Randy is an Accountant & Craft Beer Enthusiast
Randy Crabtree, a partner of Tri-Merit, talks about his passion for craft beer and how he applies it to his work with establishing connections with his clients. They’ve been doing some really fun and creative things around this during the pandemic!
• Establishing connections when interviewing candidates
• Getting into craft beer
• Virtual craft beer tastings with clients
• Randy’s previous “And”
• Why it’s important to have an “And”
• The organization’s role in encouraging employees to have fun outside of work interests
• Follow your passion, even if it means changing your profession
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Welcome to Episode 361 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book is published. You could check it out at whatsyourand.com. All the details are there and the links to Amazon, Indigo, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, a few other websites. Everything’s there. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s getting the book and reading it and then leaving such nice reviews on Amazon and sharing how their cultures have changed because of it.
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, and this week is no different with my guest, Randy Crabtree. He’s a co-founder and partner with Tri-Merit, it’s headquartered in Chicago, and the host of The Unique CPA podcast. Now he’s with me here today. Randy, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Randy: Well, John, thanks for having me here. I’ve actually been looking forward to this since we set it up a few weeks ago, and I’ve got to tell you a couple things. Congratulations on the book.
John: Thank you, man.
Randy: I got a copy. I’m halfway through, but you’ve already affected me with that book, talking to our employees. Every time I talk to someone new now, I’ll ask them, “Hey, what do you do outside of work? What’s the fun things you’re doing? What do you enjoy doing?” I’ve just started to get on this roll of doing that, and it’s been awesome. I appreciate what you put together there.
John: Well, thank you so much, man. The episode’s over. We’re done, everybody. All right, that’s Randy Crabtree. No, thank you, man. That means so much.
John: Wow, that’s so cool. It’s also just cool to hear that it’s not fake theory stuff that’s in a bubble. It’s real life things that are actually pretty simple to do, and rewarding and enriching at the same time. That’s so cool.
Randy: I talked to a guy yesterday, one of our newer employees. He’s been around here a year but a newer end, and young guy. We started talking. I was asking him questions and found out he tore his ACL three times, playing sports, which I’m the only other person I know of who has done that. I tore my ACL three times. I’m like, yeah, we have this connection.
John: Right? Do you guys have a punch card where the next one’s free?
Randy: Exactly. I got a new knee now, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Randy: They replaced it.
John: That’s super cool though, man. Look at that. Yeah, that connection that you have with him, that’s really neat. Really neat. Well, I have these rapid-fire questions. The first one was going to be, how many times have you blown out your knee? Now, I’m glad to know. No, I’m teasing. Because most people would say zero and then Randy’s over here hogging them all up.
Randy: That’s right, five surgeries in, so.
John: Oh, man, golly. Yeah, we won’t talk about any of that. All right. So I’ll do some easy ones. I’ll do some easy ones for you. All right, your computer, is that a PC or a Mac?
Randy: PC. I’m a CPA. It’s a PC. Is Mac even used in accounting? I have no idea.
John: I don’t know. I’m sure the cool ones are doing it.
John: So, on your mouse, is it right click or left click.
Randy: You know, I never even think about that. It’s the left click. Yeah.
John: Yeah, you’re making decisions. That’s what it is.
Randy: Exactly. I didn’t even know right click was an option.
John: Right. Okay. All right. Sometimes it opens up all the cool stuff. It’s all hidden. Yeah. No, I’ll get you so distracted later today. How about, here we go, trilogies, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Randy: Star Wars, for sure, and the original trilogy, which is what, episode 4, 5, 6. I don’t even know what it is.
John: Right, yeah. I actually haven’t seen the other ones because I’m scared to really — I don’t want to ruin it.
Randy: It can. It can.
John: Yeah. How about, suit and tie or jeans and a T-shirt?
Randy: Oh, jeans and T-shirt, for sure.
John: Okay, okay. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Randy: Crossword. Try to do it every morning but usually Sunday, for sure.
John: Wow. Okay. All right. How about a favorite color?
John: Nice. Mine too. How about a least favorite color?
Randy: First thing that popped in my head was pink. I don’t wear pink. I don’t know why it’s my least favorite, but that’s — I guess, I don’t wear it.
John: No, I hear you. I gotcha. How about — this is a fun one. Somebody asked me and I think it’s fun to ask people back — socks or shoes.
Randy: Socks or shoes. I’m going socks.
John: Okay. Yeah, that was my answer too.
Randy: Yeah. I’ve been in the Bombas socks lately, and they’re really comfortable.
John: Nice. Okay, all right. Now we’re getting sponsors for the show. How about, as an accountant, balance sheet or income statement?
Randy: Well, because I’m 58 and starting to get towards retirement, personally, I’m looking at balance sheet to see where we’re standing. That’s the first thing that came into my mind.
John: It’s very honest. It’s very honest. How about, here we go, Chicago, favorite deep dish.
Randy: Lou Malnati’s.
John: Malnati’s, there you go. All right.
Randy: Although I had Pequod’s a couple of weeks ago, which is, everybody in Chicago will say that’s the best, or at least the pizza people. It was really good. I just love the Lou Malnati’s crust, so I’m sticking with Lou Malnati’s.
John: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve had that one. Alright, how about a favorite actor or actress?
Randy: Adam Driver, not because of Star Wars, but Adam Driver is just amazing. I saw him in Star Wars originally. I wasn’t thinking of his acting. Sorry, I’m going to expand on my rant here.
John: No, no, please do. Yeah, yeah, because I haven’t had Adam Driver yet, so that’s a good answer.
Randy: Well, he was in, what was it, BlacKkKlansman, which he was really good at. Then I saw him in this movie, Marriage Story, didn’t like the movie, but he was amazing. Then now, I’ve just like, okay, I’ve got to see what else he’s in. I see he’s got a couple movies coming out. I’m looking forward to it. He’s just, in my mind, an awesome actor.
John: Yeah, he’s really good, really good, for sure. How about, oceans or mountains?
Randy: Well, I just spent last week on the ocean with a gulf, but if I had to pick one, it would be mountains.
John: Oh, okay. All right. You did a little rope-a-dope on me there. I like that. That was good. How about, are you more an early bird or a night owl?
Randy: Early bird. I actually asked my wife that because I was listening to one of your podcasts, and she goes, oh, you’re definitely an early bird. So, I’m an early bird because my wife says I am.
John: Right? Okay, okay. How about a favorite sports team?
Randy: Favorite sports team is the Cubs, favorite to watch is the Bears, but not the Bears of today.
John: Right? Yeah, the old ones, there you go. All right, how about a favorite number?
Randy: Seven. Lucky seven, that just came to my head.
John: There we go. All right, how about, two more, for books, Kindle, real book or audible?
Randy: It’s really all the above. I’ve been doing a lot of the audio books lately, one, because my wife and I would spend about 45 hours in the car over the last couple of weeks driving down to Southern Texas, so, a lot of audio books there. I’ve been getting more into the Kindle books. If I’m outside sitting on a beach, I just like the real book in my hand, but I’m getting more towards the Kindle.
John: Okay. All right. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Randy: Well, the favorite thing — I mean, I can go with just the normal, family, friends, health, all that, but the favorite thing I own, if we’re looking at an object, right now it’s my pop-up camper. My wife and I bought this 23 years ago, and for the first 13 years, used it a lot. Then the kids were in sports in high school, sports in college, and we stopped using it. Funny thing is, last summer, we took it out of storage, got it all tuned up, which was perfect timing because now we’ve used it quite a bit this year during the pandemic because you can go out, be safe, and go camping. It’s got us a renewed enjoyment of camping, so, the pop-up camper.
John: That’s fantastic, man, and it’s paid for because it’s the old one. There you go. That’s the best part.
John: It’s free. Yeah, that’s awesome, man. Very cool. Very cool. So, let’s chat craft beer. How did you get started with that? I’m guessing I know how but I mean, more appreciating craft beer as opposed to consuming it.
Randy: Yeah, I’ll try to make it a short story. Originally, when I started drinking beer when I was 10 years old like everyone — no, not ten years old.
Randy: You edit that out.
Randy: In college, I always would like the Michelob or the St. Pauli Girl rather than the Old Milwaukee. Although, I did enjoy a Stroh’s. I did enjoy a Stroh’s and all that.
John: A little step up.
Randy: It just seemed — I thought that there’s something different. Then as I got older and really when we started Tri-Merit, I started traveling a lot. Tri-Merit, we started 14 years ago. I started traveling a lot. After a couple of years, I started noticing these different beers around the country. I thought, hey, let’s try this one, let’s try that. I can’t even tell which was the first craft that I had on my travels, but I tried this craft beer. I was out east. I’m like, man, this is pretty good. It was an IPA. I can’t remember. I think it was a chain brewery. There are some out there like Gordon Biersch or whatever, but it wasn’t that.
Then it just started as I was traveling. It’s like, okay, let’s find what beers around here, and that just started getting more interest in it. It really kicked off when I was at my local liquor store, talking to the beer buyer. This is probably 10 years ago. This was January. He said, “Hey, you should try this one.” It was called Hopslam, and Hopslam just gets released in January, every year. It’s from Bell’s Brewery out of Michigan. I tried it. I was like, oh, man, this is amazing. So then I started to really hunt out different beers. It really got me going into it. So, that’s the origin story.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That’s great. Yeah, and so through work, it fueled your “and”, which is kind of cool, or got it started even. That’s actually how I got started in comedy. If it wasn’t for PwC having a training out in LA, I wouldn’t have gotten into comedy. So, there you go.
Randy: Yeah. I’ll expand on that in a second, but let me dig a little deeper on the — because this will tie together on the craft beer end of things.
Randy: All right, I’ll tease now. I’m actually, besides Tri-Merit, I’m a partner in a craft beer bar and liquor store, bottle shop, beer store, craft beer store, but we sell other things, in Chicago. That came out of my love of beer, but it also came out of a little bit of a down portion in my life. I had a stroke almost seven years ago. When I had the stroke, part of my recovery was just — I mean, I’ve always been a workout fiend. I work out all the time. After the stroke, they didn’t want me working out as hard, so I would go walking every day, walking a lot, just walk, walk, walk. One, mentally, you’re just trying to clear your head, but then I would have a beer podcast on while I was doing my walking.
The podcast at the time, I think it was more just he would release videos, and I would just listen to the videos. It was by a guy named Chris Quinn, who owns The Beer Temple. So he had hundreds of these, and I would just listen to him while I was walking. I get more excited about beer and get more educated on beer. Long story short, well, let’s make a long story long if you don’t mind for a second.
John: No, absolutely. We’ve got time, man. This is great.
Randy: This was actually a week before my stroke, not after my stroke. I was traveling before the stroke, a week before the stroke. Because I had a stroke February 6th of 2014, week before the stroke, I was in New York, Super Bowl week, go into this hotel, rough day of travel, didn’t expect anything good, get there, and they had this Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, which is an awesome beer.
John: Yeah, Brooklyn Brewery is great.
Randy: It is great. Sat down, had that beer, and it just relaxed me for that rough day of travel. Travel doesn’t normally bother me, but that week, it did. Fast forward a year later, after the stroke, there was a contest where you had to write your favorite memory of drinking a Brooklyn beer, Brooklyn Brewery beer. I just wrote the story about the stroke and then remembering back to before the stroke, having this beer and how it just made me relax and no concerns. Put a lot of time and effort into this, and I thought it was an awesome story. I thought, there’s no way I’m not going to win this contest.
The contest was to go to, actually a podcast taping with Garrett Oliver, who is the head brewer and part-owner of the brewery. It was going to be like 20 of us there. You’re going to have FaceTime with him, get to meet him kind of a legend, not kind of, is a legend in craft beer. So, wrote the story. A couple of days later, got an email. Hey, you’re invited to this get-together with Garrett Oliver.
John: That’s awesome.
Randy: I knew I was going to win. Then that turned into — that night, somebody new Chris Quinn who owns The Beer Temple, who, now I’m a partner with. Somebody there knew him. Somebody was starting to say, “Hey, Chris is thinking of expanding. I think he needs help. Can you help?” I’m like, what? I don’t know. How am I going to help this guy?
John: Right? I’ll just drink all the inventory. That’s what I’ll do.
Randy: Exactly, but I felt like I knew him from listening to all these podcasts. The next day, I got introduced to him in an email. We met a week later. Within a couple of weeks, we decided, you know what, we can probably do some stuff together and try to expand this business. That’s how I got involved with not only drinking craft beer but, I guess, selling craft beer.
John: Yeah, but you’re just a fan of and an aficionado of sorts. You know a lot about it just from being around it and then just learning more about it. That’s super cool, man. What a great story though. That’s so great. Yeah. Do you feel, at all, craft beer gives you a skill or a way to relate to people when you’re at work? Does it transfer into the office?
Randy: It does. It’s not that we go out of our way to hire people that enjoy craft beer, but it seems like either I force it on them, which I don’t think I do. It’s just the thing. People are liking craft beer these days. The pandemic has actually allowed this to happen. We’ve melded both businesses together from a standpoint that — and prior to COVID, I was traveling. I’m sure you travel a ton, but I was traveling 110, 120,000 miles a year on planes, 100-whatever, 50 nights a year on the road, whatever it is, a lot of time.
John: A lot.
Randy: What we do is we support CPAs through different tax areas, specialized tax areas, so I go meet with our CPAs and take them out to lunch or dinner or breakfast or a drink. Or I go to conferences. I speak at a lot of conferences. That’s all changed now. What we’ve designed is, we came up with this idea. We love craft beer. Most of our people that we’re dealing with, at some level, like craft beer. So we started these virtual craft beer tastings.
John: Love it.
Randy: Where, what we’re doing is we’re sending four beers out to a CPA firm, four beers a person. If they have 20 people that want to get on, if they’ve got two people that want to get on, we’ll send them out the beers. My partner, Chris Quinn, from The Beer Temple will get on and talk us through tasting the beers, explain the beers, answer any questions about beer in general, not even those beers, just have a real relaxed time, talk and then drink craft beers.
So, we’ve been doing this, and we have not had a firm say no to this. In fact, I got an email yesterday, because it’s a Zoom call we do it on, and they said, this may win the award for Best Zoom Call ever. So, we’re doing a lot of that. We get to meld these businesses. We get to stay in touch with our clients, which our clients are the CPA firms. We get to stay in touch with our clients. We get to have a great time. Everybody leaves, having an awesome time, and we get to relax for a while, not think about COVID-19, not think about not traveling and just have a lot of FaceTime and closeness with people that we wouldn’t be able to do now.
John: I love that. That’s such a great idea and such a simple thing. It’s something where, never once during that call are you talking about work, or hey, can we sign up a new contract, or, hey, whatever. No, it’s purely beer and talking about beer and people that like beer. We send you it. You can sample it. You’re going to learn some stuff. That just goes such a long way in that client relationship, or even coworker relationship amongst their team and with your team. It’s so cool.
Randy: The things we do are usually have an engineering background to them, the services that we do, tax-wise. What we’re trying to do now is get all project managers, which is typically an engineer, on the Zoom call with the CPA firm that they’ll be working with so that they get a better relationship going on with our project manager as well. Again, everybody has fun.
John: It’s awesome, man. What a great example. It’s literally taking your “and” and just magnifying it and then finding out that other people like it, too. Then it’s just a collective fun thing that everyone can bond over. What a perfect example, man. I should have had that in module three of my book, example number ten, of what to do. You’ll be in the second book, whenever that comes out.
Randy: Second edition.
John: Yeah, but what an easy example for people to do even just amongst your team, just have somebody come in that knows what they’re talking about, wine, beer, whatever, food, something that a lot of people like, and go with it.
John: When you were coming up through your career, was craft beer something that you would talk about or not really? Or is it something that came on later?
Randy: That didn’t start really until Tri-Merit started and when I started travelling. I would search out a little bit better beers, but really the craft portion’s the last 10 to 12 years, and that’s been my Tri-Merit time.
John: Yeah, exactly. I was just curious. Earlier in your career, was there something else then, like a different —
Randy: Oh, yeah. I’ve always had an “and”. My “and” for the longest time was basketball. I’ll guarantee you, I’ve probably played more basketball games than anybody you know or have met.
John: No, no, I believe you.
Randy: That was my “and”. Then when my playing days were diminishing, I was still playing but coaching. I’ve coached 500 games probably. I don’t even know but, yeah, it’s a lot, from every level, from just park district teams to junior high team to AAU teams to all these different things. So that’s been a passion for years, but my kids are older now. I’m not playing now. It’s easier to relax with a good beer than to have to write up plays anymore. I’m retired from that.
John: That’s cool, man. It’s just cool that there was always something there, above and beyond work. How important do you think that is for people to have something, an “and”?
Randy: I think it’s huge. I’m of the mindset that — I know there are people out there that love work, and I love work. I have a great time, but work is not who I am. Now I feel like I’m stealing lines from your book or something. Work is definitely not who I am. What I am is a dad. What I am is a husband. What I am is a stroke survivor, a craft beer enthusiast, a camper, a traveler. That’s who I am.
John: Yeah, yeah. Mentally, it’s just better, where not everything hinges on something at work. Be good at your job and like your job and like the people around you, but there’s more to who you are, for sure.
Randy: You and I talked before, but when I knew I was going to go into business for myself, which was back actually in — well, it actually started when I was 16, but that’s not when this started.
Randy: A window washing company I started when I was 16, which is actually a lot of fun, too. There was hiring all my high school friends and paying them about three times what minimum wage was, and I was probably making about 10 times what minimum wage was. When I started public accounting, I was like, okay, there was a list of rules, not rules, but things I wanted to do. We won’t always want to have fun. We want to make sure that — I don’t want people thinking, why do I have to work on this holiday? Or why are we — get your work done when you can get it done. Be smart about it. You’re all professional. So we’ve always tried to have that mindset that fun and outside stuff is important.
John: That’s awesome. Yeah, because the work will happen. It’s always there.
John: But you have to be intentional with making time for the other. How much do you feel like it is on the organization to create an environment where it’s okay to have outside-of-work interest and then share them, versus how much is it on the individual to just get it started?
Randy: I don’t think you can force people to have other —
Randy: You could tell them, hey, you don’t need to be working — I was going to say 80 hours. That was my past life when I was in public accounting. Now, 60 hours is a crazy week. You don’t need to be doing that. You know what, I think you’re more productive if you don’t do that. That’s my personal opinion. I’m sure people would argue with that.
John: Some science behind it too, actually, but yeah.
Randy: It’s not our role to force you to have other interest, but I think it’s our role to encourage what you like outside of work and try to incorporate that in the fun we have with work.
John: Also model it, which you clearly are. Because if someone at the top says, “No, no, go,” but they’re workaholics and are at the office all the time, well then that’s not going to work. Because if I’m a staff person, I’m like, you’re setting me up for a trap because I’m going to go and have fun, and then I’m going to come back and my key card doesn’t work.
Randy: We have four partners in the firm now, and I think we all model that fun portion, that outside activity portion. I don’t think — maybe a couple partners who work more than, but it’s just the role they’re in.
John: Sure. No, absolutely, but they have an “and”, and they make time for it when it’s time. That’s super cool, man, and such a great example for people listening, to just take those small steps and encourage them to do that. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that maybe have a hobby or a passion that they feel like has nothing to do with their job, or no one’s going to care?
Randy: Well, I feel like every time I say something about this, I’m stealing your words and ideas, but…
John: It’s all good. It’s all good.
Randy: Follow your passions and, honestly, even follow your passion if it changes your profession. Really, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, I think you have to have fun with what you’re doing, as well as what you’re doing outside of work. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing at work, it’s just going to hurt what you’re doing outside of work as well. This comes from a guy that’s changed professions, multiple times. I started as a computer programmer, then I went into food sales, and then I decided I should be a CPA, became a CPA, then I went into real estate development. Then were doing this, especially taxes. I guess that’s just the way I live things. I get tired with something after a while. It’s like, alright, it’s time to move on. If I’m not having fun, let’s try the next thing, but this is the last thing, Tri-Merit.
Honestly, I changed my roles in Tri-Merit, about four years ago, from basically being — I’m a self-appointed Managing Partner from the start, just because there were two of us when we started. As we grew, it just continued that way and realized that is not my passion at all. My partner that started the firm with me is much better at that than me. I was to the point, four years ago, I was like, I’m just tired of this. I’m not sure I want to do this anymore. Now that I found the role in the business that I love, which is just drinking craft beer with CPAs, I can’t imagine not doing this anymore. I mentioned retirement before. I want to have that option, but I don’t see that for a while.
John: That’s such a great thing of the renewed energy you got at work when you were able to bring your “and” in and bring it there. That’s it. That’s not necessarily your job, but when you’re able to bring the energy you get from your “and”, into the office, then you have a renewed energy for the work that needs to be done.
Randy: I agree, and I’m lucky I’m able to do that. Not everybody can do it as easily as me probably, but do the best you can.
John: Or you can talk about it, at the very least, then you find some other people that maybe like to do the same thing or come watch you perform or whatever. That’s cool, so cool. Well, before I wrap this up, it’s only fair, since I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, that I turn the tables and let you fire away. I am super nervous for this. I’m not going to lie. I’m very nervous.
Randy: Here’s the first obvious one, beer, wine or other.
John: I’m more of a wine guy, wine and cider. I don’t know if that — cider is as close to a beer as I usually get.
Randy: Yeah, cider is a good option as well. I was always a, eh, cider, it’s this sweet thing. I’m not going to like it. There are so many good dry ciders that I didn’t even realize were out there that I’ve got to start trying —
John: And they’re way more than just apple. There are so many. It’s amazing.
Randy: Nope, I can definitely see the cider end of things. Alright, I think I know the answer to this one, but football or baseball.
John: That is a tricky one. I’d probably say football. It’s a little more active.
Randy: I had a feeling you were going to say football. I’m sure your listeners know, but you’re a Notre Dame guy, and Notre Dame is kind of known for their football.
John: Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.
Randy: Just because it’s getting really cold where I am right now, summer or winter.
Randy: You can pick another one, I guess.
John: Fall, definitely the sweet spot. Fall, just because there’s Thanksgiving, which is awesome, and football, and the weather’s perfect. I would probably say winter, I guess, if I had to choose between the two, just because summer can get gross, hot. I’ve got to cut the lawn and all that.
Randy: See, I look at the lawn as exercise. It’s like, alright, I’m going to get 5,000 steps in when I’m cutting the lawn. I look forward to that, and I get to listen to John Garrett on What’s Your “And”?, on the podcast while cutting the lawn.
John: Nice. There we go. Starting out with the sweetness and ending with that, I like this. I like this. All right. Well, no, this has been awesome, Randy. Thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”?
Randy: Yeah. No, believe me, it’s been a blast for me. I really appreciate you thinking a lowly craft beer drinker is worthy of your show. I appreciate you having me on.
John: If people listening want to see some pictures of Randy outside of work or maybe connect with him on social media or the link to The Unique CPA podcast, everything’s there at whatsyourand.com. While you’re in the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to get the book. As Randy said, it’s pretty good.
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.