Vinh works his magic for better coworker relationships
At the age of 22, Vinh Giang decided not fulfill the Asian prophecy and become an accountant, so he took a slightly different path and pursued a career as a magician. Since then he’s won multiple awards for magic shows, he’s a successful international keynote speaker and runs a video production company in Australia called Luminary. Being a magician, speaker, and a director all have one thing in common – Storytelling. And that’s his greatest passion in life.
In this episode, we talk about how everyone in the office first found out he did magic and how bringing that to the office brought a breath of fresh air to an otherwise dull environment. And Vinh discusses how he hated work because he realized his “work self” was different than his “real self”, so he was so relieved to be able to bring some of that to work and make it more fun. We also talk about how professionals should be more like performers, having opening and closing jokes or stories that break down the barriers professionalism has built.
Vinh Giang is the CEO and Director at Luminary Productions and an International Keynote Speaker, using magic to deliver his message. Prior to that, he worked at a small accounting firm in Adelaide, Australia.
He studied accounting at the University of Adelaide, Australia.
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
Other pictures of Vinh
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
JOHN. My first guest from Australia is yet another example of how the definition of stereotypical accountant is completely upside down. He’s now touring the world as a keynote speaker and a magician. So Vinh our stories are eerily similar so I’d love to hear about your earlier days when you worked in the accounting world.
VINH. Yeah, I started in accounting, did Commerce and Law at University and majored in Accounting. I do remember hating what I do so much. I remember one key thing that just made me enjoy my job so much more was just me bringing who I was at home to work more often. That helps so much more. The reason I hated my work was because I saw my work life and my life as two separate things. I think what made it enjoyable for me when I was still in it was really that I brought myself to work, I brought who I was at home with my family and friends to work. That just made it so much better.
JOHN. Absolutely. Where you scared to do that? I’m sure at first you were intimidated because professionalism comes in and tells you this is how you have to act.
VINH. That’s exactly right. It was really daunting. On top of that I had more pressures though, I don’t blame this on my culture, but being from an Oriental background we’re more reserved, as well, naturally. Our families are naturally more reserved, and so when we go to work we’re very reserved. So for me there was a cultural challenge there, and then on top of that there was that professional cultural challenge. Because I was so sick of what I was doing, I was so tired of it, I didn’t enjoy it, the whole culture, the atmosphere, it was kind of, “you know what? I’m just going to try to have more fun. If I want my work to be more fun I actually have to bring the fun to my work, I can’t expect work to be fun,” because it’s never going to be fun. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, that work you’re doing is never going to be that fun. We have to take responsibility and bring it with us.
So while there was a challenge for me on two levels I just though, I felt crippled for so long, the stigma, everyone says accountants are boring and sometimes, a lot of times, it’s true. But I’m like, “we’re not though!” I knew that I wasn’t, I knew that I could make people laugh, that I was funny. Then, I kind of fall into this mold the moment I step into the office. Even though I was still in Uni working at the accounting firm at the time I still felt like I was walking into a mold, but I don’t have to. So I broke it. I was like, “screw it. I’m going to bring some of my magic, some of my humor.” It made it so much better.
JOHN. I’m sure bringing some of your magic to tax returns made everybody happy.
VINH. A couple of people went to jail is all.
JOHN. That’s so profound. That’s so profound that you saw that right away. That’s the thing that blows my mind is when people say, “oh I’m not the stereotypical accountant.” It’s like, that’s because the definition is upside down. There are people like you and people like me, and people like all the other people that have been on this podcast, and tons of other accountants out there, that are not that way. I don’t know who created that definition, some evil engineer out there that’s like the super nerd.
VINH. One thing I want to chime in here and say, as well, is that I kind of realize as well that in the accounting industry, in many industries, when we compete with each other and do the “who’s number one?” We tend to compete from a technical point of view, right? It was one thing one of my magician mentors from the UK said to me. He said, “Vinh, why don’t you compete in life on a character and personality level?” Because no one competes on that level, no one really builds that. “They don’t build character, they don’t build their personality, they don’t work on it. Why don’t you compete on that level and find out what happens?”
In the world of magic, there is a thing called, what in business we’d call, technical skills and then soft skills or communication skills. In magic, we call it sleight of hand skills and showmanship skills. So he said, “focus less on the technical stuff because the best technical magician in the world lives in France with his parents.” He goes, “however, David Copperfield,” who’s a great showman, “he may not be the most technical magician.” If you watch some of his sleight of hand it kind of gives you goosebumps and you’re like, “why is it so bad?”
JOHN. But he made the Great Wall of China disappear, come on man!
VINH. No, sleight of hand technical skills, [dancing] 5:32 skills. That’s a really special dance he does when it disappears. Basically, [he said] “compete on showmanship.” I think that’s something that, if you’re an accountant right now, I think it’s so important to compete on a showmanship level. Don’t just all of the sudden create this facade and be this person you’re not. No, no, bring that person you are at home when you’re with your best friends, bring that person and amplify that in the right way. Compete on showmanship, not just technical skills.
JOHN. Who you are. That magnet is going to be so strong, it’s going to be amazing how many people are drawn to you. I remember when I was with BWC and I was just a staff one, just beginning, associate level and another buddy of mine were writing articles like The Onion. I don’t know if you guys have that in Australia, but satirical stuff.
VINH. Yes, so funny, yeah!
JOHN. Every month we would have one and we called it the General Ledger because we didn’t have time to think up a good name. Every month we would have six or seven articles making fun of the firm, making fun of our start class, it was really, really funny stuff. Then, it started to get printed and then people would forget it and leave it on the printer. Then, other people would see it that were not in the circle, and then it just spread like wildfire. Before you knew it people were coming up to me that I didn’t even know and they’re like, “hey, where’s the General Ledger for this month?” And I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It’s amazing how when you show a little bit of color in this gray world how vibrant it is, then everyone just sees that and gravitates towards it like lightning bugs or something, I don’t know. It’s crazy man, so good for you, I think it’s awesome.
VINH. It’s because all through Uni we’re taught the technical skills. Every year, every conference we go to, we’re taught about technical skills. When do we actually work on our showmanship? When do we actually work on our character and who we are? When do we work on that? We don’t.
JOHN. It’s every Wednesday with the Green Apple Podcast, that’s when Vinh.
VINH. Exactly right. Sorry, rewind. Edit this part out and replace it with that.
JOHN. It’s all good, I’m too lazy to edit, come on man. So I guess my question then is, what made you want to get into accounting to begin with?
VINH. I’ve been entrepreneurial my whole life, I’ve loved business and always thought that accounting would be a great thing to do to learn all about that. A big part of me always wanted to fulfill the Asian prophesy. That’s true, there was a real kind of cultural pressure. We’re accountants, lawyers, or doctors.
JOHN. Or an accountant for a doctor, then that’s a double whammy.
VINH. Exactly. Who uses the lawyer to sue him in the end.
JOHN. Yes! You’re my new favorite!
VINH. That’s what it was. I didn’t, seriously and I’m being genuinely serious, I didn’t want to be a pharmacist, I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to be a lawyer after I learned about law. So I thought, “well, there’s only one thing left I can do.”
JOHN. There’s only one left.
VINH. Yeah, of all the things I can do there’s only one left, that my parents would approve of.
JOHN. Good for your man.
VINH. Seriously, a young kid. How can a 16-year-old, 18-year-old know what they want to do for the rest of their life? I just didn’t know man, so I picked what I thought would make my parents
JOHN. They’re ecstatic now.
VINH. No, because I didn’t finish the degree, remember?
JOHN. Yeah! You didn’t even finish, you went straight in. Then you blew it open and went to magic and full time speaking.
VINH. Six month out from finishing my degree, I did 4 1/2 years of a 5-year degree and stopped just before getting it, because I knew. My dad already had things lined up, and if I finished my
degree and didn’t take the offer I would have shamed my dad’s name.
JOHN. You just burned the boats, you were like, “I’m out.” You were all out.
JOHN. That’s fantastic man. I’m only about 300 hours of CPE behind to get my license back. So, I guess we’re in the same boat, we’re in trouble.
VINH. We’re in the same boat.
JOHN. No one’s asking us for any accounting advice, that’s for sure. So, clearly, when you were working in the accounting firm as an intern or temporary, is that what they call it there in Australia?
VINH. Yeah, that’s right.
JOHN. How did you bring out that you do magic? Or bring out your personality? Did it just happen one day organically? Or, “today I’m doing the card trick?” Or whatever?
VINH. It was accidental, believe it or not. I never felt right doing magic at work, it never felt right. No one really knew, but every Friday night in Australia the city opens till nine o’clock at night. So every Friday after work what I would do is I would actually meet up with some of my magic buddies in the city and we would perform for random people in the city. That was our outlet. What happened is one day, it was early when I started working there, about three months in. One day some of the colleagues were walking through the city and going, “hey, is that Vinh?” I’m like, “ah, no. They’re going to think I’m a clown, I’m begging for money, I’m busking. Ah god.” So then they go, “dude, show us something.” So I did something for a group of colleagues. The next day it was like herpes. Everyone frickin’ new about it, everyone was like, “man, do you do magic?” Even the partners came, and they’re more level headed like, “we heard, why don’t you show us?”
JOHN. “Make me laugh magic man.”
VINH. The moment I started to perform, oh man, I felt like life had been breathed, like this fern that hadn’t had any oxygen for the last year just took a deep gasp of air.
JOHN. Everyone around you, not just you, but everybody.
VINH. Yeah. Everyone around me. I remember that first time they knew I performed magic. It was during lunchtime when normally in our accounting lunch is just quite and mumbling, then there’s the loud group, but that’s it. This time everyone was alive.
JOHN. That’s fantastic man.
VINH. It was so cool. After that every single day after I work I would stay back after and perform a new piece that I needed guinea pigs for.
JOHN. That’s great for you.
VINH. It became a thing man.
JOHN. Just crazy how to you it’s like, “I was just doing magic.” But to them it’s like you walked on the moon or something. It’s like, “holy moly, you’re a rock star!” It’s just because you’re being you, and it’s so cool how everyone gravitated towards you like that. So how long have you been doing magic? How did you start at that?
VINH. Literally, I’ll save you the long boring story, but Mom and Dad were really smart when we were young. After primary school they would drop us off at the State Library, because it’s free childcare until six in their minds. They would drop us off at the State Library, go back to work for three hours, and then pick us up. I always used to play with playing cards when I was younger because Chinese New Year cards left over, that’s the only thing we got as toys for kids. Asians we gamble during Chinese New Year. That’s all I ever got, I had all kind of different colors, I would stack card castles and do all these silly things.
One day the librarian sees us and goes, “these kids are always here, we know they’re abusing the system, but it’s fine they’re cute.” So she came up to us and she goes, “why don’t you try doing something else with the cards?” That’s when I was handed my first magic book, when I was nine years old. I’ve been head over heels in love ever since then. If you compare it to when Britney Spears released Sometimes when I was 13, that was it. Except, magic never shaved it’s head. So, I never had that traumatic moment of falling out of love.
JOHN. It will break your heart, but it will never shave it’s head.
VINH. Exactlyy. Never.
JOHN. I come across magicians as well, it’s sometimes in the comedy world they’ll have them in the lobby of the comedy clubs. It’s so great just watching. I’ll be the guinea pig all day long, because I know that’s what it takes to get good. My guinea pigs are live audiences, and that’s dangerous. If it’s a friend of yours or somebody who’s not going to care if you mess up, watch it again, or, “do it again, I want to see it again.” It’s so great, and I’ll never ask how you did it. Does that bother you when people ask, “how’d you do that?” Because you’re not supposed to tell right? That’s the rule?
VINH. You have no idea how many times I’ve bee asked that. So I have a reply for that now, I have an adult reply to that now where I say, “look, I’m really happy how curious you are, but let me share with you a quick quote.” I just say one quote, I say, “a magician guards an empty treasure box.”
JOHN. There you go.
VINH. “I will fight and I’ll die to guard this empty treasure box.” That’s it. I leave it at that. They just go, “oh, that is deep.”
JOHN. That’s deep.
VINH. That’s it. I don’t share it because there’s nothing to be found..
JOHN. And then it ruins it
JOHN. It ruins it because then it’s like, “oh man, it was that simple? Come on.” What’s really funny is there’s a comedy club in New York that I go to a lot and in the lobby they’ll have a guy doing magic. He knows that I am just a junky on it and so he got me this little three card thing for probably $5, but it’s the tree of hearts. There’s a card that has a little fold in it so you show them upside down three cards and mix them around, or the tree of diamonds. So then you ask them, “what was your card again?” They’re like, “the three of diamonds and I flip it over and go, “no it’s the tree of diamonds.” It’s a drawing of a tree, and it’s so corny.
VINH. That’s so cheesy, you should be fined for this man.
JOHN. It cracks me up every time, because it’s so cheesy, and it’s so stupid. It’s like a trick that seven-year-olds do, and it’s my only trick. It’s not even a real trick, the cards are fake obviously. It’s so hilarious.
VINH. While we’re on this topic for a second, I think something really interesting that’s worth mention is, when I started to change my career professionally, when things started to happen, was when I realized that our work lives should be no different. It’s almost like a show we’re putting on, whether it’s a magic show or a comedy show, we should learn lines, we should learn stories to tell at the beginning of a client interaction. I can tell you know, one of the things I pride myself on is I run a production business now and I sit down to apply clients the same way as an accountant would. We sit down, we have our initial session, and make them laugh. Do something, be yourself, and make them laugh and engage them on something. Say, “hey, before we start the meeting today I wanted to share something quickly with you.” That’s a segue into something funny, humanizing, and your conversion rates, people would be moving over to you as an accountant, just because you’re treating it like it’s a show. You know how comedians will use the same lies, same with magicians.
JOHN. The opening joke and the closing joke are always the same.
VINH. Exactly, so learn those, learn those opening lines, learn those opening segues. Just watch your professional career unfold, especially with clients.
JOHN. That’s really good, that’s so good.
VINH. Treat it like as a performance. It’s not just a meeting with your accountant, make it so that, “oh I can’t wait to go see him! He’s so funny and I love my accountant.” Chris Cooper, the guy who got me onto this road show that I’m doing now, phenomenal accountant from Australia. He is an electric accountant. They are my accountants, so I love going in to see them.
JOHN. They bill you for two hours even though they only did 15 minutes of work because there was like an hour an a half of joking around. He’s so excited you’re coming in, “oh good, we’ve got an hour and a half of tricks and we’ll bill him for that time and he’s doing all the work.”
VINH. Then I bill them as well, so it works out.
JOHN. That’s good. So I guess, on top of that gig that you do at Chris Cooper’s office, what’s some of the coolest events that you’ve done with your magic? Some of the coolest things?
VINH. I’m about to do some of the coolest ones I think as well. As a magician, the place I want to go and speak and perform at is [?] 18:33 . So I just got two bookings to do two this year in Vegas for two fairly large companies. The biggest audience I’ve ever spoken in front of is three thousand. The one I’m about to do, fifteen thousand.
VINH. Right? And I’m just an Australian [?]18:51 so I can’t bloody wait.
JOHN. That’s like bigger than your home town, that’s crazy! 15,000!
VINH. That’s more people in our country. That’s more people than we have!
JOHN. That’s nuts man.
VINH. I can’t wait.
JOHN. That’s great.
VINH. And look, the most rewarding thing, I think, for me nowadays in my life is when you’re able to share things about life that have helped you with others, and then you get others coming up to you afterwards. Their handshakes, hugs, the comments, it’s food for my soul. I think, again let’s relate it back with accounting as well, I think that’s what accounting is like too. If you could look at it as, “I’m not here just to serve my client with their tax return,” or in Australia we call them [?] 19:37 , or whatever. “I’m not here just to do that, I’m here to inspire the hell out of you to love business again, because I know hard business is.”
Just imagine you took on the responsibility of going, “I’m not only going to satisfy my requirements to you as an accountant, I’m going to go a step further and I’m going to inspire you.” Then you’ll get those handshakes and comments. Do those off the record if you want to do it properly. Just give, just serve. That’s the word I love most that I hear in America that I never hear in Australia, serve. I love that word.
JOHN. Yeah, absolutely. If you approach it from that mentality only good happens. It’s crazy how that works. Again, professionalism just rears its ugly head with, “what’s the billable hour, what’s the charge code, how much money are we getting from them?” But it’s like, what feeds your soul? Like you said, what is that? I don’t believe that it’s any of that other stuff, it’s always the good and that service. Really good stuff man.
VINH. Imagine yourself getting that from your clients. Imagine your client base right now, you get emails on a daily basis just sharing with you how exactly. Please, don’t underestimate this. I tell my accountants all the time that, “guys I just want you to know that I’m able to take my entire family on this trip because you created me such a great relationship.” Right? I appreciate that, and only because I’ve studied accounting and I get all the hard work their doing. Don’t forget the value you actually provide. See beyond your actions as accountants, see beyond the tax returns, see beyond all the financial stuff. You’re actually helping people live better lives.
JOHN. That’s exactly it. You’re making it right so that they can have more time with their family, or take those trips.
VINH. Send their kids to the right schools. Exactly right. I think looking at it from the right perspective, seeing it differently is very important. The second thing is to take it a step further. Imagine you’re the accountant that people go to to just revitalize their love of business. Most business owners hate their businesses because they’re suffering.
JOHN. it’s hard work, they’re doing it 24/7, and all that stuff. Just imagine you come in to audit a place and everybody high fives you, “man I can’t believe you’re back, this is great!” Instead of no one looks at you or talks to you, or they put you in that room with no windows. Imagine if it was the other way around. So who do you think that’s on to create that culture? More on the organization as a whole or more on the individual?
VINH. The moment you give the responsibility to somebody else you lose all control, you lose all power. I don’t know if this is the sick thing I do, but anytime that anything I want doesn’t happen I put it on me. The reason I put it on me is because then it makes me responsible. The moment I shift, the moment I blame, I immediately cease to grow from that moment. I always really believed in this line as well, “adversity is my competitive advantage.” So the more hardship I go through in my life, today, that’s my competitive advantage tomorrow. Again, if you don’t have that culture at work right now, bring it to work. If you bring it for long enough and authentically enough, and persistently, then soon enough you’ve create a bit of a change.
JOHN. You’ve proved it. Well, between the two of us I guess. We’re not talking about drama, we’re not talking about, “so my third boyfriend broke up with me in the last six weeks.” It’s who you really are, you’ve been doing magic since you were 12, I’ve been doing comedy, so it’s who you really are, your hobby and passion.
VINH. Share more of you.
JOHN. Yeah, just be you.
VINH. I even brought Asian food, I brought food. It was great! Some of my colleagues were like, “what’s the most disgusting food you guys eat?” I was like, “I’ll bring it in tomorrow.” It was funny. You don’t have to be so angry and serious when you work, and when you work with a light mind and heart you do better work anyway.
JOHN. That’s true too.
VINH. Share more of you and don’t hold it back, it’s such a shame.
JOHN. That’s so profound how you said it, light mind and a light heart does better work. When you were working in the accounting firm did you see people, maybe even partners, that you looked up to that had that mentality?
VINH. Not in the firm that I was working for, but the industry in my city was quite small and we had some networking events where I met some partners. I couldn’t understand how they loved what they were doing. As a magician I was dissecting that person. I was like, “why are they enjoying themselves so much?” I got to know them and realize that like the analogies that we used earlier these partners weren’t the crazy technical person who spent their whole life improving their technical skills, they actually spent so much time building that character of theirs so that every meeting with a client they can bring that character and be who they are. That’s beautiful to sense. That’s when I realized that if you really want to make it and have a good life as an accountant, that was my idol, that was where I needed to be. It was just like magic, if I just do technical skills I’ll live with my parents when I’m 40. If I do the showmanship skills I’m going to end up like David Copperfield, the accounting version of that.
With the top performers in all industries there’s this funny thing that happens, all the really technical and smart ones hate on the people that do really well. They’re thinking in their head, “well he’s not as me. He can’t even do a tax return properly. Yet he’s got all the damn clients.” There’s this inner anger and the other guys are saying, “look at those nerds complain.” So what I’m saying here is, and this is empowerment not just talking down, but imagine this is the era of the lovable nerd. If you are that technically brilliant person, you spent the last ten years doing what you do brilliantly, if you now work on your people skills, character, personality, and all the good stuff, the world is yours.
JOHN. Yeah, it’s not hard, you’re doing it when you leave and on the weekends when you’re hanging out with your friends. Just be that in the office, provided you’re not a total jerkface and drunk all the time. Other than that, which is probably Chris Cooper now that I think about it. This is so awesome, just really, really fantastic. I think just chock full of really good insights. One thing, I have a rule that we can’t really hang out until I do my 17 rapid fire questions.
VINH. I’ve heard.
JOHN. First one, cats or dogs?
VINH. Definitely dogs, easily. Cats are evil.
JOHN. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
VINH. Sudoku because genetic benefits there.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite color?
VINH. Oh. Blue, high school answer.
JOHN. How about a least favorite color?
VINH. Vomit green, hate it.
JOHN. The old Nickelodeon Slime days.
VINH. That’s exactly what I’m referring to.
JOHN. Star Wars or Star Trek.
VINH. None. I don’t like either.
JOHN. Any sort of a trilogy type of?
VINH. Lord of the Rings, Matrix.
JOHN. Matrix is good too. Computers, PC or Mac?
JOHN. Mouse, right click or a left click?
VINH. Left click.
JOHN. What did you eat for breakfast?
VINH. This morning I had rice with chili black bean ribs, it was bloody brilliant.
JOHN. Look at you man, dinner for breakfast.
VINH. Breakfast is a waste of space man. You have lunch and dinner foods for breakfast, it’s three beautiful savory foods a day.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite animal?
VINH. Dog. John, we’ve covered this.
JOHN. I know, but I thought maybe if we did any animal in the whole kingdom.
VINH. Right, OK. I’ll change my answer and go…
JOHN. If you say cats I’m cutting this off right now.
JOHN. Balance sheet or income statements?
VINH. Balance sheet, they’re easier to do.
JOHN. We can all agree it’s not cash flow statement, because I don’t even know how you do that.
VINH. Me either.
JOHN. Jeans or khakis?
JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?
JOHN. Why is that?
VINH. Most common number to be picked between 1 and 50 is 37, and it’s part of a magic trick you do. You get someone to go, think of any number 1 to 50, think of any number you like, and generally
people think of the number 37. When that goes right it’s a beginning to a trick that I do that makes it seem even more impossible.
JOHN. That’s fantastic man, you just showed me the inside of your empty bo… wait, what?
VINH. Yeah, I’m going to have to kill you now John.
JOHN. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
VINH. Oh yeah! What’s it called again. It’s the one with Robin Williams.
JOHN. Dead Poets?
VINH. Dead Poets Society! Cried my eyes out.
JOHN. That’s a great movie. Do you have a favorite sports team?
VINH. Don’t watch sports, I’ll be honest.
JOHN. Alright, fair enough. Do you have a favorite comedian?
VINH. John Garret.
JOHN. Now you’re just kissing up.
VINH. Definitely lying, you caught me.
JOHN. You’re also my favorite magician, so we’re even.
VINH. Just start our relationship off by lying to each other.
JOHN. Yeah, that’s how it works.
VINH. There’s an Indian comedian named Russel Peters.
VINH. He’s hilarious!
JOHN. Really, really funny, and really good with the international crowd, because he covers that stuff. Do you have favorite toppings on a pizza?
JOHN. Just cheese an onion?
VINH. It can’t just be cheese and onion John, that’s crazy.
JOHN. I was going to ask.
VINH. Any pizza, even if it’s Hawaiian, throw onion on there and it’s great.
JOHN. So any pizza.
VINH. Yeah, any pizza add onion and it’s great.
JOHN. Last one, finally, the favorite thing you own or favorite thing you have.
VINH. I have a magic book that I paid five figures for, right? I will never share anything inside this book with anyone, not my wife, not my children, no one. That is my, seriously, my favorite
thing. It’s kept in a little safe in my office, it’s ridiculous how much I love that. That’s my most prize thing.
JOHN. That’s very cool. Thank you so much Vinh for being with me toady on the Green Apple Podcast.
VINH. My pleasure, anytime John.