Ben is an accountant and home remodeler
Benjamin Wann is an operational controller at Savencia. He has a passion for finding solutions to complex problems, improving workflows, and developing processes. All of which play a part in his hobby for renovating homes! Ben was recently named the 2019 IMA Exemplary Young Professional Award Winner!
Ben tells us how a disastrous home purchase led to his passion for remodeling homes and how it helps improve his project management skills as well as his ability to build relationships based on his experience in home renovation! Ben also talks about his company The Numbers Guys and how they help create a community among accountants and financial professionals.
• Getting into home renovation
• Applying his skills from home renovation in the office
• Why it’s easy to talk about home renovating at work
• Why it’s on the organization to make a difference on the culture of a workplace
• The Numbers Guys
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More pictures of Ben’s Kitchen and Dining Room Remodel
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Hello, this is John Garrett and welcome to Episode 192 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. Just by having that interest and just by even sharing it, it makes them a green apple in kind of a stereotypically boring red apple world. I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to stand out with 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. It’s experiences from these passions that 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 got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. Click on the big green button there, answer a few quick questions. It’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help for the book that I’m releasing in just a couple of months later this year.
And thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show, so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Ben Wann. He’s the operational controller at Savencia and a co-founder of The Numbers Guys.
Ben, thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ben: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here.
John: I’m super excited, and I love what you guys are doing. I’m just excited to have you be a part of this. But you know the drill before we jump in and have some fun talking about renovating your home. You asked me to come out and help with the table saw or hammer a few two by fours or whatever we’re doing. That’s going to take some time, so I got to make sure we can hang out and be simpatico, if you will.
So I have my 17 rapid-fire questions. I don’t know if you’re ready.
Ben: Fire away.
John: All right. After you’ve renovated a home, nothing’s scary, right?
Ben: I have written that down today. If you can remodel a home, what can’t you do?
John: Right, exactly. You’re indestructible now. Seventeen rapid-fire questions. Here we go. Here we go. Do you have a favorite color?
John: Green. Nice. Okay, how about a least favorite color?
John: Black. Interesting. Okay. How about would you say more cats or dogs?
Ben: Dogs. I have three dogs.
John: Three dogs. Very cool. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Ben: Favorite actor or actress — ooh, undecided.
John: All right. How about more chocolate or vanilla?
Ben: Chocolate, for sure.
John: For sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
John: Yeah, sure. Absolutely, the numbers there. As the count, I got to ask you, do you have a favorite number?
Ben: No, they’re all my favorite. Can’t choose of my children.
John: They’re all your favorite. As if they’re listening and you’re going to offend one of them. That’s awesome. How about do you have a favorite sports team? Any sport?
Ben: Not a sports person. I do not watch sports.
John: Not a sports person. There we go. There we go. That’s interesting. Okay. How about — this is an important one — toilet paper, roll over or under?
Ben: Ooh, it’s got to be over.
John: Got to be over. Okay. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Ben: Spokane, Washington.
John: Oh, interesting. Okay. Well, yeah, being from the East Coast, yeah, anything with forest and tree like, yeah, that’s interesting. Okay. How about — this is a good — one balance sheet or income statement?
Ben: Income statement.
John: Okay. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
John: Okay, how about more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Ben: Jeans and a t-shirt?
John: All right. More Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ben: Star Wars, for sure.
John: And when it comes to your computer, a PC or a Mac?
John: And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Ben: The favorite thing that I own, my dogs.
John: Your dogs. There you go. What kind of dogs are they?
Ben: I have two beagles, one is a mother and daughter, and then I have this Akita German Shepherd mix.
John: Oh, wow. That’s awesome. Very cool. They got to keep you very busy.
John: There you go. Right. There you go. Very cool. Well, let’s just jump right into this with remodeling your home. Is that something you grew up doing? Was it growing up being a handy person?
Ben: I have three other brothers and from my set of brothers, I was the least skilled to start. I’ve always been more bookish. I’ve worked with my dad to the whole tools but not do the heavy lifting that’s about with the renovation. But I guess it’s kind of always been my life. My dad had built our family home on our property when we were in New Jersey. So I left New Jersey. I was living in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a few years after I left, and that’s when I came into this situation. So I guess I had it in my blood, but then I didn’t have the skills and knowledge ready to start digging in on day one.
John: Right. Okay. How did this start? I guess you guys are looking at this house and then you’re like, “We love it,” and it just is going to take some work?
Ben: Yeah. My wife and I were engaged at that point, and we were looking around for homes. We were looking for a smaller price point. This one seemed like a great deal. We kind of figured out what was wrong with it. We thought it needed a little bit of work. That’s how we got started. We guessed wrong.
John: Right. Okay. Yeah, but now look what all you’ve learned in the experiences you guys have had. That’s amazing. What was the first project that you did? I assume that you’ve done like soup to nuts everything from when we talked, the wiring and all kinds of stuff.
Ben: So it started with I just wanted to remove some of the old board. It had like three layers of laminate just glued on top of each other. I went to change up cabinets. So I started peeling back the layers, and I get to the drywall. I noticed something funny that the studs don’t like studs back. There are no studs. Termites had eaten everything.
John: Oh, my gosh!
Ben: So I had to then completely gut the kitchen. So we had no kitchen, and we had a stove in the middle of the room. I had to continue to gut the house to find out how extensive the damage was. It was in all four walls of the home in different levels of severity. So we’re at the point where it was like structural damage. So we uncovered it and then we got to work re-fixing it. So I had to reframe parts of the house including structural boards like the sill plate, and then that was how we got introduced to this, tearing our walls apart and reframing.
John: So you basically built a house like from the inside.
Ben: I built a house. So we had the kitchen torn apart. I had to instead of rebuild the kitchen in a different part of the house, I had to do everything that goes along with that reframing, replumbing, rewiring and everything, so then we had a nice kitchen. And then we went room by room, tearing out the walls, assessing the termite damage, and fixing it. The time that we were finished, there wasn’t a thing I hadn’t completely redone. All the electric was redone, the plumbing. I have hung over 50 sheets of drywall and finish them, do windows and installation, new deck, new porch, everything. I have a lot of really cool tools now.
John: Yeah, I was going to say. Did you do a lot of this on your own?
Ben: Yes. So being broke and young and stupid. So my wife and I were a team. Every now and then, my dad would come out, but we lived from paycheck to paycheck for I think four or five years, getting all this stuff done and put together.
John: Wow, that’s unbelievable, man. Is there a more rewarding or more interesting story from doing this?
Ben: Yeah. The rewarding part was when we were finished, we had one of the nicest homes in the community. When we first moved in, it wasn’t the nicest place to be. People thought we were crazy for moving here. By the time we’re done, I think we had improved the community. New people were starting to move in and fix their homes up. It has become more of a gentrified area. So I think we had a small impact to that.
John: Yeah, you’re a trendsetter, man. I like it. Well, somebody’s got to take the first step and take some pride where they’re living, plus relationship building, I guess.
Ben: Yes. We certainly run the gamut of arguments. If you look at causes for divorce, home renovations are always on the top, and that’s if you pay someone to do it. So imagine you could script in your wife to come and work on a drywall after you’ve got to the end of the day.
John: It sounds like you guys had a chance to establish anything really. It’s like, “All right. Well, here we go.”
Ben: We were still engaged.
John: Oh, you were still engaged when you started that? Right.
Ben: We were still engaged when we started.
John: You’re a good man. She stayed with you, so that’s impressive. Clearly, no business school tells you to go and learn how to remodel a home, especially the entire home. But do you feel like any part of it gave you a skill that you are able to bring to the office?
Ben: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So managing these projects, I am very keen on time management and being able to estimate how long something will realistically take. I can do a good job compared to actual versus expected cost for a project. Just this project management skills, they’re huge. I’ve coordinated this whole thing. What else can I do?
Another great benefit doing all this is that it’s helped me build relationships with the people at work. So I’m working in manufacturing, and these are people who are more blue collar. You’re sitting there talking about laying out pipe. You’re going to build a bond with them and they like that. The plant manager here said to me, he’s never had a controller like me. Usually, hey’re someone who’s like frail and always dresses up and won’t get dirt on their hands. He likes me because down-to-earth with him.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so huge because that has to pay huge dividends at work, to have a relationship with a plant manager on that level that’s not controller plant manager, but it’s Ben and this guy’s name type of a thing. It’s just two people that work together as opposed to titles.
Ben: You need that deep relationship to be an effective controller. So I’m his confidant for some things, and we go back and forth and you need that. You can’t have a superficial relationship and being effective in the operational control.
John: Yeah, I know. I love it, man. That’s great. So clearly, this is something that you talk about at work. How does that come up?
Ben: How did it come up? That’s good question. I had pictures of my office and then he started to ask a few of the questions, and then I went into it. So in my office, as a trick, I have pictures of dogs in frames. I have some of the things I’m interested in. So people come into your office, they are things you can talk about and start to build that relationship.
John: Right. That’s the thing that when I talk to a lot of people, they’re always reluctant to want to share anything. If they do want to share, they’re always like, “Well, I don’t know how.” That’s such a great easy example of, one, it makes you happy to see these pictures and you’re in that office a lot, but, two, it allows other people to then, if they’re curious and if they’re interested, to ask. And you open the door like that and if they come in, then great, let’s have that conversation and hang out. That’s fantastic, man. Kudos to you for doing that. Whether it’s on purpose or not, it matters. Is this something that you’ve always been open to sharing and talking about some things outside of work, or was it something that came later on in your career as you got a little more confident?
Ben: I think I’ve always been pretty open about this because if I’m extremely exhausted, people ask why and then I would talk till midnight. So it’s not too easy to hide.
John: Exactly. At least you have all your fingers. There’s not like huge cuts and scrapes and stuff, but that is true. It isn’t easy to hide, especially when you’re living it as much as you were. That’s really great. Really great. I’m always curious, how much do you feel like it’s on an organization to create an environment where it’s not only okay to share but it’s encouraged to share and open up versus how much is it on the individual, like you did, to just put up some pictures then, hey, if magic happens, then great?
Ben: I think it is more on the individual. That’s the way that things have shifted for a lot of other things like training and development. You have to own your career and just kind of set the stage and, like I said, lure out to get people in. If the corporation tries to have these forced friend sessions to find some form is easy.
John: Yeah, because it can feel forced for sure, and you definitely don’t want that at all. Or it’s “Oh, I need to talk to five people this week,” and then you just run around for five minutes. “Hey, what’s going on? Great. All right.” Clearly, there’s no intention there. It’s not genuine. People can smell that right away. It’s like, this is ridiculous. It’s like, oh, clearly, the organization is having this because they read it in a magazine that this is what we’re supposed to do. It’s like, yeah, but the why we’re doing this and the setting it all up isn’t there, creating the right environment. Yeah, that is interesting, and especially the parallel, like you said, with development and training and other things, it certainly is. When I started at PwC a long time ago, they had the phrase “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” I don’t know. It’s a Dr. Seuss thing maybe. I’m not sure. Probably not, but it rhymed. So that’s why it made me remember it.
So is there anything that you’ve seen, whether where you work now or maybe some of your friends, of organizations that do some things that are cool, that encourage that culture or people sharing hobbies and passions or at least getting out of the office and being humans?
Ben: I don’t see too many corporations facilitate that. I see a lot of activity where people are setting those types of things up by themselves by being active only in making those connections and then meeting up up person. Just this past week, I met up with two guys, one from Philadelphia and one from Boston, who I’ve been talking to. We’ve talked on the internet. Let’s go meet in real person and have some beers.
John: Right, which is how we connected was social media, which I thought was make believe but apparently it’s real. So that’s fantastic. But that is a good point and that individuals making those connections digitally and then you’re able to meet in person, and then that’s when the real relationships start and you’re able to actually create those connections.
Ben: That’s how I met my wife online. So I thought, if can find her —
John: There you go. That’s fantastic, man. So I guess that that dovetails a little bit with The Numbers Guys, and maybe just share a little bit with everyone what that’s all about.
Ben: So The Numbers Guys is a project/company that I’ve co-founded with Mason Brady. What we’re trying to do with The Numbers Guys is we want to have a place where experts in the field and practitioners can share their knowledge with other practitioners and accountants especially. We’re so tired of all the theory and the would have, could have, should haves. We want to be able to find people who share their real experiences and real stories. How do you transform an organization? Ask Jim. He’s done it. I don’t need a professor to tell me that. We then put the message out there. We have a website. We got started with the blog, and we’re finding there’s a big audience for it. People are hungry for real knowledge, and that’s kind of our passion lately.
John: Yeah. Because it’s just people that are willing to open up and share their real-world experiences and that all these isn’t easy because sometimes there are stumbling blocks. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes there’s a learning curve and what have you. It’s nice to hear real-world examples instead of the theory behind it.
Ben: We’re sharing that too. Like you said, the vulnerabilities, the screwed-up stories. You’ll read a lot of those in major publications. So we’re giving a personal touch to it. Here’s the stupid things I did. Here’s something you can learn from it. That’s something that’s missing that we’re going to add.
John: Yeah, for sure. I love that, man. I think it’s so fantastic because there’s always a learning lesson from that that you learned or the person learned, but then also you’re able to share that with others. I guess, in my experience, it’s always been people want to appear as if they’re always perfect and they always know everything and no, I’ve never made a mistake. Why do you think it is that people are now willing or with The Numbers Guys willing to open up with that? because it’s typically pretty hard for people to do.
Ben: I think before there wasn’t the right platform to do it on. By us creating The Numbers Guys, our brand being this message, it’s easier to pull people in and give them a platform to speak to. Yes, that’s our brand. We’re attracting the right people. We have a good group of people right now who are consistently helping us publish content and work on separate projects. We put the right place together for these types of conversations to happen.
John: That’s fantastic. Yeah, creating that safe space, if you will, where it’s okay to be a little bit vulnerable because we’re not judging and we’re not criticizing and we’re not condemning you. We’re actually flipping it. We’re celebrating this. We’re shining a light on it to be like, look, everyone makes mistakes, and these are people that are successful. Look, they also messed up at some point. So I think it’s cool that we’re able to admit, yeah, we’re not perfect all the time and we’re still successful. So I think that that’s one of the biggest myths of professionalism is that you’re supposed to be perfect all the time and know everything all the time, and it’s just impossible. You almost set yourself up for failure if you think that way and live your life that way because that will never happen.
Ben: Yeah, I think we’re two months now and we’re picking up a lot of speed and momentum. So we have this site where we blog at least two times a week, and then we’re putting out e-courses and e-books that help people understand how to do real-world stuff. So I’m excited to see where it goes and worst-case scenario, I make some new friends.
John: Right, right, exactly. It’s the numbersguys.com. I just want to make sure everyone listening. Also, there will be a link at greenapplepodcast.com if you missed that. But, yeah, that’s fantastic, man. So do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that thinks that maybe they’re remodeling a home right now and building a whole separate kitchen to remodel the first kitchen and they think, well, this has nothing to do with my accounting job or my law job or my consulting job? Do you have any words of encouragement to people that feel like their thing doesn’t have anything to do with work?
Ben: Yeah, my encouragement is don’t be afraid to be weird. Our work nowadays are based on relationships. If you can put something out there and share some information, having more relationships and stronger relationships in your work is only going to be a good thing.
John: That’s so right because it’s all relationship driven. The relationship between you and your plant manager is such an excellent example of something that would have never happened to this level had you not gone and explored this passion that you have but also shared it at work. It would just be a regular plant manager-controller relationship, which is, as you mentioned, pretty superficial. On top of that, you’ve got all these new skills that you’re sharpening outside of work like the time management and the budget versus actual and the costs, project management skills, things like that.
Ben: Also, I wanted to add the importance of trust but verify.
John: What do you mean by that?
Ben: So trust but verify means that you have the ability and skills to look beyond the surface of something and be able to assess the real value and the truth that’s behind it. So if we’re looking at my home, the realtor can say, “Here’s a beautiful new home that needs a little bit of work.” What I should have done is I should have gotten a screwdriver and stabbed the walls of the house in the basement or put my screwdriver into the boards. So I had some skepticism. So that applies to my work because if someone tells me this number is incredible, I’m going to take my screwdriver out and stab the boards. I’m going to double check that. I’m going to ask them probing questions. And that just makes you a better finance professional.
John: Yeah, absolutely, man. So you just carry around a screwdriver in the office now and just start stabbing things that people are like, “Yeah, I think this report is right.” Whack!
John: No, that’s fantastic, man. Really, really excellent point. I think it’s just so great now you guys have this great cool house and all the skills and confidence that you’ve gained from doing this. So I really appreciate it. Thanks so much, Ben, for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ben: All right. Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
John: If everyone would like to see some pictures of Ben and his home and maybe in some of the remodeling process, go to greenapplepodcast.com. Connect with them on social media and all the links are there to The Numbers Guys. If you’re on the page, please click that big green button there and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
So thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.