Michael skis his way to better business skills
Michael Wherry has been downhill skiing since he was very young. And now he’s gotten his daughter in the sport, even taking a trip together to Breckenridge, Colorado this past winter. It was during this trip that he realized how much skiing had taught him how to be a better manager. Because everyone has had different experiences, a good manager needs to find the right questions to get others to explain what they’re processing in their head.
In this episode, Michael and I talk about how people need to feel comfortable at work. The firm or company needs to be open to everyone putting small things in their space that show who they are. It’s ideal if management leads the way because, “Newer staff need someone to show them the way that work isn’t everything.” He’s seen some firms do “Busy Season Olypics” playing Minute To Win It type games to break up the monotony, which is something that doesn’t necessarily only have to be during Busy Season.
Michael Wherry is a consultant with Boomer Consulting, Inc.
He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Accounting and is certified in Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
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Welcome to Episode 86 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, makes them standout like a Green Apple in a red apple world. To put it in another way, it’s like helping people find their “and” as in like my guest, Michael Wherry, is an accountant and a skier, and trust me whenever someone’s asked him that and he responds that way, no one’s ever said, “Oh, really? Tell me more about the accounting part.” Seriously.
There’s a lot of Science behind why this is. There’s chemicals in your brain that are released when you meet some interesting people and there’s like norepinephrine which creates engagement and another one called oxytocin which creates trust and bonding and both of these are really, really crucial to developing a positive corporate culture with teams that are really engaged. Before I get in to this week’s guest, a quick favor to ask you if you like the show and are listening on iTunes or Stitcher, it would be really cool if you could just take 60 seconds and do a five-star rating and maybe a short comment on one of those sites. It’d be a huge, huge help so thank you so much.
Now, it’s time to introduce you to this week’s guest, Michael Wherry. He’s a consultant with Boomer Consulting who I absolutely love and after talking with him a few weeks ago I thought I definitely need to get this guy on the show. So Michael, thanks so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Michael: Yes, it’s nice to talk to you again, John.
John: Likewise, man! It was so great talking with you and let’s start maybe for the listeners, if you just give a little bit of how you got to the consulting job at Boomer?
Michael: Sure. Well, like you, I’m a CPA. I kind of beat my head against the wall a little bit longer than you, was in public accounting for 16 years.
Michael: I did a stint in the industry for three years. It kind of got to a point where, man, I got to figure out what it is that I really want to do when I grow up and yeah, that led me to actually work with the career coach, and the cool part about that was within my first half-hour 45 minutes of working with her, I knew what it is that I wanted to do. It really was a reflection upon the things that I enjoyed doing in my previous time and that was really improving processes, finding a different way to do things, and do it in a way that’s more consultative.
And so you know, long story short that led me to Boomer Consulting. I’ve been there for halfway through my second year and I got my Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma so no karate, that’s a joke we have to give, no karate, but —
John: There are center blocks involved there, right?
Michael: Well, maybe. We will see. You get the right gig, I’ll try it for you. Now, we work with CPA firms exclusively, and three of our consultants that focus the majority of their time in helping them get their work done more efficiently more effectively, ultimately leading them to be more profitable, also happier people. Give them the time, and kind of the win-win for me is it’s given me more time which is kind of weird because now I’m a travelling consultant, but I feel like I have more time on my hand.
John: That’s great, man.
Michael: It’s kind of weird, but it’s put me in a position where I’m a little bit more in control of that whole time dynamic.
John: Right. I mean I love that idea, just improving process. I mean when I was in public I did a little bit of merger acquisition stuff and then internal audit as well and I was always just focused on how do I make this process more efficient or better, or why are there two people doing the same thing in two different departments. Clients would be like, “Man, you’re the best auditor ever” and it was like, “Don’t tell anybody. I don’t think you’re supposed to say that out loud as a client.” What the hell? People are going to think I’m just not doing my job, but I’m clearly doing my job and I love that because you feel better about yourself at the end of the day. It’s like I made people’s lives better like this is awesome.
Michael: Yeah, I mean that’s one of the things that when I worked with my coach, that was one of the things that I really liked doing. I liked turning that light bulb on in different people. I like the training aspect of it. Now, I get to do that on a regular basis. I mean that’s pretty much all that we do. I get to see that light bulb turn on and I guess to share consistent experiences across the country in different firms, helping them do what they do better, and be able to do it with a smile on their face too.
John: Yeah, which is I mean amazing. That’s actually a unique thing. We should all be smiling, shouldn’t we? One thing that I’m always curious about it and especially with your career path, is just how did you choose accounting?
Michael: I was good with numbers, man. Isn’t that the answer that everybody says?
John: Pretty much. Well, yeah. Did you go straight to accounting?
Michael: I did. My dad was a CPA before he went and worked in a large family office, still doing CPA stuff, but not in the public accounting realm and I thought, “I wonder what that’s all like” and so I took a couple of Accounting classes in high school actually and I liked it. I liked the fact that the debits have to equal the credits. It seemed to be the language of business. I went to school for it, never changed my mind and did the public accounting thing for a long time and then just found a way to kind of curtail that into the next stage.
John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man. You made it, you self-actualized, you hit your peak. Mine was all on accidents. Good for you, man. That’s awesome, that’s very cool. So when you’re not travelling and when you’re not busy with Boomer Consulting, what sort of hobbies and passions do you like to do?
Michael: Yeah. I’m all over the map, but two things that really I kind of resonate, I’m an avid runner and so it’s been a handful of years, but I did have like it was like a 5 ½ year stretch where I completed 11 marathons, and then I’m also a crazy downhill skier. I did that a lot in high school and then that doesn’t really bode well to a public accountant and so I kind of put it on the shelf for a little bit, but the last handful half dozen years, I was able to venture out late January, early February to a guy ski trip long weekend and since then I think — it’s funny. We keep saying we’re celebrating the ten-year anniversary because we can’t figure out when we actually started doing it. I think we’re on our third or fourth iteration of our 10th anniversary.
John: Right, somewhere in there was real ten years. I’m not sure exactly when, but yeah. That’s awesome, man. That’s very cool. The skiing, you got into in high school you said or when you were young?
Michael: Yeah, so born and raised in Minnesota. Being in Minnesota has its — it is what it is. It’s definitely not mountain skiing, but it is skiing and I ended up really liking it in junior high middle school timeframe. The school I was at had a Friday evening ski club and so that’s where we’d end the school day. Our parents would drop our skis and boots off, and we’d jump on school buses and we’d go to different ski hill in the twin cities area. I think we did that six or seven Friday nights throughout the winter because that’s really where I got hooked with it.
And then actually ended up a couple of different times as a high school kid, one with the church group and another one was my senior trip with my buddies, we went out west once to Montana and then with my buddies for a senior trip. We spent a week in Winter Park, Colorado.
John: Oh, nice. Obviously, with busy season and what have you, it kind of lapsed some, but then you were able to get it back and then make some time for it?
Michael: Yeah. There’s a lot of people fall in to the trap of busy season becomes your life. What can you do outside of busy season other than work? I have probably ten years into my career and that was like three or four years in a row. My buddies were hammered on me, not understanding what busy season is. How can you say that you can’t –? How can you not get away for just a three-day weekend, how can you not get away?
And so finally, I asked the HR person at the firm I was at, I was like, “Would it be crazy if I took a long weekend to go skiing?” She was like, “If you get all your work done, I don’t see why not. As long as you’re not talking about doing it on March 15 or April 15 –” so I gave it a shot and got the ski bug back and if I don’t see a time where I’m not doing at least one trip this year, I was fortunate enough, I got to do two trips.
My daughter who just turned 13, she’s got the ski bug too, so went up west together, second trip for me, first trip for her this winter. It was awesome. She did amazing.
John: That’s cool, man. That’s so cool. I think it’s great too, the example that you just asked and you assume for ten years that they’re just going to say no and I’ll just do my work. But then one year, you were like, you know what? I’ll just ask and sure enough they were like, yeah, as long as you get your work done, but kudos to them for having that mentality, but there’s so many times where I think we just go through the motions of everything and just make assumptions as to what people will say and I’m sure part of you was like, I should’ve asked three years ago, what the hell was I thinking?
Michael: Oh, exactly. You hear it in golf, 99.9% of putts that you don’t hit don’t go in or something silly like that. That fits in to the adage of you know the answer to the question if you don’t ask the question. I mean how can it be yes if you don’t ask? It was just kind of reconfirmation of — there’s no harm in asking the question.
John: Totally, man. Yeah, what a great example. I think it’s a Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I think it’s that.
Michael: Yeah. That might be even better. That might be where I came from.
John: Hockey maybe, but either way whatever. I mean what a great example for everyone listening is yeah, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I mean I was talking with someone recently and their firm has several different offices and one office has certain Fridays they get to do something and the other office like, “Well, why don’t we?” And then, “Well, you never ask. We never said no.” It’s amazing we put limitations in our brain that don’t always exist and I do it myself. It’s crazy, and then you talk to little kids and it’s like, I don’t know why not, like yeah, alright. That’s awesome. I imagine going out west is probably some of the coolest skiing. Is there one of the more rewarding or cooler places you’ve been, skiing?
Michael: We probably ended up skiing the most that Breckenridge. One of our buddies that lives out there, that’s kind of his favorite place. Even when it’s busy, he can usually find some places that aren’t quite as busy, but then usually when we go out there, we can go to one or four places. We just follow the snow.
John: Right. Are there any skills from skiing that you’re able to bring to the office?
Michael: Well, funny you should ask. When I brought my daughter out being relatively new to the consulting area, you find that — kind of like what we talked about just asking the question, finding the right question to ask is pretty powerful, and so my daughter has been doing a local like ski lesson type place. They go to a bunch of different places similar to what I did and she’s been getting pretty good. Well, let’s see. Now, I got to stay in shape. Thanks, I got to stay in shape so I can keep up with my 13-year-old.
John: Right, and it also sounds like too. I mean planning things out and thinking them through and mapping it all. I mean those are all things that you use at work as well. It’s always amazing to me how people, a lot of their hobbies and passions they just feel are throwaways or well, it’s fun to do or whatever. But it’s oh, no. There’s actually things here that are making your job better. You’re just having fun while you’re learning which is the ideal situation.
Michael: Yeah, and for me, it’s been one of my challenges because being in public accounting for as long as I have and then becoming the consultant, a little bit of you feels like that old saying that, “Those that can’t do teach,” but I found as I move from actually doing the public accounting work to being a consultant, the challenge is not to jump in to their scenario and start telling them what it is that they need to do because the reality is their experiences are different than my experiences. Our experiences aren’t the same and so it’s more you have to get their trust by again, asking the right questions and almost leading them to the answer, but in reality, you’re just getting them to see what’s possible.
The ski trip with my daughter was kind of almost hit at the heart strings for sure, but it was just validation that actually, it doesn’t matter if it’s work or personal life if you can find the right question to ask, you’d be surprised at what the result was. I mean leaving Minnesota, by no means that I think we were going to be skiing off the top of a mountain neither did I think that she could go down some of the more challenging runs and be successful at it, yeah, I did, but she had to be ready for it.
Then the same thing happens when I’m working with clients. The best engagements are when you get them to be willing to try something that they didn’t think that they were able to try and you have to be careful that you don’t dictate too much to them because if they feel like it was their idea and you just push them just a little bit, they’re going to be a lot more successful. At least that’s what we found is when they feel they’re in control of the decision ultimately they —
John: They’re more excited about it and they want to actually do it instead of well, that’s just what they just told me to be. They don’t do it with a 100% energy and then it doesn’t succeed, and then it’s your fault.
One thing that I think about, because I have time, is just when it comes to organizations, fostering this culture, like a firm that allows you to take a three-day weekend if you get your work done or a place like that, in sharing your hobbies and letting people know that I love skiing and this is what I’m going to go do, is that more on the organization to create that culture or is it more on the individual to just step up and ask or just create that little circle amongst themselves?
Michael: Yeah, I don’t know that anybody’s figured out the perfect answer to that question. I think some of it goes both ways. I think some of it is the people just need to be comfortable and just whether it’s a couple of pictures they post in their office or on their cube walls, have these conversation starters where they can kind of share their outside-the-office activities or it’s the company itself kind of providing that water cooler format, making it okay to have that conversation with your co-workers and maybe they have some kind of posting in a break room or something where you can share stuff. It’s something in between all of that, whose shoulders it falls on, I think it depends a little bit. I mean I think the company has to be open to being okay, but then ultimately I think the people have to share too.
John: Right, yeah, because I mean you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink sort of a thing. I guess one question that’s come up too is just — so do you think people in accounting are naturally — I hate to use the word dull but that’s how we’re described or do you think that accounting makes you into that?
Michael: Yeah. I mean I think it’s a great question.
John: You know what I mean?
Michael: I don’t know. I mean I definitely felt like when I was at work and just did work and kind of focused on that and specially during busy season you didn’t really talk much about what was going on outside a busy season. We just kind of nose to the grindstone, we just kind of felt like that’s what you were supposed to do and so you get enough time wondering about doing that then all of a sudden, I think it just becomes natural that, “Oh, we don’t share other things we just get work done.”
John: Like busy season just bleeds out to their other nine months.
Michael: I think it just kind of happens.
John: Yeah, because I mean it’s one of those things where there isn’t a charge code for this. “We’re only supposed to do what has a charge code” and almost like you’re not — the asking the question for the three-day weekend, no one’s ever challenged it or asked otherwise. I think we’re just following the line and no one’s ever stopped to be like, “Hey, why aren’t we doing this?” It’s just, “Shut up and get back to work” type of thing, or that’s what you think they’ll say.
Michael: Yeah, I mean that definitely happens and I think there’s a bunch of accountants out there that when you just start out, you’re just trying to figure out if you can do your job right. You’re just being careful that you’re kind of following everybody so then you look at what else is going on around you. If you’re in a firm that doesn’t have anybody that’s kind of leading the charge that there’s more to life than just work, well, I think you end up with that focus that it’s just work and nobody wants to hear anything else.
John: Yeah, that’s true. So someone has to step-up. It’d be great if it were someone in the partnership level, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be really any level and the other thing too that I get frustrated with and I mean I personally dealt with this and sometimes people that don’t have anything outside of work judge the other people as being not as committed or maybe not as good as their job and I would argue it’s quite the opposite. They’re even better at their job because they can do both type of a thing. I mean based on the research that I’ve got going, 91% of people say that they have a hobby or passion they regularly do outside of work.
I think that’s fantastic. I don’t know why it’s not 100%. I’m a little bit alarmed by that, but 91%. When I speak to firms and at conferences and I’ll ask, “What do you think it is?” The highest I’ve ever gone is 65. It’s because people aren’t sharing or you’re not encouraging people to share, people have stuff going. The stereotype is wrong.
Have you seen any things that firms or companies that you’ve come across or back in your career have done to kind of help foster that type of culture?
Michael: I was at one firm where we did — we called it Busy Season Olympics. Our HR person would kind of break us up into teams and either be later on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, we’d have little team competitions. A lot of it would have, remember the show Minute to Win it?
John: Oh, right.
Michael: A lot of the games that we would do would have a flavor to that and we’d also do musical chairs and stuff which would be funny because you’d play current music and so then you’d see that awkward partner over kind of like acting like he or she knows the song, you know like, really? I didn’t think that they were current.
It acted like an ice breaker that way. You would see who the competitive ones were which you probably had a suspicion before, but then when you get in these stupid all games, when you know you’re playing for bragging rights in effect because you’d get a token little plastic trophy. The winning team would get this token little plastic trophy that was worth probably two cents, but I was one of those that was super competitive. You’re sitting there, going all out on whatever it was if it was bowling with those plastic bowling pins and balls, whatever it was trying to beat your co-workers, but at the end of the day, it was the ice breaker that got people talking about things more than just work.
John: Yeah, and so you found that that would carry over maybe later on to the day or later on to the week or what have you?
Michael: Yeah, I mean I think in hindsight, I would’ve liked to have that be a little bit more year-round as supposed to just in busy season because the momentum you’d get from the kind of camaraderie, busy season is busy season so it wears out overtime. So it starts to wear on you but you’d kind of ask kind of one of the things that I’ve seen that kind of helps break the ice type of thing. That’s the best that I’d seen in public accounting. I know at Boomer, this kind of happened by accident but we’re using the Workplace app on our phone so it’s basically Facebook but for work. We have a bunch of different things they can follow, so one of them the water cooler, one of them is like the voice of the client. In those two, like the voice of the client, you can share a client success story so some good feedback that you got from the client, you can put that on there.
The water cooler’s all about personal stuff. This last weekend, the family and I went and picked out a puppy. We were having trouble picking between two puppies. I had a picture of my daughter holding both of them and I posted it on Workplace, “Which one do you pick?” Three people that responded come back with both.
John: Right, that is not — delete post.
Michael: Exactly, but for a virtual company like we are, it’s pretty cool to see that kind of sharing and I actually didn’t know how I was going to use it and actually, I think I’m one of the higher users in both those two categories that I give and just because I like looking at what people put there so liking it or commenting on it and then also posting. It’s good to share that way too because then it validates what you’re doing outside of work which in effect makes you a better person, right? I mean if everything kind of fits in to your puzzle somehow, and you don’t necessarily have any missing pieces or if you did have a missing piece maybe you find another missing piece that fits in. It just helps you be more well-rounded, I think.
John: Right, absolutely and you get to know each other — but this has been really awesome, Michael and yeah really, really great and such great takeaways for everyone listening. But before I get some knee braces probably and come out skiing with you guys, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run you through. I hope you got a seatbelt and we’re ready to go here. Let me fire this thing up.
Here we go. I’ll start you out easy. How about do you have favorite toppings on a pizza?
Michael: Pepperoni and green olives.
John: Oh, okay. Interesting. How about a favorite color?
John: Purple. Wow, all right. How about a least favorite color?
Michael: Like salmon.
John: Oh, yeah. That’s a good answer. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Michael: Star Wars.
John: Okay. All right. How about when it comes to computers more of a PC or a Mac?
Michael: I’m a PC guy.
John: Yeah. When it comes to a mouse, more right-click or left-click?
John: All right. How about more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Michael: Jeans and a t-shirt.
John: Yeah. All right. I guess snow boots and knit cap, I guess, would’ve been more appropriate. How about more gloves or mittens? It’s the ski guy.
John: Gloves. All right.
Michael: Mittens have their place but I would say gloves.
John: I just got back from a trip to Iceland and mittens definitely had a place in Iceland. When it comes to financials more balance sheet or income statement?
Michael: Balance sheet.
John: All right. How about a favorite TV show of all time?
Michael: I’d probably say Friends.
John: Friends, all right, yeah. That’s a good answer. How about do you have favorite number?
Michael: The number 1.
John: The number 1, and why is that?
Michael: It just kind of happened. I’m a small guy and when you’re on sport teams, you end up getting the bottom of the barrel of the jerseys and typically the lower numbers were the smallest ones.
John: Right. How about more cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. I figured so. How about do you have a favorite sports team?
Michael: The Vikings.
John: The Vikings, yeah, sure. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Michael: More of an early bird.
John: Early bird. All right. We’ve got three more. Sudoku or Crossword puzzles?
Michael: If I’d have to pick between the two, I’d go Sudoku.
John: Sudoku. All right. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Michael: Not really.
John: Not really? How about a favorite comedienne?
Michael: You, of course.
John: All right, man. You’re already on the show. Here’s the last one. Favorite think you own or the favorite thing you have?
Michael: I don’t want to say own, I would say favorite thing that I have is probably my two kids.
John: Yeah, that’s a solid answer. Solid, solid answer. Thank you so much, Michael. This was really, really great. Thanks for being with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Michael: Yeah. Thanks for having me, John.
John: Wow! That was so great. I loved how Michael said, “Newer staff needs someone to show them the way that work isn’t everything.” It’d be so fantastic for everyone involved if we didn’t let professionalism suffocate our personalities. If you like to see some pictures of Michael on the slopes and connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.
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