Episode 357 – Ariel Lomax
Ariel is a Management Consultant & Baker & Volunteer
Ariel Lomax, from Jabian Consulting, talks about her passion for baking, her drive to getting things done the right way, and how you can develop an understanding of someone through knowing their passions!
• Getting into baking
• Coming up with the name of her bakery
• Being intentional with your time
• Understanding people better through knowing their hobbies
• Ariel’s volunteer work
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about Corporate Culture!
Pictures of Ariel’s Cakes
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Welcome to Episode 357 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 at work.
If you like the podcast, you can go even deeper into my research with my book. It’s available on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and writing such great reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it. It’s really cool to see.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love hearing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Ariel Lomax. She’s a manager in Jabian Consulting’s Atlanta Office, and now she’s with me here today. Ariel, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Ariel: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, John. I’m excited.
John: Oh, this is going to be so much fun, so much fun. I start out with the rapid-fire questions, get to know Ariel at a new level here. Here we go, shake and bake. We’re ready. How about a favorite color?
Ariel: Favorite color is coral, between pink and between orange, it’s coral.
John: Yeah, very specific. How about a least favorite color? Red. Okay, interesting. How about, prefer more hot or cold?
Ariel: I prefer cold because you can always warm yourself up in the cold. In the summertime, you cannot strip everything off of you and walk outside.
John: Exactly. I’m with you on that one, 100%, totally. How about, are you more early bird or night owl?
Ariel: Early Bird. I wake up at 5:30 every day and go to the gym.
John: Wow, that is impressive. I do neither of those things so, good for you.
Ariel: Every day.
John: Very impressive. How about, Star Wars or Star Trek?
John: Neither. That works.
Ariel: I’m not a fan of either. I’ve got to be honest.
John: That’s honest, absolutely. How about your computer, more PC or a Mac?
Ariel: PC. I’ve never owned a Mac.
Jon: Yeah, me either. They’re weird to me. Then on your mouse, more left click or right click.
Ariel: No, no, thank you.
John: Right? Because none of the —
Ariel: I would say right click.
John: Right click, there you go. That’s where all the clever stuff is. Very cool. How about, diamonds or pearls?
Ariel: Pearls. We need pearls. I’m an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman.
John: Oh, okay. Okay. All right, there we go. There we go. You have the accounting background, so, balance sheet or income statement.
Ariel: Balance sheet. They have to make sense, what goes in and comes out. It has to, hey —
John: Yeah, the full picture. I see. Okay, okay. How about, chocolate or vanilla?
John: Chocolate. Okay. All right.
Ariel: Milk chocolate, yes.
John: Okay. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Ariel: Favorite actor would be Michael Ealy. He’s beautiful. Favorite actress, I’m going to go with Kerry Washington right now because I love Scandal.
John: Right? Yeah, exactly. The shows that they’re in actually makes an impact on that too, for sure. How about, oceans or mountains?
Ariel: Oceans. I love the sound of the ocean waves. Oh, my God, it relaxes me so much. I do love mountains, but I would prefer the ocean.
John: Right. Yeah, if you had to pick one. How about, four more, favorite sports team.
Ariel: I’m going to get killed for this but the Patriots.
Ariel: It’s my stepmother’s fault. I’m a Patriots fan.
John: Okay, all right. Sorry, not sorry, there you go. Very cool. How about a favorite number?
John: Okay, is there a reason?
Ariel: My line number on my sorority is 21, and that was the best year of my life, so, 21.
John: 21, there you go. No, that works. How about when it comes to books, Kindle, real books or audible?
Ariel: Real books.
John: Real books. Yeah, very cool.
Ariel: I highlight pages like crazy and underline things and take notes, so, real books.
John: Yeah, absolutely. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Ariel: Favorite thing I have is the box I got from Michaels that has every single card, note, love note, flower note. Anything that anybody’s ever given me that has sentimental value is in that box, so if my house burned down, I’m grabbing that box under my bed. It’s coming with me because when I have a tough day, I go back in that box, and it just fills me up with so much love.
John: Oh, that’s a good idea. That’s really cool, Ariel. That’s very cool. Let’s talk baking. How’d you get into that? Is it from when you were a kid?
Ariel: My aunt, my mom’s sister is baker, and she baked all of our cakes all of our lives. When I went to high school, people’s birthdays, you give them a doll. I’m like, I want to do something different. She taught me how to make the box cakes, the Betty Crocker cakes.
John: Oh, yeah.
Ariel: I would use the Christmas tins and put a cake in there and decorate it very, semi-nicely as much as I could, and say, “Hey, Happy Birthday,” to my friends.
John: Right, in a Christmas decoration even though it’s April.
Ariel: Have some bold colors in there maybe, once in a while. Then I started, for my basketball team, we had practice before first period. I would bake cupcakes. They were maybe three inches big, and I would sell them. Every morning, before first period, it would be sold out. My mom’s like, I’ll buy all of your ingredients, you keep your profits. I would sell, every day, 40 cupcakes a day, off the room.
Ariel: I became known as the cupcake lady.
John: Okay, okay.
Ariel: I’ve just always loved baking, so I would take classes. I got to go to a special school where I got to major in Culinary Arts and interned at the Marriott Marquis in the Woodlands in Texas.
Ariel: I kept baking throughout the years but when I came to college at Parkland University in 2009, I was just so focused on, get a corporate job. Deloitte is what I wanted. I baked on the side for things here and there, didn’t charge people, but I just was so focused on corporate life that it was all about that. ‘09 to ‘13, in college; 2013, started with Deloitte, full time; travelled every week, didn’t have time to bake. I baked for Thanksgiving and Christmas and maybe one-offs for friends’ birthdays, but nothing to the magnitude I’m doing today.
John: Yeah, because you can’t bake in a hotel in another city.
Ariel: No, I’m flying, Monday through Thursday. I only have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to wash clothes, go to the doctor, see some people and pack up and go out on Monday.
Ariel: When I left Deloitte, I came to Jabian, a local consulting firm. We do not travel. I realized I had time. My dad’s sister passed away a few years prior from kidney failure. Her name is Michelle Monroe. My bakery’s name is Sweet Monroe’s Bakery. I’ve been talking to her. She knew I loved to bake, and she made me promise her that I would start my bakery. Because I wanted to keep that promise to her, I did it. I officially became Sweet Monroe’s on January 8, 2017.
Ariel: Sweet Monroe’s since 2005.
John: Yeah, yeah, right.
Ariel: That’s how baking started. It was just, I was always in her bowl, licking the icing and licking the cake water. It was creative. That’s where my creative gene comes out, in my desserts and in my baking.
John: I love that so much, just how powerful that is where it’s more than just, I like to bake stuff. There’s a big deep story here which is rich.
Ariel: I like to hear people’s responses and look at them when they’re like, hmm, it tastes so good. I’m like, Yeah, I did that.
John: Right, and it is amazing. I remember graduate school then you move out. You’re just like, oh, I’ll make a cake. It’s less than five bucks. It’s so cheap. Even if it’s just out of the box, which isn’t as good as what you’re doing, but just out of the box, the fact there are cakes on everybody’s table, every week, is amazing to me. It would be terrible for health reasons, but it would be amazing. Just, there are always smiles when there are baked goods there.
Ariel: It is. It feeds your soul. It really does.
John: Literally and figuratively, that’s exactly it. I guess you’ve taken it to the next level where it’s like, no, no, I have a bakery. That’s a big leap.
Ariel: It is a big leap, and I am self-taught. You want to learn anything, you can figure out how to do it. You just have to take time. I started off with learning how to make my cake smooth. It was just stressful for me. I even took a class. It didn’t work. It was a Wilton class, didn’t work for me. I wanted to learn how to make cake pops, miserable, failed. The cakes weren’t even fully rounded. It was bad.
Ariel: I’m a very determined person. I don’t like to fail. I had to go into GSD mode, get shit done. I said I have to get this done. I have to do this right. I will not be successful if I don’t invest in my craft. So, a lot of time, a lot of money, of course, but I’m reaping the benefits of the hard work I put in before. There’s nothing I cannot do. If I hadn’t done it before, I’m going to practice. I’m going to figure out how to do it. I will be honest with you as a customer, and say, I haven’t done that before, but give me a week. I’ll send you a picture of a replicated instruction that you sent me, and we’ll go on from there.
John: Yeah, and I have to believe that GSD mode translates to the office.
John: I would imagine you were at your GSD mode when you were in college even. It’s just now, you’re using it in a different way.
Ariel: I was an athlete. I ran track and cross-country. I’m a cross country, All-American Division. I was a nerd. I was an Accounting major. I didn’t party until my senior year when I knew I had my job, I’m graduating with a 3.0 GPA, and now I can celebrate. I came to Atlanta from Houston to get an education and to start my life. I did not want to get distracted or do anything that might jeopardize that. So, yeah, I was in GSD mode all the time. Let me tell you, I stayed up all night for a test I knew like the back of my hand.
John: Right. That’s fantastic. You just see how the outside-of-work baking translates to, it’s not a distraction, it actually gives you another muscle, if you will, to bring to the office that’s different than maybe what everyone else has.
Ariel: I call it cake therapy because you go to therapy to vent. If I’m having a rough day, I go home and I bake it out. I work it out. I come back the next day, and I’m great. Sometimes, a few of my clients have been Mercedes Benz and E*Trade. They’re bigger companies, and it’s just me. Some days, I’m up, 24 hours, at least, just to get 700 cake pops done for your Valentine’s Day event at E*Trade.
John: Oh, wow.
Ariel: Yeah, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
John: That’s very cool. Yeah. Do you feel just the difference — you just have to be intentional with making time for it. Is that really the difference?
Ariel: You definitely have to be intentional. You have to plan. I’m a big planner. I think things through, start to finish. It also comes with being in consulting. We plan a lot for our clients. But it’s being intentional with your time. I tell people all the time, be intentional with me because I’m intentional with you. Respect my time so I’m going to respect yours. You make time for what you want to make time for at the end of the day. If I want to be great at this, I’m making time to be great at this. It really is just as simple as that. I don’t like excuses. I don’t like, well, I… No, get it done. Figure out a way to get it done. Once you’re done, you’ll look back and say, I did that. I did that.
John: Exactly. Even if it’s something that’s outside of work, it still matters to your life, and it’s still important. Do you have any of the cooler things that you’ve made, that you’ve baked that you’re super proud of, that you’re like, wow, this is —
Ariel: I’m going to share some pictures with you. There’s this geode cake. I used to collect rocks when I was a kid in Indiana. I would take a hammer and break it. You can see all the crystals inside of it. One of my friends from high school, this is where it all comes full circle. I’ll be 30. She just turned 30. In high school, she used to buy my cupcakes, play basketball with me. Her birthday was in Houston last weekend. I baked the cake here, decorated here, drove it down the Atlanta streets, got it through the airport in Atlanta, got it on the plane, got it off the plane in Houston, got a rental car. It was a handled box which is a new thing for me. I went to the rental car. I drove down the street, and I said, let me go check on the cake. I went to stop, pulled it up by the handle where I have been holding it the whole day. Cake falls.
John: Oh, no.
Ariel: Cake falls to the concrete ground.
John: No. No, no.
Ariel: Oh, my God. I didn’t bring any tools with me. I brought stuff for cupcakes and cake pops. I had to go into, what, GSD mode.
John: GSD mode.
Ariel: I called my mother. I said, “Can you run to Party City, go to Walmart, get all these things for me?” I stayed up all night. I slept maybe two hours. I replicated that cake. I told her because I had to check the timing of what window I was working with. Once she saw it, she goes, “Oh, my God, that’s better than the first time.” I’m like, thank you. So, geode cake, I do. I’ve done some fondant cakes. My thing right now are drip floral cakes, so, with chocolate around the top and actual real flowers that I’ve sealed the actual stems. I just love it right now. That’s my thing.
John: That’s very cool. Those are awesome. Do you talk about this at work?
Ariel: I do. My job actually supports me. When we have our quarterly meetings, I bake for that. Any client things we want to give gifts to, they tap me before they go buy anything from the store, and I love that about Jabian. The thing is, like What’s Your “And”? more than half the firm has an “and”. We have an “and” because we chose to leave the travel and come to the local. Yeah, they support it. They know I bake. They love that I bake. They buy for their kids, for their families. Other clients know about me. I bring stuff in the office, and I have extra, so they love me.
John: Yeah, yeah. Of course, anybody making baked goods, you’re my new best friend. I don’t even care. You can call me whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.
Ariel: Absolutely, absolutely.
John: Yeah. That’s fantastic. Do you feel like there’s a different connection to people that know your “and” and you know theirs, verses maybe prior in your career where maybe you didn’t always have those connections or shared that?
Ariel: I would think so. Knowing my “and”, it shows you a different part of me. My aunt is baking and volunteering. I volunteer a lot. A lot, a lot. I feel like my purpose on this earth is to serve and help people.
Ariel: I think knowing that about me, it paints a full picture of who I am versus just seeing me at the office because I’m on GSD when at the office. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to — we gotta get work done. But also, we’re humans too, so I do smile. I do have fun. I do have other things that interests me that you might be interested in too. It helps people understand me better, and also them. Because work is work and that’s just what it is. There’s a time to play, and there’s a time to work. Sometimes people don’t like to show the other side of them at the office, so when you do see it, it humanizes them a little bit more, especially if they’re your leader or your manager or your director. So, I think it helps. It helps to know people’s “and”. It helps to try to include them in it, too.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Because whether someone else bakes or they don’t, just knowing that, or volunteers or they don’t, just knowing that. Plus, when you talk about it, you light up. Your eyes get big. Your tone, your smile, everything about it lights up. Where, at work, sometimes you light up about the work, but sometimes you don’t because like you said, work is work. Joy comes from the “and” all the time. If you’re able to talk about that at work, then suddenly, there’s joy in the office. There’s some emotion in the office, and you start to care about people. The volunteering as well, is that something that you’ve been doing for a long time or?
Ariel: Yes. I mentioned I’m from Houston.
Ariel: When I came to Jabian, I helped — we have a day of service on MLK Day, every year. I helped lead, my first year there, with the organization called “HouseProud”. HouseProud from Atlanta, they provide low income repairs to disabled or senior citizens in a particular area because gentrification is happening. I decided that I want to do more. That was great, but I want to do a lot more for the community. The hurricane hit Houston in 2017. I forgot what hurricane that was. There’s just so many.
John: Well, even in 2020, there’s been 40 of them, I think.
Ariel: With my one hand, decorating these cookies, but they were beautiful for the first time. What HashtagLunchbag does, let me back up, is they just provide food to the homeless. It started with three men in LA. What they say is we’re all one circumstance away from being in that same position, which is, for some people, very true. So, for every month, since 2017, we gather people together in Atlanta, and it’s in most major cities as well. We make it fun, have a DJ, we decorate bags, put motivational cards in those bags, make sandwiches, and we hand them out. When you see people and kids and you hear them say, thank you, they’re crying like that; it does pump into you. It really does because we’re more fortunate. If, God forbid, I’m ever in that situation, how would I want someone to help me? What would I want them do for me? I literally treat people how I want to be treated and better than I want to be treated because of that, just that notion of, if I’m ever there, this is how I want somebody to help me. So, HashtagLunchbag every month, HouseProud. I’m also becoming a court-appointed special advocate for neglected and abused children because I have time. I want to be able to help people and kids that cannot speak for themselves and make sure that what’s happening and what’s being decided for them is what’s in their best interest.
John: Yeah. That’s so fantastic. It’s amazing how, if you’re intentional about it, that there’s time. There’s time. You get your work done. You’re good at your job. You like your job and all that, but there are other hours in the day where you don’t have to feel like, oh, well, if I don’t use them for work, then I must not be very dedicated. It’s actually quite the opposite of, if you use them for something else, you’re richer and deeper and a better professional when you do show up in the office.
Ariel: Right. One of my friends who was the CEO, he challenged me because I was like, I’m not doing enough. He’s like, I want you to write down what you do for every hour on the hour for one day. When I did it, I’m like, I have so much more time left. I need to find something else to do. What am I doing? He was like, see? You have time. You just don’t do what you really do. So I tell my friends that. When you say you don’t have time in the day, how much time are you on social media? How much time are you watching TV? How much time are you investing in yourself? If your answer is ah or not enough, do more.
John: Yeah. What if mine is like several hours of eating cake, does that count?
Ariel: I need you to multitask and do something else at the same time.
John: Exactly. Come on, John, I’ve got icing all over my papers now. What? No, no, but you’re so right, just being intentional about it. Also, it doesn’t have to be something maybe that you do every day. Like you said, the HashtagLunchbag is once a month. Okay, cool. It’s twice a year. Whatever it is, just make time for it. Otherwise, it goes away altogether. That’s what I found. It goes dormant and then extinct, where it’s, I forget what I even like to do.
Ariel: Correct. A flip side of it too, with volunteering itself, is when you’re going through things. I went through something crazy this year. When you lose yourself in volunteering, it helps heal you. Because if what you went through doesn’t matter, it’s reminding you that even though you went through that, you should still have gratitude because it could be so much worse. So, I encourage people that are going through things, to give back because it’s — again, I’m not saying that what you feel doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that you’re going through that, and I understand that, but here are some folks going through a little bit worse than you. It might help with your healing process and how that looks for you.
John: Yeah, get you moving, get you active, get you helping others. There’s all the psychology research behind how that helps you as well. Yeah, that’s super cool to hear. Is there anything that you’ve seen, whether it’s companies you’ve worked for or clients or what have you, that does something specific to encourage the sharing? It sounds like Jabian, they’re buying your cupcakes and inviting you to bring to meetings and things like that, which is super cool, but even for other people as well?
Ariel: We have Jabian Cares. That’s our nonprofit for Jabian, and there are opportunities, from a volunteer standpoint, of just sharing the opportunities that are out there. They allow us to put money into that fund, but they also, they want us to come bring ideas to them of how we can continue to help people, or whatever your passion is. What do you want to do? What do you like doing? What organization do you work with? How can we help? They did a whole 10-year campaign where they gave $10,000 to 10 different organizations, and that was based on the employees nominating these actual organizations they work with.
Ariel: Also with just, as far as sharing my business, my sorority sisters, my family, my friends, they market me more than I market myself. That’s why it’s good to communicate what you do because people don’t know what they don’t know. My friends don’t know I’m baking over here, all night, all day. They’re not going to know, to tell a friend, “Hey, it’s great.” Or, “Hey, check her out. The designs are amazing. Well I don’t know if she does — well, ask her anyway.” It’s really just communicating and networking.
The greatest book I ever read was Never Eat Alone. Read it. It’s monumental and beautiful. A lot of relationships, even just from business relationships, they grow into personal ones, or vice versa. My clients at work, their birthdays for their kids or Thanksgiving or Christmas, they reach out to me, and that’s perfectly okay, but it would not have happened without us having deeper conversations outside of work about what else do you do besides working at Jabian?
John: Exactly. Yeah, and that’s it because you connect over the work, but that’s very two-dimensional, surface level. It’s literally that simple. What do you like to do outside of work? It’s literally that simple. Or it’s sharing a little bit of yours and then they feel compelled to share a little bit of theirs, type of a thing. Because I think that’s where people are nervous. They’re going to be judged, or it’s not work appropriate to talk about something else besides work. It’s so many things going on inside people’s heads that are lies. They’ll eat you up.
Ariel: I will say, this year has made those taboo conversations easier to have, when I tell you all of the social injustices, everything, the politics. We’re talking about it, so talk about your “and”. It’s no longer taboo. Talk about it. I’m telling you, hey, to talk about it. If it’s not okay to talk about it, say, “It’s not okay to talk about it. I want to talk about it.” Push. Push the line a little further.
John: Exactly. That’s like in my book. Everything is fair game up until you inhibit someone else’s ability to do their job.
John: If it’s something that’s taboo or going to be really causing a problem or going to inhibit people’s ability to do work, well, then, dial it down a little bit. Otherwise, it’s fair game, and there’s a time and a place for those things.
Ariel: It’s not necessarily what you say sometimes. It’s how you say it and when you say it.
Ariel: Talk to HR first if you need to, but yeah.
John: Right, and then just wear a T-shirt that says, GSD, and then go. That’s awesome. That’s so fun. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that maybe feel like, I have a hobby that no one’s going to care about or has nothing to do with my job?
Ariel: Words of encouragement. Try. Jump. You may fall. You may fly. Try. You can look back and not have regrets of not trying to do whatever that thing is or to start that thing. I have no regrets because I tried it. I could have started in 2017, officially, and I don’t have time, but it’s not in me to quit, so, huh. I could say, I did follow that dream of mine. I made it to that finish line. Now, I made it to this one, but I started. So, just start. Take the leap and jump. You may fall, but you may fly. You won’t know until you actually jump or take the leap.
John: I love that, and you’re doing it for you. You’re not doing it for everyone else’s approval. There you go. I love that. That’s awesome.
Ariel: Do it for yourself.
John: Very cool. So it’s only fair though, before I wrap this up, that I turn the tables and make this the first episode of the Ariel Lomax podcast, everybody. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m glad to be here. Since I peppered you with questions, it’s only fair that I allow you to fire away at me. I’m ready.
Ariel: What made you go into comedy?
John: Oh, it chose me, I think. I was at a training in Pasadena when I was at PricewaterhouseCoopers. It was a couple of weeks. We would rent a car and go down to the Improv in Hollywood and watch a three-hour show of tons of comedians. Whose Line Is It Anyway? would come in and do a 45-minute show. It was awesome. That was the first time I saw stand-up live and realized, oh, it’s not always hilarious. Sometimes it’s not, and I could be as not funny as that person. This is LA, so, why not? Then, yeah, just thought, it’s a creative outlet that’s totally different than my internal audit merger-acquisition work at PwC. Why not? Then I just started and then was okay at it. Then you just keep going. It was more of just, it was a challenge for me. It was fun for me, and it just gave me a different challenge and a creative outlet. Then I just got good, so, yeah.
Ariel: That’s amazing. That’s so amazing.
John: Yeah, I think some things like that choose you sometimes. Growing up, you don’t think, oh, yeah, I can just go be a comedian. Nobody says that. You can’t do that. That’s not a job. You go to college, go work for Deloitte, have a career, like you were saying. Then when you break that mold, you realize, oh, wait, I’m still breathing. Things are okay. I’m happy. It’s very hard, though. I definitely don’t advocate that people make it their career. I think it’s totally cool that it’s a hobby.
John: Because when you make that shift, everything changes. Everything changes, and so I’m very careful to make sure that I explicitly say, do not quit your job and follow your dream as your hobby, type of thing. Because if I’m able to tell you that and you don’t, then you never would have made it. It’s way too hard out here.
Ariel: Okay, a few rapid-fire questions. You’re going to like this. Chocolate or vanilla.
John: You know, and that’s a hard one for me too, I’ll go chocolate just because eating vanilla outside of a milkshake or ice cream, vanilla is like, no. Chocolate, you can have in all of the things.
Ariel: Cookies or cake pops
John: Wow, that’s actually a really hard one.
Ariel: I’m going somewhere with this.
John: Okay. I might say, yeah, maybe I haven’t had enough cake pops to know. I would say, because I’ve had a lot of cookies, so I guess I would lean towards cookies probably just because I don’t know enough about cake pops.
Ariel: Okay, and what is your favorite color?
Ariel: Blue? Okay. All right. Well, be expecting some blue treats from me soon.
John: What? That would be awesome. Oh, this is so cool. Cake pops, cake pops, I want your cake pops. I want to see.
Ariel: Cake pops, okay, I’ll send you some because you hadn’t had any. If you had Starbucks ones, it’s not quite the same. Mine are amazing.
John: Yes, exactly. I want to set the bar here so then whenever there’s cake pops again, I’m like —
Ariel: They’re not Monroe’s
John: These are not Monroe’s, exactly. Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Ariel. I’m excited to have you be a part of What’s Your “And”? Thanks for taking time to do this.
Ariel: Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun. I enjoyed it. Thank you.
John: Awesome. Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Ariel in action or some of her finished goods or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, also for Monroe’s and everything else. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture and check out the book. It’s good. I promise.
Thanks again for subscribing to the podcast 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.
Episode 317 – Scott Orn
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.
Episode 251 – Caleb Jenkins
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.