Caleb is an Accountant & Community Volunteer
Caleb Jenkins, Leader of Client Accounting Services at RLJ Financial Services, talks about applying his technical expertise as an accountant towards community volunteer programs like SALT Micro-financing and how participating in a volunteer activity is much more of what sets your identity as an individual than your profession!
• What SALT Microfinance is
• The two different forms of poverty
• Two different methods to help people in poverty
• How Caleb became involved with SALT
• Applying your technical expertise towards a passion
• Talking about his volunteer work in the office
• Why it’s on the leaders of an organization to promote sharing in the office
• How he overcame the hesitation to share about his passion in the office
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Welcome to Episode 251 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing professionals who, just like me, are known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And.” The things above and beyond their technical skills and those things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published in just a few months. It will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. Check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it and the book will really help spread that message as well. Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast 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 guest Caleb Jenkins. He’s the leader of Client Accounting Services at RLJ Financial Services in Ceres, California. Now he’s with me here today. Caleb, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Caleb: Hey, John. It’s great to be with you.
John: I’m excited and I know we’ve met and hung out a couple of times at QuickBooks Connect, and never sat down and chatted and hit record.
Caleb: I know. This is amazing.
John: Yeah. I have my rapid fire questions right out of the gate here, some stuff that I never asked you when we were hanging out. Here we go.
Caleb: All right.
John: Do you have a favorite color?
Caleb: Oh, boy. Favorite color’s probably dark green.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. How about a least favorite color?
Caleb: Least favorite. Probably light-ish blue or salmon-y.
John: Oh, okay. All right. That’s very specific, wow. All right. How about when you fly on an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?
Caleb: Middle seat.
John: Middle, really?
Caleb: It gives you an opportunity to talk to the person on either side of you.
John: Oh, okay. All right. All right. I see what’s going, yeah. Nice. You get both arm rests when you’re in the middle.
Caleb: Oh, as long as you get there first.
John: Right. I like it. How about early bird or night owl?
Caleb: Oh, let’s see. Probably both. I can get up early and I take some time to read and I take some time to meditate in the morning and just focus in the morning just go slow and then I don’t know evening’s when I get my work done. So that means sleep is in short order, but that’s about my life.
John: That’s impressive. I would be taking naps left and right if I was you.
Caleb: I do. That’s the secret here in our office is that it’s underneath my desk. There’s a good pillow there.
John: I like it. If you had to choose, and I know you’re not a big movie guy, but Star Wars or Star Trek?
Caleb: I don’t know. I haven’t watched either of them, but I’ll just go with Star Wars.
John: There you go. That seemed like the most normal of the group. No, I’m just teasing. How about when it comes to your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?
Caleb: Oh, PC at work and Mac at home.
John: Oh, okay. Impressive. All right. Then when it comes to your mouse, right-click or left-click?
Caleb: Oh, let’s see. PC, probably — let’s see. Right-click’s where you get the work done, left-click is where it gives you the options to explore the world.
John: Okay, so a little bit of both?
Caleb: Oh, yeah.
John: All right. How about would you say more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Caleb: Probably slacks and button-down shirt.
John: Oh, okay, but untucked. You don’t want to go over the top with that.
Caleb: No. No suit and vest.
John: Right. When it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?
Caleb: Well, let’s see here. Income statement is where the rubber meets the road but the balance sheet is where everything starts so you got to make sure the balance sheet is correct before you can understand the profit loss.
John: There you go, all right. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all.
Caleb: Probably a cougar.
John: Nice. That’s a good answer.
Caleb: That’s with the same letter as my name too.
John: There you go. Anything with C. I got it. Here’s a trick one there. Prefer more hot or cold?
Caleb: Oh, probably cold although you can always add more layers but you can only take away so many layers.
John: I’m with you on that one, man. I’m with you on that. As an accountant, I have to ask. Do you have a favorite number?
Caleb: I don’t know. There’s something about 19 was just really cool.
John: Okay. I got you. We got four more.
Caleb: That was probably around the time that I started getting engaged in the accounting profession and started getting out, understanding getting to know people.
John: Okay, around 19. That means a lot then. All right. We got four more, four more. Pens or pencils?
Caleb: Pens all the way. They’re faster to right with.
John: Oh, that’s — you know what? Now that you bring it up, you’re right. That’s interesting. How about chocolate or vanilla?
Caleb: Oh, chocolate until it comes to ice cream, then vanilla.
John: All right. Two more. Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
Caleb: Oh, of course Sudoku.
John: Oh, nice. That’s how I do my taxes right there. That’s exactly —
Caleb: That’s how I go to sleep.
John: The last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Caleb: Favorite thing I have is probably the relationships that I’ve built over the years.
John: Oh, nice. That’s a good answer. Very good answer for sure. We were going to talk through a hobby or a passion or an interest that you have outside of work. I know that you have several but the SALT program in particular sounds really interesting. What is that about? Can you tell people a little bit more about that?
Caleb: Yeah, absolutely. I got engaged in about 2013, it’s the first time I got engaged with it but then 2015’s where I really started digging dip into it. It’s a microfinance organization, so doing microlending and savings groups but it’s unique from a lot of the other microfinance organizations in the sense that it is linking together teaching with the microfinance side of things.
It’s really about changing the way that we work with those in poverty and understanding what poverty really is. This blew my mind when I started digging into it and understanding what poverty really is. There’s really two different forms of poverty.
There’s critical poverty which is like a natural or man-made crisis like a war or a refugee situation or earthquake or hurricane or tsunami. That is an external force that comes in and creates poverty. But the other area of poverty is an area of chronic poverty. Chronic poverty is something that has been over generations and generally the lack or the result of a broken relationship and a lack of teaching.
This is where you see when you go to Haiti or other developing countries around the world, that there are situations that have existed for a long period of time. When we think about that, there’s really two different ways that we can help people.
We can help them with relief which is food, clothing, shelter, water, et cetera or we can help with development which is looking at the long-term process whereby somebody can improve their quality of life and that is spiritual internal communal material et cetera, it’s all-encompassing but it’s that process where we help somebody and it’s not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term process. Very critical difference in understanding how to help.
The area that’s blew my mind in this is thinking about what we do when we give relief to those in chronic poverty. When we go and give food and water and clothing to those in chronic poverty, we’re telling them that we don’t think that they can be sufficient on their own and that we are like their parents providing for them and we don’t think that they can succeed on their own.
Now, they might be asking for that hand out but in reality, we are diminishing their value of life when we are giving them food and clothing and shelter, et cetera. It’s a different way to think about it. Where this really came home for me, I started learning all this and thinking about all this.
But then coming home back down into the accounting profession, what am I doing when somebody comes to me and has say a cash flow problem? It’s an issue. They need to find a solution to their problem. But what do we do in that situation? Do we just help them find access to a short-term loan for financing to get them out of the crunch that they’re in right now?
John: Right, but then they’re going to have the cash flow problem six months later, two months later, two weeks later.
Caleb: Exactly. Unless we’re digging underneath the surface and going to the root cause of the problem, we are not going to help them with the solution that they need. That really comes back to then understanding what tools are most important.
If I’m going to do a reconciliation, am I going to use iTunes or am I going to use QuickBooks to do that?
John: Right. QuickBooks, clearly.
Caleb: Same thing with those in chronic poverty. Do we help them with a tool that is food, clothing or water or do we help them with the area that really is going to bring the solution? First, we need to identify the cause of the problem and then we can choose the best tool to help them in that problem.
John: Yeah, that’s really powerful, man. I mean that’s really great. How did you get started with it?
Caleb: I got started back in 2013. This organization’s in about 18 countries now but it was back in 2013, there were about probably seven or eight countries, primary country is Haiti and I’ve known the founder of the SALT program for my whole life. He grew up here in our community but he lives in Southern Idaho now.
He invited a number of accountants to come to Haiti to just oversee the program and see what was happening and give input on it and what happened there was I mean I was interested and so I went but then I just saw the need and they followed up soon afterwards and said, we’ve got a problem. We need some help with our account, we need to have a better solution for our internal accounting.
In that, I helped them — they were using a lot of different excel files, no reconciliation process, they had no kind of a reporting process and no audit trail to detect fraud.
John: Right. Oh, my goodness.
Caleb: We’re not talking small organization neither necessarily for Haiti. I’m like okay, we got to first get you on QuickBooks, so that you have a loan program. I help them integrate those two together, but that’s where it came in. They asked me for my technical expertise and so I helped them with that. But thinking about it since then, I’ve helped them and I’ve continued helping them. I’ve helped them in Haiti and a lot of the other countries that they’re working in.
The thing that’s resonated with me since then is now how can I help others, others in the accounting profession find ways based on their passion and their vision, mission, purpose in life to give back to others in their community. It’s one thing to go serve in a soup line, it’s another thing to use your skills in a targeted way to help others.
John: And to teach others a little bit of what you do, some of that expertise that they can use.
Caleb: There’s nothing like giving back the aspect that we learn in that aspect is tremendous. As long as we’re learning. We have this complex here in America that we think that we have all the answers when in reality, we have very few answers. We just need to learn. In that process of learning, we can help them learn as well.
John: Yeah. We just ask simple questions. Then I know all the answers. That’s what I do, yeah, yeah. No, that’s really powerful, man. What countries have you worked in through this program? Obviously, Haiti.
Caleb: Haiti is primarily but I’ve worked with Ghana, I’ve worked with Nigeria, Uganda, starting to work with Tanzania and Myanmar.
John: That’s a lot, man. It’s not just one area you know the Caribbean.
Caleb: Oh, no. It’s all over.
John: You’re in Africa, you’re in Asia. Wow. That’s awesome, man.
Caleb: It’s really a world-wide need to find solutions to chronic poverty.
John: That’s really fantastic.
Caleb: Again chronic poverty does not just exist there. It exists here as well.
John: Oh, for sure. Yeah. But obviously, this program is focused more on the work in other countries which is fantastic. Do you have any more rewarding story or like a cool story that you share with people?
Caleb: One of the clients that I met with through the SALT program in Haiti, she was making about $200 USD a day. She got a loan through the SALT program. Through that loan and through the teaching she received, she went from — and this is just a material success story on this aspect, but it’s pretty powerful in the sense that through the education she received, she went through the first loan cycle, made it up to about six dollars USD then through the second loan cycle, she was making — I forgot what it was. But basically, through the third loan cycle, she was making $15 to $20 USD a day.
With that change, she was previously struggling to put food on the table for her family. After that, she had barely enough left over money but with money to provide clothing, shelter, education for her family and also had a tad bit left over to help her parents with some elective medical needs.
That was really a powerful thing in the sense that she was able then to give back to her community instead of relying on the white American to come in and give them something that they didn’t have.
John: Right. That’s unbelievable, man. I mean 10x daily income is a huge life-changing effect. Like you said, her whole family, her parents, I mean that’s really awesome, man. That’s really cool. Is there something that you talk about at work that you share with colleagues?
Caleb: I talk with my colleagues about it. We chat about it and think about it in terms of how we apply that aspect here to work, but I also find it makes a lot of sense in discussing it with my clients too because when I am struggling to convey a concept to them, I think about it in a sense of chronic poverty. How am I able to help them find a solution to their own problem rather than me coming with all the answers.
John: Yeah. There you go. That’s awesome, man. Something that you learned from doing this program. That isn’t something that they always teach us in school.
Caleb: No. They don’t teach a bit of that.
John: Which is probably the most important part is coming at them from their eyes and their experience.
Caleb: I’m not perfectly successful at that. I fail a ton at that but it is an aspect, a continual learning aspect.
John: The fact that you’re even thinking it that way or the fact that you’re even trying means that you’re succeeding. I mean it’s certainly isn’t just slam dunk because you’re not that other person. No matter where you are, but the fact that you have empathy and you’re trying puts you lightyears ahead of me for instance, I would’ve never done that that. I would’ve been like, just do this, and then get out of here. Good on you, man. That’s really fantastic, really fantastic.
How much do you feel like it’s on an organization — because it sounds like you work somewhere that’s really cool where people can share those hobbies and passions? I love how you brought up that it’s how can we apply this in other areas at the firm. But how much is it on the organization to create the culture where it’s okay to share or how much is it on the individual to just be like hey, I’m going to create this little circle amongst my peers and start sharing that way.
Caleb: I think it’s incumbent upon the leaders of an organization to create the freedom and by leading in the aspect of sharing their outside hobbies and their outside passions inside the work environment but then secondarily, it just needs to be an open free space to be able to bring that to the table. You can’t force somebody bring something to the table if they’re not willing to do that on their own.
John: It’s not even something that you can force but at least create the environment to where it’s okay and then I love how you said they’re modelling the behavior then that makes that even easier.
John: And the benefits that are huge because it also humanizes leadership so now, you’re not as intimidated of them, you’re more open with them and candid.
Caleb: It’s a lot easier to do that in a small organization like we have. We’ve got ten people on our team. It’s a whole lot easier than a 200-person team but even in that 200-person team, I think it can be done as well.
John: Oh, yeah. I mean there’s groups of ten within that. You can start there but then yeah, if you want to make it happen, you can definitely do it. Like you said, you know, modelling for the top is definitely a huge benefit.
What might be some barriers do you think — because I know when I first started, I accidentally shared if people asked, but I didn’t know that most people didn’t, and so is this something that you were open about from the beginning or were you a little hesitant with it at first?
Caleb: I was hesitant definitely. The aspect that made me hesitant about it is this is a faith organization that’s not necessarily something that people just go around shouting necessarily in the accounting profession at large. But I had a good relationship with Joe Woodard. I mentioned it to him that I was going to Haiti and his ears perked up and he’s like you got to write an article about this, and we’ll get it posted for you in Insightful Accountant. I went on my next trip to Haiti and then wrote that article so that was back in August of 2015.
Then from that that point forward, it was interesting to me because people just started asking about it and I started getting encouraged to continue sharing and the aspect from that that continued to help me is finding ways to think about using what we’re learning in other contexts to help people in the current context.
John: Yeah. I mean I think that’s really awesome too because I mean naturally hesitant, that’s fine. I get it. Then when you’re pushed out of the nest a little bit, all of a sudden it becomes a really cool thing that people are asking you. It’s quite the opposite reaction of what we tell ourselves in our mind that no one cares or no one wants to hear about it. Then all of a sudden, you let it out a little bit and everybody wants to hear about this. That’s really great to hear.
Do you have any words of encouragement to others listening that think that their hobby or passion outside of work has nothing to do with their job?
Caleb: What I would say is that your job — I mean your hobby and your passion makes a profound difference on who you are as an individual and who you are in your career and so go ahead and share it. Whether somebody’s interested or not doesn’t make any difference. But a couple of tips is find somebody who does care about what you’re doing and share with them and let them give you the feedback as it relates to how to advance in that aspect.
But feel free to just share because who you are in your hobby, who you are as individual, who you are in your volunteer activity or your passions makes you who you are. That aspect is powerful as it relates to just being an individual that cares and that can bring a difference to this world.
John: That’s really powerful, man. I loved how you said it. It’s that passion makes you who you are. It’s not your job or your title or things like how much money you make. It’s that passion that you have that follows you everywhere you go. So really cool, man. Really cool.
It’s only fair since I started out the episode drilling you with my 17 rapid fire questions, to allow you to question me. Whenever you’re ready, I’m buckled in and ready to go.
Caleb: All right. My first question is what volunteer activity do you do that gives you passion for who you are?
John: That’s really good, man. When I was younger, I did a lot of Big Brothers Big Sisters which was really cool. Then now, my wife is really involved with Dress for Success. It’s all help with that on clothing donation days or I even emceed their big annual gala last year. That’s definitely the cool thing that helps women of all backgrounds to get back on their feet when circumstances hit them that they didn’t anticipate having.
But like you were talking about earlier with chronic versus critical, it’s really giving them the skills and the tools to succeed not just a cool wardrobe to wear to your interview, but actually interviewing skills plus how to keep the job skills and all that stuff. Yeah, it’s a cool thing to be a part of.
Caleb: That’s really awesome, and I love hearing others that are involved in some kind of volunteer activity because that is really shaping who we are and shaping a difference in the world because that gives us a lot of ability to make change happen.
That was a great answer. I love that. Another just quick question is how did you get started in that volunteer activity?
John: Yeah. Well, my wife was on the board and really, really actively involved and just kind of got started with it through that, just through people that you know I think is probably the best way. I mean Big Brothers Big Sisters was something that kids are awesome and sometimes, they’re given a bad situation and it’s not their fault that they were born into this situation and so there’s a way that I can help out and just show them a little bit of a different perspective, then that’s something that I thought would be good.
I mean it even goes back to when I was at University of Notre Dame, I mean doing charity work and making the community better was always part of that as well. I guess it’s just been a big part of who I am.
Caleb: Another quick question is so I saw that you’re going down one path and then you shifted in college. Tell me about that.
John: In college, it started out. I wanted to be a nuclear submarine electrical engineer. I had a Navy ROTC scholarship that was awarded but then was taken away for medical disqualification which is kind of terrible. It was all engineering, I was going to be all that and then my first semester, got a D in Physics, Chemistry wasn’t too much better. I was like, wow. This is really hard. I was studying. I was in all the GAs. We’re doing extra study lesson groups whatever.
I was doing all of that trying so hard and just couldn’t get it, and yeah, that was a really, really difficult time but you just got to realize that maybe your talents are best used somewhere else and just started talking to different people and finding out what the options were and what have you, and yeah, just transitioned over to business and then accounting.
Actually, I chose accounting because it prolonged my grow up decision because you can do marketing with an accounting degree, you can do finance with an accounting degree, you can be a manager with accounting, you can do IT with an accounting degree. But if you have those other degrees, you can’t do accounting. I was like oh, by picking accounting, I’m not really picking a final answer type of a thing. And yeah, that’s why I went into accounting. It’s the basis for all business. It certainly worked out all right for me.
Caleb: I love it. What I love about that is that you didn’t give up. So many people give up when there’s an obstacle and you kept pressing through from what I understand what you just said and what I read is that you pressed on through and you said okay, that’s not an option. Let’s take another path and you kept pressing forward so I love that.
John: Well, thanks, man. I appreciate it. Yeah, I mean in the moment, it was crazy and was really, really hard and difficult time but yeah, looking back on it, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if I was an engineer. There you go.
Caleb: Love it.
John: Cool. Well, thanks so much, Caleb. This has been so much fun having you be a part of What’s Your “And”?
Caleb: Thank you.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Caleb or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this what your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.
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