Well, I like to hike. But no one in my office cares,” or, “It has nothing to do with accounting, so why should I tell anybody about it?”
Cate: I think for me, I would encourage in anybody I meet is to find that hobby. If you don’t know what you like, to go try a bunch of different things. Just keep trying until you find that one thing that might just spark an interest to honour that thumbprint that you have on your heart to bring your authentic self to work. Keep trying until you find it. Because until you have that full alignment and you find that way to smile and smile big, it’s going to make all the difference from the fulfilment you have on your projects and the hours that you do spend on your work. When you’re not there, you can go do those things. I know I am such a happy person as a result of it because I’ve been able to find it.
John: No, that’s fantastic. I love that smile and smile big. Do you what I mean? God forbid if we smiled at work. Imagine that. You’re just crazy. That’s so sad that that’s such a foreign concept. But I love that that’s what you guys are doing there. I think it’s really fantastic, really fantastic. There’s so many great takeaways here. But before I bring it in for a landing, I feel like it’s only fair if we turn the tables and let you have some rapid-fire questions back on me. I guess we’ll fire this machine back up here for you. You can ask me whatever you’d like. Let it rip.
Cate: All right. Let’s see, John. Favourite vegetable?
John: Favourite vegetable?
Cate: Or at least favourite vegetable.
John: Is chocolate cake a vegetable? Does that count?
Cate: Hey, that sounds scrumptious on a Friday. Go with it.
John: No, no. My favourite vegetable, I’d probably say, I guess green beans. I don’t know. It’s just right down the middle there.
Cate: Let’s see. Do you have a favourite book that you might recommend?
John: A favourite book. Okay. I do. There’s a book called The War of Art. It’s a book by Steven Pressfield. It is really fantastic. It’s more for creatives, but I think it applies to everyone where we all have this inner demon I guess that holds us back from fulfilling who we really are. It tries to distract us and send us down little pads that don’t really matter instead of truly finding your fulfilment in work and life. Yeah, The War of Art. It’s a really, really great book.
Cate: Very cool. I’m going to have to add that to my reading list. Let’s see. Do you have a favourite game show?
John: Favourite game show? All right. That’s an easy one. Price is Right. Growing up, I loved that show. I loved that, watching that show. Yeah. I mean I haven’t watched it in a long time, but yeah Price is Right was definitely my favourite game.
Cate: I’d have to go with Family Feud, Steve Harvey and the comedy routine with it.
John: Oh, yeah. No, that’s a good one too. That’s a good one too. But yeah, I guess I just went to my childhood for some reason.
Cate: Yeah, you’ve got to them. Price is Right is a good one. The last one, John, I’m going to go with favourite flavour of ice cream. I love ice cream.
John: Favourite ice cream? All right. Yeah, yeah. Sure. I would have to say cookie dough, chocolate chip cookie dough or like Brownie fudge chunks. Mine has to have chunks in it. I need to eat it, to chew it at the same time. I think it also maximizes my calories that I’m able to take in at once. I’m not very good health nut. I think my energy pyramid only has two sides instead of four.
Cate: Nice. Very cool.
John: But no, that was awesome, Cate. Yeah, very cool. Well, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Cate: John, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
John: If you’d like to see some pictures of Cate’s hikes or maybe connect with her 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. It’ll really help for the book that I’m writing that’ll be out early part of next year. 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.