Jeff hits all the right notes for coworker connections
Jeff Crosley is a natural when it comes to performing, especially when it comes to the piano. He’s been playing since he was very young and continued that passion through college, playing jazz and pop rock whenever he gets the chance. One such opportunity came before his firm’s hospitality suite at an event in Atlantic City. As the Marketing Manager, he had taken the lead on planning and organizing the event. To take the edge off a little before the guests arrived, Jeff decided to sit at the piano that was in the room as decoration. And he never stopped. Both guests and firm partners encouraged Jeff to keep playing, often making requests and buying him drinks. This one moment has been the topic of conversation both in the office and with clients who were at the event.
In this episode, Jeff and I talk about that night and how using his piano skills made for such a great work event. We also discuss how his practicing and performing music is very similar to running marketing campaigns for the firm. And to never feel like you’re the only one in your office who participates in a particular hobby or passion. He says, “Some people might think no one else shares their hobby but you don’t know until you’re talking about it.”
Jeff Crosley is a Marketing Manager at Bowman & Company LLP in Voorhees, NJ.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Acting and later received his BFA, Acting from Ithaca College.
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And now, it’s time to introduce you to this week’s guest, Jeff Crosley. He’s had many years working for accounting firms, going back to when he was even in college. Thanks so much, Jeff for being with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Jeff: Oh, thanks for having me, John, I appreciate it.
John: Oh, absolutely, man! But before we get into your hobbies maybe take a minute to let everyone know where you at now and maybe a little bit of how you got there.
Jeff: Yeah, sure. I am the marketing manager or really, I am the marketing department, a soul marketer at a mid-sized firm in South Jersey, and I moved there pretty recently I’ve been in that position for coming up on two years and a couple of months and prior to that I advanced around to the New York Market, I worked for a couple of firms out at Long Island, a few at Atlanta way back when. I’ve gone all over the place in the last decade or so. That’s about where I’m at right now.
John: All right. That’s awesome, man. What made you want to get into marketing and specifically even marketing for accounting firms?
Jeff: Yeah. My path was a little unusual and also a little direct. It was a family legacy kind of situation. My mother is a consultant for a lot of CPA firms and works with them on growth strategies and they basically get growth as a discipline with their partners and marketing of course, it’s a really key component to that. I grew up around all of those ideas, all of the things that she was communicating and while I was in my late high school and most of my college years, whenever I was home on summer or winter break, I’d go and work at this or that firm who needed an intern to plug-in numbers on a spreadsheet, it’s like little ground work like that and over the years, I developed a whole host of skills and that did not come from formal training, I was formally trained in acting and theatrical arts so this is something that kind of developed parallel and they did not intersect very much.
John: Right. There’s a lot of acting when you don’t know what you’re doing. I did plenty of that when I was in accounting too but not quite the same. I mean that’s really cool, man but you’ve certainly come from that creative side and so when you’re the most creative person in an accounting firm, you become the Marketing Department.
Jeff: Yeah, pretty much.
John: Yeah, that’s pretty much you know, but now clearly, that’s your expertise and where you’re at now and that’s awesome and really cool. Yeah, it’s funny how when we look at where we are now and we’re like where are we going in the future but when you look back, it’s a straight line to where you are even though in the moment —
Jeff: Yeah, they really feed into each other. I eventually found because at the end of the day, a lot of it is just story-telling and figuring out how to communicate specific messages specifically to discreet audiences. In the same way that I would be working with texts and characters and that kind of stuff, a lot of the same thought processes and ideas really translate over pretty well. They eventually dovetailed.
John: Right. I guess that kind of leads naturally to the next question of just when you do have some free time on your nights and weekends and what have you, what sort of hobbies and passions do you enjoy?
Jeff: Lord, I have a lot of hobbies and just little bits and pieces of things I do, primarily, playing music. I’m an avid musician, I’ve been playing on the piano mostly jazz and pop rock, and show tune kind of stuff for about Lord, 25 years now. I still have that, that I play around my house for pleasure. I’ve been playing with some of my coworkers recently. And I’ve played with some other friends, bands and gigs around town. I have, over the last several years, I still dabbled and done some theatrical work on my off hours like in weekends and that was as a director, not as an actor at that point but those were a lot of fun and I brew here in my basement.
John: Oh, there you go. Right. I mean, who doesn’t? I mean seriously. No, but wow! That’s quite the trio, man. That’s fantastic. How did you get into the piano playing? I mean is it just when you were little and then —
Jeff: Yeah. It was when I was a kid it’s just one of the many things that my parents kind of threw at me to see how I liked it and see what would stick and between that and little league and stuff like that, we tried a lot of experiments with me as a child and then this is the one that stuck and that’s one that I carried with me into acting school, I’ve of course worked with a lot of singers and did a lot of playing with them and I’ve always been really passionate about music and music theory. I’ve listen to literally everything and some of it was carried with me.
John: Yeah. I actually played the piano when I was younger as well and then we moved when I was in, I guess, like 6th grade and then the new music teacher, piano teacher, wanted me doing all like classical music and I was doing the Pink Panther and the theme song to Cheers and stuff like that which was fun and cool to play and then all of the sudden it was classical. I’m like, “What? I don’t want to play classical. I want to play cool stuff!” I mean I’m sure maybe that would make me a better piano player but I don’t care. I’m in 6th grade. That’s where I sort of branched away from piano but ended up — I mean I still played the music. I was in the marching band in college and stuff like that, but certainly wished that I had stayed with it a little bit more.
Jeff: Yes, I have that same kind of tension when I was growing up and figuring out what kind of stuff I want to play and how I wanted to play it. I got really frustrated when I was stuck with really concrete doctrinaire has to be played this way, a kind of classical of work and once I started studying with the jazz teacher, it was focused around just taking a melody line and a chord chart and then learning a bunch of different ways to play that. It gave me a lot of flexibility to just pick stuff up and kind of noodle my way through it and play what I wanted and how I wanted.
John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man. That’s exactly where it’s at and yeah, you’re able to feel your way around it and then it’s just practice, practice, practice pretty much. Is there a cooler, more rewarding moment that you can think of from playing whether it’s from when you were in school or maybe playing with the coworkers, something like that?
Jeff: Yeah. I had a really have fun confluence of things happening in work just around last November. Every year, my firm throws a big hospitality suite for a lot of their friends and clients in one of the major industries that we service down the Atlantic City. We had rented out one of their restaurants and we were going to have a five-hour hors d’oeuvre passing and open bar kind of thing for everybody. That was an annual thing that they had done and I, as the new guy and as the marketing guy, I guess I drew the short straw and was assigned to do all the logistics for it.
I was preparing to oversee the staff, make sure that enough stuff is being passed around, make sure that the bar is continuing to be stocked, and handle anything additional that we have to throw out there. I got to the space and I set everything up. I laid out all my pretty marketing designs and collateral pens and all that jazz. I was bracing myself in the 15-20 minutes before we began for, “Okay, I got to be the responsible one so pay attention, everybody and be on the ball and for the next five hours, here we go, there’s going to be a thing,” and they had a great big grand piano in the stage and I asked the staff, “Hey, we got a like 15-20 minutes before we got to get this whole show on the road. Do you mind if I just noodle here for a little while?” And they were like, “Yeah, go ahead, whatever.”
Five hours later, I was still there. Yeah, I sat down and I just started noodling and my partners, as they were coming in were like, “Hey, just keep doing that,” and the clients and everybody really loved it. People kept dropping beers on the piano. And I just pulled up chord charts and stuff on my phone and kind of made up a melody so I’m just going. And yeah, ended up playing a lot of fun, background music and got to share that with a lot of my relatively new coworkers and a lot of our clients and friends.
John: Yeah, man. That’s huge. That’s so huge. I’m sure that had to be quite a little bit of a different change of pace from years past and sadly, no one looked at your pretty signs. They were too busy chilling out.
Jeff: Yeah. We’ll be doing the thing again this year and this year, I’ll actually bring music so looking forward to doing a lot better.
John: Right, that’s funny. Yeah, man, but that’s so cool though and something that I’m sure that even weeks and maybe even months later, coworkers for sure are talking about it and maybe even clients to just show that you have that side of you that’s pretty awesome, man. That’s really cool.
Jeff: Yeah, it was a lot of fun and I was happy to contribute it and they gave me the chance to show off some stuff other than the usual work chronic I’m cracking out.
John: Yeah, so at any point, were you kind of like nervous that they’re going to be like, “Oh, man, he’s too good at this piano stuff” or I don’t know, something that would make them think less of you as a marketing manager?
Jeff: Not as a marketing manager. I was worried that they were noticing how badly I was butchering the melody to Sweet Caroline.
John: That’s personal. That means business.
Jeff: Yeah, and that was just me getting hard on myself but no, it was an added bonus of, “Hey, here’s a cool thing that Jeff does and oh, by the way, now we can draw it out for the clients and people,” so it wound up being a plus.
John: I mean I agree that it’s a huge plus. I was just curious because sometimes people in their own head I think, they just think, “Oh, no. I should be talking about how good I am in my job right now. There’s clients around. Clients are going to think I’m not working all the time.”
Jeff: Yeah, now my head’s not in this. Yeah, I’ve certainly worked at places in the past where that might not been a concern, because I think a lot of that is cultural and the kind of people that you’re working with and the kind of culture that’s created but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of employers that have been really encouraging of their employees and their team members to bring their passions to the office with them and to share them with everybody and sometimes directly facilitating people doing that kind of stuff that they love.
John: That’s fantastic. Now, is there any way in particular that they would do that?
Jeff: Yeah. I’m thinking particularly about one company that I worked for. It wasn’t a CPA firm, it was a tech startup, about 30-40 staff and they made it a point to really curate artistic people really, people who have these kinds of passions and stuff that they were into and they actually advertised and posted job listings on a job board specifically sought a theatrical and creative staff for… well, for theatrical and dance and music projects and they will be here like, “Hey, come work for our software company.” In doing that, and that’s where I found them in the first place, they got a lot of people on the team who, in addition to all of their software, selling, and customer service, and whatever kind of work were very of a kind.
In addition to that, they set up a very nice lounge area and encourage people to hang out after work and talk about and do stuff. We had a reading of one of my coworker’s plays there and I played music with a lot of people there. Something else that they did to really encourage people to communicate about stuff and then share these things was they had an internal social network in the company which is something that I’ve seen growing in a lot of businesses lately just to smooth communications between people and teams without having to call a meeting that you scheduled two weeks from now, yada, yada. They had a place where people can do work and collaborate that way but in addition, they had a bunch of groups that employees created for a niche and specific interest like video games or Game of Thrones, or stuff like that.
As part of the onboarding process while they were teaching everybody the systems and everything, they had them go through and pick which of these groups you want to be part of and so in addition to all the work stuff that people were talking about on the platform, people were pitching around thoughts and ideas about movies they saw this weekend, what happened on Batman and all that kind of stuff.
John: Right, yeah. So right when you come in you’re —
Jeff: They picked it right into the culture.
John: Yeah. That’s really fantastic. That’s really cool. Because I mean, that makes you more comfortable and more productive and happier and you feel more welcome and part of the group.
Jeff: Yeah and you get a message from management, from the leadership right when you walk in the door that they want you to be a well-rounded human being and as long as your work is getting done and it’s up to par and you’re fulfilling your job description, everybody’s happy. Beyond that, they want you to have stuff that you’re already interested in and they want you to be able to share it with your coworkers and form bonds and camaraderie.
John: Yeah, I mean I love that. One thing that I’ve always kicked around myself is just how much do you think it’s on upper management to create that culture, that tone at the top, if you will, versus how much is it on the individual to be willing to plug-in to that or even create it on their own?
Jeff: I think that if you have certain personalities on an individual level that can happen spontaneously and organically so long as management isn’t directly standing in the way. I’ve certainly worked with firms in places where the mandate from the top is to keep your head down and keep your eye on the ball. But so long as long as nobody’s standing in the way, those things can happen but it relies on having a very particular type of person who may or may not be around forever. But in order to have a really sustained climate and atmosphere that encourages people to come out of their shells, I think that the management component is primary in creating something like that.
John: Yeah, that’s for sure. Because I mean it can be done but it is something that it does like you said, I mean I was able to do it on accident but certainly I was — as given by my current profession, not the norm. So you know, that’s for sure.
So just out of curiosity, when it comes to music and theater and all these creative outlets, I guess, has that helped you with a unique skill set for work? I mean you were talking earlier how it dovetails with the storytelling and things like that.
Jeff: Yeah. This is actually something that I might use as a selling point in my most recent interview and do apply to a lot of my work and now, I’m approaching my role as a marketer. The marketing department at my current firm, more or less there wasn’t a lot of dedicated resources being sent in that direction prior to me getting there. I’m very much been building that thing from my ground up more or less by myself with some over site but nobody else really does what I do, so I don’t have a direct superior who can specifically check my work and say, “Oh, yeah. This then the other.” It’s pretty much just me and I’m building a machine and iterating it over and over again to gradually improve the thing.
That to me has been a lot like when I have directed plays in the past of taking a script then telling the actors where to stand and running into that, we’re running a play like a machine, it’s something that you flip the switch on, you see how it runs, you take a bunch of notes, and then you try to polish things and make it better over and over again until opening night happens. In the case of marketing and the marketing machine that I’m building, it’s a very similar thought process for me. It’s taking something, hit and go, letting it run, taking notes, figuring out how I can make it better, and then doing that again except now it’s open-ended and just gradually growing and becoming more sophisticated overtime.
John: Yeah. That’s a really interesting analogy or parallel, if you will. Yeah, that’s really neat, really cool. I guess before this piano explosion happened about last November, was there something else that you were known for in the office that was outside of work or maybe was at the theater and that background?
Jeff: Yeah, in the current position, less so because I had just moved cities from New York to Philadelphia soon before I started this job so I didn’t have much of a professional network or a whole lot of people that I was connected to in the first place. What they came to know of me outside of the work that I was producing, I mentioned in my interviews and such a lot about my background, a lot about my artistic background because of course when they’re looking forward to somebody to market a CPA firm and they say, “BFA in acting.” What? Where does that come from? So a couple of people that I had spoken to about were aware of that but it didn’t come up that much in a lot of my professional work for a little while.
One of my partners eventually caught wind that I was a musician and said, “Oh, hey. By the way, I play the drums and I’ve been trying to organize a jam session or a little band out of some of the people around here, are you free over the next couple of weeks?” “Let’s see what we can do.” So I wound up doing that. I’ve been jamming with one of the partners and one of the IT guys who turns out used to tour and the thrash metal bands, you know, like an IT guy of course.
John: Right, of course, yeah. That was a given. I have to imagine then the relationship that you have with those two guys is a lot different than the other people that are in the office that you’re still friendly with but you don’t have that level of connection with them that the others do. I think that’s really, really cool, man. I think that’s fantastic. I mean I’m sure that in your case, when you come to somewhere new I mean you certainly want to be known for doing quality work. You know you don’t just come out firing both barrels with, “Hey, this is what I like to do.”
Jeff: “Hey, by the way…”
John: Right. Let it just come out organically.
Jeff: A lot also on the agenda.
John: Yeah, absolutely. It just came out organically and over time and then now look no one can look at you without thinking of that holiday party in a good way which is really neat.
Jeff: Yeah. It helped me carve an identity.
John: Yeah, for sure. So any words of encouragement to people that are maybe on the fence or I have my research survey that I have and sometimes people say, “Well, no one else is interested in my hobby” or, “No one else plays the piano also so no one’s going to care.”
Jeff: Yeah, you don’t know that until you’re talking about it and the worst thing that people are going to say is to shrug their shoulders because it’s not something that they really know a whole lot or resonates with them but when you’re having your water cooler conversations of “Hey, what did you do over the weekend?” “Oh, I played a set at the jazz club downtown.” You never know what’s going to come out of those things and if you’re working in an environment where that’s actively discouraged then you feel uncomfortable sharing that then maybe it’s not an awesome job. Like if it’s going to be a rare organization. That’s going to be like playing music.
John: Right. I mean it always blows my mind when people are like, “We don’t get paid to socialize” or there isn’t a charge code to learn about our coworkers and it’s like well, actually that’s kind of the most important part of your job. I mean it really is. Your clients and your coworkers, I mean, it’s still humans doing business with other humans.
Jeff: Yeah, and you work better with the people you’re working with, you create better teams or able to play off with each other when you’re meeting with clients, and if you’re more comfortable with that you can share it with clients and so that I can certainly attest that at the firms I’ve worked at, the partners and the managers and the client-facing people who are very straight forward and open about their passions and their ideas and talking about all the weird and wonderful things that they’re interested in are often the most popular with their clients.
John: Right, and none of those hobbies and passions are more accounting or more law. It’s like, no, that’s not it because that makes you a commodity. We’re all good at that, that technical skills, it’s the other stuff that makes you that well-rounded individual that that IT firm that you worked for before, I love that how they’ve strongly encouraged that.
Jeff: If you’re that kind of… there’s a lot of clients in the CPA world who, when they have the auditor coming, it’s not exactly a day for celebration. It’s not like, “Oh, yay! We’re getting a visit from the auditor” but if they know you more as a person and they know some stuff about you then that is a reason for them to look forward to meeting you and to hanging out with you and chit-chatting while you’re digging through their shoe boxes full of receipts. That also has a lot of the most successful practitioners that I’ve worked with. I’m thinking specifically of this one sole practitioner that I worked for one time. If you have those kinds of passions, there is often a market for people who are doing that thing that you can’t happen to work with.
I knew a guy who — he is a very typical accountant person, is very soft-spoken, very friendly and pretty introverted but turns out he, used to play bass in a punk band in the ‘70s and played CBGBs way back when and he build that into his brand and you wouldn’t know at first talking with him but when he goes out to meet with clients, he focuses on the artistic space on theaters and venues and a lot of other musicians and those kinds of people and he’s able to communicate and talk with them on their level about what’s going on not just with the numbers of their business but with the actual activity of their businesses which is music and art and he can actually speak through that and help them better understand how all of their finances are feeding into that and it eventually becomes a value add when you tie it under your client’s service.
John: Oh, for sure, yeah. Most definitely, it’s more fun for him because I mean, that’s what his passion about so he’s able to do his technical work in this passionate field that he’s excited about but also, if you take him walking in the door to a theater or talking with a musician versus a regular accountant that likes to play golf coming in and trying to — of course, the client’s going to pick the former guitar player because he knows them, he appreciates them, he gets their world and so that’s such a huge plus to try and hide into that would be really borderline criminal to his business. I mean just to be the kiss of death right there. I mean that’s the cool thing is when people are able to go explore with things that they’re really passion about and bring those in his clients or let’s do work for them for that industry for sure. That’s really cool, man, really cool.
Well, this has been so fun, Jeff. Really, really fun but before I decide to get on the train and come down to Philly and bring out my trombone and play some jazz with you, I’ll just fake it I don’t want to ruin it. But I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run everybody through.
Jeff: All right. Hit me.
John: Let me fire this thing up here and here we go. First one, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jeff: If you put a gun to my head, I’d have to go with Wars.
John: Star Wars, okay, all right. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Okay, and as a marketing guy, I have to ask if you have a favorite color.
Jeff: I don’t want to limit myself. I like all of the colors.
John: Right, as if they’re listening right now. How about did you have a favorite band or musician?
Jeff: Oh, Lord, I got a lot. Right now, it’s Kendrick Lamar.
John: Okay, nice. Yeah, very cool. How about a favorite comedian?
Jeff: Louis C. K.
John: Louis C. K. Solid answer. When it comes to computers, you’re more PC or Mac?
Jeff: I’m a PC guy, I like to muck around in the gears.
John: Yeah, all right. When it comes to a mouse, are you more right click or left click?
Jeff: Left click.
John: Left click, alright. How about more suit and tie or jeans and a T-shirt?
Jeff: I like suits and ties.
John: Nice. Look at you, man. How about do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Jeff: Chocolate chip cookie dough.
John: Oh, yeah. That’s easily one of mine. What’s a typical breakfast?
Jeff: None, actually.
Jeff: A cup of coffee.
John: A cup of coffee. All right. For marketing, do you prefer more of video or print work?
Jeff: I like video but I work more with print.
John: Sure, fair enough. Do you have a least favorite vegetable?
John: Lettuce, okay. I’m not even sure if that’s a vegetable but I’ll give it to you, man.
Jeff: I really hate lettuce. It’s a garbage vegetable, can’t stand it.
John: The tone in your voice is palpable like it’s just…
Jeff: No, man, I have really strong feelings about this one.
John: Colors? “Meh” Lettuce? “Grr!” How about favorite toppings on a pizza, loaded up?
Jeff: That’ll be pepperoni, classic.
John: Okay, all right. Yeah, that’s solid. How about more cats or dogs?
John: Cats? All right. Two more. More early bird or night owl?
Jeff: Night owl.
John: Night owl, okay. The last thing, favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Jeff: That’s got to be the brewery in my basement because it looks like Breaking Bad down there and it’s a lot of fun.
John: What are you brewing right now?
Jeff: Right now? I’m working on a session IPA. I’m trying to get something really bitter that doesn’t knock you completely off your feet after a beer and a half.
John: Very cool, man. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Jeff for taking the time to talk with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was really fun.
Jeff: Yeah. Thank you, John.
John: That was so, so good. I loved how Jeff said some people might think no one else shares their hobby but you don’t know until you’re talking about it. So don’t be hesitant to share your “And” or if you’re in a leadership role don’t be hesitant to encourage this. If you’d like to see some pictures of Jeff in action at the piano or connect with him on social media, make sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com, and while you’re on the page, please click that big green button there to do an anonymous research survey about firm culture. It’ll help this book I’m writing. So thank you so much for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.