J is a CPA & Painter
J Keith, VP of Corporate Development at Pax8, has always tried to be creative in everything thing that he does. As a CPA, his creativity is focused on how he addresses any issues or projects in his professional career.
J talks about how this creativity is applied in the office, how Pax8 encourages employees to share about themselves, and how it is important to break the barrier of communication as a senior executive!
• Getting into painting
• Being called an artist
• How he applies his creativity in the office
• Talking about his passion at the office
• How Pax8 encourages employees to share about themselves
• How both the organization and the individual play a part in workplace culture
• Maintaining a focus on culture through growth
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Pictures of J at the Art Student League of Denver Summer Art Market
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Welcome to Episode 255 of What’s Your And? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing a professional who, just like me, is 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,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published in just a few months. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So go to whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and change the cultures where they work because of it. The book will really help spread that message as well. And 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, J Keith. He’s the VP of Corporate Development for Pax8 in Denver, Colorado. Now, he’s with me here today. J, Thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your And?
J: Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
John: Yeah. I’m excited. You reached out, a listener of the show. Let’s have you on, man. Of course, I love that because I love just sharing people’s stories and their passions. But as you know from listening, the 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate. All right. Here we go. You’re going to nail it. I can feel it. You’re going to be 17 through 17.
J: All right.
John: As if there’s wrong answers. Here we go. Star Wars or Star Trek?
J: Star Wars. I remember the first one. It just blew me away.
John: Totally. No, I can relate. How about on your computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: Oh, wow. Fancy. All right. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
J: Vanilla because you can do lots with it.
John: Oh, that’s actually one of the more popular answers, which is interesting. How about jeans or khakis?
J: Jeans. That’s all I wear.
John: That’s all you wear? There you go. How about — this is a good one — favorite toppings on a pizza? You can load it up.
J: I’m pretty basic, just green peppers and jalapenos.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. So two pepper levels. I get it. All right. When it comes to financials, Balance Sheet or Income Statement?
J: Income Statement.
John: There you go. There you go. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
J: Well, this is an interesting one. And I try to think of it at the extremes. So at the extremes, I’ll take hot. I’ll take Phoenix in the summer as opposed to Chicago in the winter.
John: Yeah. No, that’s true. That’s very true. As an accountant, I have to ask, do you have a favorite number?
John: Is there a reason?
J: Forty-four was my dad’s number. He played football and sports at University of Maryland way back when. So I’ve always loved 44.
John: Yeah. No, that’s a great reason right there. There you go. How about pens or pencils?
John: Yeah. Nice. No mistakes. I like that confidence.
J: There are lots of mistakes, but lots of scratches.
John: There you go. How about puzzles? Sudoku or crossword?
J: I don’t have the attention span for any puzzles.
John: Okay. All right. At least you’re honest. You just go to the answer page and then just fill it in.
J: Yeah. I’ll take the answers. And some of the questions are interesting. I just can’t finish them.
John: I hear you. How about a favorite color?
J: Black is my favorite color. Again, because it does so much with everything else.
John: Yeah. Okay. How about a least favorite color?
John: Interesting. Okay. How about a favorite adult beverage?
J: Favorite adult beverage? Sangria.
John: Oh, nice. Okay. All right. There you go. How about a favorite actor actress?
J: I am a fan of all movies, all shows. And I don’t really have any favorites. I just respect the craft and I respect what they do. Yeah. So it’s just all of them.
John: That’s a fair answer, fair answer. Three more. Early bird or a night owl?
J: It depends. Typically, early bird on the weekends because get up and get going. Night owl more during the week.
John: Okay. And this is an important one. Toilet paper, roll over or under?
J: See, there is a wrong answer here. I’m over.
John: There is. That’s a tricky one, right? And the last one, the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
J: The favorite thing I have has to be my diploma from University of Colorado Denver. I was a non-traditional student. I didn’t graduate until I was 33 and I went for Honors. I got my Honors. So it is by far the thing that just focused me in the right direction.
John: Congratulations, man. That’s awesome. Very cool, very cool. Yeah. So painting — and I mean clearly not painting walls of a house but as an artist. Yeah. I mean how did you get into that?
J: Well, it’s interesting. I do very well painting on walls too. I spent many years doing construction, remodeling and painting.
John: Okay. So all of it. There you go.
J: I’ve always been creative. My mom always had us doing things. Woodworking was my thing for many years. Ultimately, when I got to this point with my kids on their own now, I started thinking about, “What can I do with this spot in the garage?” And I thought about getting the heavy equipment for some serious woodworking and just decided something different. I’m not really a student of art, but I like art, so kind of a natural thing. And it is my time to disappear into another realm of my own subconscious of having a vision and trying to create it.
John: No, that’s awesome, man. I love that not a student of art, you just like it. It’s just like I can look at a painting and be like, “I like that painting. I don’t need to know why or what layers are going on or what. That’s a cool thing.” When I go to an art museum, I just walk through like, “That’s cool. I don’t know what the hell that is. That’s a banana taped to a wall. That’s whatever. It’s a type of thing.” That’s great, man. That’s really cool because then that’s just your passion coming through.
J: It is.
John: Do you have a more rewarding painting or a cooler story in your experiences painting?
J: I would say at my first show, which was not that long ago, the Art Students League of Denver does a fundraiser every spring. I had a person in the booth talking to me. He was a professor from University of Wyoming in Art. We were discussing art. He’s like, “So you’re an artist.” I was like, “I don’t know about that. I don’t really consider myself an artist yet because I feel like I’m just painting. I’m not real technical and stuff.” He just sat there and looked at it for a while. He’s like, “No, you’re an artist.” So it’s just one of the — it wasn’t about selling art or doing things. It was just the reactions I got through that whole day and then having a real professional just look me in the eye and say, “No, you’re an artist.”
John: Yeah. Because I mean that is interesting. And something that I’ve come across when I talked with Twyla in here — she’s a runner — at first, she was hesitant to call herself a runner. She’s not doing the Boston Marathon. She’s not in the Olympics. She’s not setting records, whatever. And at what point is it where maybe it’s, “I do art,” at least a sentence where you can start, I guess? But I found that people are definitely reluctant to make that leap to the label for sure. And why do you think that is?
J: Because we’re accountants and we always are a little cautious about putting ourselves out there. And anything you do, especially any kind of “put yourself out there” — I’ll even throw runners and whatever that happens to be — it’s the reaction you get back, the comfort level that you might have. By saying you’re an artist, people might come back and say, “Well, are you really? Is that art? Or are you really a runner?” This is for me. So I ultimately really care what you think. It’s not going to change who I am or what I do. I just enjoy what I do.
John: Because I mean that’s the thing. We’re not in third grade anymore where everyone’s judging you and going to stick in a locker or whatever or eighth grade or whatever, pick it, that awkward years growing up where you feel like everyone’s judging and whatever. Now, we’re adults and it’s cool.
J: They still judge, but we just don’t care as much.
John: Well, yeah. Right. That’s fair. Yeah. You’re doing it for you, which is the most important part of it, which makes it a passion. If you’re doing it for others or for the money or for whatever, well, then it’s a job or it’s you trying to get the satisfaction of someone that will never give it to you.
J: I agree.
John: But doing it for you is the best reason. So that’s awesome, man. Yeah. You are an artist. Of course, dude. You’re creating art. Would you say that this gives you a skill that you bring to the office?
J: It’s interesting. As I said earlier before the show that I’ve always been a little bit more non-traditional or a little bit not stereotypical CPA, I would always make the comment that I’m a very creative accountant, a very creative CPA. Well, is that okay? Are the books okay?
John: Right. Exactly. Super nervous.
J: Really, it’s just how I approached work. And creative solutions, you can always find a solution to something. So that carried back to the art in terms of — from a work perspective, we moved into a new building here that I was responsible for getting it all set up. There was a wall I needed to put something on. I wanted something colorful. So I just went ahead and painted something for that wall.
J: And it was funny because a lot of people didn’t know — many people did know that I was an artist. I didn’t put my name on it. And it took a while to get around that it was mine. So people would come to me about it. I was standing there and my CEO came out. I’ve worked with him for a long time. He looked at me. He’s like, “Yeah. It’s not I don’t really like it. It’s too abstract for me.” And I looked at him and I was like, “All right. That’s fine. I like it.”
John: That means a lot actually.
J: Exactly. It was thought-provoking.
John: That’s hilarious. So it’s a wall in the office, like when people get out in the open?
J: It’s a little cubby where our coffee is in the front lobby. It needed a certain sized painting and the walls were all gray. So I just went ahead and did a lime green and yellow abstract painting just to liven it up. It just sits there. And the first thing you see when you come in is my painting.
John: That’s really cool, man. Clearly, it’s something that you’ve talked about at work or people have learned about you?
John: So what’s been the reaction?
J: Very positive, of course. Well, I never really hide what I do. Like I said, I like to get to know people. The reaction, people came to my art show. Then they want to know when I’m doing another one. Pax8 as a company, we have a little thing where every new hire group at our monthly all-hands, you have to say something unique or special about you.
John: Nice. I love that.
J: And it really is actually carried over to any time we have an all-hands meeting or a larger meeting, whoever stands up and speaks has to say something unique about them or interesting. And as a senior executive and you’re speaking a lot, you have to come up with a lot of things. But again, it’s really encouraging everyone to get to know everybody a little bit and share a little bit. It’s just something we’ve done here that’s carried over into some of our conferences and stuff where people hear about it and a really good icebreaker, something to talk about.
So from an art perspective, the first time I brought it up was in a new higher class. I was introducing them. They’re meeting the senior team and I brought that up. Right afterwards, two or three people came up to me to talk about art. So when you’re a senior person or just anybody in a company, giving people something that connection, whether they like art or not, but just sharing a little bit about yourself really helps open up the line of communication that, “Yeah. We do want to talk. We do want to hear you. Let’s get to know each other.”
John: I love all of that so much. Taking 30 seconds or 60 seconds to show a little bit of who you are and what you actually love to do and that “and,” another dimension to you just really humanizes you because no one was coming up to talk about financials or journal entries or whatever else the meeting was about. It’s all about the art. Had you never shared that, those two people probably would not have come up and talked to you at all.
John: And as a leader, someone that’s higher up in the organization, in the VP level or higher or even a manager level, to humanize yourself like that, yes, man, that’s priceless. Was that just something that just started on a whim? How did that come about?
J: With our company?
John: Yeah. Yeah.
J: I mean I’ve been here since the very beginning. And I don’t recall exactly how it came about other than it was just an idea someone came up with. Back in the day, we had 30 employees. You’d have two people come on. Then as we were growing, once you start, you can’t stop. Now, we’re at 400 employees. There were times where we would have a new sales class that might be 25 or 30 people. We have a line of people standing there that you’d get up and you would say your interesting fact. Every once in a while, someone would say something like, “I can do this.” It might be, “Put my hand…” I’m making it up, “…behind my head and do this.” When someone does that, everyone yells, “Prove it,” because you want to see it.
As we continue to grow, the meetings become bigger and bigger. There was a discussion of, “Should we do it quarterly?” And it’s like — well, all of a sudden, now we look and go, “Well, now that’s going to really be a big section where we’re going to have a lot of new hires,” because we do not want that to stop. We need to keep going. And you remember a lot of them. I mean some of them, you’re like, “Oh, my God. You really said that in front of this group?” But more times than not, it’s just something you just always have in your head about that person. And it’s just a lot of fun.
John: That’s awesome. And the really cool thing is no matter what position they have in the company, they get promoted, they move to a different department, whatever it is, you’re always an artist. They’re always the person with their arm behind their head or whatever, like the double jointed shoulder, whatever. That’s always there. And I think that that’s really interesting too, what you brought up of that’s what you remember.
John: I don’t remember what their job is totally, but I know that they — whatever it is. And that’s really cool, man. That’s so powerful. That’s such a huge thing that you guys do. And to hear the positive feedback from it, it’s such a simple thing. And yet ramifications from it are enormous.
J: It is. Like I said, it moved out to our — we do two or three mission briefings we call them that are regional where we go out to our partners. And it started taking hold there where the partners have really kind of said whenever they would do theirs. I’ve had some company dinners with potential clients. And we do it at the table there. It’s interesting. I think people really like it. It’s like a little safe zone that they have. Then you find out that, “Oh my god, there’s another artist here. She does glassblowing. And this person has a huge comic book collection.”
John: It’s amazing. I mean it’s that norepinephrine and where you’re interested in interesting things, the chemical in your brain that just goes off where it makes you want to lean in more and find out more about them. That’s super cool, man. I love that so much. So how much do you feel like it’s on an organization, like what you’re doing there at Pax8, to set that tone that, “Hey, we have multiple dimensions. And we want you to share them.” Or how much is it on the individual to maybe just create a little small circle amongst themselves if they’re at a place that doesn’t do that?
J: I do feel that an organization needs to set the tone and set examples for anything they want to try to accomplish. And if you’re trying to build an environment, you really want to humanize it. Then you really need to drive it. But it’s also incumbent on the people that are there to take advantage of it and to utilize that. If a company doesn’t do it, then it’s tough. But I always have shared. I was “and dad.” Then I was “and soccer coach.” I always want to know who I’m working with. Whether they want to know me or not, that’s a whole another story.
John: There’s a whole therapy group for that group.
J: Exactly. Exactly. I do believe though the senior team does set the tone that as each person goes up and speaks, they share. And it’s tough because you got to do something different because no one wants to hear the same thing. The leadership always need to set the tone and then be consistent with it and embrace it, which I believe we do.
John: It certainly sounds like it. And is there ever a thought that crosses your mind of being vulnerable? Maybe a fear of that?
J: Oh, absolutely. Again, I think it depends what you share. But being vulnerable makes you human. When you reach a certain level of your career, you have to really remember what it’s like. We have a very young company because we bring in our sales team, which is a sales driven organization. A lot of them, it’s their first job out of college. And you forget what that’s like to step into a 400-person company. All of sudden, now you’re standing there talking to the CFO and he’s asking you all these weird questions. Then you find out later that they went and told their parents and their parents are like, “You’re talking to the CFO and the CEO?” And you lose it.
It’s a big deal for a lot of people to really interact with people at higher levels to really understand what does it take to get there. The other thing that we do to really foster this is every quarter after our all-hands, we have a Thirsty Thursday. It used to be at a bar because we had 30 people. Now, we have to really have an event center. The same thing, really just interacting and talking and listening. The entire leadership team is there. Everyone embraces it because it’s fun to talk to people that are just starting out because they’ve got so many questions and so many things they’re trying to accomplish. It just really makes for a better environment for everyone associated with it.
John: Yeah. And that’s such a great idea of being out of the office because I find that people just let their guard down more. But also, when you’re just hanging out, we’re just hanging out. We’re just people hanging out. Have normal conversations. It’s not all work-related. It’s life and just normal people just hanging out. So that’s a cool thing, man. That’s really great, man. When are you hiring? I’m going to join.
J: We hire every month practically.
John: I got a really good court jester. That’s about my only skills that I think, but yeah. No, no. I appreciate it. No, that’s a really cool environment that you guys have going there and something that’s really not hard to do. It’s just you have to be intentional with it.
J: It has to be a focus. It becomes more difficult. It’s one of those things when you’re a — we still consider ourselves a startup even at 400 people. As you grow and grow, it becomes quite a bit more of a focus that you have to make. It’s still organic. And it’s still something that we enjoy doing. It’s just making sure you keep doing it because the minute you stop doing things, it’s like, “Oh, we used to do that. Why’d we stop?” But this is what I think. Everyone just enjoys it.
John: That’s really cool, really cool. Do you have any words of encouragement to others listening that maybe have a hobby or a passion that they feel has nothing to do with their job and no one’s going to care?
J: The vulnerability pieces is obviously there, right? I mean I feel like don’t give up your passion. Work is important, but that’s what makes you who you are. You do have to take a little bit of a risk, depending on what the hobby is obviously. More time than not, it’s something good. And you’ll be surprised what you get back. If you take that step to open yourself up to somebody else, I’m going to say 9.5 times out of ten, they will open back up out. And there’s a good chance that you can have a really significant conversation with somebody about it.
John: No, that’s so true. And I love what you said. Your passion is what makes you who you are. That’s so true. It’s not your job. It’s your passion. That’s so cool. I mean there’s multiple dimensions to you. And the artist side of you is always, always there. So that’s cool, man. Well, thank you so much, J. This has been really cool. But it’s only fair that I allow you to rapid-fire question me since I was so rude in the beginning putting you in the hot seat.
J: I look forward to it. Yes, I do have a few. First one, paper, plastic or bring your own reusable?
John: Ah, that’s a really good question. I used to bag groceries, big fan of paper just because you can strategically put it all in there and it holds up better. But I guess for the environment, we’re supposed to bring our own bags, but I always forget them at home. So my intention is bring my own but I always — I mean paper is definitely a preference of mine.
J: That’s good. That’s still —
John: Oh, wow. That’s a tough one. I’ll go football I guess, American football. Yeah. I mean I do enjoy — I played football growing up all the way through high school and rec league and in college. But I do enjoy watching it. I just don’t watch it as much.
J: Fair enough. Then last one, IPAs or Lagers.
John: I’m more of a wine guy to be honest. I don’t even know if wine guy are two words that go together, but —
J: With that Red, White, Cabs? What’s your thing, man?
John: There’s a wine that my wife and I just discovered, Vermentino. It’s a white wine normally from Italy, but they’re growing it in Sonoma as well.
John: There you go. Thank you so much, J, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your And? This was really, really awesome.
J: Thank you. Thank you for your time.
John: Yeah. If everyone would like to see some pictures of J and some of his art or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. 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 that who you are is so much more than what you do.