Scott is a COO & Volunteer
Scott Orn talks about his passion for running and moderating his non-profit “Ben’s Friends”, which was started for a friend who had a rare brain aneurysm and serves the need of expanding a network of other affected by it! Scott also talks about how he got this group started, what it provides, and how it has affected his life in the office!
• Starting “Ben’s Friends”
• What “Ben’s Friends” provides
• How his work in the non-profit translates to his work in the office
• Having support from colleagues
• Relating to entrepreneurs
• How Kruze Consulting encourages sharing outside interests
• How organizations should make space for a desired culture
• Help save your team from themselves
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Welcome to Episode 317 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and 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 another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book is published. That’s right. It came out last week, so check 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, and getting the book to help spread that message. It’s just beyond amazing to me. Thank you so much.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Scott Orn. He’s the COO of Kruze Consulting in the San Francisco office, and now he’s with me here today. Scott, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Scott: Hey, John, thanks so much. I’m really looking forward to this. Before you even turned the mikes on, we had a great conversation, so I’m really excited to be here.
John: Exactly. I feel like we should have just recorded that and then we’d be done by now, but I didn’t. Because you’d think I’d learned something in the first 316 episodes but nope. So, here we go, rapid-fire questions, get to know Scott right out of the gate. All right, here we go. Favorite color.
Scott: Favorite color, blue and gold.
John: Blue and… Oh, look at you sucking up already. All right, yeah. How about a least favorite color?
Scott: Definitely Red.
John: Red, yeah. No, I agree. I agree. How about pens or pencils?
Scott: Definitely a pen. I like a good blue pen.
John: Okay, no mistakes. I like that. I like that.
Scott: I guess that corresponds with my favorite color. I never thought about that before.
John: Yeah, I was like, oh, you’re really riding it out. I like that. If you had to choose, Star Wars or Star Trek.
Scott: Star Wars, 100X.
John: Yeah. How about your computer, PC or a Mac?
John: PC. Yeah, me too. How about your mouse then, right click or left click?
Scott: I think I’m left click, but I have one of those crazy ergonomic mouses, which may be more interesting.
John: Right, like with the ball thing and the…
Scott: Yeah, it’s the production.
John: It’s like you’re playing a video game with Excel. Maybe cooler, never mind. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Scott: How about kid puzzles? Because my daughter’s two-and-a-half and it’s like, my wife is obsessed about puzzles, my mother’s obsessed about puzzles, and my daughter inherited all those traits. So, those are the kind of puzzles I do.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. All right, all right, that works. How about a favorite adult beverage? If you use your daughter for this, I’m going to ask some more questions.
Scott: But I love kombucha now. My wife got me hooked on, what it’s called, it’s Sun Goddess. It’s incredible kombucha that’s made in California, the Bay Area. Good Eggs sells it, if you can use Good Eggs, but that’s my new choice.
John: That’s awesome. Okay, all right. How about, balance sheet or income statement?
Scott: Balance sheet.
John: Balance sheet. Okay. All right. Oceans or mountains.
John: Ocean. All right. Yeah, California, that makes sense. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Scott: You know what we’ve been doing lately? We just started watching all of Tom Hanks’ movies. We’re like, that guy makes good movies. Let’s just watch all his stuff.
Scott: I will say he’s probably my favorite right now.
John: Yeah, yeah. Plus, there’s so many. You’re like, I forgot about that one and that one and, what? Yeah, it’s amazing. How about suit and tie or jeans and a T shirt?
Scott: Jeans and a T shirt. I usually wear like a little of a button-up, but I wear jeans pretty much every day.
John: Yeah, there you go. There you go. How about a favorite sports team?
Scott: I would have to say the Warriors, Golden State Warriors.
John: Okay. Yeah, they were so good for a while and, yeah, really fun.
Scott: Yeah. It’s been like watching Picasso paint every game. They’re so good. They’re just amazing.
John: That’s for sure. How about a favorite number?
Scott: 16, Joe Montana’s jersey.
John: There you go. Two for two on the Notre Dame references. I like this.
Scott: For those who don’t know, Joe Montana went to college at Notre Dame and then he went and won four Super Bowls with 49ers.
John: Right, exactly. How about, my book just came out, so Kindle or real books?
Scott: Definitely Kindle, I love Kindle.
John: There you go. Two more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Scott: Early Bird. I wake up — today I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and worked out and then goofed around the computer and then played around with my daughter, made her breakfast.
John: Oh, wow, 5:00 a.m. Yeah. I thought you were going to say worked out and then went back to sleep because that’s what I would have done. I was like, holy crap, that’s early. Last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Scott: I would say — well, we’re going to talk about some stuff I like to do, but my favorite — I’m not a millennial, but I do like experiences more than actual items. I would say my favorite thing is being on a plane flying to Hawaii because I know I’m going to have a great vacation and a great time when I get there.
John: All right, that works. The experiences, I like that, yeah. All right, that’s awesome. Let’s talk Ben’s Friends, sounds like such a cool organization. How did that start?
Scott: Yeah. So Ben’s Friends is a patient’s support community for people with rare diseases. It all came about, I was in business school at Kellogg at Northwestern, and one of my good buddies, Ben Munoz, had a rare brain aneurysm. It just came out of nowhere. You don’t think about these things in life. It was very fortunate his girlfriend got him to the hospital. He has what’s called an AVM. It’s a different kind of brain hemorrhage, and 50% of people die who have that. So, Ben was lucky, emergency surgery, survived.
He was trying to come back but — this is even before Facebook really took off and the internet really took off, or social networking really took off. He was trying to find support groups for his condition. He was living in Houston. Then he moved to Chicago, back to go to school. Neither of those cities could find a single person that had his condition. So, he was really lonely and depressed and, yeah, it was crazy.
He just came up to me one day and was like, hey, I’m going to start a social network for people with my condition because I figure, if I can’t find them, maybe they can find me. I thought that was a really beautiful thing inside and so I was one of the first members or second member of the group. His AVM survivors community worked. We started multiple other communities, and then we incorporated into a nonprofit. We’re one of the largest patients support communities in the world now. We have, I think we have 40 or 42 patients support communities for all these different kinds of rare diseases.
So, people can connect. Honestly, the most important thing is they don’t feel alone, but they can also share what’s working for them, what’s not working for them. Oftentimes, their spouses or their children or maybe their doctors don’t understand what’s going on with them, so they can share with each other. It’s been amazing. We’ve been operating for 13 years now.
Scott: We just changed a lot of lives and so that’s one of my favorite things to do in my spare time.
John: Yeah, that’s so cool. That’s insane. Chicago and Houston are the, what, third and fourth largest cities in the US, and there’s not a single person that has the same…
Scott: Well, it turned out there were, he just couldn’t — there was no organizational principle. There’s no way of finding each other. So, when we built the communities, all of a sudden, we started popping up in Google. I used to moderate the communities, and so did Ben, every day, for many years. There was nothing better than someone would join the site, and we’d have a little kind of welcome thing. It was like we changed their life right in that moment. They were in a really dark place, and they found relief, and they found understanding. We have hundreds of thousands of members, across all the communities. When you think about all those people who just are benefiting from those social connections and sharing, it’s really powerful. It’s really cool.
John: That’s amazing. I need to reassess things. No, I mean, just because you’re making a difference in so many people’s lives.
Scott: Your podcast, this is actually really fun, and people are gonna hear about Ben’s Friends who wouldn’t have — I think the whole principle of your podcast is really amazing. I was even telling you before I turned the mike on, I had forgotten to even bring this up with you. I was thinking about it last night. That’s why we’re talking about it. What you’re doing to explore the other side of people, not just focus on people’s work, but focus on what makes them human, what makes them fun, what makes them passionate, is super cool.
John: Well, no, I appreciate it, man. I appreciate it. With Ben’s Friends, is it like a community where they can just talk, or are there functions that happen as well?
Scott: I always describe it, for the technical or nontechnical people, it’s like a mini-Facebook. You have a social network. You go there. There are posts. There are forums. There’s messaging each other. People post pictures. People post pictures of their kids or their loved ones all the time, all that stuff. So, it’s like a social network in a box, but the social network is made up of all people who have your exact issue.
One of my favorite things, this is in early days when people were really scared about internet and influencing medical decisions, people would post like, here are my symptoms. A very common thing for people who have rare diseases, they’re often misdiagnosed a lot by doctors because doctors are going down that mental checklist of what you have, and they’re trying to remember. When it’s rare, they don’t see it very often, right?
They would find the community, it would resonate with them, they’re pretty sure they had it, and they would print out those list of symptoms that other members had written about. They’d take the paper to their doctor and say, “Read this, this is what I have. Come on, let’s get on board here.” It was one of these things where I know doctors sometimes find that super annoying, and people do diagnose themselves in a crazy way. I would be typing stuff into Google and thinking I have cancer or something weird.
John: You either have a cold, or you’re going to die in five minutes.
Scott: Yeah, exactly.
John: Like, what?
Scott: These rare conditions, when you’ve been misdiagnosed for years, it’s incredibly empowering to tell the doctor, make that connection and actually get treated correctly.
John: That’s really awesome, man. That’s really cool. You got involved because you were friends with him in grad school. You were right there.
Scott: Yeah. I co-founded it with him. The other interesting thing about Ben’s Friends is it’s all patient moderator or community moderate. We took a lot from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an amazing resource the world has but really, there’s a few thousand people who really moderate Wikipedia. So, what we started doing was training the most active or most passionate members of the community and trained them into moderators so that they can, if there’s like a pharmaceutical salesperson joining the community, they chase them off. Or someone’s really in a bad state, they might direct them to the crisis text line or crisis phone call line where they can get help to avoid suicide or something like that. Ben’s Friends is powered by about 50 or 60 moderators who are just volunteers, who help out and want to help people who have the same condition as them. That’s one of the other things. It’s really people helping people at a very base level.
John: Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome, man. Do you feel any of this translates to your corporate world?
Scott: I think it did in the sense that we probably learned a few things. I always like to think it’s like, good things come unannounced sometimes. Because we were nonprofits, we didn’t really have any money, and we were doing this late at night. I would work a full day. I used to work in venture capital. I’d come home, and my favorite thing to do was moderate the communities. This was before I met my wife. Once I met my future wife, my girlfriend that became my wife, I stopped moderating quite as much because I actually had something else to do at night.
John: Right, but you still ducked in. It wasn’t like —
Scott: Oh, yeah.
John: — you just bailed altogether. Yeah.
Scott: We learned a lot about how Google works and how social networking works. We also really learned and lived the power of distributed teams and distributed volunteers. Our company now, the company that my wife founded, Kruze Consulting, that I work for, it’s an accounting firm, we are distributed across not only the whole United States, but across the whole world. One of the reasons we’re able to do that was some of the skills and tools I learned doing Ben’s Friends, helping teach the moderators, communicate with the moderators, just knowing how to operate online, living online, in a way. That actually was this incredible — I mean, I was a super active moderator probably for eight or nine years. Living that every day just taught me how the world works and how the internet works, and we’ve been able to leverage that in our business, too.
John: That’s amazing, yeah, because at no point — I mean, even at Kellogg, does anyone tell you, go moderate a nonprofit charity that makes lives better to become a better business person? Like, what are you doing wasting your time on that computer internet thingy?
Scott: Yeah. You need to learn how to do consulting case studies or something like that. Yeah. Actually the Kellogg community was incredibly supportive. Actually, still to this day, a huge component of our donations come from our classmates every year.
John: That’s awesome.
Scott: It actually was really powerful. It was like the right place at the right time to start something like that.
Scott: Because it’s not what you normally think of when you’re going to go to business school.
John: Is this something that you talked about when you were working in the venture capital world or even now?
Scott: Yeah, I would — so, in the same way that I learned so much that I could apply to Kruze, I was doing it the whole time I was working at the venture capital fund, Miles Capital. All the partners and the coworkers of mine were super supportive of it. They loved it. They thought it was awesome.
A lot of the internet entrepreneurs, I could actually relate to, and this happens at Kruze too, because I know how hard it is to start something from the beginning. I can relate to your podcast and your comedy career in a way that probably most accountants couldn’t because I’ve been at, like, Day One and had no one coming to our website and then hundreds of thousands of people. The same thing, when Vanessa was starting Kruze Consulting, I could relate to her getting her first client and her 10th client and her 20th client.
It’s really hard to start something, but it’s incredibly rewarding too. I can look those entrepreneurs that we’re investing in, in the eye, and be like, I know what you’re going through. I know how freaking stressful it is. I know how hard it is for people not to know that most people don’t care about what you’re doing, but some people care about what you’re doing. I’m one of those people. Let’s work together.
John: That’s awesome. Yeah, because that just makes your career better because those relationships are so much stronger.
Scott: Yeah, you just understand people in a way that other people — in a non-surface way.
John: Yeah. It’s, I’ve done it, as opposed to, I read 17 case studies on it.
Scott: Yeah. I’m sure there are analogies in your comedy career where you and other comedians are just — they just know how hard it is.
John: Oh, yeah, totally. Yeah, and even actors and actresses, any artist of any sort, but comedians, especially. Because, yeah, when you’re creating art, if you have a painting, you don’t know immediately whether people like it or not. You’re probably not even there when they see it.
Scott: First to make that painting or make that comedy act, knowing that you’re not going to have direct feedback.
John: Yeah, but then in comedy, you get that direct feedback.
Scott: That’s true.
John: It’s not always great, not always great, especially when the joke’s new and you’re working on polishing it, and how many syllables and whatever, what words to use. No, that’s just so great. That’s amazing, just to know that, just from that experience of helping start and run Ben’s Friends, how many good things have come from that, not only just helping others, but even just in your own career, just accidentally.
Scott: I have a question for you, just while we’re talking, it just popped in my head. Do you ever feel like, because you’re saying you get the direct feedback, you learn that it’s okay to bomb or it’s okay not to be perfect?
John: Oh, yeah. It’s part of the process.
Scott: Yeah. Learning that lesson was maybe the most freeing lesson I’ve ever learned in my life. I remember in business school, I was trying a lot of different stuff, interviewing for a lot of different industries that I wasn’t qualified for, and I was bombing half my interviews. I was like, wait a second, it’s actually not that bad. I walked out. I’m fine. I’m not even really studying. The world’s going to go on, not that big of a deal.
John: Exactly, and I think for a lot of people that have been on the podcast, or listen, it’s the same with sharing an outside of work interest. We build this up in our head that people are going to judge me, people don’t care, whatever it is. Then you start to share it, and people think it’s cool, like you said, the venture capital, even now, the clients and coworkers. It’s a cool thing.
Scott: Yeah. We were talking before we turned the mikes on, about we do a bunch of sharing about our outside of work life at Kruze. We talk about our favorite foods. We have a top chefs channel in Slack. I highly recommend that to people. It’s a little cheesy, but people love sharing pictures of their food. I love looking at those pictures, and so does our company, so, definitely top chefs pounds, top chefs in Slack, if you have Slack at your work. We also have a dad jokes channel that people like.
We also have a diversity channel, which I’m super proud of, that was actually adjusted by one of our team members who’s — one of our most junior team members, Janika, took it upon herself to start a diversity channel. Now we share about all the different cultures and what people are going through. It’s been super awesome during Black Lives Matter because it’s given the whole team a lot of context on that. Instead of people being afraid to talk about it or not knowing what to say or not empathizing, there’s a ton of empathy. There’s a ton of understanding all because of the sharing. This is not professional talk whatsoever. This is all just sharing who we really are, what our interests are. It’s all consistent with the theme of your podcast.
John: That’s great because it’s just cool to hear examples that people listening can be like, well, we could do that, type of thing. It’s just open that door just a little bit to people’s lives. You don’t have to blow it wide open at first, but just a little peek. Especially now in the past couple of months, we’ve been in each other’s homes with Zoom calls or whatever kind of calls and video conferencing, so don’t act like you haven’t been in each other’s homes, never seen what art or their dog or their kids or what they look like in the morning with their hair all a mess.
Scott: Totally. I really dig that with the kids and pets too. I know the beginning of COVID, everyone was trying — they didn’t know how to act if your kid ran in, on camera, and started talking to the whole group. For us, we’ve really encouraged our team to just embrace it. This kid is probably the person you love the most in the world. Be nice to the kid. Half the people you’re talking to on video, have kids too, and the other half were kids or have nephews and nieces. It’s okay. It’s totally cool.
John: Yeah. It’s almost like, just get them their own channel, so they can join the meeting too. Get your own box, Suzy, or whatever.
Scott: They need a calendar and they need an automatic meeting invite. I love it.
John: Exactly. They get their own Slack account. Let’s do this. That’s a question that I like to think about too, is, and it sounds like you guys are doing a really great job at it, is, how much is it on the organization to create that culture where it’s okay to be human, and how much is it on the individual to either be a part of that, or if that doesn’t exist, then start their own little circle?
Scott: You used the phrase that I really like, which is make space for it. I think the organizations, what it should do is make space for it and make it okay and normalize it. That’s through communication. That’s through constant — every Monday morning meeting, we talk about –we do dad jokes, we do what people did that weekend, we do most fun dishes. Whenever someone starts at our company, we ask them to talk about their bio, but then we say, what’s your favorite thing for lunch? It just opens the door. Then having things the Slack channels with top chef or diversity channel or dad — it just continues to reinforce that it’s okay.
I think what I’ve found is once that doors open, they enter, no problem. It’s not an issue, and they’re actually excited about it. It’s more fun. Even today, it makes it just a more fun place to work, and you understand your coworkers. That’s more fun. It also gets rid of the illusion that we’re all supposed to be perfect or have a perfect day, every day. We all have our ups and downs. So, people can also empathize with each other when they’re having a bad day and celebrate good days.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so well put because, yeah, we’re not all firing on all cylinders all the time. I think if you expect that of yourself or even of others, you’re going to fail twice as hard because you’re just unforgiving to even yourself. We’re not perfect. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s just, don’t do them as much as possible, but you’re trying. There are other people around you that will help too.
Scott: I think also in COVID especially, it’s even more important because we’re all left alone to our own thoughts a lot more. We have a giant mirror facing us every day because we can’t get out. We can’t distract ourselves quite as much. So, that support and that normalization is even more important. One of the things we’ve been doing is really being aggressive about asking people to take time off. Because they couldn’t really go anywhere, they weren’t taking vacations, but then what that was doing — it was actually the ultimate time when they needed to take a vacation or just take a day here or a day there just to get away from the COVID, especially people have kids who are trying to babysit and manage those kids during the day. It’s way too hard. So, that was something I’m proud of. We aggressively promoted and messaged people and said, please take a vacation. It turns out, they started doing that. We jarred everyone out of that work every day and not take care of their health.
John: Because we’re also permission-based. Just do it. Oh, wait, no one even said anything, which is great. Then they did. People just don’t want to get in trouble. It’s like, well, really? Come on.
Scott: I went back and did a study a few years ago. The people who were most successful at our company are the ones that took their vacations. The people who were in a workaholic environment or just didn’t have the self-discipline to step away were actually people who always ended up burning out very quickly. The cost of a burned out person and the change in your corporate culture, those people can tilt the culture to a negative place. If you’re running something, or just a team, just make sure you police that stuff because sometimes you’ve got to help save people from themselves. I know I’m an obsessive person. I’m the kind of person who, if it wasn’t reinforced to me to take a vacation, I would just keep working and keep doing stuff like that. So, help people save themselves from themselves. It’ll be a more productive work environment. It’ll be more fun too.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s such a great takeaway for everyone listening. Whether you’re a COO or a manager-level or even entry-level, no matter what it is, the people around you, take care of each other.
John: Yeah, that’s huge, man. That’s so huge. This has been so much fun, Scott, and really awesome. It’s only fair that I allow you to question me. We’ll make it The Scott Orn Show, which I know you have your own podcast, which everyone can get a link to at whatsyourand.com. It’s The Scott Orn Show. You fire away here.
Scott: I hope this isn’t too crude, but there’s a game people play, F, Marry, Kill, so, who would you F, marry and kill between Stanford, USC and the University of Miami?
John: Oh, my goodness.
Scott: John is a huge Notre Dame football fan, and those are all rivals of those —
John: That’s hilarious. Well, I’m definitely not marrying any of them. As far as I’m concerned, they can all go F themselves. I don’t know, kill all of them. I don’t know. If there was a three-way game of football, that would be awesome, and then it fell off into the ocean. Yeah, I wouldn’t blink an eye but they’re all not good.
Scott: Next question, burritos or pizza.
John: Oh, man, that’s a hard one. Yeah, I’m going to go really good pizza, I guess, just because it’s got to be really good. My New York days have, I think, tainted me. Although, now in Denver, it took me two years, but I found a good one.
Scott: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s so important in life.
John: Yeah, it is. It is.
Scott: I have one more for you, Paris, France or Paris, Las Vegas.
John: Paris, Las Vegas, whatever the other of Paris, France. Even if you said the Coliseum at USC campus, I would have probably picked that.
Scott: Really? Why?
John: I’ve been to Paris once, and it was not great. It just wasn’t a positive experience.
Scott: My approach to it is marry someone who speaks French. My wife isn’t fluent, but she speaks enough, and she’s cute. Everyone wants to talk to us. When I went there by myself as a bachelor, yes, it was more challenging.
John: Well, thanks so much, Scott, for being a part of What’s Your “And”? It was so encouraging to hear this, and really fun.
Scott: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on, really appreciate it.
John: Absolutely, and everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Scott outside of work or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Also, the links to Ben’s Friends will be there as well. While you’re on the page, please click that big green 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.
Caleb is an Accountant & Community Volunteer
Caleb Jenkins, Leader of Client Accounting Services at RLJ Financial Services, talks about applying his technical expertise as an accountant towards community volunteer programs like SALT Micro-financing and how participating in a volunteer activity is much more of what sets your identity as an individual than your profession!
• What SALT Microfinance is
• The two different forms of poverty
• Two different methods to help people in poverty
• How Caleb became involved with SALT
• Applying your technical expertise towards a passion
• Talking about his volunteer work in the office
• Why it’s on the leaders of an organization to promote sharing in the office
• How he overcame the hesitation to share about his passion in the office
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
Welcome to Episode 251 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing professionals who, just like me, are 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.” The things above and beyond their technical skills and those things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published in just a few months. It will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. Check 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 and the book will really help spread that message as well. Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week.
This week is no different with my guest Caleb Jenkins. He’s the leader of Client Accounting Services at RLJ Financial Services in Ceres, California. Now he’s with me here today. Caleb, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Caleb: Hey, John. It’s great to be with you.
John: I’m excited and I know we’ve met and hung out a couple of times at QuickBooks Connect, and never sat down and chatted and hit record.
Caleb: I know. This is amazing.
John: Yeah. I have my rapid fire questions right out of the gate here, some stuff that I never asked you when we were hanging out. Here we go.
Caleb: All right.
John: Do you have a favorite color?
Caleb: Oh, boy. Favorite color’s probably dark green.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. How about a least favorite color?
Caleb: Least favorite. Probably light-ish blue or salmon-y.
John: Oh, okay. All right. That’s very specific, wow. All right. How about when you fly on an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?
Caleb: Middle seat.
John: Middle, really?
Caleb: It gives you an opportunity to talk to the person on either side of you.
John: Oh, okay. All right. All right. I see what’s going, yeah. Nice. You get both arm rests when you’re in the middle.
Caleb: Oh, as long as you get there first.
John: Right. I like it. How about early bird or night owl?
Caleb: Oh, let’s see. Probably both. I can get up early and I take some time to read and I take some time to meditate in the morning and just focus in the morning just go slow and then I don’t know evening’s when I get my work done. So that means sleep is in short order, but that’s about my life.
John: That’s impressive. I would be taking naps left and right if I was you.
Caleb: I do. That’s the secret here in our office is that it’s underneath my desk. There’s a good pillow there.
John: I like it. If you had to choose, and I know you’re not a big movie guy, but Star Wars or Star Trek?
Caleb: I don’t know. I haven’t watched either of them, but I’ll just go with Star Wars.
John: There you go. That seemed like the most normal of the group. No, I’m just teasing. How about when it comes to your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?
Caleb: Oh, PC at work and Mac at home.
John: Oh, okay. Impressive. All right. Then when it comes to your mouse, right-click or left-click?
Caleb: Oh, let’s see. PC, probably — let’s see. Right-click’s where you get the work done, left-click is where it gives you the options to explore the world.
John: Okay, so a little bit of both?
Caleb: Oh, yeah.
John: All right. How about would you say more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Caleb: Probably slacks and button-down shirt.
John: Oh, okay, but untucked. You don’t want to go over the top with that.
Caleb: No. No suit and vest.
John: Right. When it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?
Caleb: Well, let’s see here. Income statement is where the rubber meets the road but the balance sheet is where everything starts so you got to make sure the balance sheet is correct before you can understand the profit loss.
John: There you go, all right. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all.
Caleb: Probably a cougar.
John: Nice. That’s a good answer.
Caleb: That’s with the same letter as my name too.
John: There you go. Anything with C. I got it. Here’s a trick one there. Prefer more hot or cold?
Caleb: Oh, probably cold although you can always add more layers but you can only take away so many layers.
John: I’m with you on that one, man. I’m with you on that. As an accountant, I have to ask. Do you have a favorite number?
Caleb: I don’t know. There’s something about 19 was just really cool.
John: Okay. I got you. We got four more.
Caleb: That was probably around the time that I started getting engaged in the accounting profession and started getting out, understanding getting to know people.
John: Okay, around 19. That means a lot then. All right. We got four more, four more. Pens or pencils?
Caleb: Pens all the way. They’re faster to right with.
John: Oh, that’s — you know what? Now that you bring it up, you’re right. That’s interesting. How about chocolate or vanilla?
Caleb: Oh, chocolate until it comes to ice cream, then vanilla.
John: All right. Two more. Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
Caleb: Oh, of course Sudoku.
John: Oh, nice. That’s how I do my taxes right there. That’s exactly —
Caleb: That’s how I go to sleep.
John: The last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Caleb: Favorite thing I have is probably the relationships that I’ve built over the years.
John: Oh, nice. That’s a good answer. Very good answer for sure. We were going to talk through a hobby or a passion or an interest that you have outside of work. I know that you have several but the SALT program in particular sounds really interesting. What is that about? Can you tell people a little bit more about that?
Caleb: Yeah, absolutely. I got engaged in about 2013, it’s the first time I got engaged with it but then 2015’s where I really started digging dip into it. It’s a microfinance organization, so doing microlending and savings groups but it’s unique from a lot of the other microfinance organizations in the sense that it is linking together teaching with the microfinance side of things.
It’s really about changing the way that we work with those in poverty and understanding what poverty really is. This blew my mind when I started digging into it and understanding what poverty really is. There’s really two different forms of poverty.
There’s critical poverty which is like a natural or man-made crisis like a war or a refugee situation or earthquake or hurricane or tsunami. That is an external force that comes in and creates poverty. But the other area of poverty is an area of chronic poverty. Chronic poverty is something that has been over generations and generally the lack or the result of a broken relationship and a lack of teaching.
This is where you see when you go to Haiti or other developing countries around the world, that there are situations that have existed for a long period of time. When we think about that, there’s really two different ways that we can help people.
We can help them with relief which is food, clothing, shelter, water, et cetera or we can help with development which is looking at the long-term process whereby somebody can improve their quality of life and that is spiritual internal communal material et cetera, it’s all-encompassing but it’s that process where we help somebody and it’s not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term process. Very critical difference in understanding how to help.
The area that’s blew my mind in this is thinking about what we do when we give relief to those in chronic poverty. When we go and give food and water and clothing to those in chronic poverty, we’re telling them that we don’t think that they can be sufficient on their own and that we are like their parents providing for them and we don’t think that they can succeed on their own.
Now, they might be asking for that hand out but in reality, we are diminishing their value of life when we are giving them food and clothing and shelter, et cetera. It’s a different way to think about it. Where this really came home for me, I started learning all this and thinking about all this.
But then coming home back down into the accounting profession, what am I doing when somebody comes to me and has say a cash flow problem? It’s an issue. They need to find a solution to their problem. But what do we do in that situation? Do we just help them find access to a short-term loan for financing to get them out of the crunch that they’re in right now?
John: Right, but then they’re going to have the cash flow problem six months later, two months later, two weeks later.
Caleb: Exactly. Unless we’re digging underneath the surface and going to the root cause of the problem, we are not going to help them with the solution that they need. That really comes back to then understanding what tools are most important.
If I’m going to do a reconciliation, am I going to use iTunes or am I going to use QuickBooks to do that?
John: Right. QuickBooks, clearly.
Caleb: Same thing with those in chronic poverty. Do we help them with a tool that is food, clothing or water or do we help them with the area that really is going to bring the solution? First, we need to identify the cause of the problem and then we can choose the best tool to help them in that problem.
John: Yeah, that’s really powerful, man. I mean that’s really great. How did you get started with it?
Caleb: I got started back in 2013. This organization’s in about 18 countries now but it was back in 2013, there were about probably seven or eight countries, primary country is Haiti and I’ve known the founder of the SALT program for my whole life. He grew up here in our community but he lives in Southern Idaho now.
He invited a number of accountants to come to Haiti to just oversee the program and see what was happening and give input on it and what happened there was I mean I was interested and so I went but then I just saw the need and they followed up soon afterwards and said, we’ve got a problem. We need some help with our account, we need to have a better solution for our internal accounting.
In that, I helped them — they were using a lot of different excel files, no reconciliation process, they had no kind of a reporting process and no audit trail to detect fraud.
John: Right. Oh, my goodness.
Caleb: We’re not talking small organization neither necessarily for Haiti. I’m like okay, we got to first get you on QuickBooks, so that you have a loan program. I help them integrate those two together, but that’s where it came in. They asked me for my technical expertise and so I helped them with that. But thinking about it since then, I’ve helped them and I’ve continued helping them. I’ve helped them in Haiti and a lot of the other countries that they’re working in.
The thing that’s resonated with me since then is now how can I help others, others in the accounting profession find ways based on their passion and their vision, mission, purpose in life to give back to others in their community. It’s one thing to go serve in a soup line, it’s another thing to use your skills in a targeted way to help others.
John: And to teach others a little bit of what you do, some of that expertise that they can use.
Caleb: There’s nothing like giving back the aspect that we learn in that aspect is tremendous. As long as we’re learning. We have this complex here in America that we think that we have all the answers when in reality, we have very few answers. We just need to learn. In that process of learning, we can help them learn as well.
John: Yeah. We just ask simple questions. Then I know all the answers. That’s what I do, yeah, yeah. No, that’s really powerful, man. What countries have you worked in through this program? Obviously, Haiti.
Caleb: Haiti is primarily but I’ve worked with Ghana, I’ve worked with Nigeria, Uganda, starting to work with Tanzania and Myanmar.
John: That’s a lot, man. It’s not just one area you know the Caribbean.
Caleb: Oh, no. It’s all over.
John: You’re in Africa, you’re in Asia. Wow. That’s awesome, man.
Caleb: It’s really a world-wide need to find solutions to chronic poverty.
John: That’s really fantastic.
Caleb: Again chronic poverty does not just exist there. It exists here as well.
John: Oh, for sure. Yeah. But obviously, this program is focused more on the work in other countries which is fantastic. Do you have any more rewarding story or like a cool story that you share with people?
Caleb: One of the clients that I met with through the SALT program in Haiti, she was making about $200 USD a day. She got a loan through the SALT program. Through that loan and through the teaching she received, she went from — and this is just a material success story on this aspect, but it’s pretty powerful in the sense that through the education she received, she went through the first loan cycle, made it up to about six dollars USD then through the second loan cycle, she was making — I forgot what it was. But basically, through the third loan cycle, she was making $15 to $20 USD a day.
With that change, she was previously struggling to put food on the table for her family. After that, she had barely enough left over money but with money to provide clothing, shelter, education for her family and also had a tad bit left over to help her parents with some elective medical needs.
That was really a powerful thing in the sense that she was able then to give back to her community instead of relying on the white American to come in and give them something that they didn’t have.
John: Right. That’s unbelievable, man. I mean 10x daily income is a huge life-changing effect. Like you said, her whole family, her parents, I mean that’s really awesome, man. That’s really cool. Is there something that you talk about at work that you share with colleagues?
Caleb: I talk with my colleagues about it. We chat about it and think about it in terms of how we apply that aspect here to work, but I also find it makes a lot of sense in discussing it with my clients too because when I am struggling to convey a concept to them, I think about it in a sense of chronic poverty. How am I able to help them find a solution to their own problem rather than me coming with all the answers.
John: Yeah. There you go. That’s awesome, man. Something that you learned from doing this program. That isn’t something that they always teach us in school.
Caleb: No. They don’t teach a bit of that.
John: Which is probably the most important part is coming at them from their eyes and their experience.
Caleb: I’m not perfectly successful at that. I fail a ton at that but it is an aspect, a continual learning aspect.
John: The fact that you’re even thinking it that way or the fact that you’re even trying means that you’re succeeding. I mean it’s certainly isn’t just slam dunk because you’re not that other person. No matter where you are, but the fact that you have empathy and you’re trying puts you lightyears ahead of me for instance, I would’ve never done that that. I would’ve been like, just do this, and then get out of here. Good on you, man. That’s really fantastic, really fantastic.
How much do you feel like it’s on an organization — because it sounds like you work somewhere that’s really cool where people can share those hobbies and passions? I love how you brought up that it’s how can we apply this in other areas at the firm. But how much is it on the organization to create the culture where it’s okay to share or how much is it on the individual to just be like hey, I’m going to create this little circle amongst my peers and start sharing that way.
Caleb: I think it’s incumbent upon the leaders of an organization to create the freedom and by leading in the aspect of sharing their outside hobbies and their outside passions inside the work environment but then secondarily, it just needs to be an open free space to be able to bring that to the table. You can’t force somebody bring something to the table if they’re not willing to do that on their own.
John: It’s not even something that you can force but at least create the environment to where it’s okay and then I love how you said they’re modelling the behavior then that makes that even easier.
John: And the benefits that are huge because it also humanizes leadership so now, you’re not as intimidated of them, you’re more open with them and candid.
Caleb: It’s a lot easier to do that in a small organization like we have. We’ve got ten people on our team. It’s a whole lot easier than a 200-person team but even in that 200-person team, I think it can be done as well.
John: Oh, yeah. I mean there’s groups of ten within that. You can start there but then yeah, if you want to make it happen, you can definitely do it. Like you said, you know, modelling for the top is definitely a huge benefit.
What might be some barriers do you think — because I know when I first started, I accidentally shared if people asked, but I didn’t know that most people didn’t, and so is this something that you were open about from the beginning or were you a little hesitant with it at first?
Caleb: I was hesitant definitely. The aspect that made me hesitant about it is this is a faith organization that’s not necessarily something that people just go around shouting necessarily in the accounting profession at large. But I had a good relationship with Joe Woodard. I mentioned it to him that I was going to Haiti and his ears perked up and he’s like you got to write an article about this, and we’ll get it posted for you in Insightful Accountant. I went on my next trip to Haiti and then wrote that article so that was back in August of 2015.
Then from that that point forward, it was interesting to me because people just started asking about it and I started getting encouraged to continue sharing and the aspect from that that continued to help me is finding ways to think about using what we’re learning in other contexts to help people in the current context.
John: Yeah. I mean I think that’s really awesome too because I mean naturally hesitant, that’s fine. I get it. Then when you’re pushed out of the nest a little bit, all of a sudden it becomes a really cool thing that people are asking you. It’s quite the opposite reaction of what we tell ourselves in our mind that no one cares or no one wants to hear about it. Then all of a sudden, you let it out a little bit and everybody wants to hear about this. That’s really great to hear.
Do you have any words of encouragement to others listening that think that their hobby or passion outside of work has nothing to do with their job?
Caleb: What I would say is that your job — I mean your hobby and your passion makes a profound difference on who you are as an individual and who you are in your career and so go ahead and share it. Whether somebody’s interested or not doesn’t make any difference. But a couple of tips is find somebody who does care about what you’re doing and share with them and let them give you the feedback as it relates to how to advance in that aspect.
But feel free to just share because who you are in your hobby, who you are as individual, who you are in your volunteer activity or your passions makes you who you are. That aspect is powerful as it relates to just being an individual that cares and that can bring a difference to this world.
John: That’s really powerful, man. I loved how you said it. It’s that passion makes you who you are. It’s not your job or your title or things like how much money you make. It’s that passion that you have that follows you everywhere you go. So really cool, man. Really cool.
It’s only fair since I started out the episode drilling you with my 17 rapid fire questions, to allow you to question me. Whenever you’re ready, I’m buckled in and ready to go.
Caleb: All right. My first question is what volunteer activity do you do that gives you passion for who you are?
John: That’s really good, man. When I was younger, I did a lot of Big Brothers Big Sisters which was really cool. Then now, my wife is really involved with Dress for Success. It’s all help with that on clothing donation days or I even emceed their big annual gala last year. That’s definitely the cool thing that helps women of all backgrounds to get back on their feet when circumstances hit them that they didn’t anticipate having.
But like you were talking about earlier with chronic versus critical, it’s really giving them the skills and the tools to succeed not just a cool wardrobe to wear to your interview, but actually interviewing skills plus how to keep the job skills and all that stuff. Yeah, it’s a cool thing to be a part of.
Caleb: That’s really awesome, and I love hearing others that are involved in some kind of volunteer activity because that is really shaping who we are and shaping a difference in the world because that gives us a lot of ability to make change happen.
That was a great answer. I love that. Another just quick question is how did you get started in that volunteer activity?
John: Yeah. Well, my wife was on the board and really, really actively involved and just kind of got started with it through that, just through people that you know I think is probably the best way. I mean Big Brothers Big Sisters was something that kids are awesome and sometimes, they’re given a bad situation and it’s not their fault that they were born into this situation and so there’s a way that I can help out and just show them a little bit of a different perspective, then that’s something that I thought would be good.
I mean it even goes back to when I was at University of Notre Dame, I mean doing charity work and making the community better was always part of that as well. I guess it’s just been a big part of who I am.
Caleb: Another quick question is so I saw that you’re going down one path and then you shifted in college. Tell me about that.
John: In college, it started out. I wanted to be a nuclear submarine electrical engineer. I had a Navy ROTC scholarship that was awarded but then was taken away for medical disqualification which is kind of terrible. It was all engineering, I was going to be all that and then my first semester, got a D in Physics, Chemistry wasn’t too much better. I was like, wow. This is really hard. I was studying. I was in all the GAs. We’re doing extra study lesson groups whatever.
I was doing all of that trying so hard and just couldn’t get it, and yeah, that was a really, really difficult time but you just got to realize that maybe your talents are best used somewhere else and just started talking to different people and finding out what the options were and what have you, and yeah, just transitioned over to business and then accounting.
Actually, I chose accounting because it prolonged my grow up decision because you can do marketing with an accounting degree, you can do finance with an accounting degree, you can be a manager with accounting, you can do IT with an accounting degree. But if you have those other degrees, you can’t do accounting. I was like oh, by picking accounting, I’m not really picking a final answer type of a thing. And yeah, that’s why I went into accounting. It’s the basis for all business. It certainly worked out all right for me.
Caleb: I love it. What I love about that is that you didn’t give up. So many people give up when there’s an obstacle and you kept pressing through from what I understand what you just said and what I read is that you pressed on through and you said okay, that’s not an option. Let’s take another path and you kept pressing forward so I love that.
John: Well, thanks, man. I appreciate it. Yeah, I mean in the moment, it was crazy and was really, really hard and difficult time but yeah, looking back on it, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if I was an engineer. There you go.
Caleb: Love it.
John: Cool. Well, thanks so much, Caleb. This has been so much fun having you be a part of What’s Your “And”?
Caleb: Thank you.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Caleb or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this what 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.