Kenneth is an Accountant & Saxophonist
Kenneth Omoruyi, a Managing Partner of CKO CPAs & Advisors, talks about how he discovered his passion for playing saxophone, inspiring other students to start playing saxophone, and connecting with others as a musician!
• Getting into saxophone
• Inspiring and teaching students to play saxophone
• Connecting with others through playing saxophone
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
Welcome to Episode 461 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 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 when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. All the versions go more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and now listening to it and writing such nice reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the workplace cultures where they are 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, Kenneth Omoruyi. He’s the managing partner of CKO CPAs and Advisors in Houston, Texas, and he was the chair of the Tax Expo Committee, which was a conference I spoke at just last month where we met. He kicked the whole conference off playing the Star-Spangled Banner on his saxophone, and let’s play a little clip right now. It’s so awesome. He was amazing, and I’m so excited that he’s with me here today. Kenneth, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Kenneth: Absolutely, John. Thank you so much. It’s such a privilege to be on the same podcast with you. You are like a celebrity in the accounting world, so being on this podcast is a very big honor. Thank you so much.
John: Oh, you’re too kind, man. You’re too kind. That was awesome, at the beginning of the conference, where we did the word cloud with everybody’s “ands”, and then I saw a saxophone. You had it right there. You were ready to go, and then you kicked off the conference. That had to be the most unique way to kick off the Tax Expo, in the history of all the tax expos.
Kenneth: It was just a very beautiful time to be able to have you onstage as well, and be able to connect with everyone who came to the Tax Expo. It was just a very beautiful time together.
John: Yeah, it was awesome. Just show people there’s more than just tax people here. We have other things too. We had a band within five minutes. All of a sudden there’s a lead singer, lead guitarist, bass guitarist. We had a fiddler, a pianist. I was like, oh, man, this is amazing. Yeah, I have my rapid-fire questions though, get to know Kenneth out of the gate. These are probably things I should ask when we’re hanging out in Houston, but I didn’t. Here we go. Here we go. How about a favorite color?
Kenneth: Navy blue.
John: Navy blue. Solid. I like that. Yeah. How about a least favorite color?
John: Black. Okay. All right. Yeah, that’s a good answer. How about on a pizza, favorite toppings? You can load it up.
Kenneth: I don’t have any.
John: Oh, really. You don’t like pizza?
Kenneth: I didn’t do a lot of that.
John: Oh, okay. Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. All right. How about favorite actor or actress?
Kenneth: A favorite actor would be Denzel Washington.
John: Yeah. How about, oh, this is a tricky one, especially in Houston, more rain or snow?
Kenneth: None of the above.
John: You know what? I’m with you, man. I hate rain so much too. All right, here’s one, cats or dogs.
John: Dogs. Yeah, me too. Yeah. Puzzles, Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw puzzles.
Kenneth: None of the above.
John: None of them. Actually, Sudoku is how I do my tax returns, I think.
Kenneth: Oh, wow.
John: Which is not a good idea. That’s not good for anybody. How about this one, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kenneth: Star Wars.
John: Star Wars. Okay, there you go. How about your favorite season, summer, winter, spring or fall?
John: Fall. Yeah, me too. I was worried you were going to say none of the above. I was like, wait a minute, that’s all four of them. How about your computer, a PC or a Mac?
John: PC. Yeah, me too. Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Oh, okay. All right. Straight up vanilla. There you go. That’s classic. How about a favorite day of the week?
John: Sunday. Nice. Okay. There you go. Corporate or individual tax returns.
Kenneth: Individual tax returns.
John: Individual. Okay, there you go. That’s just a silly one. All right, we’ve got four more. More of an early bird or a night owl.
Kenneth: Night owl.
John: Night owl. Okay. All right. I figured with the kids, they’d wake you up early.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you’re like, I’d rather be up late. How about a favorite number?
John: Ten. Is there a reason?
Kenneth: Most of the people outside the US, soccer is the biggest sports outside the US.
John: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Kenneth: As a foreign-trained accountant who studied in Nigeria, we have this soccer player who always wears number 10. His name is Jay-Jay Okocha, and that was our favorite soccer player. I just got to like the number ten from him.
John: Yeah. He played forward for Nigeria, right?
Kenneth: Oh, you know him?
John: Yeah, absolutely, man. Dude, he was big.
Kenneth: That is crazy. I would never have imagined that you know him.
John: Yeah. No, no, I went to the World Cup in ‘94 when it was here in the US.
Kenneth: You saw it?
John: In Soldier Field, yes, saw Germany and Spain.
Kenneth: That is so cool, John.
John: No, absolutely. I was like, look at that. There you go. Yeah, ten in soccer is legendary. Absolutely. There you go. When it comes to books, do you like the audio version, an e-book or the real book?
Kenneth: I’m an audio guy because I listen to sound a lot. I’m just an audio person. I consume audio a lot.
John: That makes sense. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Kenneth: That’ll be my faith.
John: Oh, nice. There you go. Very cool. Yeah, so let’s talk about playing the saxophone and getting into that. How did you get started? Was it from when you were a little kid?
Kenneth: My story or my journey into the saxophone world is very interesting. I will quickly just wrap up like this. I graduated from a college in Nigeria, but while I was in high school in Nigeria, each time we were coming back from high school with a group of friends, there was this house right at the entrance of the street that we always heard a saxophone sound coming from, each time we walked past that house, in the middle of day. We would always just stand by to listen to the beautiful sound coming from this house.
One day I decided to stay there, way, way longer after the sound stopped. What I was waiting for was actually to see the person who was playing the saxophone. A few maybe minutes later, maybe half an hour later, he walked out, and I approached him. I told him how beautiful he played the saxophone. I love the sound, and I would like to play the saxophone. I was 15 then, and I told him I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. The rest is history because he took me just like his son. We later found out that we both share the same birthday, August 9.
John: Oh, wow.
Kenneth: It was such an interesting connection between us. He later became my mentor who taught me the saxophone.
John: That’s crazy awesome, man. That is so cool. You’re like, I love that sound, I want to be able to do that, and then you just learned. Were you taking lessons? Or was it learn on your own or watching some YouTube? What was it?
Kenneth: Oh, I promise you there was no YouTube then. This was 1998.
John: Oh, okay, okay. All right.
Kenneth: I had to learn under him, one-on-one. This guy was a musician. If you heard about a musician in Nigeria called Fela, he is a very popular musician. At some point, he played for Fela as a saxophonist.
John: Oh, wow.
Kenneth: Yes. He relocated to the state where I was a student in high school. I think it was just destiny that made us cross paths.
Kenneth: I learned directly under him. He taught me one-on-one. I used to come to his house after school. He would give me some exercises, and I’d go back home and get to play. What I quickly want to add is that before we got into that arrangement where he taught me one-on-one, I had to pay for it, and I couldn’t afford it. I told him that whatever amount he was charging back then, I wasn’t able to afford it. He told me, “Do you attend church?” I said yes. Why don’t you talk to your pastor and have them pay for you. Then when you’re done learning, you can then play for the church. I approached my church, and the pastor was very, very generous enough, sponsoring my saxophone lessons. The church paid for my saxophone learning. I started playing saxophone, and I’ve always played my saxophone in the church.
John: That’s very cool, man. That’s awesome. Yeah, and just always learning and always practicing. Do you have any stories that come to mind of really cool performances that you’ve, I mean, besides the Tax Expo, but other ones that just come to mind that were really fun?
Kenneth: Yeah, trust me, a lot of times. I’ve been playing saxophone now for about 22 years, and I can’t even imagine how many stories that I can recall. One very, very striking one was a student, while I was in college, because I started playing in high school, when I went to college back in Nigeria, I had this student that walked up to me after an event. We had a very, very massive event in my college where I played the saxophone. This guy walked up to me in class, not even after the event, we met in class the next day, and he told me that, I see you every day in class. I had no idea that you were a saxophonist. Then I came to an event, and I saw you play. I used to be a very serious student, but I just feel like I want to give my life more meaning by becoming more inspiring or more inspirational, like what I saw you doing, and I want to learn the saxophone. He went on to learn the saxophone, and he became a saxophonist as well.
John: Oh, wow. That’s so cool, how you were able to pay it forward sort of a thing, and inspire someone else to want to play.
John: Wow. That’s cool, man. That’s really cool, just to be able to make a difference in someone’s life just by sharing your passion and your joy for playing.
Kenneth: Absolutely. Another quick one I will also share was a medical student who was just getting into medical school, walked up to me in school, and said, “Hey, I heard you taught somebody the saxophone. I heard him play, and I approached him and asked him how he learned. He told me, you taught him how to play the saxophone. Can you teach me how you taught him how to play the saxophone?” I said, yes, absolutely, if you’re ready to learn. Mind you, when I teach people the saxophone, I never take money from them because I felt like if I was invested, the church invested in me to learn the saxophone, I should freely give it to other people. I eventually taught him how to play the saxophone, and trust me, he’s been one of the best students of all the, I can’t even count at this moment how many people whom I’ve taught the saxophone. He is doing extremely well. He’s a saxophonist. He’s a medical doctor. He’s a saxophonist. He’s in Switzerland practicing. Anytime I hear him play, I feel very, very grateful that he was one of my students.
John: That’s so good, man. You’re such a better person. Because if people were like, can you tell me how to tell jokes; I’m like, no, I’m not going to teach you how to do that because you’re not going to be good. I’m going to get very annoyed because you’re going to tell the whole joke, and then you’re going to forget the last punch line, and then I’m going to get angry. That’s so cool, how you’ve just taught all these different people who, it’s their “and”, if you will. It’s their “and”. They’re doctors and other students. They’re not professional musicians. They’re just people that want to do this on the side as a passion. That’s really cool, man, how they sensed that out of you. That’s awesome. Do you feel like, whether it’s playing the saxophone or practicing or it’s teaching others, that, that gives you a skill that you bring to the tax accounting world or as a managing partner?
Kenneth: I just feel it’s the connection you get. Whether you’re an accountant or you’re a musician or whatever profession that you operate, you connect with people. It’s about the people, your ability to be able to connect with people. I can guarantee you there are some people who will connect more with you, just knowing that you’re a saxophonist, than just telling them that you’re a CPA. The fact that we are able to connect with people at different levels, if you see me probably in church or maybe at an event, playing, I can guarantee you have no idea that I have anything to do with accounting.
John: Yeah. Right.
Kenneth: Being able to connect with people, I think, that’s just like my biggest bill.
John: Yeah. Do you find that it’s easier to connect over these hobbies and passions versus connecting over strictly work?
Kenneth: I guarantee you, yes. At the snap of a finger, I can easily tell you that people connect with me more when I relate with them as a saxophonist than as a CPA.
John: Absolutely. I totally agree. It’s cool to hear that I’m not crazy, that even out in the real world, that’s what’s happening. Is this something that your coworkers and even clients know about, the music side of you?
Kenneth: Not a lot of them do, unless maybe they really want to know about me and then go to my company’s website, and then they see it there. Outside of work, a couple of people who see me in church, because I play in church from time to time, but some of my coworkers or some of my employees and some of my client, when we have lunch and when we have events, I bring the saxophone. I always have the saxophone with me. I have it in my car. I’m ready to pull it out any time.
John: You never know. Right?
John: You never know. No, I love it, man. It’s so great, and I love how you said on your website, on the company website, how you have it there as well. Was there a part of you that was like, ah, maybe people are going to think I’m not very good at accounting if I have it on there?
Kenneth: I promise you, if anyone is going to think about me as not being a good accountant for playing saxophone, I don’t know if I want to engage really with. Just think about it, music is mathematics on its own. If you play music, chances are that, well, research, that you have very good cognitive ability with numbers. I think that it actually has helped me with my numbers in the instrument, and my field as an accountant as well. Yeah, I’ve never had any form of second thought or thinking differently if I introduced myself as a saxophonist and as an accountant, never.
John: No, good for you because so many times, from interviewing so many different people, it’s these lies that we tell ourselves in our own head. It’s like, I would bet almost everyone that sees that thinks it’s cool. They’re like, what? Tell me about this. You’re like, well, I happen to have it in my back pocket. What do you want to hear? Here you go. I love the style. You bring some jazz flavor to it as well. Is that more your style?
Kenneth: Oh, yeah. Interestingly, though, the fact that I’ve been playing for about 22 years, a lot of people, when they hear me, when I tell them I’m a saxophonist, their expectation is that I’m extremely good. I don’t consider myself as extremely good saxophonist. I just consider myself as a saxophone player. Why I say that is because I’ve heard some really, really crazy saxophonists nowadays.
John: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There’s always someone better, even to them. They’re like, yeah, but this person. There’s always one that’s better than you.
Kenneth: Exactly, especially as somebody who is now, well, in the US, I came from Nigeria, and all of the world greats, as far as saxophone is concerned, for the most part, they live in the US. I have been at events with Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Kenny G. These are guys whose names are forever ingrained in the Hall of Fame of the saxophone world, so I can never tell them that I am a very good saxophonist.
John: But you play the saxophone the same as they play the saxophone. You both play the saxophone. I think that that’s the thing is when it comes to your “and,” if I were to ask Kenny G, how he does his tax returns, I bet they’re not as good as yours.
Kenneth: Thank you. You’re so kind. Do you know, by the way, that Kenny G is an accountant? He’s actually an accountant. Do you know that?
John: Oh, I didn’t know that he had an accounting background. Well, he’s still not good at taxes. He’s probably like me where I don’t know how taxes work either. If you were to change the phrase to just, I enjoy playing the saxophone, well, then you don’t have to be the world’s greatest. I’ve heard you play, and you’re really fantastic, man. Don’t diminish yourself. We can always tell ourselves something that’s not healthy. If you just say, I enjoy playing the saxophone, then no one’s going to say, are you any good, because it doesn’t matter. Kenneth is doing it because Kenneth enjoys it, and that’s it.
Kenneth: Thank you so much. I’m really grateful, to really speak to that, I’m grateful that I still play the saxophone because when I think about my journey or my trajectory, coming to the US and all what I’ve had to go through and trying to get very assimilated into the system and then still being a professional, you know the accounting profession is very demanding, especially if you’re in the tax world. I’m a tax accountant. The fact that I still play the saxophone at all, I’m really, really grateful for that, that I still have time.
John: Yeah, man. No, it’s awesome because it’s such a testament to how it’s really is a passion, and you’re intentional about making time to do that. The tax returns are going to get done. I don’t need to make time to do them. They’re going to happen.
John: I need to make time for playing the saxophone. It brings me joy. I would imagine, if I told you, you can’t play the saxophone again, you’re going to fight me.
John: If I told you, you could never do another tax return again, you’re like, oh, we’ll figure something out. I’m going to be all right.
Kenneth: We can automate some software to do the tax return. We can’t automate a saxophonist to play the saxophone.
John: That’s an excellent point right there. Yeah, you can never automate your “and”. That’s for sure, man. I love it. How much do you think it’s on, I mean, as a managing partner, if you find out that the people at the firm have an “and”, how much is it on the managing partner and the leadership to encourage people to have these outside-of-work hobbies? Or how much is it on the individual to just do it?
Kenneth: For me, I talk to my people a lot, and we connect better, especially when we have lunch. We all go out. My firm is a firm of plus or minus nine people. We’re not very big, and so we connect. Outside, one of us is a singer, sings, and then the other one, one of partners of the firm, he runs. He’s into running. I just feel that it’s a way to be able to express ourselves differently from the accounting world. There’s life outside of accounting. Accounting is not the beginning and the ending. Outside of accounting, there’s life. Because the truth is, the more you know what people do outside of accounting, the more you know them better as professionals, then you can connect with them differently, not just as an accountant.
John: Yeah, and as people, you hired the whole person, not just the accounting part of them, so, knowing these other parts. I love that there’s life outside of work. To act like there isn’t or to deny that, no, no, no, no, it’s all work; it’s like, shut up. You’re lying. If it is, then you’ve got some problems. We need to talk because that’s not healthy. That’s not healthy at all. I love it, man. What a great example for everybody listening of just, how to care about your people. There is life outside and find out what that is. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that has an “and”, and they feel like no one’s going to care because it has nothing to do with my job?
Kenneth: I will just say, to make sure that you live your life. They are gifts, and they are talents that I don’t personally believe that there is one person who doesn’t have an “and”. We all have an “and”. Some of us are just maybe very, very cautious or careful to not really express your “and”, but guess what, we only have one life to live. The earlier you express yourself and be yourself, be able to be as authentic as possible anywhere you find yourself, I think the better you find peace and live the life you should live.
John: Yeah. No, I love it, man. That’s so great, Kenneth. Thank you, man. I feel like it’s only fair though, before we do wrap this up, that I turn the tables, since I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning. We make this the first episode of the Kenneth Omoruyi podcast. Thanks for having me on as a guest. I appreciate it. Whatever questions you want to ask, I’m all yours.
Kenneth: Absolutely. I remember the first time I met you at the Houston event. My mind was really, really elevated because I’ve never had an accounting event that fun in my life.
John: Oh. Well, thanks, man. Yeah.
Kenneth: I’ll ask you these questions. One of the questions is, when you transitioned out of the accounting world, as it were, I mean, you still connect, you’re still going to be an accountant, when you transitioned out, what was your biggest challenge during that transitional period?
John: Yeah. That’s a great question. I had a unique set of circumstances where it allowed me to turn my “and” and to give it a go as a profession. I’m very cautious to encourage anyone to do that because it is scary hard. It is scary. Let’s be honest, most people aren’t that good at their “and” to make it a profession. That’s why keep it on the side. It’s totally cool on the side. I just happen to have a set of circumstances where I had a new manager come in who wasn’t great, and I was going to leave anyway. I was like, well, if I’m leaving, I might as well give it a go and see what happens.
John: The hardest part, I think, is, when your “and” becomes your profession, is you have to have another “and”. You still have to have something else, outside of that. Also, too, when you run your own business, which is basically what I do, it’s hard to turn off your brain. You have to turn it off at some point. You have to be like, I’m done for the day, or I’m done for the weekend, and that’s it. You certainly have to turn it off. When you’re especially new, I was the product, I’m also the CEO, I’m also the secretary, I’m also the janitor, I’m all of the things, but especially when you’re also the product, that’s hard because when people say no, they’re saying no to you as a person. It’s a little bit harsh. It was really setting boundaries, I guess, was the hardest part and then just having the courage to just run as fast as you can.
Kenneth: Thank you so much for sharing that, John. I think you’ve shown a lot of courage by venturing out into your “and”. You turned your “and” to become a profession that is now really, really encouraging people who are thinking of branching out and focusing on their “and” as well. Thank you for sharing that. I think one last question I’ll probably have a for you is that, when you come across other CPAs, other accountants, I’m sure you run into them from time to time, what’s the reaction when you tell them you used to be a CPA before and then now this is, how do you —
John: The reaction is, are you crazy? What are you doing out? Because I’m not in outer space, there’s no up or down or steady paycheck or benefits, especially someone like me, the profession, risk-averse. I’m taking a massive risk. I think the coolest is just when I tell them what I do and a little bit of the story behind it, I think it opens them up to share their “and”, and also to see that what they thought they had to be or what the people around them are, is not true. There’s fascinating people all around us. Like at the beginning of the Tax Expo when we did that word cloud where people could anonymously put in their “ands”, and it created that cool word cloud on the screen, and then all of a sudden, we had a band. No one knew that, walking into the beginning of a conference. I think it just shows them that they’re not alone in having an “and”, they’re actually in the majority, and to find out what those are because they’re cool.
Kenneth: I want to tell you, John, thank you so much, because your story is so inspiring, even to the accounting world. So many CPAs, so many accountants that, I tell you, will be encouraged by just hearing your story. We need to put your story more out there so that more people can live the best lives that they are meant to live.
John: Well, that’s why I’m on the Kenneth Omoruyi podcast. Thanks, man. I appreciate you having me. No, but this has been so much fun, Kenneth. Thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? You’re awesome.
Kenneth: Absolutely. Thank you, John.
John: Yeah, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Kenneth playing or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to read the book.
Thanks again for subscribing on Apple podcast 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.