Tyler & AJ rap their way to better client connections
When Tyler Crawford and AJ VanderWoude started at BMSS a few years ago, little did they know they’d be creating original rap videos – the latest being CPA’s on Fleek. What started out as a fun way to learn about upcoming audits has now turned into an amazing way to create strong relationships with their clients.
In this episode, we talk about how their firm, BMSS, works to find the person behind the accountant. They encourage each individual to explore those talents and then use them to better their career, which in turn benefits the firm. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone operated with this mentality?
Tyler Crawford & AJ VanderWoude are Supervisors at Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith, LLC.
They both graduated from Auburn University with an undergraduate degree in Accounting. Tyler went on to get his Masters in Accounting from the University of Alabama (which seems illegal to combine with an Auburn degree), while AJ received his from the University of Mississippi.
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John: Welcome to Episode 65 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday I talk with professionals known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. And thank you so much for listening and sharing this with your friends. And before I introduce this week’s guests, I just wanted to thank everyone who’s done my anonymous research survey. You see I’m in the process of writing a book and the more data points I have, the more legit my research. It takes about 60 seconds to do, just a couple of questions. But if you go to greenapplepodcast.com there’s a big green button there, if you just click that and do it, that would be really, really helpful. Thank you so much to everyone who’s done so already. And it’s anonymous, so just do it now.
Okay, now let me get to this week’s guests. That’s right, for the first time ever, the Green Apple Podcast has two guests, Tyler Crawford, AJ VanderWoude, both from BMSS in Birmingham, Alabama. These guys are hilarious, they’ve created some really great music videos and now I’ve got them here with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Thank you so much, guys, for taking time to be with me here and let’s get right to the question that I know we’re all thinking which is how did you guys get into accounting?
AJ: The scary thing is I could probably tell the exact same story and it will apply to both Tyler and myself. But I was in pre-Pharmacy and I was completely averse to going into any type of business. My dad did it growing up, and I love my dad but I was just like that is not what I want to do. So I took Accounting. I had to go for an extra semester but you can’t complain about an extra semester of college, that’s how I ended up in accounting.
John: That’s interesting, wow! Tyler, what about you?
Tyler: Well, basically what he’s saying, same thing applies. I actually have enough credits to be a male nurse. If this accounting thing doesn’t work out, I think I’ve got something there. So I started pre-Vet, very quickly realized that I did not want to be a vet and then like rolled into pre-Nursing. I do remember my counselor in high school saying “Don’t do pre-anything. It’s not going to be easy to change if you are pre-something. You should just start a business and see what happens.” I was like “Nah, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” She’s just a counselor.
John: What does she know, right?
Tyler: Exactly. So I didn’t listen.
John: She’s is a pre-counselor if you’ve asked me.
Tyler: And golly, I pass out every time I go to get my blood drawn. I’m not kidding. I don’t know why, like I thought I was going to make it in that profession, like “Yeah, I can do this.”
And so basically, same thing he said, I was going to go for the minor while I was waiting to get into nursing school and just as he said, I geeked out. Like he said, it made sense, I had a really good Principles teacher so I liked it. I’m one of the crazy people that really enjoy it.
John: I’m beginning to realize maybe the reason why you guys hang out so much at recruiting events is because you guys had to stay an extra semester, you were the only two there.
Tyler: It’s a very small …
John: So I want to get into this music video, how did this come about? Like whose idea was this, how did the partners put their logo on it, let alone be in the video? So many cool questions I have but yeah, how did this come about?
Tyler: It’s funny, it goes way back to a time when me and AJ just realized as we kind of like figured out that we’re both interested in similar things, like interested in not doing science, interested in doing accounting, interested in the firm that we chose. We found out that we both shared this zeal for like hip-hop and just creating hip-hop in a weird way, or just creating music really. We both had played instruments in the past, AJ can rock a banjo, we kind of like both connected there in this kind of creative side that we both like and just liked doing that.
And so before there was ever any kind of stamp of approval on this from the firm, the firm didn’t sponsor any of this at the beginning. Me and AJ, what we had scheduled to do an agreed-upon procedure, cash count at a credit union. We’re like brand new and we’re just like “Oh, we’re going to count cash like a bunch of bosses”, we were so excited, “We’ll count so much cash!” And we thought it was like the coolest thing, we’re like “Why did they take us, we can’t even understand; why we’re so special?”
And so we literally were so excited we got inspired and wrote a rap song about counting cash. That’s exactly what happened. We produced this really hilariously… I mean it was like me, I would hold the camera, AJ would do something, I put it on a tripod, we both do something like around town, and it was just really this hilariously produced agreed-upon procedure cash count rap. But we loved it and that’s really when we both realized that we had this similar creative side and it was exciting to do and the weirdness in both of us we both kind of have and so we connected.
And so we did that. And then long story short, our marketing coordinator found out about it and she got super excited, which was awesome. We were just thinking “Hey, let’s just do this, we’ll show our friends and see if other people want to see it.” And then the marketing coordinator found out, she was like “This has got to be firm thing really”, okay, sure, I guess. And so she put it out on YouTube and it was like almost immediately stonewalled by lawyers, our firm’s legal counsel. And what’s funny is they saw it, I don’t even think the firm sent it, they just happened to see it in some random way, they’re like, “Oh, my goodness!” And here’s the thing, the video, it wasn’t a terrible video, there wasn’t anything vulgar or anything, they said, you know how lawyers are, sorry if any lawyers are listening right now.
John: Just organically it came up in their feed. Wait a minute!
Tyler: Pretty much it was just like “Oh, we thought about what someone might think if they saw you doing this and what that means is how serious you take the agreed-upon procedures that you’re working on.” And it was like “What?” Actually, it’s quite the opposite, we love it so much that we were inspired to write this video.
John: They know. Trust me, they know.
Tyler: So it got stonewalled. And basically, the beginning of our firm realizing that that was something that was special to us and it was really cool how they responded because instead of just being this thing we were kind of embarrassed in when they found out about it, but it was like “I can’t you did that, that was so awesome. Even though the lawyers shut you guys down, they’re stupid, right?” And so it was really cool, like a bonding kind of experience for us, it kind of plugged us in even more than we already were in a very random way.
John: Wow. So AJ, how did they respond after the lawyers, because the lawyers are part of the firm, right? It’s not like outside counsel.
AJ: It is outside counsel. I’m going to throw in a couple of the true Hollywood story facts. We had availability before this whole thing and so we’re just trying to figure out like “Hey, let’s do something to help us learn what the procedures are” and we just start going back and forth on Google Chat, and then we start rhyming it back and forth. And then at one point, one of us was just like, “Dude, we should do like a rap song, I don’t know” and then it was “Hey, we’re free on Saturday, let’s record this.”
So we did that, and then the best part of it is just imagining like a group of lawyers billing whatever their rate is, sitting around the table just watching this home video of us looking I’m like “Hey, I don’t mind”, I can look like an idiot, I had fun doing it. But it’s a funny mental image to see them just like kind of shaking their heads like “I don’t know about this, I feel uncomfortable.”
John: Yeah, yeah, because that’s that professionalism just rearing its ugly head of when you’re an accountant you can’t be doing this. And I love how Tyler said, we loved it so much that we created this video, like “How would we know all the words and know all the intricate details of counting cash at the credit union to make the rap song if we didn’t know what we were doing.”
And so how did the firm respond? I can’t wait to hear this.
AJ: They were cool about it, they even kind of apologized. We were like “I don’t know why you’re apologizing, we just did it for fun. We didn’t even intend to put it on YouTube.” They apologized and they came back a couple years later and were saying “Hey, we kind of want to do like a recruiting thing, if you guys would consider making another video. And then we would just have to look through the lyrics to make sure everything is okay with the lawyers.” They were really cool about it to the point of apologizing.
John: Wow! That’s awesome, when you have leadership like that that not only lets it go but encourages you to hey, let’s do another one. That’s great. And something that Tyler alluded to is just being plugged in more, could you elaborate on that a little bit? I’d imagine with your coworkers and probably even clients now, you’re kind of legendary where everyone knows who these two guys are.
AJ: No, it’s kind of weird, especially like I mentioned earlier, going to like recruiting things. They usually send one of the videos out before we go down and then they’re like “Hey, you’re the guy from the video and I’m like “Yeah, I guess I am.”
But yeah, we’ll have different clients that will recognize us. A lot of times some of the members of the firm, they’ll forward emails that they have gotten from clients just being like, “This is fantastic. Thank you so much for sending this to me, it made my day” or whatever, so it kind of helps. I don’t know, I think one thing for Tyler and I is we like to have a personal relationship with the different clients that we have or build a relationship to where it’s not an adversarial type of a thing and I think these videos kind of help, at least make them see oh, these guys are I could say normal but they’re not stuffed up or, you know, office or anything like that.
John: Yeah, you’re just normal people that are just trying to do your job. I think that’s so cool and that’s not adversarial, I think that’s really a key thing. Because especially when you’re doing consulting projects or accounting projects or even legal, for the lawyers that are listening, a lot of that becomes kind of you-versus-us sort of stuff, “Yeah, if you can do that”. I wish all those client emails like pinged off of your email box straight to the outside counsel.
So I guess when you guys aren’t creating these videos or actually doing your jobs, what are some other hobbies or passions that you guys really love to do?
AJ: We listen to ourselves.
Tyler: Beats by Dre, we’d walk in to the credit union. I actually have three kids and I have a fourth on the way, yeah.
John: And a fourth on the way, wow, good for you, man.
Tyler: Yeah. So I’d say I’m pretty passionate about that. Going back to this form we’re at, lots of people talk about the whole work-life, life-work, all that stuff, and give lip service, but the firm we’re at is big protective of that kind of thing. They really I feel like invest in us and are interested in our general overall happiness and quality of life, and so I’m able to put first things first and be with them, coach soccer, and all that stuff.
John: Yeah. That’s great, man, that’s really cool. AJ, what about you?
AJ: Some of it Tyler already kind of tied in with which is music, that’s kind of my thing to unwind at night. But then another thing that I like to do is remodeling my house.
John: That’s really cool, that’s so awesome. One thing I’d love to just talk about is when it comes to an organization creating that culture, what are things that the partners do or that the firm does specifically that makes it okay for you guys to feel like “Hey, we can just be ourselves” and “Hey, we can go and create these videos” and “Hey, we can talk about our hobbies” and what have you.
AJ: I think they dig in to the person behind the accountant and kind of find out, kind of like you’re asking us, what are the things that you’re passionate about, what are the things that you love to do outside of work, and that just kind of comes up out of conversation. And then they encourage us to use that however we may want to, for the firm.
And so the nice thing is, I think you probably emailed with her a little bit, but our marketing director, she has some type of health degree but obviously she’s doing marketing now. But because of her background, she’s instated like a health and wellness program at the firm and so you’ve got a bunch of accountants that are trying to make their steps during busy season. Obviously for me it’s like doubly depressing because it’s like “Hey, the person with the most steps today was 30-something-thousand,” and then I looked down at my Fitbit it’s like, “You’ve moved 586 steps, you sloth.”
John: I think it cycles around, like you’re past 10,000 and then it circles back to zero.
AJ: Yeah, I think that’s what it is.
John: It’s 10, 586.
Tyler: Mine was broken.
John: That’s exactly it. Not only does the firm want to know what is it that you’re passionate about, because the thing that’s so cool about these passions that you guys are bringing up, the music, that stuff like that, the creative side, that was with you before you started working there and it’s with you now and it’s going to be with you after you leave the firm at some point down the road. So it’s so cool that that’s what’s inside you no matter what and that the firm wants to know that but not only that, but they encourage you to use it. That’s so cool.
Tyler: It’s also like, I mean the culture starts with the leadership and those guys are passionate about things that are not accounting.
John: Yeah, that’s great, man. What are some words of encouragement that you might have for some people that are kind of on the fence or not really sure if they should share their hobbies?
Tyler: I’m not going to encourage everybody to just go like, “Hey, I’m just going to go quit my job,” like make bad decisions, I’m not going to encourage people to do that. But I would say that if you’re at a place that doesn’t encourage you to be yourself, think about if that’s a place you want to be. Or aside from actually just leaving, try to encourage others to be their selves, try to get to know the people that you work with.
And that’s where it starts is that we all, as a firm, we do lots of things together on a personal level. It’s unique and it’s really cool but I just think more firms should do that despite just flying around trying to stay available, stop and get to know the people you work with, find out what they’re all about personally because there are very few people who just that’s it, all they want is debits and credits and nothing else, that that’s just what defines them. That’s what we’re passionate about, we geek out and we enjoy it, but I guess try to be a part of creating the kind of culture that allows people let their personalities show through.
Because a profession needs that where everybody thinks that we’re just kind of this like emotionless robots that are just processing numbers and not connecting with people and we’re just tucked away in some like dungeon office setting …, trying our best to stay away from the sun and other people. It’s good for our profession, for us to connect with clients and show them that we value relationships, that’s what it seems like our profession should be about.
John: Right. AJ, what is it about you or maybe for people that come in new to the firm that you encourage them to be themselves, is there anything specific there or just kind of being yourself shows them that that’s the way to do things?
AJ: They probably get that when they come to bring in back the recruiting lunches and dinners and stuff like that, a lot of times if we’re interviewing or we’re doing an office visit, we’re going to sit down and have a meal with them. And usually, I’m just an idiot, I’m completely myself and a lot of times don’t have a filter, so I’m a little surprised I still have a job. But I just try and be myself and everybody else at the table is doing the exact same thing but I think that kind of shows okay, we’re not going to be stuck up and worried about our appearance or how you refer to a certain tax law or something like that.
It’s more laidback where you want to get to know the person because you’re going to be working together a lot, you’re going to be around them a lot, it’s nice to have a relationship with them as opposed to just shooting emails back and forth and seeing them as the roadblock before you can do your part of the job, or something like that.
John: Oh, yeah. And it’s pretty much understood that you’re good at accounting, I mean, you have the degree, so I don’t need to talk about more accounting. What the heck.
AJ: Yeah. You really want to know who you’re going to be, I mean, you’re in busy season with these people for hours on end and it’s nice to be around somebody that is fully functioning in social situations.
To answer your question, I just try and be myself and hopefully that kind of warms people up to the idea that they don’t have to be a certain way and that they can voice their opinion and be themselves.
John: Yeah, that’s great, man. I love this whole conversation. You guys are awesome and I love the music videos. Everyone can go to greenapplepodcast.com and check them out, we have links there for sure.
But before I decide to fly down to hang out with you guys and shoot another video, which would be awesome, I do have 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run by everybody. So since we have two of you I think we’ll do half and half and we’ll bounce back and forth. So we’ll go, Tyler, first one, pens or pencils?
John: AJ, are you more of a PC or a Mac guy?
John: Mac, impressive. Now when you’re using a mouse, are you more right click or left click on a PC, I guess?
AJ: Oh, right click, definitely.
John: Tyler, how about a Sudoku or a crossword puzzles?
Tyler: I love crosswords, man, I love USA Today crosswords.
John: I don’t even look at what it’s supposed to be, I just make up words that fit. Favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Tyler: Me and my wife went to VRBO one time to Saint Martin. We’re on this really cool, affordable house on the side of this cliff just looking out at the Caribbean and it was incredible. It was like a private house, it was really nice.
John: Yeah, that sounds awesome. AJ, do you have a favorite color?
John: And a least favorite color?
AJ: Red, crimson.
John: Alabama red? Crimson, specifically? That’s what I figured. Tyler, are you more of a Star Wars or Star Trek?
Tyler: Star Wars.
John: Do you have a favorite adult beverage?
Tyler: Oh, I like kombucha.
John: That’s awesome. AJ, do you have a movie that makes you cry?
AJ: I watched the Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl this weekend. You can just put any chick flick on for me and I’ll cry.
John: That got you. Here’s an easy one for you then, AJ, balance sheet or income statement?
AJ: Balance sheet, oh, without a doubt.
John: Without a doubt. Tyler, favorite sports team?
Tyler: Auburn, it’s got to be Auburn.
John: Sure, I figured so. And favorite number?
Tyler: The number two.
John: AJ, more of cats or dogs?
AJ: Dogs, I got two of them.
John: Nice, what kind?
AJ: They are both mixes. I got one from the pound and one from somebody who’s moving out of town.
John: That’s cool, that’s very cool. Do you have a favorite comedian?
AJ: Oh, man, John Mulaney.
John: Yeah, he’s great, very good. Tyler, are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Tyler: Early bird.
John: Yeah, probably with three kids, I think that’s a given. And the last one for both of you, independently of course because it would be weird if you shared it, favorite thing you own or favorite thing you have?
Tyler: My wife got me a longboard for Christmas, and it tells you that my wife is really cool. That and I recently purchased a mustache wax.
John: Okay, longboard and a mustache wax, that’s great. And AJ, favorite thing you own or favorite thing you have?
AJ: I have my dad’s guitar, which he bought.
John: Yeah, that’s awesome, very cool. Well, you guys were great, really, really great talking to you guys. Thank you so much for being on the Green Apple Podcast.
That was so much fun! I really liked how the guys said that by creating these videos it creates a warmer relationship with clients. And I’m also a huge fan of how BMSS finds the person behind the accountant and then encourages that individual to explore those talents and then use them to better their career. How cool would that be if everybody did that?
Go to greenapplepodcast.com, see some pictures of Tyler and AJ shooting their music videos, doing some of their passions outside the office. And thank you so much for listening and helping spread the word so others can go out and be a green apple.