Scott plays the part at work and on stage
Scott Usher’s first theater audition was for a background role in South Pacific. When the Director found out he knew all the songs, he was immediately cast. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, doing 1-2 performances a year — one time even acting opposite his wife. Scott says, “If you’re committed to doing what it takes to do the work, you’ll put the work first when it has to be first. Otherwise, you should be doing your hobby.”
In this episode, we talk about how his Bachelor of Arts degree combined with his theater experience has really helped him in the business world. At the very least, Scott feels that he is now much more open to conversations with both coworkers and clients, realizing that work can be very high stress so we need to lighten up when we can. He is the living example of someone that can indeed pursue their passions and have a successful business career.
Scott Usher is a CPA and a principal with the Seattle-based firm of Bader Martin.
He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Washington and his Masters of Science in Taxation from Golden Gate University.
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Okay. Now, it’s time for this week’s guest, Scott Usher, a CPA and principal with the Seattle-based firm of Bader Martin, where he does little tax planning and compliance with business consulting. He even leads the firm’s technology in international practice groups. I first met Scott after I’ve spoken at DFK North America Conference in Las Vegas, and I’m so excited he’s able to be with me here today. I have to ask Scott though, after meeting you, the one thing that I’d been wondering is how this guy end up in accounting.
Scott: By accident. It was actually really kind of interesting. Well, like a lot of dumb kid freshmen who — some of them had big dreams and I was going to be at computer science and then I took my first college level calculus class and I said, “Yikes, that’s not for me.” Because remember, this is computer science in the early ‘80s.
John: Oh my, okay.
Scott: But then I just started taking classes that were interesting. I took some psych, I took some econ. I still remember sitting on my parents’ deck. I’ve been going to the course catalog and the major’s requirements and I go, “What have I taken already?” You know, I’m, “Oh, it looks like I’m pre-BA.”
Scott: I said, “Okay, I’ll declare BA” and then I took accounting classes as part of the degree program that I was hooked. I was like, “I didn’t know this is what accounting was. This is cool.”
John: Right. Yeah, because it’s definitely not what the brochures make you think or what the stereotype is, anyway.
Scott: Yeah, exactly.
John: Yeah, and even back then, right? I mean, I imagine the stereotype hasn’t changed sadly.
Scott: It’s just computers instead of pencil.
John: Right. Same green visor, everything. You know, that’s the stereotype that people have for us. So, you saw that even as a college student, that it wasn’t quite what you thought the stereotype would be.
Scott: No, it was a lot more technical and it was interesting. You’ve got to understand what’s going on with companies. Yeah, it was a lot more cool than I thought it was going to be.
John: Yeah, yeah, that’s for sure. I guess, why do you think that that stereotype keeps going or even that accountants buy into, even some of them?
Scott: I just think too many people don’t get enough to actually know people who do the job. Some of that is our fault, but I know the AICPA is really trying to be out there saying, “Hey, this stuff is really cool and we’ve got these great resources that apply to your life.” But there’s probably in sheer numbers, there’s too many people that are cogs in a wheel and don’t really feel as connected to the people side of the job as it really should be.
John: Right, yeah. Like you said, maybe it is a little bit of our fault as a profession as well just in that some people not willing to open up and show that side of it or go into that side. I guess it’s probably a little bit scary or a little bit risky to people because it’s not as black and white. You’re not able to rely on the rule book. It’s little more people skills and what have you.
Scott: Exactly, and I think that’s coming out a lot more now even in the fact that when I was working with CPA firms on the East Coast, a lot of people who have Bachelor of Science degrees go, “No, this is a technical degree.” It’s like, “No, this is like an interaction degree. It should be a liberal arts degree like the Bachelor of Arts because you need to have people skills and writing skills and good communication skills.” That’s coming around now, so that should help.
John: Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s a great point just even in the type of degree that it is. Yeah. No, that’s really awesome. We’ll get into the fun part, which is clearly, being a partner in the county firm takes up a lot of time, but when you have some free time on your nights in weekends, what’s that big passion that drives you?
Scott: That would be singing like either karaoke or musicals, but also being on stage in musicals, dramas, comedies, you name it.
John: Wow. Yeah, I saw some of the pictures and even some of the YouTube clips that we’ll put on greenapplepodcast.com that are really awesome. You’re like the real deal, man, that’s really cool.
Scott: Yup, a lot of fun.
John: Yeah, yeah, because some people say, “Well, I’m a singer” or “I’m in some shows” or whatever and it’s in somebody’s basement. How long have you been doing this?
Scott: Probably off and on for about 20 years.
John: Wow, yeah.
Scott: But that’s kind of just a more recent iteration because I played trumpet for ten years when I was in school in high school and everything too. I’ve been involved musically for a long time but not on stage acting and putting myself out there in characters.
John: Right, and a typical trumpet player needs all the attention. No, I’m just kidding.
Scott: There are a lot trumpet player stories out there even in the realm of classical music. They were always kind of bad boys but —
John: Right, yeah. I mean, I just say that as a trampoline player who’s always in behind the scenes and we were total goofballs because no one was looking at us. But I think that’s really, really neat. How did you get into theater?
Scott: Yeah. You know, again, part of it is kind of falling into it, but my parents were involved in arts. My dad has a Yale drama school background and worked as a TV business reporter, did commercials when he was younger. Then I played, like I said, trumpet for a number of years. I fell into theater, actually, when there was a show going on in community theater and my daughter was like in a dance movement class gigs of like five or something. Her instructor was a choreographer for a local production of South Pacific and needed men in a serious way. So, I was on her call list and I was like, “Oh, I know about music, so okay.” I got up there and I was like, “Oh, this is actually kind of cool.” I got the bug. That’s usually the way it happened.
John: So, South Pacific is what lured you in?
Scott: Yeah. Do you know South Pacific? There is nothing like good day. “You know the music too? You just wanted warm bodies up there.”
John: Right. That’s so fit. Then you just moved up the ranks quickly. Yeah, that’s awesome, man. That’s really cool, that’s really cool. What were some of your favorite roles that you’ve done over the last 20 years or productions that you’ve been a part of maybe?
Scott: Yeah. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to play the role of Franz Liebkind in The Producers, the Nazi.
John: Okay, all right.
Scott: I auditioned, actually, for a different role. But when I auditioned, usually, the director wants you to read for different roles and everything. I spoke with just a German accent and I played crazy really well, and so the director is like, “Yeah, you’re Franz.”
Scott: Anyway, it was a great life example to me of finding what you’re good at and finding the enjoyment of how you get there and it isn’t always what you expect. But you find what you’re right for and then you find the joy in that even if it wasn’t your master plan.
John: Right. Yeah, that’s a great takeaway from that. How often do you do shows? I mean, is this like a once a year type of thing or sometimes more than one, so I imagine?
Scott: Yeah. I mean, with my schedule, it usually went to being ones because it’s got to be the rehearsals and the performances have to not really conflict with work needs and family needs. It’s got to be something I want to do. In general, I prefer to work with the director that I know I like working with. So, that narrowed things down quite a bit, so sometimes it’s pretty light. It might be one a year. I might even skip a year. This year, there had been three.
John: Oh my, wow. That’s really busy. So, you’re doing it mostly with theaters there in the Seattle area or –?
Scott: Yeah. I live across the water in a town called Bremerton in the Kitsap Peninsula. There’s like half a dozen community theaters all within a half an hour where I live, so I’ve got to choose in between those.
John: That’s great that you’re able to, yeah, have that much opportunity and to be able to pick and choose the ones you want to do and do well as opposed to just wasting your time. It’s like, “Hey, do you know who I am?” No, I’m just kidding.
Scott: Well, what’s fun about it is my wife does it too. As a matter of fact, she’s probably more active than I am and was doing it before I was. The really fun part is the two of the three shows I did this year I got to do with her.
John: Oh, wow. That’s really cool. That’s awesome. Yeah, then you guys can practice together, then you’re able to have something in common and bring that to the stage. That’s really cool.
Scott: Right, yeah. Then it’s not something that’s taking away from the family side, it’s just the fun thing we’re doing together.
John: Right, and enhancing it. Very cool. Now, do you find that from doing theater over 20 years, I mean that’s quite a long time, do you find that there’s any skill sets that you’ve developed that you use at work or vice versa?
Scott: Yeah. I mean, some of it is just having that as part of my own kind of internal pop culture. It went to being a talking point. People say, “Hey, you made shows recently, how are things going?” Sometimes they’ll come see the shows, but as far as the skills it develops, it makes me more comfortable meeting people and doing some improvising if you will, taking information that I have but trying to tell her too who I’m talking to, to communicate well. But it also makes me less self-conscious and helps me think on my feet. I actually saw a study, I think it’s been around for a while, that indicated that theater majors often do better in business than business majors do, and it’s because the skill set that they learn and how they need to work independently and collaboratively whether they like people or not, taking on their feet improvising, is those are all skills that normally somebody coming out of business school doesn’t have.
John: Right, definitely not. They are not teaching that at all in business school. Yeah, that’s very interesting. But you’re able to, as a hobby, enhance that and use that, I guess strengthen that muscle, if you will, and that’s great.
Scott: Yeah, I think exactly. Yeah, exactly. It’s keeping things limber and giving opportunity to go ahead. Even just working through challenges. I mean, you’ve got a task and a deadline. You’ve got to get your lines memorized. You’ve got to know what you’re doing and there’s the drop dead date, if no earlier the night you open. People are counting on you and you got to not have that stress you out but motivate you to just get there and do it well.
John: Right. No, that’s really great and yeah, laser-focused and it’s go time, the lights were on, right, and whether you’re ready or not like, “Here we go” type of thing. That’s fantastic, that’s really fantastic. Clearly, you do talk about this at work, so it’s something that just came up naturally. I mean, clearly now, everyone knows, but is this something that just sort of sipped out or how did that come out?
Scott: Yeah. Well, it’s kind of interesting. I think as I was coming up through my career, I’m kind of like, “Is it good that I do this?” I wasn’t really sure that it was a positive until — I think once social media started taking off a little bit more and I think that influence what type of content people put on their websites about what their people do outside of work. I was kind of cautiously because I didn’t want to admit I had this bigtime suck when I’m trying to manage people and tell them how important it is that they’re committed to their work because they might not have this impression as me. But now, I use it as an indication of you can have work life balance, you just have to draw your boundaries. If you’re committed to doing what it takes to do the work, you’ll put the work first when it has to be first and your hobby is your hobby.
John: Right, right. No, that’s absolutely true. Like you said, when it’s time to put the work first, you’ll put it first but it’s a good thing to have something outside, whether it’s a release or to enhance business skills. You know, just who you really are. Yeah. Something to talk through just a little bit I guess is just how did — I guess your feelings of maybe it might be a hindrance or what people might think about you was probably the biggest barrier there for not wanting to share?
Scott: I think so because there was at least one point earlier in my career where I had to actually make a choice between the two and drop out of a show. That kind of said to me that, “Okay. Well, I can make the right decision but it was also a good testimony to go ahead and say you really need to count the cost before you make the commitment.”
John: Right, right. Yeah, definitely, because clearly, your job is your job. That does come first but you can do both, which is something that you’re clearly living for a long time. Yeah. I think that that’s interesting because I think a lot of people — I remember when I started, yeah, I mean you just wanted to put on a good face and you know, this is my first corporate job and I’m making real money and I’m supposed to know everything. So, if I’m ever doing anything outside of work that doesn’t involve work, then people might frown upon that. Then it just accidently would come up. “What did you do this weekend?” “Well, I did a comedy show in the Funny Bone and whatever.” It wasn’t like I was shouting it from the rooftops but it sort of just came up. Then 12 years later, I have a guy that remembers me because — and it’s like, “Whoa, I didn’t even work with you.” That’s crazy. I think a lot of it is in our own head because I imagine, how did things change once it started to cut and get out that, “Hey, I do theater”?
Scott: Well, I think then the discussion is just a little more open to people who think that’s cool who’ll ask me about it, and other people maybe not, but it does work. As I was alluding to earlier that I can say, “No, this is an example of how you have to balance responsibilities. You have home, you have work, and you may have, whether it’s a hobby or any other type of allocation, but you have to find a way to fit it in.” So I say to directors, I go, “Okay. My schedule is really tight. This time, I’m going to have to miss some rehearsals.” That’s basically part of kind of the deal, so if that doesn’t work for them, then the show doesn’t work. Doctors, military personnel, attorneys, they may have scheduling issues crisis that come up and they do stuff like this too. At least mine is somewhat predictable.
John: Yeah, that’s exactly true. For the beginning of the years, probably, you can be a little bit busy based on tax tables and things like that. Absolutely. Yeah, I think it’s great though. I think it’s really, really cool. Before you got into theater, was there something else that you would talk about in the office or was that kind of the thing that would break it open?
Scott: Probably my kids. I have five of them, and so there are plenty of stories.
Scott: I mean, I started acting really early in my accounting career. That’s been probably one of the things to talk about as much as anything else. But I’m a pop culture geek and love technology. I’m the head of our firm’s technology practice group. I’m talking about geeky stuff too with our IT people and other people who like that. Stephen King is the gunslinger of Dark Tower’s areas. But kind of the more normal things but a lot of pop culture trivia, movie stuff.
John: Right, right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the typical things that people talk about and what have you. But yeah, something like this is, it’s kind of unique and something that people — I would imagine, and like you said, some people have come. Clients and coworkers have come to shows and seen you, so that’s got to be kind of exciting.
Scott: It is.
John: Yeah, that’s really cool. When it comes to an organization and as a partner, I guess, how do you look at creating a culture where people are willing and open to share versus that responsibility is more on the individual to step up and be who they are?
Scott: Well, so much, there’s always the advice that you need to have good listening skills. What I tried to do even though it’s fun to talk about what I do is try to find what those kinds of things are that other people are doing too. We’ve got a great process of a coaching system at the firm and it gives us opportunities to get to know people better than if we are just working with each other. But I think a lot of it is just creating environment. That’s the ground role is, “Hey, what’s going on? What are you doing this weekend?” Somebody has something else interesting they’re doing, I’ve got a good point of connection to go ahead and just start talking.
John: Right, right, yeah, and just showing a genuine interest in that person as opposed to, “Well, I need to ask three people what they’re doing to check a box” or whatever. But that genuine interest and people can tell and that’s kind of neat. I guess probably too that you’re a living example that shows them that the door is wide open. If you know that I love doing theater, then it’s totally cool for you to talk about cycling or whatever you like to do sort of a thing.
Scott: Yup. The clients love it.
John: Oh wow, yeah. I can believe it.
Scott: You know, because it makes you more real and it helps develop relationships.
John: Yeah. I guess before everyone knew about this hobby or passion, if you will, do you find that those relationships kind of changed with clients maybe and coworkers?
Scott: Yeah. I mean, it’s just interesting because they might very well start up the conversation with, “So, what are you doing now?” And it’s something that’s part of my profile on the website. If somebody is meeting with me for the first time but they’ve looked at our website, “I saw that in addition to all of your other technical background and everything, you also do this.” Right away, we’re talking to more personal level than what have you got for me?
John: Right. No, that’s true, because I mean, everyone could come in and talk to them about accounting but very rarely can someone come in and talk about this as well. Plus, then too, it’s like, “I’m really good at what I do and I don’t have to only do work. I’m actually so good that I can do this and have a passion and tell you about it,” type of thing. Yeah, which kind of goes counterintuitive to when I first started where it’s like, “Oh, it should be all work and nothing but work.” That actually makes me nervous now when I meet someone that’s so, “All I do is work” and it’s like, “Whoa.”
Scott: Yeah. I think in a firm that has plenty of high hours, high stress periods of the year, there’s the opportunity to lighten things up and have fun. That’s always great. I mean, I have a ninja sword dagger at my office.
John: That’s awesome.
Scott: That I got coming into our September busy choosing because you get things like, “Let’s do this, let’s buzz some heads. Let’s have fun attacking the work ahead of us.”
John: Right, yeah, absolutely, and it makes things better. That’s really funny. That’s awesome. That’s very, very cool. You talked about the coaching system there at Bader Martin. How does that work?
Scott: Well, every person below the principal level has a coach that they meet with generally at least monthly, sometimes more often, to talk about work and other things if they’re on the person’s mind. It’s an opportunity to go ahead and open up a little bit more and talk about how to face challenges and then talk about what our next steps in people’s career. We try to make it as kind of a blend between mentoring and performance evaluation so that it really is coaching, “What can I do to help you be successful?” I think a lot of that is being able to model the type of mindset and behavior that’s going to actually help them be successful. Part of that is not letting things get so heavy that you can’t laugh.
John: Right, right, yeah. No, definitely. I mean, that’s really cool that it’s on a monthly basis. It’s not just a once a year thing where a lot can change on a monthly basis. You can have a better feel for the pulse and wear someone’s hat and you know what they’re doing and what they’re up and actually get to know them.
Scott: Right, and that’s scheduled but then we try to also make sure that that allows for building relationships on an ongoing basis. Below that coaching level, our firm also works but we call them pods where we can have individual prepares work with specific supervisors, and we’ll change that up but once a year so that they get to know each other also and get more targeted relationship building training with the same kind of people. So, it gives everybody a chance to learn the personalities of that group.
John: Sure. No, that sounds great, yeah, because I mean, the more that we get to know each other on a personal level, the better things click. Like you said, when things get really stressful, then that’s where that really pays off. Before we wrap this up, do you have any words of encouragement to others that are listening or maybe some people that are going to graduate in May?
Scott: Yeah. I think it’s an example of just — we hear about work life balance all the time rather than trying to just allocate things to this block and this block. There can be some overlap. I mean, part of what you do for fun maybe is something that is helpful to other people as to encourage them and that you’ve got to have fun sometimes. It’s a matter of finding something that fits within the boundaries of what you can do. But every season has an end and a beginning. Just look at what the opportunities are before you and find something you really enjoy doing because you spend a lot of time at work. You might as well have fun while you’re there and have fun looking forward to the things that you’re doing when you’re not.
John: Right. No, that’s really excellent, really excellent. You’re a living proof of that and I think it’s so cool. Who knows when you’re going to just break out into another show tune in the middle of the office or you’ve got a practice somewhere. That’s so cool, that’s so cool. Well, before I sign up to be in a music — well, I wouldn’t be a musical because I can’t sing for anything but in a play with you, I have 17 rapid fire questions that I like to do to get to know Scott better. Let me fire this thing up here and we’ll give it a whirl and have some fun here. The first one here is going to be, do you prefer Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
John: Sudoku, sure. You’re like, “Hello?” Do you have a favorite color?
John: Blue, and the least favorite color?
John: Yellow, all right. Interesting. How about when it comes to computers, are you more of a PC or a Mac?
Scott: PC, like the Tinker.
John: PC. Right, right, definitely. When it comes to a mouse, are you more a right click or a left click?
Scott: I love right click.
John: Right click, right. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Scott: Yeah. Family Man, Nick Cage.
John: Oh, yeah. That is, okay, interesting. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. How about favorite toppings on a pizza?
John: Bacon, here we go. That’s pretty much favorite toppings on anything, right?
Scott: Well, yeah.
John: That’s very cool, very cool. How about when it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?
Scott: Balance sheet.
John: Balance sheet, all right. Star Wars or Star Trek?
John: Yes to both?
John: There we go. All right, excellent.
Scott: But if I had to choose, I’d say Trek. I’ve been a hardcore Trek fan since the beginning.
John: Okay, all right. I’ll give it to you. Pens or pencils?
John: Pens, no mistakes, just going on a lot. Do you have a favorite sports team?
Scott: Seahawks. I’m wearing my jersey today.
John: All right, very cool. That’s so good, so good. How about a favorite number?
Scott: The number that popped in my head was 12. I don’t know why.
John: Twelve? Probably because it’s on your jersey?
Scott: No, it’s not. Maybe because I was thinking about the Hawks, yeah.
John: Right. How about cats or dogs?
John: Dogs, yeah. Do you guys have one at home?
Scott: Two, two dogs and a cat.
John: Oh, very cool. I won’t tell the cat that you’re not a fan. It’s all right.
Scott: Yeah. We don’t have a relationship.
John: Okay. That’s so funny. That’s hilarious. So, you have kids, favorite Disney character?
Scott: Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
John: Oh okay, all right, really deep. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Scott: Hmm, favorite actor. Michael Caine.
John: Michael Caine, there you go. Yeah, really good. Two more. More of an early bird or a night owl?
Scott: Night owl.
John: Night owl, all right, and the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have.
Scott: Amazon Echo.
John: Oh, there we go. Nice, yeah, we just got one a couple of months ago. Yeah.
Scott: Yeah. My kids got me a Dot for Christmas. I already had the original Echo but it’s like a family member. We talk to it all the time, what’s implied, timers, shopping lists.
Scott: I’m playing music on demand.
John: Yeah, that’s true. You could probably use it to help you with some songs and what have you. Who knows?
Scott: What I wish it would do though, I wish it would allow me to use computers so that I could be in Star Trek.
John: Oh, yeah. Star Trek is definitely your right answer on that one. That’s for sure. That’s very cool. Thank you so much, Scott, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Scott: Yup. It’s a lot of fun.
John: What great stuff. I really enjoyed how Scott said that if you’re committed to doing what it takes to do the work, then you’ll put the work first when it has to be first. Otherwise, you’ll be doing your hobby. That’s really profound and so true. I mean, just draw your boundaries and then do what needs to be done. If you like to see some pictures of Scott in various theater roles, including the deranged ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind from The Producers, please go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re there, click that big green button and do my anonymous research survey. Thank you for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.