Alan is a CPA, hunter, and Harley rider
Alan is a CPA in Richmond, KY. Currently on the Auditing Standards Board of the AICPA, prior member of the Peer Review Board. He is a past President of the KYCPA Society of CPAs and past member of the KY State Board of Accountancy. He is currently the Vice-Chair of the EKU Board of Regents.
In this episode, Alan shares his experience in the accounting business and how the overall landscape has changed over time allowing individuals to be different from what they talk about at work, their dress codes. Alan also tells us how having a passion can potentially lead to more business as an accountant rather than your technical skills and why he feels the emphasis on the human aspect of client relations is usually overlooked.
• Getting into hunting and fishing
• Alan’s first motorcycle
• Having a reputation for motorcycle riding in the workplace
• The change of culture and standards in the accounting business in the last 30 years
• Having passions and relating to people
• Why Alan feels the people aspect is an afterthought in accounting
• How both the organization and individuals can promote a culture in the workplace
• Setting an example in the workplace
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Hello, this is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 185 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 an interest outside of work, something that you wouldn’t typically associate with their profession. It makes them stand out like a green apple in kind of a boring red apple world. I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to stand out, talking about our technical 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 these experiences from your passions outside of work that will make you better at your job, but only if you share them.
And 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. So if you’ve got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. Click that 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 releasing very soon.
Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show, so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Alan Long. He’s the managing member of Baldwin CPAs in Richmond, Kentucky.
Alan, thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Alan: Oh, glad to be here, John.
John: Oh, I’m so excited. I remember meeting you at a Boomer BTC Summit several years ago. I’m so excited just to take the time to be with you today on the show. So thanks again, man. This is going to be awesome.
I always start out my show with 17 rapid-fire questions. We get to know Alan on a new level right out of the gate here. So here we go. I’m going to start out with an easy one. Do you have a favorite color?
John: Blue. There you go. Kentucky for sure.
Alan: You got it.
John: Yep. How about a least favorite color?
John: Pink, okay. All right. How about more chocolate or vanilla?
John: Vanilla. All right. All right. How would you have a favorite actor or actress?
Alan: Wow, that was one I wasn’t expecting to get. A favorite actor would have been Steven Seagal.
John: Oh, nice. Okay. All right. How about more pens or pencils?
J. Pens. Nice. How about do you prefer things more hot or cold?
John: Cold. All right. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Alan: How about a neither?
John: Neither. That’s fine. Totally cool. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Alan: Star Trek.
John: Star Trek. Interesting. Okay. When it comes to computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: Mac, oh, wow. Okay. How about you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Really? Okay. I’ve never had that one. That’s awesome. I mean, as an answer, I’ve tried it for sure. How about do you have a favorite sports team?
Alan: Pittsburgh Steelers.
John: Okay. All right. How about would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Alan: Early bird?
John: Okay. Since I am an accountant, I have to ask you, do you prefer more balance sheet or income statement?
Alan: Income statements. I like the money.
John: There you go. There you go. One number at the bottom, boom! How about a least favorite vegetable?
Alan: Least favorite vegetable, asparagus.
John: Oh, the solid answer. That’s a solid answer. We got three more, three more. Do you have a favorite number?
John: And why is that?
Alan: Just 27. I don’t know.
John: All right, it is. All right. There we go. All right. Two more. Two more. This is an important one when it comes to a toilet paper roll, more over or under?
Alan: Definitely over.
John: Definitely over, all right. The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have.
Alan: My firearms collection.
John: Oh, there you go. Nice. Very cool. Yeah. And that kind of leads right into talking about one of your passions with being outdoors, with hunting and fishing. Is that something that you started doing growing up?
Alan: Actually, I started doing it, yes, at a very young age, the fishing, in particular. I never forget my dad took me fishing for the first time on my sixth birthday. I was sick, but he still took me because that was all I wanted from a birthday present was to go fishing.
John: That’s very cool. Did you grow up there in Kentucky?
Alan: Yes, I lived in the same hometown my whole life.
John: That’s great, man. And so it’s just you and your dad out there on a boat?
Alan: We actually went on a boat. On a farm pond is where we went. The first time I went fishing was on a farm pond.
John: Nice. Did you catch anything?
Alan: Yes, we did.
John: That’s very cool. Are you still fishing that same farm pond?
Alan: No, because it was at my great-grandmother’s and that farm, of course, she’s passed away many years ago. That farm is no longer in the family, so I would not have access to go fishing there anymore. But still fun memory.
John: Yeah, that’s very cool. Very cool. So where do you like to go fishing now?
Alan: I have a place on a lake called Wood Creek Lake. That’s about an hour from where I live. Actually, I own a cabin there and keep a pontoon boat. That’s probably become my favorite fishing spot now because it’s very convenient and easy for me to be able to go fishing and even if I’ve got a short period of time.
John: Do you feel like that’s a good getaway for you?
Alan: It’s a great getaway. I love being outdoors anyway, but I can go down there. Sometimes I don’t even go fishing, but I’ll just hop on the boat and take just a little ride on the boat at times. That’s just very relaxing to me.
John: For sure and especially like in the fall when the leaves are changing and stuff like that, it’s got to be really beautiful down there. Is it mostly freshwater fishing that you’re doing?
Alan: Yes, freshwater fishing. I’ve tried to go ocean fishing like three or four times. The first time was when I was 12 years old. We’re going to go deep sea fishing. My dad and I were. We were on vacation in Florida. The clutch went out of one of the motors so they had to turn around and come back. The second time that I was going to go fishing, I went. Nobody was going with me. I was a little older then. I was probably 20 years old. I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, going on an all-day trip. We hit a huge storm on the way out, and I stayed sick for the whole day, seasick. Then my third time I took my son with me and he got end up getting sick on a half-day trip, I didn’t catch any fish but I did not get sick on that trip at least but then got a lot in the water which was the first time that I’d ever got a lot in the water. Deep sea vision has not been real good to me but freshwater fishing, yes, I do a lot of freshwater fishing.
John: You’re clearly reading the signs. That’s what you’re meant to be. Yeah, I’ve never tried deep sea fishing. But, man, it looks intense, for sure. I mean when you’re 12, I mean some of the fish are bigger than you are. So it’s impressive that you even gave it a go. And then I have to ask the other thing that you love to do too, with the motorcycles, which I think is so cool. Was that something from a young age as well?
Alan: No, it was not. I have an interesting story there. When I was 18 years old, a buddy of mine bought a motorcycle. And probably a couple weeks after he bought his, I decided I was going to go buy me one. I went and bought one just like it. Brought it home, put it on the front porch of the house, went to work that night. My dad calls me at work and asked me, he said, “What’s Dwight’s motorcycle doing on our front porch?” I said, “Well, that’s not Dwight’s motorcycle. It’s mine.” He said, “We will discuss this when you get home.” When I got home, he says, “Tomorrow afternoon when I get home from work, the motorcycle will be gone. I don’t care what you do with it, but you’re not going to have a motorcycle and live here at the house. So if you plan on keeping the motorcycle, you might as well find a new place to live also.”
So I put the motorcycle back to the dealer. He agreed to take it back and put it on his floor until we could sell it, which I lost money on the sale which when you’re 18 years old and I was making $1.60 an hour, that was pretty rough. I did not own another motorcycle until I was 38 years old and had gone through a divorce.
John: Oh, my goodness. Oh, wow!
Alan: I went and bought me a cheap motorcycle because I didn’t want — I thought I’m not going to go buy a Harley. A Harley is one of the big things then and still are, but Harley’s, at that time, a used one would cost you as much or more than a new one would. I bought me a cheap motorcycle. I think I gave $1,200 for it. I really liked riding the motorcycle. So after that, I ended up buying me a Harley and the rest is history. Actually, I’ve owned four or five Harley’s. At one time, I rode 15,000 to 18,000 miles a year on the motorcycle. I never towed to any events always. I figured it had a motor and wheels that you didn’t need.
There were some health issues from some medications I was taking. I’ve had to sort of give up the motorcycles because they tend to have dizzy spells. So not too wise on two wheels. So one of my passions — sort of had to go by the wayside, but I am sort of known for riding the motorcycles because everybody in the CPA community, in particular, really knew that I rode motorcycles a lot.
John: I mean, what a great story though. Your dad makes you sell it the next day, and then 20 years later, you’re able to get one again. It’s one of those things that it’s an itch that needed scratched. It’s not going away. It’s part of who you are, which is great. I mean, riding to Sturgis and all over like that, that’s probably some pretty cool experiences.
Alan: I’ve been to Sturgis nine times on the motorcycle, a couple of trips. I rode to the top of Pikes Peak on the motorcycle. They tell me now it’s black topped all the way up to the top. When I did it, it’s 19 miles to the top and only seven miles of that was blacktop. The other 12 miles was gravel and dirt. I’ve got a picture of me on top of Pikes Peak, in front of Pikes Peak sign up with a motorcycle. Some of the things like that I can always look back on and know that I did.
John: Yeah, that’s neat. Have you been able to share this with the clients and some colleagues?
Alan: Oh, yes, definitely. Like I said, actually, CPA practice advisor did an article on me one time and had me with the picture the motorcycle and stuff in there with regard to it. It was part of what was in that article was about the fact that I rode motorcycles. The Kentucky Society of CPAs did some stuff on unusual things accountants did and mine was in there with regard to the motorcycles. We had other people in there that was with scuba diving and various and sundry other things too.
John: I love it, man. That’s great. It’s cool that you were open to sharing that. Not everyone feels like their passions and interests matter, or it doesn’t directly have anything to do with accounting, let’s say. But clearly it impacted your career in some way.
Alan: Well, you know, it is who I am. I mean, I don’t think I should try and hide what I am just because I’m “supposedly” a green eyeshade accountant because that’s not what I am and that’s not who I am. I sort of always liked being a little different and not necessarily fitting the mold. To me, what you see is what you get.
John: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Because it’s hard to have different personas, I would imagine. It’s exhausting to be one way in the office and a different way outside the office and different kinds of people. I love how you said, breaking the mold. Do you feel like the mold is truly what people say it is, or do you feel like that’s changing?
Alan: I think it’s changing now. At one time, it was truly that way. I mean, if you did not have a navy blue striped suit, work every day, those kind of things, you really were looked down upon. That’s not the case anymore. In the profession, we’ve gone to dress for your day, a lot of firms have and we have too. I wear a necktie very rarely anymore, to be perfectly honest with you. I wear a sport coat a lot of times with no tie. Occasionally, I will wear a tie. But things have changed drastically with regard to that, and the business community as a whole, not just as far as CPAs go.
John: This is going to sound like a silly question, but do you feel like the accountants today are any less good at accounting than the accountants were back then?
Alan: No, there’s no difference.
John: It’s always interesting to me what people think is considered professional, if you will, and then you look back on it and you’re like, well, it doesn’t really matter, like really, just as long as you can do your job and you know what you’re doing, then who cares?
Alan: For me, being professional is not what I wear to work. It’s am I taking care of your problems and doing it in a timely manner for you? That’s what being professional is all about?
John: Yes, there you go. Probably the more you’re able to relate to the clients, the better you are at being professional, if you will, and taking care of their issues. Do you feel like, whether it’s the fishing or the motorcycle riding, is there a skill set maybe that you’re able to develop from doing these activities that you’re able to bring into the office at all?
Alan: I think part of it is it allows you to learn how to relate to different types of people. I mean, because a lot of people that hunt and fish and even ride motorcycles are not necessarily sometimes, you know, the people that you think you will see in the professional world and are riding the motorcycles, it’s pretty amazing. It was when I’ve gone to Sturgis probably, there were more people there. There were doctors, lawyers, accountants, professional folks then there were maybe who you consider to be the motorcycle guy. But I think it allows you to learn learn how to relate to different people and different subcultures out there. Same thing with hunting and fishing. You’re going to run into all kinds. I mean, I’ve ridden motorcycles with all different types of folks. I’ve ridden with actual motorcycle clubs. I have ridden with other folks that were your doctors, lawyers, CPAs, those kind of things. You learn how to deal with all the different types of personalities that you deal with.
Public accounting, a lot of people say it’s all about the numbers. The numbers are simple. Most of the numbers that we deal with, you can add, divide, multiply and subtract. Guess what? You can handle that in a calculator. Excel takes care of that for you. To me, public accounting is more about people and understanding what people’s real problems are and how to relate to them so that you can help them with those problem.
John: That’s totally what it is. Yet why is it that that seems to be such an afterthought or not even a thought at all for so many firms and accountants themselves?
Alan: Only part of it goes back to the training that we get in college because they teach you, you got to be this great technician, which being a good technician is not a bad thing by any means in any profession, but they don’t teach you how to deal with the human side of this. Accountants can destroy people financially as easily as doctors can physically, but we got to understand people. You got to understand what makes them click in order to be able to help them with their finances because just because you tell one guy that maybe you shouldn’t own a boat, that would be crazy for you. Another guy, maybe that’s what the best thing that can happen for him is for him to have a boat, for him and his family go enjoy, because that’s what they do. One size doesn’t fit all with regard to helping people understand how to spend their money and where they need to go. You got to get past just the total numbers of that.
John: I love that. I love that so much, because it’s so true. I remember when I graduated from college and then started at Big Four and, man, I didn’t know what I was doing. I passed all the classes and did all that, sat for the exam, passed that. But once you get in the real world, it’s totally different. It’s not multiple choice questions. You’re not in a bubble anymore. You really got to take the time to get to know the people around you.
Alan: In all honesty, that’s what makes great clients. It makes great relationships. I’ve watched over my career and I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, I’ve watched over my career and seen some people that were not what I consider to be the greatest technicians, but they really had some nice clients because what it is, they related to the clients and the clients like them. The client, a lot of times, doesn’t — I hate to say this — but a lot of times the client doesn’t know what we’re selling. So they’re basing it upon do they like you and do they like working with you? You better be able to figure that part out.
John: Yeah, that’s exactly right, because many times we think that, oh, we’re the expert. We know all this. We’ve memorized all the FASBs or whatever. The client doesn’t care. They really don’t. It’s like, “Are you going to take care of me? Great. Do I like you? Great.”
Alan: You got CPA after your name, they expect you to know that part of it. What can you do for me with regards the technical part to make me feel good?
John: So were you always open with these passions and interests outside of work in your career, or was it something that kind of came around later on?
Alan: I’ve always been open with them. Like I said, for my whole life, basically, what you see is what you get. I’ll never forget I had a partner in a firm I was in one time. Of course, he was making a joke a little bit, but he says, “Oh, Long, you’ve got plenty of class. Problem is it’s all low.”
John: Oh, ouch!
Alan: I think part of that sometimes he looked at me because I didn’t fit the three-piece suit mold as well as some others did. I didn’t take offense to it because to me, it was almost a compliment. The biggest compliment I used to get when I was younger is I could be in a bar somewhere or just out having a drink and doing some things and then folks would say, “What do you do for a living?” That’s a question that comes up a lot of times. I’ll tell them I was a CPA and they would say, “I would never have guessed that you were a CPA.” I said, “You just made the greatest compliment you could have. I don’t want you to know what I am just by being here and who I am. Don’t stereotype me.”
John: Exactly. I think what I’m finding is that I believe that the stereotype is 100% upside down. I have 185 people now that are known for passions and interests outside of work. I think that that’s more the norm nowadays especially.
Alan: I think at one time when I first got into profession, that if you didn’t fit the stereotype, sometimes you had a lot of trouble and especially in some firms in particular.
John: But now, look, where are they? Things are definitely different than the future is headed this way where people have passions and interests. I love how you said earlier, “It is who I am.” The accounting isn’t who you are. It’s these passions and interests is who you are altogether as a big package. So many times I feel like we let the profession become our only identity. And for you, I love how it’s quite the opposite, which is so great to hear.
Alan: Well, I do what I do. I’m glad I chose accounting for my career. It’s been very good to me. I enjoy what I do. I do work a lot. But the old saying goes, work hard and play hard, and I believe in that also. Like I said, I do enjoy what I do. I’m lucky. I tell people I’m lucky that I’ve got a job that I enjoy going to every day. I don’t really look at it as a job. Now, I’m like everybody else. Some days are better than others. But I still enjoy what I do.
John: Do you feel like it’s on the organization to create that culture where it’s okay to share these passions and interests, or is it on the individual to just, “Hey, this is who I am. Take it or leave it” type of thing?
Alan: Well, I think it should come from both. The organization should support and help with that and not say, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that.” I can remember back early in my career in the firm I was working for. It just made me think of something. I caught a lot of flak because I grew a beard. You got understand, this was back in 1980, because accountants just didn’t have full beards. You got a mustache, but you didn’t have a beard. I grew a full beard. I’m going to tell you, more than one partner in the firm. I was in a multi-partner regional firm. More than one I’m commented, “I think you probably ought to consider shaving that.”
John: Oh, my gosh! That’s unbelievable, man.
Alan: I didn’t shave it.
John: Right. Because you know what all says, beards are your clients. People having a beard doesn’t make you less good at your job. Santa has a beard for crying out loud. It’s not even like a bad thing. It’s not like a tattoo on your forehead. It’s a beard. I’ve heard so many stories like that that are just crazy. A hundred years ago, the largest bank in the UK, you had to get permission for who you wanted to marry. There was that. So it’s just like, these are all stages of what was considered professional at one point. You look back on it now and you’re like, “Wow, that is nuts.” And that’s cool. So is there anything that you do there at Baldwin to encourage this and foster this sort of environment?
Alan: I don’t know if I do anything directly to encourage or foster. I guess, people look at me and they see what I’m doing. So they probably think that it’s okay as much as anything, because like I said, I’m not your stereotypical when you look at me and see me, you think back to the picture that you put up on the board at the BC Parliament. That was just a little bit different. But there again, I think that possibly encourages some of that because the staff will emulate the partners a lot of times.
John: And I think that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes you stand out to clients. It makes you memorable. It makes you easier to attract and retain the kind of talent that you want. Different isn’t always bad, which is cool that you guys have embraced that.
So do you have any words of encouragement to anybody listening that thinks, “Hey, I ride a lot of motorcycles, ” or “I like to hunt and fish,” or whatever their thing is, “but it has nothing to do with my job so I shouldn’t bring it to the office at all”?
Alan: Well, I think you’re making a huge mistake by not bringing into the office because the thing about that is what I found is a lot of CPAs play golf. Let’s get real. You hear about all the business on the golf course. Well, I’m going to tell you what, I’d rather go to work than to go to a golf course. I’ve never thought about trying it. I hated it. It’s one of the things that I ever did that I just did not enjoy at all. So I stay off the golf course because what I found is if you’re around people and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, they pick up on that passion and they like you for that passion.
I used to shoot pistols competitively, and I ended up getting a city audit out of that because one of the guys that was shooting with me became mayor of a small city there in Kentucky and like me from shooting pistols. And guess what? The next thing you know, I’ve got the city audit because of that, but it was because I had a passion. I think whatever you do, if there’s something you have a passion for, that will help you with clients and other things as much or more than being someone you’re not. I could probably go and get some golf lessons and learn how to play golf and probably be maybe an average golfer at best, but I would hate every minute of it. I think the not having the passion for it would show more on the course than me just not being there at all.
John: I love that. I love that. Just trying to fake and be something is much worse than being something that you’re not. Just be you. That’s fantastic, man. I guess would you rather deep sea fish or go golfing?
Alan: I’m not having much luck with that. I’d still would take that while we’re golfing anyhow.
John: Either way, you’re going to throw up, right? We’re good. That’s awesome. I feel like it’s only fair before I wrap this up to offer you the chance to turn the tables and ask me a couple of questions, if you’d like.
Alan: I really don’t have any questions I could ask you, John, because I’ve seen your presentation. I think it’s pretty interesting how you become doing what you’re doing, having come from a Big Four firm at one point in time. I do find that interesting and making a big career switch, but yet now you’re back. You’re doing it with accountants, and that’s a good thing.
John: Just trying to help out the profession. That’s how it works. So cool, man. Well, thanks so much, Alan, for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This is really fantastic.
Alan: I appreciate, John. Thank you for asking me.
John: If you’d like to see some pictures from Alan’s motorcycle rides or outdoor activities 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 to the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. So thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends. They get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.