Jerry’s client relationships are tailor made
Jerry Folly-Kossi is a sharp-dressed man. And that isn’t by accident. When he isn’t busy as a financial analyst in the Business Valuation and Litigation Group at Hemming Morse, he’s running his own custom menswear company, Swell Attitude.
We talk about how his fashion was influenced by growing up in Paris with his family originally from the Ivory Coast. And when he isn’t designing custom men’s clothes, he’s practicing martial arts or playing soccer in a very competitive league with former professional players.
Jerry graduated from UCLA with BA’s in both Economics and Political Science. He later went on to receive his MBA from the Graziadio School of Business & Management at Pepperdine University. Before joining Hemming Morse, Jerry worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies in the field of Investment Banking, Consulting and Accounting, namely Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch and Burr Pilger & Mayer.
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John: Welcome to Episode 6 of the Green Apple Podcast. Every Wednesday, I bring you a new accountant who’s known for their hobby or passion and this episode was a lot of fun to do because who knew an accountant could also design custom men’s suits.
Jerry Folly-Kossi is a financial analyst in the Business Valuation and Litigation Group at Hemming Morse. Jerry attended UCLA and got BAs in Economics and Political Science and later, got his MBA from Pepperdine University. And now he’s here with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
So Jerry, one question I’ve got to ask you is how did you even get into accounting?
Jerry: Well, my undergraduate degree was in Economics with a strong interest in Accounting and I also double majored in Political Science. So I would say I was geared to work with numbers. And after college right away I started working with Ernst & Young. And because I would say that was the first opportunity that came to me so I stayed around the accounting world. I did work as an auditor for a while and after a few years I realized that even though I deeply like all the financing component of it I was not much attracted by the real auditing process.
John: Sure. I can feel your pain, man.
Jerry: So I started to find ways to get out of that strict auditing process and from that went to business valuation and investment banking.
John: Oh, okay, nice. So yeah, that’s when you went back to get your master’s, I guess?
Jerry: Yes. After that I got an MBA which again, was an attempt to get more into the analysis of numbers rather than the strict reporting of it or auditing of it.
John: Right. That sounds great. Obviously, this takes up a good amount of your time, your job, and what have you. But we have plenty of free time, we have nights and weekends, and so what occupies your hours when you’re away from work?
Jerry: First of all, I love sports. Sports is very important in my family so from a young age, I would say from four years old, my parents put me in martial arts, soccer, basketball, literally I played all of them. But I really, really enjoyed taekwondo which is a Korean martial art and soccer. And up to even today I’m still a vivid practitioner of both those sports. And so a lot of my time out of work is spent playing soccer or kicking during a taekwondo session.
And along with that, I’m a big fashion aficionado so I also follow the trends that create myself. About five years ago, a good friend of mine and I decided to launch a clothing line for men and that is also a passion that has transmitted into “work” because we’re really serious about it but that’s my character out of work.
John: I think that’s so cool that so many different aspects that you have because you played soccer at UCLA, correct?
Jerry: I did. I played soccer in college. I spent most of my college career in junior college at Foothill College, then I transferred to UCLA, redshirted the first year. I was part of the team, never actually played an official game with the team. After the third year, I decided that I would focus on my study but it was a great experience, yeah.
John: Sure. Being a part of a D1 program is very, very difficult, I know that for sure. And yeah, I think that that’s fantastic, the sports side of it, but also this men’s line for –I looked it up, it’s custom suits and high-end apparel. It’s the real deal, man, like this is really cool.
Jerry: I like fashion and specifically like the style of the ’60s, I would say, an era where men were very particular about the way they appear. And this is something that I really believe in that the way you look is actually your business card. People do not have time to necessarily get to know you and the first thing they see is you.
So it doesn’t bother me, it’s not another task, it’s just a way of life. I think that it’s important for men or women to look presentable as they leave their house and go meet the world. So because of that ’60s influence — and I have to share with you also that my family’s from West Africa, the Ivory Coast, but I was born in Paris, France and raised part of my life in that city.
So I would say that my fashion influence comes from all those different backgrounds, from the fact that my parents are from Africa so I like vivid colors. And with regard to the cut of the cloth that I design, I like them a little bit closer to the body and that certainly comes from my time basing in Europe.
John: Yeah. That’s an interesting hybrid of fashion influence, I guess. I looked at the website, I think it’s so cool. And what is the website so people that are listening can check it out?
Jerry: So the company’s called Swell Attitude and the website is just like the name, www.swellattitude.com.
John: Yeah. I think it’s fantastic. And so you do the designing of the clothes and all of that yourself, with your partner?
Jerry: Yes. In a nutshell, there are a lot of custom-made brands around and the approach that we take was okay, we design it and it’s all custom-made first of all because well, everybody has a different body and when you go to the department store and well, being kind of pre-chosen what you will be wearing so that’s the first problem there.
But the second approach that we had was listen, we want to make clothes that also will truly represent who you are as a person. And in order to achieve that, we designed a questionnaire that has nothing to do with fashion but rather addresses your taste in different matters. What kind of car do you drive or do you like? What kind of cologne or perfume do you wear or maybe you don’t wear any? What is your favorite drink? Are you married? Are you single? Where will you be wearing those clothes?
All of that helps us understand who you are as a person and environment in which you operate. And based on that, recommend colors and recommend cuts because everybody’s types look different in different patterns.
So that’s the approach where we have the psychological approach to the way we design and yes, we do the design here. The production is made at Tokyo in Japan. It takes about three-to-four weeks from the day we take the measures for the first sitting to take place at which point. If all is okay, then it’s a deal of we need to make some adjustments, and we do have a team of local tailors here that would handle that here in San Francisco.
John: I think that is so cool. That’s something that you’re really passionate about. I agree, it is your business card when people first meet you which is why I’m glad that we’re talking on the phone and I’m wearing shorts and T-shirt right now.
Jerry: We’ll get you some Swell Attitude shirts and blazers, soon.
John: Yeah, I’m definitely going to hook that up, man, that’s for sure. So how did you get into the whole fashion design world?
Jerry: As I’ve said, I’ve always been passionate about it and my childhood friend is just the same. So at first it was just us enjoying dressing up while we were growing up and people will notice and will always make comments. And one day, we were talking about it and we realized that instead of having our ego flattered every time we go out, maybe we could make some money out of it.
So we decided that every time someone will make a comment, we will thank then and tell them, “Oh, by the way, if you want to, we can do shopping together for a certain rate per hour” just as a hobby. And surprisingly, some people took on the idea and called us up.
So we went on a three-four hour shopping spree with clients to kind of do their wardrobe. And after doing it for about six months, there was another time when we run into situations where there wouldn’t be the right sizes or maybe the color would be a little too light or a little too dark and we realized there might be something into it if we were to offer custom-made garments and give the client an opportunity to really choose what they would like and we could combine that with our consulting and have them decide on what to do.
So this is really how it all started. We first started with shirts and quickly realized that there’s no point of having a well-designed shirt for someone to put a very lousy blazer on top of it or really baggy jeans or —
John: Right. Something that looks like your dad’s closet you stole it from or something.
Jerry: So then the shirt is completely hidden under all of that. So we decided to study a little more the construction, the structure of the jacket and then from the jacket we went into the suit and today we offer the full spectrum of men’s garments from the shirt, to the shorts, to the pants, to the pocket squares, to the ties.
John: You’re the full deal, man, I think that’s fantastic how it’s grown like that. That’s really great. And so just out of curiosity, has anything from doing this, and I would imagine so because it’s basically running your own business, translated over into the job there with the business valuation side?
Jerry: There are definitely some skills like that that can definitely translate into both worlds. As you know, in the accounting world, you have to be very meticulous about the way you approach the work papers, the reports, articles. It matters no matter what but most of the time those are being reviewed and some of our companies are public companies so you can’t afford to make a mistake. And so our brains are trained to strive for perfection. And that’s something that can really translate well when you’re dealing with custom-made garments, because again, you’re striving for perfection for that garment to perfectly fit the clients who ordered it.
John: Right, so there’s no room for error, right? Don’t mess it up.
Jerry: We try to remove as much as possible the room for error.
John: Yeah. That’s excellent. And obviously by working that out more and more, the room for error or the possibility of error becomes smaller and smaller because you get better at it. So that’s great. So do you ever talk about this at work? What do your coworkers think about your designing skills?
Jerry: Yes. It’s a great talking point. And I was going to mention that the first advantage is that because I make the clothes, I make clothes for myself as well and I am fortunate enough that people seem to appreciate it. And whenever I go somewhere they would be like, “Oh, this is a nice suit. I like your ensemble” and I will automatically mention, “Oh, this is something that my company does.” So it’s a great talking point.
And even if it’s not a prospecting speech, it’s an ice breaker. Then we talk about something different than work or the proposal that we are trying to pitch. It’s always a great way to break the ice.
John: So obviously by breaking the ice, how has this benefited your career?
Jerry: The first thing I would say is when people are aware of this, they seem to like the fact that we can multitask, that’s the first thing to note. Another aspect that I also sell to my clients, what attitude is, the way you look for those people to approach you a certain way. And this is no fault of anyone, it’s just that if you see someone dressed as a religious priest, unless it’s Halloween, you would assume he’s a priest. So if you dress proper, I would say, people would automatically give you the benefit of the doubt on a number of things. Is that right? I don’t know but it is just the reality.
John: That’s an excellent point. And so you’re able to develop relationships not only with coworkers but also with clients. That’s great. And the benefit for you is that it benefits your third business as well so it’s like, “Well, while we’re here talking about this, here’s my card. You could look as good as me while we’re at it.”
Jerry: True. I try not to go to clients to that level. I mention it and usually if they’re interested they will reach out to me somehow regarding that aspect of my life.
John: Sure. I’ll say it was about a year ago when I first got my first custom suit. I mean, night and day, holy cow, you can’t go back. It’s insane. It was so funny because I had it done here in New York and I tried it on and I was just like, “This is amazing!” Because I’m a tall skinny guy which at the department stores is the worst, and so I put the coat on and it fit perfectly, it wasn’t huge, and it was just so perfect. The funniest part was when I put the pants on and the girl’s like, “So how’s the rise?” and I was like, “I don’t know what that is but it feels amazing!” And she told me the rise is actually where the zipper is I go, “Still feels amazing.”
Jerry: That’s right. It makes a huge difference. I think people appreciate it when they first try it out. They really, really fall in love with it once they wear it and others are making the comment because you can be sure that people notice automatically.
John: Oh, yeah, and it gives you more confidence and you know what you’re doing. I couldn’t agree more on that. Absolutely.
So I guess before you got into the fashion design side of it, did you talk about sports at work or were you a little reluctant to open up or were you always open about everything?
Jerry: No. I was very open about it. If anything else, I was less open about the fashion line at the beginning so that people don’t think that you’ll take too much of my time because that has turned out to be a business. However, for sports, sports is just part of my life so people easily will be able to tell that, “Jerry needs to play.” So I still play competitive. I’m 36 years old now so they have over 35-year-old league here and most of the players are–
John: So you’re the rookie.
Jerry: Yeah. Even though I’ve been playing with them for about five years, the reason is each team is allowed two players between 30 and 35 but the rest of the team has to be over 35 years old. And most of the players in the league are former college players, former pro-players MLS level or the American level. So it’s a pretty high level. We’re not as fast as we used to and all of us has a few more pounds than we used to but the skills are still there.
So I mention that to say that we practice twice a week and all the coworkers know that. “You see Jerry walking around with a sports bag because he’s going to practice after work” or, “Jerry’s limping, he probably got hurt or hit a little” and it’s another talking point definitely because this is something that can be discussed with other co-workers who enjoy sports or just want to make small talk.
John: Right, right, as opposed to if you didn’t open up about the soccer or even the men’s line, then you don’t really have anything to talk about. And so you create a little bit of a stronger bond with your co-workers in that way.
Jerry: I agree. I think if you want for a team to really be a team, you need to be able to share personal things. You don’t have to be completely open but they are a segment of your life that you can share so that everybody feels like they know each member a little better, a little more than balance sheets and income statements.
John: Yeah, right, tell me about it.
Jerry: That way I guess for me to open up to the rest of the team.
John: I think that’s great. And I guess something that I think we all struggle with, especially early on and I know a lot of the listeners will also be struggling with are what might be some barriers that kept you from opening up, like you’re afraid it was going to take too much time or people would view it that way, that your job would suffer. I guess what would be some words of encouragement for others to get over that barrier?
Jerry: Well, first of all, I think people have to be able to accept who they are as a person and then if you do, you’re not doing anything wrong. Now, the little caveat is that you are paid and sometimes well-paid to do our job and that people depend on that. So whatever you do outside of work it is okay as long as it doesn’t create issues with your production and this is a legitimate position for management to have.
So as far as that, I completely understand and because you make a decision however to clearly express and share passion that you may have or enjoy outside of work with your co-workers, I don’t see what the problem is as long as long as you are fully conscious that this is not at a detriment to the company.
Now, it’s true that as I mentioned earlier, maybe I might have been reluctant to discuss the clothing line too much or completely fully describe the extent to which the company had grown, fearing that well, listen, maybe they’ll think this is going to be taking too much of his time. But once you show that that’s not the case, I don’t see where the problem is.
John: I agree completely, that if anything, it enhances your job as opposed to takes away from it.
Jerry: It does, it does, if it’s well done. The priority has to be clearly set in everybody’s minds if they are and then you turn around that.
John: Right. And I even found that I was almost projecting what I thought others would think if I did talk about my comedy. And then once I started talking about it, everyone was cool about it and celebrated it even and I was like, “Oh, shoot! I probably should have done this earlier” type of a thing. Yeah, like you said, if done well and done properly it can definitely enhance your job.
Jerry: You can’t stop others to necessarily be skeptical and the reason being is you are very lucky to be able to multitask and you maybe take it for granted as I do maybe. But this is not something that others feel they can do. They feel like, “I just have no time to do anything else” and then it makes it even harder for them to comprehend that you might be able to do it. That’s where that skeptical approach comes. But it’s also upon you and I to share it and the result will speak for themselves.
John: Yeah. And obviously, you do a good job so everything’s cool. Just because someone else can’t do this, but even then, even if someone’s hobby is something small, watching a certain TV show or whatever, it doesn’t have to grow into a business. Obviously, you and I are an extreme example of what it’s like, “Whoa! This has gotten big.” But I think it’s fantastic, man, and I wish you continued success with that. I think that’s so awesome. Swell Attitude, man. And I like the name, too. That’s good.
I guess maybe a quick question just to ask is I guess on the balance as far as opening up or what have you, how much do you think falls on the employer and how much do you think falls on the individual themselves to actually open up?
Jerry: I would say it’s 60 on the employee and 40 on the employer because I go back to individuals, each one has to be man or woman enough to express how they feel. If they want to open up, similarly, the company also has to establish a culture where people feel like it’s welcome, it’s not even encouraged, and that I would agree you don’t necessarily find that everywhere. I was fortunate enough to be most of the time part of teams where it was accepted and the one that I am in today, Hemming Morse, it’s actually even very much encouraged to the point where the company will also be willing to participate. If you need fundraisers for charities for jerseys or whatever activities people might need.
So I do agree that it makes it a lot easier when everybody’s on board with those types of things and when their higher-ranking officers in the company are themselves very much involved. Just to mention Greg plays himself, coaches. He’s very much involved in a lot of extra, and cooks, so…
John: Yeah. That’s great that within that team, that everyone’s so comfortable and doesn’t feel like they’re going to be attacked or things like that, that it is actually encouraged to open up. And I can imagine those bonds have to be so strong amongst everyone and how much that makes the team operate much more efficiently.
I feel like we’ve all gotten to know you really well but at each episode I like to run you through a rapid-fire gauntlet of 17 quick questions, if we can. Just some really fun questions where I think that’s where we really get to know Jerry for real, if you will. So if it’s cool I’ll hit you really fast with some rapid-fire questions. So the first question is Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jerry: Star Trek.
John: Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Favorite cereal.
Jerry: I think the original, the Corn Flakes.
John: Corn Flakes, that’s nice, that’s good. That’s a very accountant answer of you. That’s good.
Pens or pencils?
John: Balance sheet or income statement?
Jerry: Income statement.
John: Cats or dogs?
Jerry: Definitely dogs, big ones.
John: Definitely dogs. Favorite number?
Jerry: 14 and five.
John: 14 and five, all right. Were those your sports numbers?
Jerry: Exactly, you got it.
John: Yeah. Favorite sports team?
Jerry: Soccer, Chelsea. Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers.
John: Oh, wow. All right. Those are the classics right there. Boxers or briefs?
John: PC or Mac?
Jerry: PC. Not a Mac guy.
John: Yeah, me either. I don’t know how it works. Movie that makes you cry?
Jerry: All the cheesy ones. I cry for nothing.
John: All the cheesy ones. I cry all the time too, man. My wife always makes fun of me. Favorite color?
John: Yeah, this is tough for a fashion guy. Least favorite color?
Jerry: I don’t know if I have one, really, but I don’t really wear black.
John: Okay, black. All right. Favorite ice cream flavor?
John: Oh! Favorite actor?
Jerry: I’m a big Denzel fan.
John: Oh, Denzel Washington. Sure. Absolutely. He’s great. Right click or left click?
Jerry: Probably left click.
John: Yeah. And what would be the favorite thing you own?
Jerry: I have a very “cheap” watch that my grandmother got me when I was probably 13 years old. I’m a watch collectionner and even though I have all the ones that are much more expensive, that one is my favorite. Certainly, because I don’t even know how it extended for that long just because it was a gift from my grandmother.
John: No. That is so cool, man, that’s a great answer. That’s an excellent, excellent answer.
Thank you so much, Jerry. I don’t want to take you away too long before Greg comes pounding on the door and, “Quit talking to the funny guy.”
Jerry: Thank you. I had a great time.
John: And that’s a wrap. If you’d like to see some pictures of Jerry and a link to his company, Swell Attitude, visit greenapplepodcast.com. And thanks so much for sharing this with your friends and co-workers because I realize those aren’t always the same group of people. And I really, really, really appreciate the five-star reviews on iTunes and Stitcher. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. So now, go out and be a green apple.