Tony is an Accountant & Skier & Lifeguard Coach
Tony Nitti returns from episode #100 to talk about his shift in hobbies from professional mountain bike racing to lifeguard coaching, how the pandemic has affected the industry, and why its so important to have interests outside of work, especially when working remotely!
• Why he stopped mountain bike racing professionally
• Coaching lifeguards
• How having outside interests can help your career
• Battling burnout
• How the extended tax season affected him
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Welcome to Episode 300 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-Up Friday Edition. This is John Garrett, and each Friday I’m following up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago, to hear what’s new with their passions outside of work and also hear how this message might have impacted them since we last talked.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in September. It’ll be available on Amazon, Indigo, Bookshop and a few other websites, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details, or sign up for my exclusive list, and you’ll be the first to know when it comes out.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this Follow-Up Friday is no different with my guest, Tony Nitti. He’s a partner with RubinBrown, and now he’s with me here today. Tony, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Tony: John, good to be back. I think it was all the way back at Episode 100 when we last got together.
John: Exactly, man, yeah, and then we’ll have you back for 500. You’re the hundreds. You’re the aughts, I guess.
Tony: Keep the round numbers going for me.
John: Yeah, it’s just easy to remember. It’s easy to remember, but now I do the rapid-fire questions upfront. So, I’ve got seven, probably questions I should’ve asked you the first time but didn’t. First one, if you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
Tony: Game of Thrones. I’ve never seen a moment of Harry Potter yet, so this is almost by default.
John: Okay, okay. This is a tricky one, oceans or mountains.
Tony: Well, we’ll get into this, but I got to put my answer right down the middle. I love them both, equally.
John: Okay, fair enough, fair enough. How about a favorite cereal even when you were a kid?
Tony: I’m a Captain Crunch guy, through and through, as what Americans should be.
John: Right, right. I think the red blood is at the roof of your mouth when you eat Captain Crunch. That’s the… Okay, this is a tricky one too, suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt.
Tony: You know, I’ve gone back and forth in my career through this, but I’ve been gravitating to a suit and tie lately, so I’m going to pick that.
John: Yeah, because when we hung out in Denver at the conference last year, you were looking dapper, man.
Tony: I did.
John: Nice suit. All right, this is a good one, East Coast guy, a good hamburger or a good pizza.
Tony: Good pizza.
John: Yeah. Two more, favorite Disney character.
Tony: You know, that’s interesting. I don’t know if anyone’s given you this response before, and I’ll probably take some heat for this, but I’ve always been a fan of Aladdin. When I say Aladdin, I mean, actual Aladdin and not the genie from Aladdin.
John: Chris Ekimoff just gave me Aladdin, actually, just a couple weeks ago, because he was wearing — he likes the vest, and he was wearing a fleece vest at the time. It was just — yeah, but Aladdin, that’s a solid answer, man. It’s a great story and good music. Yeah. That’s a great character. All right, the last one, this one may be the most important one. Toilet paper roll, over or under.
Tony: Well, with my two kids, I would just be happy with either. As soon as I’ve trained them to start using toilet paper then we’re heading in the right direction. For me, it’s overhand or it’s nothing.
John: Right, right. There you go. There you go. Well, yeah, like you said, Episode 100, God bless you for being on that early. We talked mountain biking. We talked — I mean, that skiing where you hike up and you’re the only one that’s ever been down this trail of skiing. Is that still stuff that you’re actively doing?
Tony: It is. I stopped racing professionally, cross-country mountain biking, in 2018, and probably for reasons that will come full circle in our conversation today. I really burned myself out. I was 43 years old, racing against 23-year-olds, and it took a real toll on me, physically, for obvious reasons.
I had worked so hard towards a goal, and this is something I’m sure your listeners can connect with on a variety of levels, but I’ve worked so hard towards a goal that eventually, someday, you look up and say, I’m not sure this even makes me happy anymore. My body’s taking a beating, but I enjoyed it. I liked being good at something but, at some point, you got to move onto the next thing.
I still ride all the time when I’m in Colorado, which is most of the year, but it’s still not quite a bit. Once or twice a year, I’ll pop into a race just to get the blood flowing again. I still backcountry ski quite a bit, although my forever favorite backcountry ski partner, my yellow Lab, Macy, is now 13, so she can’t be my partner anymore. That definitely drains some of my enthusiasm for the sport.
Yeah, so I am still just as passionate about those things, but going back to your your rapid-fire question, oceans or mountains. Just through a twist of fate in my life at this point, the way things are going for me is I spend the school years in Aspen and then I spend the summers with my wife and kids on the Jersey Shore. I’m sitting there, right now, about a block and a half from the ocean. I am just as passionate about playing in the ocean as I am in the mountains.
I do some selfish things. I surf quite a bit. I swim in the ocean. We’ll get into this, but I have a long connection with the ocean lifeguards in this township, a little town called Surf City. I lifeguarded for a long time. There’s been a Nitti on the Surf City Beach Patrol for, I think, since the mid ‘80s, from my brothers, to me, to my niece, so, yeah, we’ve got a long history down here.
What I do now that, honestly, I think brings me more joy than probably any of the outdoor pursuits I’ve had is, every morning, I get up early, and I go out and coach the next generation of ocean lifeguards. We have what’s called a Lifeguard-In-Training Program here in Surf City, and we’ve got 30 10-to-15-year-old kids that, every morning, go out there. We put them through the ropes and learn how to make rescue, do CPR and read riptides and use a paddle board, and it’s so freaking fun.
John: That’s awesome.
Tony: It certainly keeps you fit, but just the kids, the energy of being around kids and how stoked they get when they figure something out or something clicks for them, it’s just the greatest feeling in the world. It doesn’t hurt that my 11-year-old boy, Ryan, is in the program, right? It’s more time I get to spend with him.
There are a few things, John, that’ll keep you feeling balanced and young and waking up in the morning, throwing some zinc oxide on your nose and being an idiot and going out, playing in the ocean for a couple hours and teaching the kids how to ride waves on their knees on paddle boards and stuff like that. It’s just so incredibly fun.
I don’t know how I got to this point. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I am in a great place where, whether I’m at 8,000 feet in Aspen or at sea level here in New Jersey, I’ve got a lot of things around me that keeps me super balanced and fulfilled and really happy again.
John: And can bring you energy. The ocean itself, and the mountains, nature is so powerful to just be around and just be grateful for being alive and what you have, type of thing. That’s cool.
Tony: It is, man. It sounds a little hokey, but like this morning’s round, I’m out there on my surfboard by myself in the morning and a pod of dolphins will swing by. You’re like, this is pretty damn cool.
John: Right, totally.
Tony: Today, I was out there, and seven pelicans dive-bombed and started swooping up some bunkers that were swimming near by me. It’s just like, yeah, that type of being immersed in nature is what I love. It’s what I love about the ocean, and I’m just super grateful to have both.
John: That’s awesome, man. Yeah, at any point, do you go, “Hasselhoff has nothing on me”? At any point, were you —
Tony: Yeah, for a couple hours down, full Hasselhoff right now. My son is mortified, but part of coaching the program is to keep it light and make the kids happy, so, yeah. Like I said, I’m the one with the zinc on the nose and under the eye. I’m the one teaching the kids in a moment of levity that, look, nobody’s going to remember the rescue, but they’re going to remember is how good your hair looked when you exited the water.
Always make sure you keep it tight. My son spends half the time, mortified by it, but I’ve got a long time, making rescues on the beach. Like I said, I know what’s really important, and what’s important is how the sun glistens off your shaved chest as you run down the beach to save them.
John: Right. Different angle, I got to go back, hold on.
Tony: Hold on a minute, let’s do that again.
John: Are you really drowning or just kind of? Because I got to go — hold on. That’s awesome, man. That’s really cool, really cool. Especially now, with everything that’s happening in your world, the tax world, there’s extended tax deadlines, people working from home or kind of, whatever, trying to hold it together. How important do you think it is these hobbies and passions are to sanity?
Tony: It’s really cool that you asked that because when you and I talked a couple years ago now, we were focused on really, in an industry where I am, public accounting, tax law, and an industry where, sometimes, having balance or being well-rounded is almost viewed as a detriment to career growth. We were talking about how, no, no, no, we shouldn’t be looking at it that way. Having balance, having outside interest, they should help you in your job. They should help you at your firm. They should help you attract clients and maintain clients because people see you’re a real human being.
None of those things have stopped being important. They’re all important, but right now, I think you nailed it. I think, right now, we need to have balance. We need to find things we’re passionate about because if we don’t, we’re going to crack. I just mean mentally forget what it does for your firm, forget what it does for your clients, what it does for you because what I’m seeing right now around the industry is a historic and apocalyptic level of burnout. It’s completely justified, John, when you think about it.
Let’s think about the last few months. We started busy season in the end of January, thinking it’s just going to be like any other busy season. We’re going to crank out returns for three months, but then it’s going to be over, and we’ll get a nice long break. Then March comes around, and tax season gets delayed ‘til July 15th where, hey, maybe an outsider looks at that and says, okay, well, the tax industry got to shut down from March until July. That’s the exact opposite of what happened.
The reason tax season got delayed, obviously, is because of a global pandemic. That global pandemic caused a lot of legislation to be passed here in the US, and a lot of that legislation is driven by the tax law. So, yeah, our tax returns that we had to file weren’t due right around the corner, but all of a sudden, we had to grasp 800-page pieces of legislation —
Tony: — sometimes in a matter of days to make sense of it before clients started knocking down the door to say, “What does this mean to me?” So, I will tell you that I went through a one month stretch from the middle of March to the middle of April where, quite honestly, I worked more hours than I had any point since I was a 22-year-old kid working for Arthur Andersen, right?
Tony: It was insane. Then when that kind of, sort of lessens up about a month ago, you go, wait a minute. Now that July 15th deadline has come home to roost. So, pour back into that and then as soon as July 15th is done, the extended deadline is only 60 days away, so it’s not like we get any reprieve.
We have been, as an industry, in this extended mode of fight or flight. We’re busy, we’re busy, we’ve got to figure this out, we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to figure — there has been zero downtime for most tax professionals since the end of January, and it’s really hard to maintain that kind of pace.
John: Totally. It’s like layers on top of layers because not only is there that work part, but then there’s just a hectic, helter-skelter — everyone has to work from home now, but you’re not working from home alone because your spouse is working from home. Your kids are home-schooled. It’s just layer upon layer of just added difficulty, I guess, and so hard.
Tony: Let’s think about that. I would argue that the extended tax season, the workload that I just explained, yeah, that’s tough, don’t get me wrong, but, as you said, it’s a perfect storm where we have that sense of obligation and constant pressure, coupled with this new reality of working from home. Okay, working from home, I’ve been working remotely since 2006. I’m no stranger to working remotely, but as soon as the whole industry went remote in March, I was on a podcast, Damien Martin, Simply Tax.
John: He’s been on the show. He’s amazing jazz pianist.
Tony: I know.
John: Amazing jazz pianist.
Tony: I think he’s a Music major undergrad.
Tony: We were talking about what to expect and I — listen, my long and glorious history as a sports bettor will prove that I have no skills at prognostication. This particular one, I got right, John. I nailed it. I said, “Damien, people got to be careful what they wish for.” Everyone likes the idea of working remotely, but here’s what happens.
When you work remotely and everyone at your firm worked remotely, trust me, it doesn’t take long. What happens is there ceases to be any delineation between when your workday starts, when it ends; or even when your workweek starts and when it ends, because what happens is everybody’s going to choose the periods of work that’s best for them.
Maybe for you, it’s 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Okay, great. You work diligently during that time, but your coworkers and your team, their best time is from 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. They’re going to work that time. So, you shut down your day, so to speak, but now you start getting pinged with emails, left and right. If you ignore those emails, you wake up the next morning to start your day, and you feel behind before the day even starts. You’re overwhelmed with emails.
Over time, you’ve got to remember, obviously, we didn’t suddenly go to remote working because the industry of public accounting had an epiphany and thought it was the way to go. We did it because there’s a global pandemic, and nobody left their house for three months. Well, when nobody leaves their house, what happens? Again, everybody chooses the workday, the workweek that’s best for them, and they have an expectation that, hey, I’m housebound, so you must be housebound.
This really happened to me. Someone will ping me on a Sunday night at 7:00 and say, “Can we jump on a call?” Now, that would never happen in the normal tax season, right? Normal tax season is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but when you walk out the door at 8:00 at night, 9:00 at night, you can pretty much well trust that you’ll be left alone. Sundays, you can more or less trust that you’ll be left alone.
Reality is everybody kind of accepted pretty quickly in the pandemic that days don’t matter anymore. How is Sunday afternoon any different than Tuesday morning? So, all of a sudden, I’m doing conference calls on Sunday nights and at 7 am and whatever it may be. I made this kind of joke with Damien, and it totally came to fruition where everyone goes remotely. What will happen to the Accounting industry is that basically we’ll be like 7-11. We won’t always be doing business, individually, but you’ll always be open. You’ll always feel like, I can never shut down. I can never know that my workday is over. I can never know that, oh, I’ve got some time to myself.
That, when you take that, when you talk about a heightened fight-or-flight instinct, like I said, when you don’t know when your workweek starts or your workweek ends or your day starts or your day ends, you are constantly in a state of just, anxiety, expectation. What is going to be asked of me next? When do I get to sneak away? It’s too much, man. It’s too much to handle.
I referenced earlier in our conversation here that I eventually worked so hard at trying to be a mountain bike racer that I lost the joy for it and burned out. I just think that as an industry, right now, with what we’re dealing with, the combination, the perfect storm of a seven-month extended tax season, coupled with this new reality of working from home and never knowing when it’s okay to relax and shut it down because your next email is always right around the corner or your next Zoom meeting is right around the corner; I think around the industry, we are going to see, as I said, historic levels of burnout if people can’t take the one real positive of working remotely.
Why did people long to work remotely? So they could embrace what they’re passionate about. They could have flexibility. So, people have to, I mean, have to make it a priority to say, “I understand that there’s no delineation anymore, but I’m going to carve out the time that I need in my day to do whatever it is that makes my soul flourish.” Because if you don’t, if you don’t, like I said, people are going to just wane out of this industry because you can only answer so many PPP loan questions —
Tony: — peruse the SBA website and try to keep up with new guidance from the IRS. It’s too much to ask.
John: You’re totally right. Actually, a study that I have in my book, from Duke University, talks about how people that have more dimensions to their life are less prone to anxiety and depression because it’s not all one thing. So, if you have these other things then — and I think leaders of companies and firms need to allow their people to have time or even explicitly say, “You have to take time to do this,” because, yeah, mentally, you’re going to burnout.
Tony: Well, I’ll make a confession. I am someone who’s very prone to anxiety and that self-imposed pressure that I think a lot of people in the industry feel. When you take someone that’s predisposed to those things and put them in the environment, like we’ve had for the last four or five months, it’s a dangerous cocktail because, again, for me, I feel the weight of expectation at all times. Oh, my God, did something get announced today by the SBA or the IRS that I should be writing about or that I should be communicating to my firm or I should be preparing to teach about? It weighs on you because, again, you feel like you’re in a 24-hour cycle of work, and that’s too much for anybody to reasonably sustain for a period of time.
So, I really needed what I was handed recently which is, again, to switch gears, leave the mountains, come to the ocean and hit the reset button and just put something back into my life that was as far removed from PPP loans as you can get. Quite frankly, teaching 12-year-olds how to body surf is probably about as far as you can get from that stuff. It’s a small part of my day, but it allows me to approach the rest of my day with the type of motivation that I would like to. Whereas, I was heading down a dangerous path in March, April, May, of, again, the weight of expectation and pressure just becoming too much.
John: No, that’s awesome to hear. That’s awesome to hear. Plus, you grew up in that area, so that’s just a cool thing. That’s a really cool thing. Well, this has been really powerful, Tony. I hope that people listening understand, before, yeah, hobbies, passions, whatever, it’s really, really crucial. It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.
Tony: Now, more than ever. I know we said that, but I just want to stress it one more time. We’re working remotely. It may be the new normal for a while. I know that working remotely can feel, like I said, like it’s a 24-hour cycle and you can never just escape, but it is the one positive of remote working is that given a 24-hour day, there’s no reason you can’t find an hour two to go do what you need to do to unplug and just, again, disconnect from what we do all day and find something the polar opposite that just makes you feel alive and revitalized and go do it. Because if you don’t, it’s not sustainable. You’re not going to last.
I’m living proof of that, John. We’ve joked about this in the past. I haven’t burned out in the industry yet. I’ve come dangerously close a couple times. I’ve taken on athletic pursuits and things like that in my life where I have started out loving them and then got so singularly focused and obsessed with them that I grew to hate them and burned out and quit. I just see people right now all around the industry, and I’m one of them, being forced to be so singularly focused and so, again, so constant in fight-or-flight mode about the job and the performance and what’s expected of them that the same possibility exists that they just grow to hate what they do every day. Nobody wants that.
John: Nobody wants that. Engagement goes down, people start to become completely not even attached to the job and just leave, leave the profession, which is terrible. I think this applies to so many other professions as well, lawyers and engineers. Maybe the tax season is an added bonus, but all of them are — I mean, it’s a lot on a human being to have to handle.
This is great, Tony. It’s only fair that I allow you to rapid-fire question me, if you would like, since I so rudely started peppering you in the beginning. So, if you have two or three questions you want to ask, it’s now the Tony Nitti Show, here we go.
Tony: Okay, I’m going to give you a couple of yes-or-no questions, and I’m genuinely interested. Ready? Come fall, will there be NFL football?
John: Maybe. This is my prognostication, my Nostradamus moment.
John: Yeah, I think there will be.
Tony: Will there be Division One — well, they don’t call it Division One anymore — FBS, college football?
John: College football, there better be, yes. Because if not, that’s where I start to lose my mind. That’s mine. The bad thing about that is if college football doesn’t happen, there’s not money for all the other sports the rest of the year.
Tony: Those are the two questions — I know you’re a big Notre Dame fan — those questions that my brother and I kick around every single day because we just can’t imagine the reality of fall without football. That’s a very real prospect right now. It’s just hard to envision a scenario where 90,000 people are packed into the University of Michigan State.
John: Well, first of all, that’s a terrible example. No, I’m just teasing just as a Notre Dame fan. I think that there will be reduced attendance at the stadium, like maybe a quarter capacity. I do think that as long as the games are happening, then at least there’s some semblance of normalcy.
Tony: Do you think there’s any scenario where fall football is pushed to spring?
John: I did read that. Yeah, I think there is a scenario where that could be. Yeah, I don’t know. That’ll be weird just because now there are two football seasons, six months apart. Then the draft, with the combine, is right after the season. Kids get injured then they just lost tens of millions of dollars, and maybe they just don’t play then. It’s weird. It’s a weird thing. Or maybe they find a treatment, and we can all just go back.
Tony: That would be lovely, definitely. Trust me, I want more than anything for football to be back. One thing I do find really fascinating is if this season, college season didn’t happen at all, what that would do to the NFL draft next year. These teams would be forced to draft on two years old information. That’s confrontation for another day, Mr. Garrett.
John: That’s awesome. Well, thanks so much, Tony, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? It’s so much fun.
Tony: All right. Thanks, John. I’ll see you on Episode 500.
John: Awesome, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Tony in action or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.
Greg is a CEO & Mountain Biker
Greg is a past Chairman of the AICPA, is a founding partner of ACM LLP a member firm of BDO Alliance USA and has helped lead ACM in becoming a premier CPA firm in the Rocky Mountain Region having been named a “Fastest Growing Private Company” and a “Best Company to Work For”.
Greg talks about his passion for mountain biking and skiing and how he integrates these passions into his professional life. He also talks about why it can be easier to default to a ‘technical mode’ in the office and how his early learning difficulties helped him develop the ability to establish relationships!
• Getting into mountain biking
• Integrating work and his passions
• Learning vulnerability
• Why ‘technical mode’ is default at work
• Developing relationships at an early age
• How ACM LLP advertises what they do outside of the office
• The Enrichment Cycle
• It’s okay to tell people what you aren’t good at
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
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Skiing Telluride with my two sons
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Welcome to Episode 225 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and, they’re an accountant and something else or a lawyer and something else, those things above and beyond their technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know about my book being published very soon. It will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check it out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it.
Please don’t forget to hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Greg Anton. He’s the Chairman and CEO at ACM LLP and the past Chairman of the AICPA. Now he’s with me here today.
Greg, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Greg: My pleasure.
John: Oh, this is going to be awesome. I’m so excited.
Greg: I’m looking forward to it as well.
John: Very cool. So you know the drill. We start out with 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate.
Greg: I thought it was 16.
John: Just for you, a bonus.
Greg: Let’s do it.
John: Extra Point. All right, here we go. I’ll start out with an easy one, favorite color?
John: Blue, okay. How about a least favorite color?
John: Oh, that’s a solid answer. How about — you fly a lot — window or aisle seat?
John: Aisle. Nice. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Greg: Favorite actor, favorite actress, probably not either.
John: You just like them all?
Greg: I like them all.
John: Okay, all right. All right. Fair enough. Have more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Greg: Jeans and a t-shirt.
John: Oh, nice. Okay, okay. Pens or pencils?
John: Neither. Okay. All right. You use hieroglyphics. What do you, carve it in stone?
Greg: Carve it in stone, yeah. Rock and chisel.
John: There you go. With puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
John: Okay. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Greg: Star Trek.
John: Okay, PC or a Mac?
John: PC, there it is. And your mouse, right click or left click?
Greg: It depends.
John: It depends. That’s the accountant answer.
Greg: I always get the right click and the left click confused, so I just go back and forth.
John: There you go. Fair enough. Okay. Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Greg: It has to be Mickey Mouse.
John: Yeah, classic. Okay, as the accountant, I have to ask you, more balance sheet or income statement?
Greg: I’m probably a balance sheet guy.
John: Okay. Okay. How about do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Greg: Oh, man, I had a lot of movies that have made me cry.
John: Me too, man. Is there one in particular?
Greg: There’s just been so many. I can’t limit it to one.
John: Okay, okay. For me, it’s Rudy. If I just hear the music, I start crying. I don’t even see the movie. All right, prefer more hot or cold?
Greg: More hot.
John: More hot, okay. Three more. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Nice. And why is that?
Greg: I don’t know.
John: Yeah, it’s the most popular answer. It’s mine too. It was my soccer number in high school.
Greg: It’s supposed to be a lucky number. It’s John Elway’s number which I don’t know if I should like it or not.
John: Fair enough. This is an important one, toilet paper, roll over or under?
Greg: Definitely, over.
John: Definitely. Okay. All right. Last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Greg: Probably my mountain bike.
Greg: Yeah, I would say as far as own.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, just in case your wife’s listening, yeah, clearly, she’s not in that category.
Greg: Definitely not.
John: So this is so much fun, just being in the office live at ACM, really cool office space, actually. But before we get into that funness, your favorite thing being the mountain bike that leads right into the mountain biking that you do, which is great. So have you been doing that all your life, or is it something that you got into later?
Greg: You know, I first started biking very, very early in life. As a toddler, I loved to bike. It always stayed with me. In the winters, I’ve always enjoyed skiing. In the summers, I’ve always enjoyed biking. But mountain biking has really become my most significant passion, doing it throughout the winter and the summer, including having a snow bike for riding in the mountains over snow. It’s an awesome activity and I really, really enjoy it.
John: Yeah. And the snow biking, what is that? Is that different tires or a different bike altogether?
Greg: Different bike altogether, different tires. It’s a lighter bike, no suspension and five-inch tires that inflate to about three to four pounds. So it’s almost like a dune buggy type tire on a bike, which is kind of interesting. When you fall, it’s a lot less severe when you fall into puff of snow rather than a rock or a tree stone.
John: It’s almost fun.
Greg: It’s almost fun. You fall into a snow angel.
Greg: Although I was riding this weekend, and I fell on Sunday and it didn’t feel much like a snow angel when I hit the rock in the tree.
John: I can imagine, but that’s actually a good parallel to work, I imagine. Every once in a while you land on this like a snow angel, and every once in a while you hit the tree.
Greg: Yeah, I think that that’s true. There’s a lot of metaphors in life’s activities, in all activities that I think you can relate to work. Personally, I’ve always advocated for work-life integration. We hear often about work-life balance. It’s really difficult to create balance if you sleep for eight hours and your work for eight hours, and there’s only 24 hours in a day. Where do you get the balance? And if you can integrate and do the things that you love to do and connect them with work, I think it really optimizes both.
John: Yeah, no, I agree totally. And is there a way that you’ve been able to connect the mountain biking to work?
Greg: Yeah. I think my passions, as I mentioned, skiing and mountain biking, they’re both great ways to connect work activities, including inviting clients, inviting colleagues, inviting coworkers. They’re both great activities where you get to spend a lot of quality time speaking to one another, talking with one another, as well as enjoying the activity of biking. It’s a great experience. The more you get out and the more you meet people, the more opportunities you have to meet additional people and connect with others’ lives. So I think it’s really kind of cool.
John: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. It sounds like golfing just with less swearing.
Greg: Golfing with a lot more physical fitness.
John: Right. There you go. No, that’s awesome, though. That’s so cool how it also just humanizes you, especially in your position as CEO and past Chair of the AICPA. I mean, that can be intimidating to people, and it’s just Greg. He’s just a regular guy. He likes to mountain bike and ski and do normal things like a lot of people here in Colorado.
Greg: Yeah, I think, ultimately, the more you can allow people into your life and it doesn’t have to be into the personal trenches, but the more you can allow people into your life, the greater they have visibility into who you are as a person. It helps align the culture of the organization. It keeps individuals grounded as it relates to who you are. Most people aren’t big, scary people; they’re people. And it’s a lot easier to get to know people if you are willing to invite them into what it is that you enjoy.
John: Yeah. No, that’s awesome because I remember when I first started and I was in Big Four, I just imagined that these partners were almost like Greek gods, like they knew everything. They were infallible. They just were these perfect individuals. I think that sometimes we forget that other people are putting this stigma on us. And so I love how you say it’s inviting people in, and it’s really easy to invite them in with those passions that you have.
Greg: And they have a similar interest, and it makes you and the individuals that have similar interests very relatable to one another. What your stature is, as far as your chronological age or your title in a business, really goes out the window when you’re on the side of a mountain on two wheels hoping that you don’t end up on your backside on the mountain.
John: Right, or even when you do end up on your backside, then it’s definitely out the window.
John: That’s huge. And would you say that either the skiing or the mountain biking or both gives you a skill that you’re able to bring to your career?
Greg: Not specifying either to skiing or biking, but the more you’re willing to open up, as we talked about earlier, I think it creates the opportunity for you to learn vulnerability. At the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to do the best we can for one another. And if you can create trust, vulnerability, relationships, and build on those, there’s a common core usually to trust relationships and often is in things that you find in one another that are similar. I think that working with individuals, whether its clients, companies, colleagues, other businesses, it really, really opens up the flow of opportunity to work with one another when you’re truly open. And I really believe that the more exposure you have to non-work stuff allows you to create a more open dialogue and create more trust, which goes a long way when you’re in the business of accounting and ultimately a trust provider.
John: Yeah, no, absolutely, because I think that so many of us our default mode is to lean on that technical expertise, firms or even just all professions really, that’s your go-to is this is what we do, we do it faster. That’s just a race to the bottom really because another person will come along for $100 less, and then you lost a client without developing that real sticky relationship, if you will.
Greg: The reality is the technical expertise that we all have and deliver is ultimately what’s expected. When you go to a professional service provider and you’re willing to write them a check for the service, it’s an expectation that they’re going to have the knowledge, the ability to get you the solution that is best for you. It’s all those other things that keep the relationship going, like really knowing one another, really being there to help that person when it’s something that really isn’t directly out of a tax code or an accounting book. It really is more relationship based. It becomes institutionalized when you work with somebody outside of just that technical expertise. And then you’re moving out of what’s expected to providing real value for an individual in their life.
John: No, I agree totally. This is awesome. And why do you think it is that our default mode is the exact opposite of that?
Greg: I think the default mode and getting into the textbook mode is the easy mode. It’s what we know. We know how to be technical experts. It’s easy to create a technical expert answer and build relationships around that, but the reality is those relationships are pretty surface relationships.
John: Yeah, absolutely. And were you always this way, or did you come about it with more confidence or age, I guess, I don’t know, experience?
Greg: You know, I have a little bit of an interesting background. I struggled as a kid with learning. I have severe dyslexia.
John: Oh, wow.
Greg: And I always struggled in the classroom. And so that technical expertise to me was something that I had to work really, really hard at. And to me, building the relationships and building the trust and building the nontechnical relationship always came easy to me at an early age because I think of the learning challenges that existed. Ultimately, the learning challenges became an absolute opportunity and just allowed me to learn differently and to operate in a different way. So I think it came early in life.
John: Yeah, yeah, that’s so interesting how for so many of us, I find that our vulnerabilities actually turn out to be strengths.
Greg: That’s absolutely true.
John: And in this case, it’s early on and more extreme where a lot of people view their outside-of-work hobbies or I have other interests as being a vulnerability, but that’s your strength. That’s the only thing you can really differentiate yourself with.
Greg: One of the things that I think is key, particularly in professional services and public accounting in particular, it’s very demanding. We sell time for money. And when you sell time for money, time becomes very, very, very valuable and a scarce resource. We often don’t advertise what it is we love to do outside of the office. In our firm, it’s completely different. If you look at our website, we advertise it. On our website, I’m sitting on a mountain bike in a picture in a sport coat, and it’s promoted. We love it, and it is very much what Colorado was all about. But at the end of the day, if you’re not willing to be open and share what it is that you love and what your passions are, it becomes a very shallow surface world that we live in. I think we do that intentionally, so we can help create visibility into who we are as individuals in the culture of the firm overall.
John: Yeah, yeah. And it’s all the partner headshots or director and up headshots?
Greg: All the directors and partners, they have a headshot. But if you go down into their bio, there’s a picture of them connected to what it is that they love, what their and is.
John: Right, exactly. It’s really cool, actually. Do you find that clients gravitate towards that, or they at least can see a personality behind the person?
Greg: Yeah, I think so. I often hear the people that are looking at your website, it’s either your parents, your kids, or somebody you know really well, or a prospect that’s potentially looking to use your services. I often hear when we’re in prospect calls and meeting with new referral sources that have recently looked at our website, they’ll talk about, wow, that’s really cool. The pictures that you have makes it really relatable.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Because I think sometimes we forget is that clients also like to ride mountain bikes or play guitar or do arts or volunteer at a mission or whatever their thing is. And so they stumble across that. It’s like, oh, now we’re friends.
Greg: That’s me.
John: Right, exactly. Do you feel like it’s mostly on the tone at the top sort of thing, on the organization to create that culture, or is it on an individual to maybe create that small circle in their little group or to be that source of change?
Greg: I think it takes both. I really refer to it as the enrichment cycle. The more opportunities people have to do what it is they do well and what they like to do and if you can support individuals in doing what they do well and what they like to do, they’re going to be more successful. I think we promote that as a firm, but we also talk about that when we’re interviewing and what our environment looks like.
So when I say the enrichment cycle, it kind of self-perpetuates. We are who we are. We describe who we are. We’re understood to be who we are. And as a result of that, individuals that have similar desires, similar interests that love to do something or willing to share that with others, they gravitate culturally to our firm, and then it just becomes an enrichment cycle. We’re enriching each other. It’s top down, bottom up. I think that leaders can lead, but at the end of the day, you’re much better off having individuals that have an opportunity to do what they love, do what they do well. And it’s much easier to lead individuals that are in that space rather than doing things that they don’t like and that they don’t do well. It’s really hard to lead in that circumstance.
John: Yeah, that’s nearly impossible. Yet there are so many companies and firms and, I mean, across all professions that just, hey, you should be happy to be here. It’s like, well, no, not really. You’re not maximizing the talent that you have. That’s what I found from interviewing so many people on this podcast is that I think how we define expertise is so narrow because there are skills that you’re getting from the skiing and the mountain biking that you bring to your job that if no one cared or asked or you didn’t share it, imagine you had a potential client that made skis. Well, you should probably be the guy to work on that because you’d be so jacked up to go to work at that client every day or whatever you had to go there.
Greg: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to the extent that you can connect people not only in the workplace with what they enjoy but it’s exactly that. It’s also what are the types of people and clients that you would like to work with and aligning that, it’s critical.
John: Yeah, absolutely, or maybe the passion doesn’t align with the business, but maybe the person, the contact at the business, has similar passions or something like that. I think that that’s some next level things that you guys do really well which I think is fantastic. I guess, do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that might think, well, I like mountain biking or skiing but that has nothing to do with my profession, so I’m just going to keep it to myself?
Greg: I think that it’s important to share with individuals — two things. One, you’ve got to share with individuals what it is that you do well, and you also have to be vulnerable and let people know what it is that you don’t do well and what you don’t want to do. Most people are very comfortable sharing with individuals, this is what I love to do, this is what I want to work on. It’s less comfortable for people to say, this is what I’m really not very good at, and please don’t allocate these types of things to me. What’s important is for you to learn who else is out there that is the opposite. You may find from talking to people that, oh, I don’t personally do this well, but the woman sitting next to me does that incredibly well. I need to make sure that she knows what I do well and she knows what I do well, vice versa, and share with one another. If organizations can structure and build around that premise, the individuals in the organization and the organization itself will be much stronger.
So I think that’s probably some of the best advice that I got along the way is it’s okay to let people know what you don’t do well, so you aren’t allocated and stuck doing those things. It’s critical.
John: I remember when I was new, I said I’m not good at anything. They’re like, “Clearly, we already knew that.” No, but that is such a huge thing. I think that people can appreciate that. I guess that it’s just we’re scared to admit, hey, like I mean taxes. I don’t even do my own no. I don’t even know, I’m no idea. It’s good to be able to just admit that. But from a leadership perspective, you should also embrace that rather than be like, “Oh, well, then you’re fired” type of concept.
Greg: A handful of life lessons that I’ve learned. One is, if you’re not willing to try and fail, you’ll never have the opportunity to succeed. So you shouldn’t just give up on things and not do them because you’re afraid, but you should do things to learn. And if you learn that you’re not comfortable with it, you don’t like it, there’s other things that you have a greater aptitude for, then it’s that try and fail. That try and fail helps you experiment with what will work and what won’t. So you can’t just always deflect. No, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. I can’t do it. You got to try and fail. You got to understand and learn and grow through those opportunities. Ultimately, success comes from getting back up. Going back to the mountain biking scenario, I’ve fallen, crashed.
John: I can see the scratches all over your arm right now. You’re legit, man.
Greg: Yeah, unfortunately, it happened on Sunday. It hasn’t happened for a few years, but it’s the same reality. It’s very relatable. You’ll never have an opportunity to achieve ultimate success if you do nothing. That’s all there is to it. So you have to do something, you have to try, and that will give you the opportunity. If you got to fail, fail fast. If you got to fall, fall soft. That’s what I will tell you.
John: There you go. There you go. I love it, man. I love it. Well, before we wrap this up, since I started out rapid-fire questioning you, it’s only fair — and I’m not going to lie, this is the most nervous I’ve ever been for this part — Greg Anton rapid-fire questioning me whatever he wants to ask and the grin on his face right now, if everyone could see it.
Greg: Thankfully, I looked at this a couple minutes before we got together, so I’ve got some serious preparation. So let’s go with this.
John: Okay, here we go.
Greg: Stream or brook?
John: Oh, that’s a trick question there. That’s a play on words. I like it. I’ll go brook.
Greg: River or brook?
John: Will go brook again.
Greg: Brook trout or rainbow trout?
John: Will go brook trout. I don’t even know if that’s a thing.
Greg: John, I’m glad you’re laughing, and Brooke is going to be very proud of your answer.
John: Right, right, exactly. Thanks so much, Greg, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was fantastic.
Greg: My pleasure.
John: Yeah, and everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Greg out on the mountain or maybe connect with them on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
So thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.