Byron doesn’t horse around with client relationships
Byron Patrick spends a lot of time shoveling horse manure. Literally. It’s what comes with the territory as the owner of a small horse farm. But whether it’s digging post holes for the fences or grooming the horses, he says it’s nice to sit back at the end of the day and be able to see the fruits of all his hard work.
In this episode, we talk about how talking about things that interest you and genuinely being interested in talking about things that interest those around you will lead to weird connections that you never thought were possible. He’s also found his management skills have grown due to his time on the horse farm learning how to motivate horses to do what you what you need based on what interests them.
Byron Patrick is the Managing Director of CPA Practice at Network Alliance Inc. Prior to that, he spent 8 years as the CEO & Co-founder of Simplified Innovations Inc. He’s been the MACPA Chair of Board of Directors, received the Baltimore SmartCEO CPA Power Player Award and was listed in the CPA Practice Advisors 40 under 40 for five years from 2010-2014.
He graduated from Salisbury University – Perdue School of Business with a BS, Accounting. He also holds the following certifications: CPA, CITP, MCSE, CCA and CGMA.
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John: Welcome to Episode 64 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world.
Really quickly, I’d just like to let you know that I’m always interested in finding new guests for the show. Please let me know if you or someone you know is known for a hobby or a passion at work and they should be on here, and we’ll make it happen. Just go to greenapplepodcast.com and send me a short message.
While you’re there, you can subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss any of the new super short Green Apple Slices episodes that are coming up every Monday with me and Rachel Fisch – yes, that Rachel Fisch. How lucky am I?
Okay. Enough about that. Now, it’s time for this week’s guest, Byron Patrick. The man needs no introduction. I’m not going to waste any time and get right into it, Byron, by saying thank you so much for taking time to be with me today.
Byron: My pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you.
John: We had so much fun at ClickBooks Connect a couple of months ago. I’m pretty sure I don’t know how that session counted for CPE. I really don’t.
Byron: I have no idea.
John: It was pretty awesome.
Byron: All I know is my kids saw the pictures on Twitter with me wearing a tutu around my neck, and I got a lot of eye rolls.
John: Trust me. This was work-related. It’s 100% work-related.
Byron: Totally safe for work, I promise.
John: After hanging out with you and talking to you, one thing that I’m sure a lot of people ask you is just how did you get into accounting?
Byron: Yeah. You know, it’s kind of funny. High school, I had this killer accounting teacher. I was in Future Business Leaders of America. I always knew I’d go into business. I had this accounting teacher who did two things that really turned me onto it.
One, we played Monopoly for two weeks and had to keep the books. It was awesome. It was so brilliant. You’re buying property. You’re charging rent. We had to do it all by hand.
John: The green bars?
Byron: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Ten-column ledger paper and you’re rocking it out. It was a train wreck. Nobody’s balance sheet balanced at the end of it. It was a train wreck. But it was so much fun.
John: It was a lot of good will, right?
Byron: It was all good will. Definitely. The other thing we did is we had the opportunity to go to Disney World for a week for a field trip. It was really cool to go to Disney for a week for a field trip and learn about Disney, but the other thing is it’s a fieldtrip to Disney World. I was like, if accounting can give me these kind of opportunities… I went to college with a plan to follow the dream of fieldtrips to Disney World.
John: Right. And play Monopoly every day.
Byron: I can get paid for this?
John: Then all of a sudden, the cash flow statement appeared, and you were like “Wait, what? I don’t know how cash flow works.”
If you were anything like me – I was like “Um, no. I don’t know what this is all about.”
Byron: Intermediate accounting, cash flow statements – definitely almost sent me back to just alcoholism.
John: Right. Good. High school. Wow. That’s so great that you got it early. You did it, man. You self-actualized. You made it to the top.
Byron: You know, I’ve always been one of those goal-oriented people. I put it in place. I was determined.
John: Right. I do know that – and maybe a lot of people don’t know – you have the tattoo on your arm of the CPA tattoo. Did that come in high school? You had to write it out? Or was that a later decision?
Byron: No, I waited until I passed the exam. That was actually my tribute. In 2013, I was chairman for the Maryland Association of CPAs. That was the tribute. The Superman Diamond Maryland flag and CPA. I put it on my forearm so everybody can see it. You know how you shake hands and people look down to it? If you can’t be proud of who you are, then what are you?
John: That’s a really good motto, actually. I think a lot of people, especially in the accounting profession or legal profession, because of that stereotype, people kind of shy away from that. Actually, in my keynotes now, I’ve been talking about how I think it’s really funny how some of the older CPAs don’t really talk about hobbies that they have, because it’s all work. Then the millennials kind of overshare. They don’t really even talk about work. They just talk about everything else.
It’s really funny, because one side doesn’t admit they have any hobbies. The other side won’t tell anyone that they’re actually an accountant.
Byron: That’s funny.
John: I think that’s awesome. When you’re not saving the accounting world from caped crusaders, what kind of hobbies or passions – what are things you enjoy doing outside of the office?
Byron: Well, I’ve got a bunch of things. I have two teenage daughters. They’re both lacrosse players. It requires a lot of time. That’s definitely a big part of my life.
The other thing – my girlfriend and I have a small farm with horses. It’s a lot of time. It really is awesome. At the end of the day, after taking care of the horses and stuff and just sitting on the back deck with a beer. Nothing beats it. It is great.
John: Yeah. That’s so great. How many horses do you have?
Byron: We have three horses. It’s small. We have about four acres and a riding arena and field. One of our next door neighbors has about 15 alpacas. They’re a little welcoming committee when we pull into the farm. It’s a lot of fun.
John: Yeah. Have you always been into horses?
Byron: No. Not at all. In fact, I can tell you that every time I’ve ridden a horse, it has not gone well. The last time, I actually ended up in a tree. Actually, hanging from the tree.
John: Are you a city slicker kind of Billy Crystal?
Byron: Yeah. That is exactly me. You know, my girlfriend, she grew up with horses. She’s been in the horse world for many, many years. Her dream was always to have the horses on property and taking care of them. We kind of made that happen. It’s a lifestyle. Now that I’m here and in it, it’s a really, really cool lifestyle. It’s something totally different from the office. That’s for sure.
John: Yeah. I would have to imagine. Although the shoveling is probably similar, if you will, the completely different way of doing things. I would have to imagine that there’s probably some overlap. Do you find that there’s any skills or things that you’re strengthening on the horse farm that translate to the office?
Byron: Yeah. I definitely do. In both places, you have to learn how to deal with horses. You definitely do. With horses, you’ve got this 1,500-pound animal that is like this gentle giant. They have a mind of their own. You have to figure out what motivates them and how to get them to do what you need them to do at that moment based on things that interest them. People are the same way.
In leading a group of whatever else, it’s a lot of the same things. Understanding people and learning about them enough to figure out what motivates them, and therefore you lead them in the right direction. There’s things like that that definitely translate.
John: Right. Can you bring a saltlick to work and just have someone follow you around? You tried that one yet?
Byron: Carrots are dangling. I live it, man.
John: But that’s so great that in the moment you can see that, hey, I’m not just actually taking care of a horse farm here. There’s actually skills that do translate when you get to the office. This is very similar to what I’ve been doing every day on the horse farm. I think that’s a cool thing, too, because those are skills that you’re developing that other people aren’t necessarily in their world.
We’re all really good at accounting, but Byron happens to be really good at accounting and figuring out what motivates people and understanding them and things along those lines that a lot of people don’t necessarily develop because it takes practice and time. Horses and an excellent animal to deal with to learn that from. I think that’s cool.
What’s some of the more rewarding things that you’ve gotten to do since you’ve been on the horse farm besides ending up in a tree, I guess?
Byron: Outside of dangling from a tree, one of the things – I had a big project this summer. One of our horses was just really itchy and broke an unbelievable number of fence posts and boards. That’s something else that translates to the business world. A horse breaks one board in your fence, and you’re like “Ah, there’s another 190 boards out there. It’s not big deal.” But all it takes is one broken board, and you’re chasing a horse all over the neighborhood.
You’ve got to jump on it and take care of it. This summer, I think it turned out to be about 30 fence posts and close to 100 boards I had to replace. It was a lot of work. The nice thing is at the end of the day, when we finished, you can look down and see all the new fence boards and everything else. You know what? I did that. That’s solid work.
Just things like that. We did an unbelievable amount of cleanup when we moved onto this property. It had been not well maintained. Again, there’s a lot of stuff where we can sit down on the deck at the end of the night and just sit there and just take in all of that work that was actually done and actually visualize it. You see it there, and you know your efforts are well paid off.
John: Yeah. You know that in the moment, okay, this is really hard work, but I’m going to be able to sit on the back porch and see all of this and how beautiful it is and see the horses running and not into the neighbor’s yard. All that stuff. Be able to appreciate all of that. That’s cool. That’s very cool.
Are the horses something you talk about at work with clients or coworkers?
Byron: Yeah. It’s definitely something that comes up. It’s pretty interesting, because a lot of people out there actually share some experience with horses. Maybe they see hay hanging off of your shirt. It’s like having cats. There’s always something attached to you. It will ease into a conversation about horses, and then all of a sudden, it’s like “Oh, my kid rides” or “I rode as a kid”. There’s a lot of shared stuff.
Yeah. I talk about it all the time. It is something that a lot of people can relate to in some way. It’s a big part of my life and I bring that with me.
John: Right. Is it something that comes up on purpose or just sort of organically? Some people are like “Well, I have this hobby or I have this passion; I’m just not sure how to bring it up or when.” Do you have any ideas of how that happens for you?
Byron: Yeah. For me, I would say it’s probably more organic at this point, just because I believe in building relationships. Those things come up. It was funny. A few years ago, I had a meeting with a client. I was there with the IT manager and the partner of this CPA firm. We actually went out to dinner. At dinner, we had this great conversation. Apparently, the partner had been adopted and had this amazing story of his growing up and the path he took, things like that. It was just really interesting. We walked away from dinner, and I’m walking with their IT manager. He goes “I have worked here ten years, and I never knew any of that stuff about my partner.”
For me, having those conversations and learning about people – it really is organic. You have conversations like that. They lead to opportunities. Genuinely, I enjoy learning about people. It’s definitely organic for me. But I think for some people where it’s not so organic, they have to remind themselves to maybe open up a little. You open up personally, and other people tend to follow.
John: Right. That’s an excellent point. Something else that you noted was you’re genuinely interested in other people. People can sense that when someone’s asking about “Where are you from?” or “What do you like to do?” or any question that’s somewhat personal related.
People can sense that, oh, he actually cares about me and is actually interested. He’s not just trying to check a box on his to-do list. “Need to talk to three clients and ask them what they do outside of work.” Or bigger firms, the partner has a box – “Talk to three staff today.”
When you hear stories like that and you think, for ten years, what have you been talking about? The weather? What have you been talking about for ten years? It’s just alarming. It really is alarming.
I have to imagine that your relationships with coworkers and clients are just so much stronger than the clients and coworkers that you don’t really spend as much time with or don’t talk about the horses or your daughters’ lacrosse or things like that.
Byron: Yeah. I think so. I sold my company this past summer that I had for almost ten years. The relationships that I had with my clients borders on friend in general. It actually was a very difficult decision, because these were all my friends. The idea of walking away from my friends was really difficult.
But then on the flipside, having those friends reach out after I had left and talk about things – I truly believe that those relationships translated into conversations afterwards where in general most people would have been like “All right. Well, it’s been real.” And walk away.
John: Yeah. “You’re not paying me anymore, so we’re not talking.” Your phone number’s out of my rolodex. See ya.
Maybe before you got into the horses, was there something else that – I guess probably your daughters and sports and things like that – that you would talk about?
Byron: Yeah. For sure, my daughters and sports was a big thing. The other thing that led to a lot of conversations is my unique past as far as I’m a CPA. I started out on the audit and tax side. But my prior company and the company I’m with now – we do technology servicing accounting firms. I went from being counter to IT geek.
John: Wow. You’re just living the dream.
Byron: It’s super nerd 101.
John: Don’t tell your girlfriend. Don’t tell her.
Byron: That’s the only reason she loves me is I’m nerdy.
John: Because she can beat you up. That’s why.
Byron: That is true. She’s been tossing around bales of hay and bags of grain for her whole life. She’s a good farm girl. Now, I’ve talked a lot about just taking that path and the hard decision I made to make that transition and the fact that there was no way I was going to make that transition by leaving the accounting industry. I was going to be sure that the accounting industry is a major part of me, stayed with me.
I’ve been able to kind of blend these passions together. I think I’m pretty successful so far. That’s been a big aspect of those conversations, just that weird path that I’ve taken.
John: Right. I’m sure people are like “So, how’d you get into the technology side with that cool tattoo on your forearm?” “I rule this place, man. You want to play Monopoly? Let’s do this. All right.”
One thing that I love to ask everyone and with all of your experience and what have you and all the firms and clients you’ve talked with, I guess just – how much do you feel like it’s on the organization to create that culture where people feel comfortable to be open and talk and share, versus how much is it on the individual to speak up when given the opportunity to do so?
Byron: Yeah. In a perfect world, I would say organizations would foster this type of environment, but the reality is that that’s the exception and not the rule. I believe it’s up to the individual. I’ve always been someone who’s comfortable just breaking the mold. Even if everybody’s sitting around quiet, I’m going to find somebody to build a relationship with and talk to. You’ve got to own it.
If you sit back and wait for somebody else’s permission to have that type of relationship with your coworkers, you’re going to end up sitting in the library all day. It’s really up to the individual to be who you are, be authentic, have those conversations. Ultimately, you may be the one who inspires a culture change.
John: Yeah. That’s true, too. It doesn’t have to start big where you talk to everybody. Like you said, you just find one person and create that conversation. Create that relationship. Then see where it goes. Leaders can be anywhere in the organization. They don’t have to be at the top. There’s plenty of science behind all of this.
Have you seen any places that do some cool things to encourage that? Some of those organizations that are creating that culture that are the exception?
Byron: I have. Working with a lot of accounting firms, it’s definitely interesting to see the different dynamics. I’ve worked with firms that really, when you’re walking through the halls, you can feel the genuine interest between people. A lot of it I think is the activities that aren’t mandatory, but everybody’s welcome to do them. That’s where they build a relationship.
Things like kickball leagues and happy hours and these types of things – nobody’s going to snub their nose if you don’t go, but if you do make it, it’s an opportunity to take advantage.
Then you have these other environments where the leaders, they want to promote that type of culture, but they don’t know how to organically. I think, like you said, they’re checking the box. They’ll do a happy hour, and then they’ll get pissy when half the people don’t show up because they all have kids who have activities after school. They can’t make it.
The organizations that really organically create these environments and don’t worry about the billable hour because you’re chatting in the hallway or who made it and who didn’t make it to this activity – that’s it. The community service that some of them are doing. It’s great to do the community service stuff, but I think that to bring your team together in doing something together is the real value. There’s all kinds of things that organizations can do to do that.
John: Yeah. Those are great examples, though, that you had. I think one thing that is really important there is maybe ask the people what they want.
John: If you had just asked them “Hey, do you guys want a happy hour?” and everyone’s like “Well, we can’t make it, because we all have kids that we’ve got to pick up from school”, then don’t do the happy hour. Instead of asking, they just go “Well, we’re going to do a happy hour, because that’s what everyone does.” Then no one shows up.
Well, did you ask them? It wouldn’t have been hard. Just ten people. Pull them aside. “Hey, what do you guys think about happy hour?” “Eh, not really. How about we cater lunch?” “Oh, that’d be great.” Something that’s a little bit different. Everyone’s already here for the thing. What’s the charge code for the catered lunch? I don’t know what we’re going to do about it.
Who cares? You’re going to bill it as “People not quitting your firm.” That’s what you’re going to bill it as. It’s crazy. It’s so funny to me.
I read a story how there’s a firm that grew like 20%. It was a big firm, so 20% is a lot. Their bonus to everybody was a hat with the embroidered logo of the firm. It’s like “At first, I didn’t want to quit, but now, I think I do.” Man. If you go around and ask “Hey, does anybody want a hat with our logo on it?”, no one’s going to say yes. Nobody. If they do, you’ve got to not trust their judgment. You can give the hat but out of part of a bigger thing. It’s not just the hat and that’s it.
Byron: Right. I’ve seen it in the past where everybody says “You know what? I love the company I work for. Sure. I want the logo wear.” They get them the logo wear and it’s like “Well, we gave them logo wear last year, so we can’t do anything for them this year.”
John: Right. Nothing at all. Wow. Really put out. That’s $7 a hat. I don’t know how we’re going to make it. We’re going to have to turn out the lights. It’s hilarious.
Byron: It is hilarious.
John: So funny. Clearly, you’re an exception to this where you are an open book. You do share. You are outgoing and a little more extroverted relative to the crowd. But are there ways that you help encourage others that maybe aren’t as open or extroverted?
Byron: Yeah. Absolutely. Like you said, there’s a lot of people who aren’t comfortable in certain environments and everything like that. I’ve definitely spoken with a lot of people who fall into those buckets. I love your podcast, because it’s kind of reinforcing the message that I’ve told people is to talk about things that interest you and things that you’re passionate about. The reality is most people aren’t talking about theirs either, and you’re going to find a weird connection with people that you didn’t even think was possible to exist.
Sometimes, I just tell people. It’s a simple conversation. Forget about your charge code for a minute. Ask a question. It’s amazing how the doors can open when you ask a question.
There’s other people who don’t do it because they’re like “Well, what’s my return on investment? What am I going to get out of it?” Your return on investment if you’re building a relationship, and you have no idea what opportunities come from that. You can’t track that. You can’t put that in the sales force and look back and say, “Well, I’ve spent this many hours building relationships and it turned into this.”
The things happen organically. There’s no way that if I didn’t build the relationships I’ve built that I would have ended up at QB Connect in a session with you having that conversation which brought us here which will lead to God knows what from here.
John: My matching tattoo on my other forearm, so then we can unite like a Voltron.
Byron: We could do a Batman tattoo somehow. That would be rad.
John: Oh, my gosh. Accounting would end. It would be the end of accounting. That’s awesome. That’s so spot-on, man. I think it’s so great how you just said “Ask a question.” That you genuinely mean. Just ask. We don’t have charge codes for going to the bathroom or smoke breaks. Why do we need charge codes for a ten-minute “Hey, what’s up? How you doing?” sort of a thing. It’s crazy how sometimes in that market research survey that I have going for the book that I’m writing, just to read the column of I ask people what are some reasons that people don’t share. It’s kind of the saddest thing that I’ve read ever just to read reasons why.
“We don’t get paid to socialize” or “We don’t get paid to get to know the client”. Yeah, you do. That’s your whole job. Your whole job is to get to know the client and serve them. That’s kind of what you’re doing.
I think that this was really, really awesome, but until I come down and ride a horse and get stuck in a tree with you or pick up a shovel, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I like to ask. I hope you’ve got a seatbelt. I’m going to fire this thing up here. Or, I guess a saddle. I’m amazing.
All right. First one: do you prefer Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
John: Sudoku. All right. Do you have a favorite color?
Byron: Depending on the mood, it’s either orange of green.
John: Wow. All right. That’s an interesting mix. Do you have a least favorite color?
John: Brown. Yeah. Do you have a favorite TV show of all time?
Byron: Of all time? That’s going to be tough. Probably of all time, it would have to be Friends.
John: Friends. Wow. Okay. Yeah. Great. Great answer. How about, when it comes to computers, do you prefer a PC or a Mac?
Byron: I’m a PC guy.
John: Yeah. Me too. When it comes to a mouse, right-click or left-click?
Byron: Definitely right-click.
John: Definitely right-click. Yeah. Do you have a favorite cereal?
Byron: Now that I’m old and can’t eat the sugary stuff, my cereals are kind of boring. Back in the day, Cap’n Crunch was a clear go-to.
John: Cap’n Crunch. That’s your answer. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Byron: I could care less about either of them.
John: Wow. How about a movie series of any sort? Rocky, probably?
Byron: Oh, gosh. Probably, if I was going to go with any series, people are just going to scoff at me, but it’s Underworld.
John: Wow. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Byron: God. It’s so bad and cheesy. I wouldn’t say it makes me cry, but it definitely gets me on the verge is The Notebook.
John: The Notebook. Yeah. That guy’s good. I hear you. Let’s get less sentimental. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
Byron: I love the income statement.
John: That’s the first time those words have ever been said. “I love the income statement.” Do you have a favorite sports team?
Byron: Oh, yeah. Denver Broncos.
John: Denver Broncos. Wow. Is it because of the horse?
Byron: No. Ironically enough, it’s not. I was actually born out in Denver. Picture me in Mile High Stadium in 1978 with the Orange Crush Defense shirt on.
John: Nice. Do you prefer pens or pencils?
Byron: Pens. Only good ones. The GQs.
John: Wow. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Twenty-six. Why is that?
Byron: Probably because it’s the day I was born. But I love drawing twos and sixes. I think they’re the funnest number to draw.
John: All right. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Byron: Definitely a night owl.
John: Definitely a night owl. Cats or dogs?
Byron: That’s a tough one. A few years ago, I definitely would have said dogs, but we have multiple cats on the farm, so I do have an appreciation for them. But I’m still going to go with dogs.
John: Still going to go with dogs. Yeah. Two more. Do you have a favorite comedian?
Byron: Eddie Murphy.
John: Eddie Murphy. Okay. There you go. That’s a solid answer. Last one – favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Byron: Favorite thing I have. You can’t own people, so my children don’t count.
John: We’ll take it. It wouldn’t be the first time on the podcast that’s been said.
John: That was really, really awesome, Byron. Thank you so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Byron: Thank you.
John: That was really great. I liked how Byron said that his management skills have grown due to his time on the horse farm learning how to motivate horses to do what you want based on what interests them.
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