Ashley is an accountant and cake decorator
Ashley tells John about how the Green Apple message has affected her and her co-workers at BeachFleischman since his visit to them this past Fall. She also talks about how she hopes to use her passion for baking and decorating cakes for client relations, recruiting, and more!
• Getting into baking and decorating cakes
• Talking about it at work and her relationship with a fellow co-worker who also loves to bake
• How her baking and decorating skills translates into accounting
• How she applied the Green Apple message to her passion in the workplace
• Plans to utilize her baking for the firm
• Why she feels people are not as open in the workplace
• The culture of BeachFleischman
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Welcome to Episode 190 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 and by sharing it with everyone, it makes them stand out like a green apple in a boring stereotypical red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and” as in my guest Ashley Byma is an accountant “and” decorates amazing cakes, which are two things that most people would not think go 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 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 guests Ashley Byma. She’s a tax manager with BeachFleischman in their Tucson office. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ashley: Well, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
John: Awesome. Yeah. We were able to meet after I spoke at the all staff meeting in the fall. You guys were awesome. It’s such a great firm and doing some really cool things down there in Arizona. I’m excited. Yeah, because you came up and talked. You’re like, “I make cakes.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay, whatever.” Then you showed me. And I’m like, “Oh my Lord. These are amazing.”
Ashley: But I didn’t bring you one.
John: Next time I’m down there, for sure.
John: It’s crazy, like right out of a magazine, on a TV show, something, like it’s legit. I mean, everyone, check it out for sure.
Ashley: Well, thank you.
John: Absolutely. But before we get into that fun, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions, the “get to know Ashley” on a new level here. So I hope you got your seatbelt on. It’s going to be crazy. All right. Here we go. Here we go. I’ll start you out with an easy one. Favorite color?
John: Burgundy. Wow, very specific. How about a least favorite color?
John: Yellow. Okay. Interesting. All right. How about would you say more oceans or mountains?
John: Okay. All right. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Ashley: Chris Pratt.
John: Oh, solid answer. Funny dude. Yeah, yeah.
John: How about more chocolate or vanilla?
Ashley: Chocolate, 100%.
John: Okay. Right. As a cake person, I had to ask.
John: I had to ask. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ashley: Star Wars if I had to pick one.
John: Yeah. No, no, totally. Way to clarify, way to clarify. Prefer more hot or cold?
Ashley: Hot. I mean I’m in Arizona, so definitely hot.
John: Yeah. You live in Southern Arizona, so you’re like, “I’m all in on this.” Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. How about when it comes to puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
John: Okay. Yeah. That’s a tax person for you right there.
John: That’s for sure, right? How about computers, PC or a Mac?
John: And when it comes to your mouse, left click or right click?
John: Oh, okay. Making decisions.
John: Absolutely. How about a favorite movie of all time?
Ashley: Oh God. I literally cannot think of a movie right now.
John: Okay. No worries. No worries. We’ll do a different one. How about a favorite TV show of all time?
Ashley: The Office.
John: The office. Ooh, solid answers. Solid answer. How about more diamond or pearls?
Ashley: I guess diamonds. But I lose everything, so don’t trust me with diamonds.
John: Fake diamonds, Cubic Zirconia.
Ashley: Yeah. There we go. There we go. That’s my level.
John: That’s fantastic. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Ashley: I would say Park City, Utah.
John: Oh, nice. That’s a good answer. That is beautiful up there.
Ashley: Good snowboarding.
John: Right. Yeah. Really good. Four more, we’ve got four more. As a text person, I have to ask more 1040 or 1120?
John: 1120. I don’t even know what that one is, but it sounds impressive.
John: It’s corporate. There we go. There we go. You’re all corporate. I see how it is. As an accountant, I do have to ask. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Fifty-one? And why is that?
Ashley: It’s my husband’s motorcycle racing number.
John: Oh, there you go. Okay. That’s a great reason and totally round out number.
John: All right. Two more. Toilet paper roll, over or under?
Ashley: Over. That’s the only right way. There’s the right way and that’s it.
John: That’s it. That’s it. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Ashley: I think this is a tie between my minivan and our Sprinter van that my husband’s currently converting into a camper.
John: All right. That’s fantastic. Yeah. I’ve never had minivan as an answer either.
Ashley: I know. I’m a cool mom.
John: Yeah, exactly. But you get it done. That’s fantastic. Very cool. What kind of minivan is it?
Ashley: It’s a Grand Caravan. The doors open by themselves so the kids can’t open the door, hit other cars. It’s great. It’s a dream.
John: Right. That’s fantastic. It’s all the things that like — I mean we had a minivan when I was a kid. Yeah. And you’re like, “Oh, we could open the doors ourselves.” Nothing was automatic. I’m like, “Why didn’t anyone think of this earlier?” It’s crazy. It’s so crazy. But yeah. But I imagine that the minivan helps a little bit with your passion when you’re delivering?
Ashley: Oh, it’s perfect. Yeah, perfect for delivering cakes.
John: Yeah. I mean the cakes are truly amazing. The pictures are through the roof. Everyone, check them out on greenapplepodcast.com or on her social media. That’s amazing. But how did you get into wanting to make such amazing cakes?
Ashley: First of all, I have a major sweet tooth. It’s a problem. So I’ve always been a fan of sweets. And I started making a little bit in high school for friends. I would do the Funfetti Cake Mix out of a box and bring it to my cheer team or whatever. So that’s when it started. Then my husband was actually deployed in Afghanistan in 2012. So every week, I would ship him a box of homemade cookies and treats and all kinds of things. Then I really got into the baking. But then I evolved into wanting to make something prettier, a little more photogenic than just plain cookies. Then I just started getting into the cakes. I briefly had a food blog. Oh, I want to say it was about five years ago. That’s when the photography thing kicked in too. But then it was like, “Well, cakes are the most fun or the most challenging. They’re prettiest to look at.” So I really wanted to perfect my cake skills and my photography skills. Now, it’s my thing.
John: That’s fantastic and really cool. Look at how it grew, not intentionally. It just became, “Hey, this is what I want to do.” Then you did it. That’s really impressive. Do you have any favorite cakes that you’ve made in the past that come to mind that are just like, “Wow. Yeah, that was a really fun one or the weirdest one or something.”
Ashley: My favorite would be one that I recently did for St. Patrick’s Day. It was a lucky charms cake. That was my favorite because it was made with cereal milk and actual lucky charms flower in the cake. So it tasted just like it had marshmallow frosting. It was really good. And it was really pretty.
John: Right. That’s fantastic. Your dentist has got to be just like making bank.
John: That’s so great. Like, “My teeth hurt and I wanted to eat at the same time.”
Ashley: I try not to go too crazy with eating them. I mean I do have to taste them most of the time if it’s a new recipe. But I also have two little kids. And they’re always hanging out when I’m photographing and cutting the cake. And they’re just going crazy to try some of it. So they eat it. I have a few lucky neighbors who get to try some of the cakes too because I don’t sell them. So I’m usually stuck with them.
John: Oh really? Okay. Okay. So I figured it was for birthday parties or people hire you out to make something. It’s more just you just love making them and photograph.
Ashley: Yeah. So I guess I really am crazy because I’m not selling them. But I mostly do it for family and close friends.
John: Yeah. Yeah. They’re definitely worth purchasing. That’s for sure. I mean they are amazing. I mean totally amazing. And that’s even better than — I mean that’s like a true passion because then it’s like, “Look, this is what I love to do.”
Ashley: Yeah. And it’s a little sad sometimes whenever I’ve made the cake and it’s beautiful and photographed, ready to go. Then I just have to cut into it and give it away. It’s like, “Well, that’s gone.” But that’s why I love doing the photography so much because the cake is gone as soon as you cut into it and you eat it, but then you’ve got the pictures that lasts forever.
John: Yeah. That’s crazy. I didn’t know that you weren’t selling.
Ashley: I know. I’m insane.
John: But that’s even better because it’s such a pure passion there. I mean if preparing corporate tax returns paid you zero dollars and all you got was a picture of you preparing it? I’m not sure if you would stay doing that.
Ashley: I can’t say that I would.
John: Right. Right. I mean BeachFleischman is a great firm. They’re really cool people down there. But you have your limit. But clearly, making cakes, that’s your thing. And then photography as well with it is so cool. Yeah. That’s really fantastic. And I would imagine that if you weren’t able to make cakes anymore that you wouldn’t be a very happy person.
Ashley: No. That would be a huge bummer, I couldn’t make cakes anymore. But I make time for it in the evenings on the weekends.
John: And is this something that you talk about at work?
Ashley: I do. I do. I have a friend at work, Steve, who’s another baker. He mostly bakes like artisan breads and crazy things like that. But every time I see him in the office, we talk about our latest and greatest baking challenges. Like French macarons, we both do those sometimes. Yeah. It’s easy to talk about cake with anybody really. But at work, too, because someone finds out you can make cakes and it’s like, “Oh, I need one for my son’s birthday,” or whatever or, “Bring it to the office.” And it’s usually a happy topic to discuss.
John: Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean it’s so cool that Steve is also baking things that are somewhat challenging as well. So it’s somebody that’s on a different level than me making a Duncan Hines Cake out of box.
Ashley: Hey, whatever, whatever works.
John: Right. For the record, I walked by the grocery store the other day here in Denver. And they had a Brownie mix on sale for $1.50. And it took everything in my power to not buy it. I was like, “A dollar and fifty for brownies. They are giving them away.” Like everyone in America should have brownies and cake all the time.
Ashley: All the time.
John: Then we all have diabetes and no teeth.
Ashley: I have a freezer full of cake right now. I’m not even joking.
John: That’s amazing. So I will be by. Right as we hang up, I will catch the next flight. Right. But I imagine that your relationship with Steve has got to be a little bit different than just everyone else in the office.
Ashley: Right. I mean we have more of, I guess, a better understanding of each other as people just outside of accountants because usually our conversation will start with what we’ve been working on, what’s going on at work. Then it always ends up talking about more human things like baking and eating food. And we like to eat.
John: Totally. Even the people that know that you make the cakes versus the people that don’t or clients, that relationship has to be different. Would you say that making cakes and decorating cakes even more so gives you a skillset that translates to preparing corporate tax returns or being an accountant in general?
Ashley: Yeah. I think there’s a couple different things. So first, there’s the right brain, left brain thing going on. So try to remember which is which. But I believe it’s the left brain that does the accountant side of things. Then the right brain does the creative side of things. So I exercise both sides of my brain at work. Then when I’m doing the creative cakes at home, I think that helps. It’s interesting. My aunt actually is a CPA in Houston. She also has a cake business. I just think it’s funny.
Ashley: Yeah. Maybe it’s just the desire, like craving in your mind to satisfy both the creativity side and also the analytic side.
John: Yeah, absolutely. No, I mean yeah because I mean that — I mean especially when you’re preparing tax returns, I mean that is so, so left brain. I mean so analytical, so numbers, so put things in a box. Yeah. And your brain is craving that other side. “Let me be creative. Let me do something that’s a little bit unconventional.” But still, making a cake is a little bit following a recipe.
Ashley: Right. There’s that too. Then usually, with my case, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. And things have to line up perfectly and sometimes be symmetrical, fit like a puzzle like with tax. So I can’t get as creative as some other people out there because of the left brain thing.
Ashley: Yeah. I think it does help whenever you spoke at our firm. This fall, you were talking about the whole green apple theory. “Let’s not all be red apple accounting firms. We need something to stand out.” And as soon as you said that, I was thinking, “All right. We can make BeachFleischman a green apple firm. We just need to do something different from all the other firms. And I thought, “What kind of accounting firm delivers a tax return and also cookies?” Then that got me thinking, “We’ve got to somehow get cookies for our clients because who doesn’t love cookies?” And mainly because cakes are a little bit too difficult to give to each of our client. Cookies are a little simpler. So I did a little bit of experimenting with that. Around Christmas time, I made some homemade cookies for some clients and also some custom BeachFleischman chocolate covered Oreos that I gave out. And I think they liked them. They seem to like them. Yeah. I’m trying to spend some more time on that, probably after busy season, and getting those custom Oreos out to the clients. Then have them available in the office for us to give out to our clients when they come in because I think that really helps us stand out. It’s only a cookie, but when you talk to your friend about your CPA who gave you cookies, they’ll be like, “Oh, I need to go to that CPA.”
John: Wow. That means so much. Not only were you listening but you put it into action. And that’s such a great idea. I mean that lights you up, too, because you’re able to make these cookies and make these sweets. And you get to see people enjoy them. So you’re able to mix together your passion and your career, so both sides of it. Wow. That’s so cool. That’s so encouraging to hear. And what a great idea because it’s like, “Hey, I love making cookies.” And they’re custom BeachFleischman cookies. It’s not just you’re making chocolate chip cookies out of a thing. It’s like, “No, no. These are legit. I took time to make this. It’s a labor of love.” And that’s fantastic.
Ashley: Right. I hope I can kick off more over the summer. We might use it for some recruiting events. Like when we have something called Meet the Firms at the University of Arizona, I think maybe we’d get more potential students if they saw we had cookies.
John: Then they find out that you’re standing there. And they’re like, “Yeah, she made them.” It’s like, “Wait, what? That’s crazy.” And it’s so cool, too, because then it’s the firm tapping into some unused talent that you have. I mean your talent level is much more than your ability to prepare corporate tax returns. You have all these other skills. Let’s use them.
Ashley: Right. And you said it’s cool, the reaction that people get whenever I deliver cakes or cookies. And that is the best part for me. It’s seeing their face whenever they get the cake and then of course when we get to eat it. That’s really the best part.
John: Right, right, right. Yeah. But I mean it definitely makes you smile and warms your heart. And all that time and energy wasn’t for naught, that people appreciate that. Yeah. People are going to remember you. I’ll tell you that much. I mean I remembered you from seven months ago. So it’s like, “Yeah. You need to be on this podcast. Please, for the love of God, be on this podcast,” because I remembered totally. And that’s really cool though. That’s really cool. So before you got into making cakes, was there something else that you would talk about in the office?
Ashley: Probably my kids mostly. That was usually a conversation starter, but also cakes — kids and cakes.
John: Kids and cakes. Yeah, yeah. Totally. Because I’m always fascinated at why we don’t naturally default to that. When we’re outside of the office, we’ll talk about cakes all day long, but inside the office, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know,” or whatever. What do you think it is that sometimes holds people back?
Ashley: I think it’s partly being in a quiet office and everyone’s trying to work. And you don’t want to start shouting about what you baked over the weekend. That could be part of it. But also I think when you’re in the office, at least you know everyone around you has an interest in accounting and there’s something to talk about right there. But I think people maybe need to have more flair in their cubicles with pictures of their hobbies and whatnot just as a conversation starter. Like if you had to summarize yourself outside of the office in one photo, hang that up on the outside. Then when someone walks by, they’d be like, “Hey, I didn’t know you bake cakes,” or, “Hey, I didn’t know you race motorcycles.”
John: That’s a great idea. That’s a really great idea. Yeah, because it’s not only just saying it. Some firms that I’ve worked with, it’s been your name and then “and” whatever you love to do. But that’s in words. Putting in a picture of you doing it, it’s right there. And it’s like, “Wait, what’s this all about?” You would hear that all day long. And all of a sudden, it’s maybe someone else. Like you come across somebody like Steve and it’s like, “Wait, you like to bake crazy stuff too?”
Ashley: Who knew?
John: Yeah. Exactly. Because no one knows if you don’t take the time to ask. And that’s a really great idea. But also just encouraging people to have something out in their cubicle that then offers an opportunity for that conversation to even start. It’s huge. How much do you feel like it’s on the organization or the firm to create that culture? Or how much is it on the individual to maybe start a little circle amongst themselves?
Ashley: I think it’s both. I mean BeachFleischman is really unique in our culture. Everyone’s really open and casual and friendly. And that’s why I’ve been there almost six years. I love the people there. And I know a lot of firms will probably say that, but I can vouch for BeachFleischman.
John: Oh yeah. No, I can too. I mean I was there. Yeah, absolutely.
Ashley: With the people, I mean being accountants, some of us are a little more introverted including myself. So it could be a little bit more difficult to just come out and say, “Hey, I bake cakes on the weekend. What do you do?” But I think getting — like when you came to talk to us in the fall, that got everyone talking about what they do. And no one had any idea that people had other interests outside of work. So I think that was a good starting point for all of us to understand that we have lives and interests outside of work.
John: Yeah. Right. Because I mean it’s one of those things that you take for granted, but until you start asking, then — I mean it just uncovers all this amazingness around you. You’re like, “Whoa, I had no idea.” I remember there was someone down there collects keyboards. I remember there was one of those.
Ashley: Two people, there are people who collect keyboards.
John: Two? I thought the second one was like busting my chops. I’m like, “Really?” And he’s like, “No, absolutely.” We talked about it. I’m like, “What? This is nuts.” And it’s just cool stuff or it’s someone that looks like they wouldn’t ride a motorcycle or whatever the thing is, go skydiving. I would imagine your perception of people changes.
Ashley: Oh, totally.
Ashley: I guess depending on the hobby, yeah.
John: Right. Yeah. I mean collecting keyboards maybe, I don’t know, indifferent. But for the most part, it’s typically like, “That’s amazing. Tell me more about that.” It’s typically the response. And when I was there, we did it briefly amongst the group. The energy in the room popped. And that’s encouraging to hear that it’s carried over to now, months later. So that’s really cool. Do you have any words of encouragement for anyone listening that their passion has absolutely nothing to do with accounting or law or whatever their job is or even their college degree is?
Ashley: Well, I think whatever it is that might have more to do with work than they think. Like you said, 85% of our job, really, is not about the technical side of it. It’s about the people side of it and the personality side of it and getting to know each other on a different level and not just the technical piece. So whatever it could be, if we just start talking about it more. Like I said, hang up some flair around your cubicle and get each other talking. Then I think we’ll see that we have more in common than we think and that we can use these skills, whatever it may be in the office.
John: No, that’s so great, so great. I love how you slid in the flair Office Space reference.
John: I liked that. I liked that. I saw what you did there. I see what you did.
Ashley: Fifteen pieces of flair.
John: Right. Right. Absolutely. It’s just sharing because most people I think are scared that there’s going to be a backlash where people are going to be judged or whatever. Almost every single time, there’s the 0.1%, but 99.9% of the time, it’s quite the opposite. It’s all just in your head. And just people would think — I mean when you share with them your cakes, I mean no one is indifferent or hates it. Everyone is like, “What? That is awesome.”
Ashley: That’s true. Yeah.
John: I hope so. I mean I’m not the only weirdo that did a backflip when you do — I’m like, “What?” It’s just sharing some of that. That’s what people are going to remember. And you work way too hard and you’re way too good at what you do to be completely forgettable. They’re not going to remember you for your work.
Ashley: No. That’s the thing. No one’s going to remember me for the great tax returns that I did. They’re going to remember me as the cake lady or the baking girl, whatever.
John: Right. Yeah. And you could be remembered for a lot worse. That’s for sure.
Ashley: No, I’ll take that. I’ll take the cake lady.
John: Yeah. Totally. Totally. Yeah. I’m going to go cakelady.com. That’s your new website. No, I’m just kidding.
Ashley: It’s catchy.
John: Yeah. Before I wrap this up, it’s only fair that I turn the tables and offer you the opportunity to rapid-fire question me if you’d like. We have time for a couple if you would like to put me on the hot seat.
Ashley: All right. If you had to create a cake flavor and decoration, what would it be?
John: Oh, wow. Yeah. I’m just like drooling because the thin mints cake that you posted on Instagram is just in my brain because it’s like that’s chocolate. It’s mint. It’s got the crunchy. It’s not the soggy on the inside. It’s got the crunch — like that, if I had thought of it. So girl scouts cookie thin mints as a cake. Yeah. I mean just chocolate mint, crunchy. It’s got something to bite into. It’s not the soggy.
Ashley: So next time you’re in Tucson, I’ll get you a thin mints cake.
John: Oh man. That would be unbelievable. And I will be in Tucson every week.
Ashley: Perfect. You’re going to keep me busy.
John: “Well these cakes are really good.”
Ashley: And I can’t keep them.
John: Right. Yeah. No, totally. Totally. That would be an excellent flavor.
Ashley: Good choice. Good choice.
John: And I am starving now, Ashley. So thank you very much. But this was awesome. Thanks so much for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast. It’s so much fun.
Ashley: Thank you for having me.
John: If you like to see some pictures of Ashley’s cakes, — trust me, they’re amazing — or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. That’ll really help for 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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