Jon is an accountant and surfer
In this episode, Jon Maki connects his skills as a surfer to his skills as a business owner and accountant and shares a couple of prominent beaches that he has surfed.
He grew up bodyboarding but didn’t get into surfing until 15 years ago. Now he says it gives him energy to make it through the work week — and it helps him relate to some of his clients. Just like Jon starting his accounting business, surfers need to know their equipment, know their limits and eventually have to “go for it.”
Jon is the president at MFI Works. His team helps micro-business owners get a grip on their finances and smart about IRS matters.
• Why he didn’t like surfing at first
• Some places that he has surfed
• Skills from surfing that he can bring to the office
• How his passion for surfing helps with client relations
• Being open about surfing in the office
• Why he feels it is on the organization to influence a culture in the workplace
• Why he feels people don’t share their passions outside of work in the office
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Welcome to Episode 182 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. Just by sharing this or talking about it makes them stand out like a green apple in kind of a boring red apple world.
To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and.” As in my guest, Jon Maki, he’s an accountant “and” a surfer which are two things that you don’t normally put together.
But first, 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 that you don’t miss any of the future episodes.
I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Jon Maki. He’s the president of MFI Works Inc. helping microbusiness owners get a grip on their finances.
This is going to be so much fun, Jon. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.
Jon: Hey. Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on. I’m so excited myself.
John: Good, man. That’s two of us. This is going to be awesome. Really cool. Before we get into it, I have my 17 rapid fire questions getting to know you a little better if you’re going to take me out and teach me some surfing, that’s going to be a long time hanging out. We got to see if we’re simpatico. That’s a California word, right? We’re good. All right.
Here we go. What’s your favorite color?
John: Blue, nice. Okay. How about a least favorite color?
John: Yeah, especially USC red. That’s terrible.
Jon: Oh, yeah.
John: How about when you’re on an airplane, window or aisle seat?
Jon: Definitely the aisle.
John: Okay, nice. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Jon: Oh, yeah. Tom Hanks.
John: Oh, solid answer. Solid answer. How about more pens or pencils?
Jon: Oh, I’m going to go with pencils on that one.
John: Okay, all right. Nice. How about do you prefer things more hot or cold?
Jon: I’m going to go with cold.
John: Cold, all right.
Jon: Tough one.
John: Yeah, because you can take it any way. I mean where you live, food, “What do you mean, John?” I don’t care. Whatever you want. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Okay, nice. All right. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jon: Neither. Curveball at you there.
John: Yeah, no problem, man. No problem at all. When it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
Jon: I like Mac.
John: Really? Okay.
Jon: I confined work on the PC. I prefer the Mac.
John: Prefer the Mac. All right. Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Chocolate, solid. All right. How about a favorite sports team?
Jon: Well, it depends on what we’re talking about. If we’re talking baseball, I love the Cubs. If we’re talking college football, we’re talking about Fighting Irish.
John: Okay, nice. All right. How about do you have a favorite Disney character?
Jon: You got me there. It’s Goofy.
John: That is actually the correct answer. No, I’m just kidding. That’s a good answer. As an accountant, I have to ask you this one. Balance sheet or income statement?
Jon: Income statement.
John: How about do you have a least favorite vegetable?
John: That’s a really good answer. Really good answer. Cauliflower mixed with Brussel sprouts would be the worst, if you could somehow merge them together and whatever in some weird terrible farm. All right. Three more. Three more. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Why is that?
Jon: That was my number playing soccer when I was growing up.
John: Oh, okay. There you go. Good answer. All right. How about when it comes to a toilet paper role, over or under?
Jon: Definitely over.
John: Definitely over. You’re all in on that one. The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Jon: Favorite thing I own would probably be a baseball signed by Ben Zobrist. They won the World Series a couple of years ago.
John: Wow. That’s cool. Did you get it signed or you bought it?
Jon: My dad got it for me. I think he bought it.
John: That’s awesome, man. Very cool. Very cool. Because I mean that’s not going to happen for another 110 years.
Jon: Hey, hey, hey.
John: Sorry. The Cardinals fan in me came out. I apologize.
Jon: Oh, okay. All right. I didn’t know that.
John: Right. It’s going to be awkward.
Jon: It is going to be awkward from here.
John: But we’ll make it work. Everyone will hang on the cliff hanger at the end. “Are they going to be friends?” “I don’t know.”
Jon: Right. Where is this going?
John: Yeah. But we’ll smoothly transition this over to the surfing which is so cool. How did you get into it? Did you grow up surfing?
Jon: I actually grew up in a family — or I shouldn’t say family. My dad surfed. He grew up here in California and surfed. As a result, I hated everything having to do with surfing. It’s just like, oh, my dad’s doing it. I don’t want to do that kind of thing. Even though I was out in the water frequently more so just in the water swimming and doing body surfing and body boarding rather than surfing itself.
But then I don’t know, 10, 15 years ago, I’ve really started getting into surfing. In particular, at that time, paddle boarding or standup surfing is what it’s called.
That’s when I started mostly because I didn’t want to have my feet in murky water. I lived in Florida at the time. That’s when it started. I love it now and just about anything in the ocean is really what I love to do. It gives me energy.
John: I could completely understand that because when you’re out there, I mean that’s what you love to do. If you could do that all day every day, I feel like you would until the emergency room calls.
Jon: Oh, right. Yeah. No, I would do it all day. It’s expanded from just me. I’m married. I have two daughters. The other day, we went over to Law Street Beach here in San Diego and that’s where we go frequently. I love teaching them about the ocean. The beauty of it. It’s beautiful. It’s majestic and it’s deadly. All of those at the same time. Now, I get them on the boogie board and I ride waves with them. It’s beautiful. I love it.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s really cool. Is there a favorite beach that you surfed? A couple of iconic ones?
Jon: A couple of iconic ones, yeah. The favorite one, I’m not sure. Each one has their own different characteristics but my wife and I, we met out in Hawaii and surfed at Waikiki, the spots over there. Loved it out there. Surfed the North Shore which I think I mentioned to you the other day, got some harrowing experiences out there.
John: Those waves are huge. Crazy huge.
Jon: Matter of fact, the first time I saw those waves, my brain couldn’t believe what my eyes where seeing. It was like a 40, 50 foot wave where the surfer on it is just a little spec.
John: You’re like, oh, does the ocean go up? The under part? Why are the waves so tall? Is it going up instead of down? Crazy, man. You did that. That’s awesome.
Jon: I did. I mean I didn’t surf of what Hawaiians would call big waves. I have to put that out there. But a 16-foot face was huge to me especially when you’re lying down and you’re looking up at looking 16 feet, right? It’s like 20 times over your head or whatever it may be. It’s huge. It’s massive.
John: Yeah. If you’re trying to paddle out pass this so you can catch one, you’re just constantly getting your butt kicked. I guess this is what surfing is to me. It’s just constantly getting my butt kicked to maybe ride one in for 30 seconds. It’s crazy. A lot of upper body stuff. Pushups, and yeah, I mean it’s intense, man. But I never did anything nearly like that.
Jon: When you get in the big waves, the mental part of it really kicks in. I mean yes, you have to be physically in really good shape but your knowledge of the ocean also has to be there too. You have to know what the currents are doing and you have to have exit plans.
When I went out and I was surfing the waves on North Shore, I would have contingency planning. If I can’t get out this way, you plan out because believe it or not, getting out when the waves are big like that is a big challenge.
John: Oh, man. It seems impossible. Do you do — what is it? The turtle or whatever where you go upside down? Is that the only way to get through that?
Jon: Well, if they’re big like that, basically a turtle roll won’t work. You got to bail the board and try to dive underneath it as much as you can or if you have a smaller board, you do what’s called the duck dive where you push the nose and you try to go underneath the wave like a duck does. It may or may not work depending on how much the wave has broken. Sometimes, you just have to bail and say a prayer.
John: Right. That’s so awesome, man. That’s really cool though and so fun. It’s neat that you’re doing it now and are able to incorporate it into your work which is neat. I mean it sounds like as you were talking, contingency planning and all these different words that are clearly business words.
I mean does surfing give you a skillset that you’re able to bring to the office?
Jon: Yeah, I think so. I think what I get from it is a multitude of things but you have to know your equipment, that’s one thing. If you’re working in systems, you need to know that. I mean that’s kind of the boring part. I’ve been out in waves and I’ve had the wrong board. You definitely know that you have the wrong board if you’re in a place where a long board is not what you need and you need a short board. The wave will let you know that quickly.
Another part would be knowing your limits. For instance, I was out on the North Shore, that 16-foot wave story and I really had no business being out there. I was way in over my head and actually, literally, I was way in over my head. I tried to duck under this one wave and it sucked me over the falls backward so imagine you’re trying to go down and trying to get underneath it and it pulls you back over backwards.
John: Oh, my lord. You’re like in a laundromat, just like a laundry machine.
John: Golly, man.
Jon: It flipped me over once and twice, the washing machine. That was the first wave and then there was the second one that did the same and then the third.
John: Oh, my gosh.
Jon: I was pushed about a quarter of mile in and paddling and scraping my hands on a reef, a coral reef that would expose as the water was drawn out. It was scary. I was definitely over my head.
It teaches me, in business, because I’ve run this business for about eight years now and been in situations where it’s like this is uncomfortable and I need to find a way to kind of back out of it. I’m not comfortable with this particular type of work or the scope of it or whatever it may be. It makes me more cautious, more I guess, kind of exacting.
People don’t think of surfing as an exacting sport but it is. You need to know what’s happening with the currents, you need to know the direction of the swell, you need to know the period, the time in between waves so there’s a lot of math.
There’s really a science behind surfing. You need to know where to sit. There’s people that you have line ups. You triangulate where you’re going to sit so that you can actually catch the wave. It teaches me to be smart about what I’m doing in business.
Then also, on the other side, it’s like there’s the calculated end of it and then there’s the well, you got to go for it. You’re not going to catch the ride of your life, you’re not going to build the business of your life unless you take some kind of risk and go for it. I hope that answers your question.
John: No, man. That’s awesome. Those are all things that clearly at no point getting your MBA, did anyone tell you, go be a surfer because it’ll make you better at running a business or being an accountant. Never. Yet, all these waves. I’m just baffled by it all. I mean it’s really cool. All the parallels that are there.
Do you talk about surfing at all in your career?
Jon: Yeah. Oftentimes, when I talk with clients, they don’t want to hear accounting terms or all that kind of jargon. They want to have something that’s relatable. For instance, I have a client, I started this practice out in Hawaii. I still have quite a few clients out there.
One of them was kind of drag on implementing some changes that I had been suggesting rather strongly over a period of time. This guy’s a surfer. We’ve talked about surfing and he comes back and he goes, “Oh, you’re telling me I need to paddle harder?” I go, “Yes. That’s it.”
John: Right. There you go.
Jon: The other thing is with surfing, there’s a saying on the North Shore, you’re either in or you’re out. You can’t hesitate. They say if you hesitate, you die. In some ways, what I was telling about with him is he needed to make some changes because without doing the changes, it was leading toward further IRS difficulties. It’s like, “Hey, brah, you need to make some changes.”
John: Right. Paddle harder. That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. It’s a lingo that he gets and you speak. That’s what this is all about is creating that relationship with the client and communicating to them in a way that affects change. If it involves surfing talk then I’m able to do that which is cool because you’re in a different level, you’re not using all fancy pants MBA speak, you know.
Jon: They don’t want that anyway.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Jon: Just give it to me clear so I can understand it and whatever metaphor. Usually, it’s surfing has all of them.
John: Oh, yeah. That tongue, man.
Jon: You’re in over your head.
John: Right. Even I get that one. That’s an easy one. But yeah, that’s cool. Have you always been open about outside of work passions in your career?
Jon: I’d say yes and no. I guess it depends on the client type and where they’re from, and what they’re looking for. If they’re just looking for a straight pro, I won’t bring that in as much. I won’t talk about surfing or my family or whatever else but I like to as much as I can because I think that relatability really creates a bond with clients that’s way beyond talking about accounting, finance, and tax.
John: Yeah, for sure. Because I mean there’s a lot of people that can come in and talk to that client about accounting but how many of them also surf and can relate to them in that way? Not very many. You. If you don’t differentiate yourself that way then I mean you could lose a client tomorrow because you have no real connection there. “Well, I’m really good at accounting.” Yeah, so is everybody else. Like come on. I mean, really.
What I always joke about is when I speak, it’s just like does anyone never give anyone a test of like, do this cash flow statement. It’s like yeah, you go to reports, cash flow. That’s how you do it.
John: Yeah, exactly. I would argue that maybe the clients that want to get all stiff and everything like that, maybe they’re not your clients because there’s more your people that are out there and it’s just scary sometimes to niche ourselves into that but those are the ones that you love. That’s cool, man.
Jon: Yeah, like my wife was introducing me as an accountant to folks that she would meet the other day. I said, don’t ever do that again. Stop that.
John: Right. Where there any follow-up questions? Was anyone interested?
Jon: No. It’s like oh, it’s like the dentist, right? Keep me away from that person.
John: Right. When they say, “Oh.” That’s hysterical. I’m always curious on this is just how much do you feel it’s on an organization to create a culture where people like you and me can share these passions and it’s encouraged for the people that maybe don’t naturally, or how much is it just on the individual to create a little circle amongst themselves and open up?
Jon: No. I think it’s on the organization. I think the organization should foster that and keep it open. I think if they want to keep the employee around then it really is on them to create that culture and if they’re trying to stick the employee into the box of only professionalism, then they’re missing out.
John: Yeah, and in what ways do you think?
Jon: Well, they’re just not seeing the whole person. They’re kind of looking at them as a sit here and do these tasks and they’re not really tapping into the passion of that person.
John: Absolutely, man. I mean I completely agree. I was just curious how you viewed it or in your words because sometimes people are like well, you know, if their passion isn’t accounting or law or whatever, then it has no business being in the office.
Why do you feel that your surfing passion is important for an organization to tap into, if you will?
Jon: Well, I think that if they know that I’m going to work harder so that I can get out early and go surf, I won’t sit there and twiddle my thumbs, maybe look on whatever those — I haven’t looked at the job sites, but I know that a lot of people are looking on it because they feel underappreciated and they don’t feel understood and it’s a little bit different for me because I haven’t been part of an organization since well, just after graduating the MBA.
But if they know, “Hey, look. Maki wants to get out of there at 3:00 because he wants to go surf or pick up his girls and go and hang out at the ocean, then he’s probably going to work a lot harder in the time that he’s here and get stuff done and maybe do it a whole lot better for that reward that’s there at the end.” Does that make sense?
John: Yeah. It makes sense absolutely. Plus, there’s probably other people that work around you that also surf. Now, you care about them on a different level than just a co-worker. Now, it’s a friend. I mean this is someone that also surfs and we can talk about that. You can create some connections that are a lot deeper and more substantial.
Also, I mean what you said earlier about all the parallels between running a business and being a better accountant in surfing, I mean if you had a client opportunity or something that was a surf shop or whatever, well, you’re probably the one that should go, like you or somebody that gets the lingo or understands that world.
I feel like that’s a huge thing that I don’t know if it’s accounting programs or just bigger organizations just hammer everybody flat to where now, we don’t realize how people actually do have a differentiator and we’re all the same and we’re so not. We’re so not.
Jon: Totally agree with that.
John: I guess, are there any barriers do you think that like what holds people back on not wanting to share those passions? I know for you, it’s not necessarily an issue but for maybe people around you that you’ve seen or thoughts on that?
Jon: Yeah. I think maybe they’re afraid that it gets too personal. I agree with that. I mean there’s a fine line, who knows where that line is, but when it becomes too personal, right? Oh, my passion is my kids and oh, I got to leave 2:30 today and then tomorrow and then the next day. I mean it can bleed over into that. I think there’s a hesitation there.
John: Yeah, because it takes a lot more than just sharing that passion. You actually have to get to know the person. What’s the passion and why? How did you get into it? What’s it all about type of a thing. I mean the money question for me is do you feel like it makes you better at your job? Everyone that’s been on the podcast, 182 now, all say yes.
It’s something that organizations need to tap into for sure. Do you have any words of encouragement for anybody listening? Maybe somewhere out there that’s also a surfer that think that there’s no charge code for this so I shouldn’t talk about it?
Jon: Yeah. Just open up. I bet you’ll have a lot more people that relate to you than you think that don’t. Like you said, it’s part of your unique branding, I guess. It separates you from the pack. It adds color. If we’re talking specifically about accountants, it adds color to a world that is not colorful when you’re talking about accounting. You know what I mean? Little color, a little flair to something that people really don’t enjoy talking about.
John: Yeah. It doesn’t even have to be a bright vibrant color. Any color at all is so vibrant that it stands out. So gray. It’s so gray that even if it’s a pastel blue, it still stands out. It doesn’t have to be neon or something crazy.
Jon: Anything but gray.
John: Right, exactly. Because we’ve got all of that everywhere already.
Well, this has been awesome, Jon. Really, really fun. Before I let you go, do you have any rapid fire questions? I think it’s only fair that I turn the tables, and if you want to question me on anything?
Jon: Yeah. What was it that made you want to start this podcast?
John: Yeah, okay. Good question. Well, my story that I covered in Episode 1 where I had a guy remember me 12 years after my first PwC office as the guy who did comedy at night, and I thought well, am I a weirdo? Is it just my story? Am I the only one?
Then in talking to people, I realized no, no, there’s hundreds and thousands of these stories. Talking to people, I just thought, you know what? It’d be so great just to share them and show people that the actual stereotypical professional is you and me and the 180 other people that have been on this podcast. It’s people that have passions outside of work.
We’re the normal ones. It’s just no one asks and no one takes interest in each other. No one shares. By blowing the doors open and being like hey, we’re normal. Let’s just all talk about it now. We’re actually the stereotype.
Hopefully, it opens up some eyes of people because I feel like people graduate college and they have all these extracurricular activities and then organizations don’t give them time to go do the extracurricular activities and they all just fall in the line like lemmings of somewhere along the line is there’s like one nerd that we’re all following.
It’s like why are we following that one? If we were to follow the one, we’d all be the coolest people on the planet. What’s going on? It’s just been so fascinating sharing people’s stories and then the next level of how does it make you better at your job which is me?
Jon: Nice. Well, thanks. Thanks for inviting me on this.
John: Absolutely, Jon.
This was fantastic. If they want to see some pictures of Jon surfing or 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, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. It’s going to help with the book that I’m launching very soon.
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.
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