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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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.