Creating a Sustainable Practice with John Pace
Randy welcomes John Pace, the 2022 Digital CPA Innovation Practitioner of the Year, to The Unique CPA for episode 125. John transformed his outsourced accounting department, which is focused on nonprofits and government contractors, after becoming its director about a year into his time at GRF CPA in Bethesda, Maryland. He shares his insights into building a strong culture centered on employee wellbeing and work-life balance over billable hours. John’s perspectives on leadership, innovation, and running a sustainable practice through empowerment are key listening for anyone in or looking to grow into a leadership position.
Today, our guest is John Pace. John is Partner and Director of Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services for GRF CPAs out of the east coast—what is it, Bethesda? Is that where you are, John?
Yeah, Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC.
Alright, just outside of Washington, DC. John and I had talked about him being a guest on the show, oh, last summer. And then, as I’ve been stalking him on the internet, just saw recently that he was named by CPA.com as the ’22 Digital CPA Innovation Practitioner of the Year, which is pretty cool. I knew a handful of people that were up for that, and when I saw John, I go, that’s awesome, and then he won, which is pretty cool. That award recognizes individuals—this is going to be important, because these are some of the things we’ll talk about today—it’ll recognize individuals who are driving the accounting profession forward, which I think is huge, through innovative thought leadership, processes, services, technology, and technology implementation. I guess before we go any further, John, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thanks so much. It’s great to be here. Always, always fun to chat with you. So, looking forward to it.
Yeah, I am, too. I got the pleasure of introducing you in an event over the summer, which is always one of my personal highlights. I love introducing people. And that’s when you and I think first started talking about this. So first off, congrats on the award. That’s awesome.
Yeah, thank you so much. And it was an amazing honor. I’m still not sure I really believe it. But you know, I gotta give all credit in the world to my team for helping me get there and helping us get there. So it’s pretty much a surreal time because I was there in person in December to get that award as well.
I was actually in Austin at the same time, but I wasn’t at the event, although I did walk through the hall. So I did not get to see you get the award. But I did immediately hear about it on Twitter or LinkedIn or somewhere, so.
You were there in spirit.
There in spirit. So that was pretty cool. Let’s see, what are there? I don’t even know 1.5 million CPAs in the country. And you’re the number one innovative CPA? That’s pretty cool.
Oh, my goodness. Yeah. I hadn’t really quite thought of it like. I guess I have got a lot of friends. I don’t know.
Well, that could be too. You are a likable guy. So it could be that.
Alright, so let’s jump into a few things. We can go all over because it’s so interesting to talk to you. But let’s jump into a few things I mentioned. First, you’re a partner at GRF out of the DC area. And you know, Jackie Cardello, your managing partner, was on this show before, and Jackie and I had a great conversation. You seem to be a pretty progressive, firm the way you look at things overall from DEI, just to, you know, how your corporate culture is. We can go into any subject we want. But first, I just want to talk about your outsourced advisory, or I assume you call it CAS, do you call it C-A-S, C-A-A-S? How do you define client accounting services or advisory services?
Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, when I’m talking to someone that, like it’s a quick conversation, it’s just easier for me to refer to CAS, you know. We call ourselves—it’s a mouthful, I totally get it—we call ourselves Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services, or OAAS. See, I almost butchered it. So that’s how we call it because, you know, we work with a lot of, you know, we’ve, the industry’s talked about advisory for a long time. You know, two of the big niches that we support are nonprofits and government contractors. And I think we found over, at least I feel, that over at least my 18 years here and counting that, you know, the advisory side is just sort of been built into what we’ve done from day one, just because of the nature of the compliance heavy, and there’s just lots of stuff to figure out for those niches so so we wanted to make sure we got that advisory baked into the name.
So when you’re talking, this is a new one on me, OAAS—do I have that right?
I like it though. Are we talking just the accounting side there? Is tax plans in this or is that a separate unit?
Yeah. So for GRF we’re definitely structured departmentally, so we, you know, full source, full service accounting firm, so we’ve got our audit, you know, tax, and we’re so specialized in the nonprofit world, we actually have two tax departments. We have one that deals only with exempt awards. And then your traditional kind of more for profit, you know, individual estates and trusts and things, corporations. And then you have us, and then we also have awesome risk advisory services, and we also have accounting technology solutions. So we got a lot of, a bunch of divisions, and we all kind of work together. But so when I need tax help for our clients, when we need tax help we reach out to the respective department, whichever one it is.
Okay, so advisory in the OAAS is accounting advisory, more financial statement advisory?
Got it. Okay. Just to get that. So while we’re on this subject, why don’t we dig into this further, then? Because this is always intriguing to me, just how people are integrating, and you guys have been doing it for a while, but well, I guess that’s the first question then? When did this become a separate unit within the firm?
Oh, interesting. So it, when I started in 2005, it was actually already a separate unit. But it was, you know, it was obviously different, you know, some of the technology hadn’t come around yet in 2005. And so we were a department, this was a little bit before Sarbanes Oxley and Enron and all that stuff happened, but we were a department that, you know, basically, we would do outsourced accounting. So we would go to clients, we would, you know, help them close their books, quite often, it was just sort of end of month as opposed to kind of like ongoing, but we would also do kind of anything else in the firm that the other departments didn’t do. So it was almost a jack of all trades. But I call them technology revolutions instead of evolutions. You know, I think, to me, it started with QuickBooks, you know, the accountants’ copy file, and QuickBooks Desktop, and then it was QBO. And then it was bill.com. And each of those revolutions allowed us to kind of take our business up a notch and further develop it. So we’ve had it all along, but I’d say maybe sometimes started in 2015, ’16, it really started to kind of turn.
And when did you become the head of this group?
So I became a partner with GRF in 2016, in January, and then I took over as department head in I think May, or it was the spring of 2017. So I had one year before I had one year being a partner before I took over, it was fun.
And when you did, so that sounds like pretty much the evolution of at least this separate entity more structured, how did you change things when you took over that role?
Um, so I think one of the first things that we did was we actually changed the name. So like, back in those days, it used to be called the Client Services Department. And I think it was kind of funny, because we were, you know, it’s pretty generic name. As you can tell, we did great work. But I remember one time trying to place an ad for someone, and the recruiter couldn’t really help us. But basically, we got a bunch back a bunch of folks that were like, looking to do you know exactly what you’d say, you know, you know, phone calls for support. And we’re like, I, we got to change this name, guys. So, first thing we do is changed the name.
I had two great other partners, or Eleanor was almost a partner at that time. But I mean, we quickly put our heads together, and I think, you know, we started, you know, we reached out to cpa.com, you know, we made some great hires, like, so we really invested in building our team. Man, the work just came, you know, so I’m a big believer and like, you get the right people, you treat them right. And it shows down to your clients and the work that you do. And it just took off.
Nice, but let’s talk about that. Because you just mentioned you get some good hires and good people, because that’s one of the biggest issues and, you know, profession or in a lot of professions, actually, but our profession, for sure, is getting and retaining people. It sounds like you haven’t had that problem. Want to explain why, if that is true, and then guessing it revolves around corporate culture, somewhat as well too.
Yeah, I mean, it is true. And we’ve, you know, I always knock on wood when I say this, you know, we’ve sort of, we have not had a lot of the issues that other firms have had. And, you know, first of all, you have to give credit to the executive leadership of the firm because there’s a couple of ways that you can build culture, and none of them work if you don’t, you know, if you have other leaders in your firm, you know, barking at you and saying, hey, you know, why aren’t your people working overtime? Or why is your utilization at certain, or whatever.
So, but basically, you know, we come at it from a people first approach, so you know, so there’s a couple of parts of that we want to take in and retain good clients. We want our clients and I’m very, very frank, I know you’re shocked, you know, I have frank conversations with prospects. And we tell them from the drop, like, we want to be a partner with you, we want to build your success and we want to build our success. We’re not super interested in being a vendor with you. If you want to pay us a lot to be a vendor, okay, that’s fine, whatever we’ll take it. But you know, we’re mostly interested in being a partner with you. And, you know, I’m very clear that like, you know, we’ll treat you with respect. That’s what we expect. And honestly, I rarely have to say that, but I think our prospects, appreciate it. So that’s step one, right? Step one is like making sure your clients know that your people are your most valuable asset.
And especially in the nonprofit industry, they want to hear that, that you care about your people, and that you take good care of them. Because a lot of these nonprofits that’s part of what their mission is, right? You know, so we can immediately have alignment.
But the other thing too, is the thing that sort of crazy in this and our outsourcing group is part of a traditional CPA firm, right. So that’s, that’s one of the things you hear a lot about. We’ve had really no struggles with that. And we hire people, we basically guarantee them quality of life. We don’t necessarily guarantee 40 hours a week, but typically, we’re saying we expect you to work 40 to 45 hours a week, you know, there are times when you might have to step up and help your team. But like, if you start to get piled on, you need to let us know. And we’ll communicate, let’s communicate, and let’s get it fixed.
We don’t share staff with other departments. So all we do is outsourced accounting advisory. So we don’t, we don’t get pulled into audit or tax for busy season. So we’re able to offer like a Steady Eddy sort of 52 weeks a year, we have to stick to our guns on that work life balance. And that is if you can do that, then what we found is that our people, quote unquote, tell their friends, and they tell their family, “we found this great place.” And, you know, we’ve interviewed so many people that have basically said, Where’s the catch? I don’t believe you. Why aren’t there hours goals or utilization targets in my offer letter? We don’t do that.
Right. So what about so you said, you know, hours you’re trying to stick 4045? I mean, I assume is the seasonality of your group less than like, say tax or something or you have seasonality?
Um, I’d say I don’t think we really—we have a little bit of seasonality. I mean, January’s tough with extra, the 1099s, believe it or not, just drives me crazy, because it’s, I won’t say any further on that.
It’s a lot of work for not a lot of value, you know, so nobody appreciates 1099, but yet they have to be done, right? So 1099s, we’ve worked to streamline those processes, it’s not perfect, right? But so 1099s is a little like, adds a little pressure. But once January comes in, once that goes, that’s gone. But then what it’s replaced by is, you know, with a big nonprofit client base, a lot of our clients are audited. So you know, we need to make sure that we’re buttoned up and ready to go for audit. And, you know, we are, you know, we do a great job month in month out closing those books solidly, but you know, a lot of time, it’s always crunch time.
Right? Right. So maybe there’s a lot more time but, but you want to use stress, which I love the fact that we want this work life balance. So let’s talk more culture, then what do you do? What how do you make people feel comfortable? How do people feel comfortable that they can be themselves? You know, what’s the core cultural things that you feel you guys work out really well?
Yeah, for sure. So, um, you know, I think for me, like my own career journey, it took me a long, long time, even some place as open as GRF, and it’s just like, GRF has a great, is an awesome culture and always has from day one that I came here. But, you know, I think it took me a long time to feel confident in my own skin, you know, confident without being cocky. But I think what I’ve come to realize is it’s our responsibility as leaders to create a workplace. Like, we got to be fair to our employees, be fair, but we have a responsibility, those who are fortunate enough to be in a leadership role, have a responsibility to give back to our community. And I’m not just saying that. I really do believe it. We have a responsibility to, to give the people that work for us a quality of life, you know? I would never want to go home at night thinking I’m working my people that, you know, it’s not what I want to do.
But, you know, a key to our success is basically, you know, encouraging authenticity: be yourself. Be who you are. I think you’re happier, more adjusted, if you can come to work and be yourself and like, just think about like 15, 20 years ago, maybe 10 years ago, people had to hide who they are when it comes to work. You know? It doesn’t matter if it’s hair, clothes, dress, whatever it is, you know, I just believe that if you can be yourself around your teammates, you’re going to be happier. And if you’re happier, you know, the clients are happy.
So, I don’t know if I asked you this before, do you know, John Garrett, What’s Your “And?”
Alright. So John has—anybody listening to the show knows I talk about John all the time. So we’re gonna go on another John Garrett rant here for a second. But John has statistics, obviously, he’s done his own studies. But there’s, this is I think, where he’s done research. But it basically says that, I think there was a couple things: 93% of everybody has an outside of work passion, which I’m all concerned about the 7% that don’t. So 93%. So most people do, most people have something besides work that they love to do. And also his statistics say, and I think it is like 97% of people who have three close friends at work are happier with their lives. And so if you allow people to share their passions, be themselves at work, like you’re saying, not hide who you are , which probably wasn’t that long ago that you did, like you said, and these 97%, I might have the number wrong, but it’s high 90s, are more satisfied with their lives, which means obviously, they’re more satisfied with their work as well. I think that’s a—I love that statistic. I love being able to allow people to bring their selves to work.
You told the story once and I don’t know, if you want, I might have this wrong, but you were talking, I think about that, you know, hiding yourself? And was there a tattoo involved? What was that? I can’t remember.
Yeah, there’s a bunch of funny stories there. Um, you know, but before I get there, though, like, I think I will give you some concrete answers, like, you know, some concrete, concrete answers about how you actually create a culture. I think, you know, it’s not a soft, you know, or fake, you know, thing to say, that it starts at the top, that we as leaders have to be approachable, like if you say one thing, but then you’re a grumpy person around the office, or people are scared of you, you know, you’re toast, they don’t believe you, you know, so you need to be someone, even if you’re the most, you think you’re the most important partner in the whole firm, you need to be approachable by your team. So that’s, that’s one concrete way. And it’s hard. It’s hard. We all get busy, right? So there’s that.
Before we go off of that, let’s go back to that for a second, then we’ll go to the funny story. So you have to be, and I think, what do you just use? The word was approachable?
So how do we define that? I so one thing I say and I think it’s probably falls in this I think as a leader to being vulnerable is one of the biggest things you can do, you know, be open to share, you know, whatever it is personal story that you know is going to help somebody. So what do you think approachability is for a leader?
Oh, it’s, I’m glad you brought that up. Because I’m just sort of jotting down a couple of books that I’ve read. One not so recently, and when recently, that are not new books. But I totally agree with you, like being vulnerable, because let’s face it, like partners, executives, whatever you are Executive Director, anything, you have an aura about you. And I am stunned at how many leaders forget what it’s like to be a newer professional, and going into that CEO’s office or whatever it is. And the fear that you know, that you might have is that person, it’s palpable, for sure. So, for a leader to be vulnerable, and to kind of like try to break down those walls is so powerful. And I couldn’t agree with you more.
And like so I really enjoyed the book, The Heart-Led Leader, and also the book by Patrick Lencioni called Getting Naked, which is really about being vulnerable, and, you know, not being afraid to ask dumb questions and things like that. And I think that is huge. When I read that getting naked book and I will totally admit that I should have read it five years ago, but like, I felt like geez, this is the way that I have sort of modeled my career, you know, trying to be open and vulnerable with people.
I think that’s awesome. So get what was the other book, Getting Naked and…?
The Heart-Led Leader. I cannot remember who wrote it, but I’m sure we can find it and drop it in the comments.
(the author of The Heart Led-Leader is Tommy Spaulding)
Yes, we can for sure. So, I again, if anybody has ever listened to the show, they’ve heard me say I don’t really read business books. I haven’t done that, or even personal growth books, other than John’s What’s Your “And?” I am currently listening to The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. I’m loving that book. And now it’s starting to make me think okay, reading these business type, you know, books, doesn’t have to be boring, apparently.
No, and it’s interesting you say that because these two books are what they call like business fables or parables, and so they’re written, you can blow through. I mean, they’re like 250 pages maybe, or 200. You could literally read it in a night or two. It’s not a textbook. It’s told, you know, in a story framework, and you know, it’s told from—both of them are basically like, this is this person’s fictional experience in a firm, and it’s based on real events, and it’s just been tweaked, of course. And so for anyone that has ever worked in a professional service firm or has any interest whatsoever, it’s a super easy read. That’s the great part.
Alright, I’m gonna look at those then too. Alright, so then: funny story.
Yeah, funny story. So like, you know, just talking about the whole professional workplace. You know, I’m 47 years old, I started, who knows, you can do the math when I started at GRF. But like, it was still a little bit of the olden days, you know, we had to wear a button down shirts, we couldn’t wear hoodies to work, right. We couldn’t wear high tops, you know, and in, like, you know. It’s funny, I got, I think I got my first tattoo when I was probably 40 years old, 40 or 41 years old. And it was pretty funny. You know, I had my parents in my ear kind of listening to me, like, you’ll never gonna get a job, you know? And I’m like, geez, you know, I’m a partner in a CPA firm. And I think I can get my first tattoo, what do you guys think, you know?
So I got them in on my legs in places that you can’t see, so I can easily hide them and be a chameleon if I need to. But it was really funny because like, GRF would do summer picnics, we do all kinds of stuff like that, right? So like, I really shied away from like wearing shorts in the summer, I would wear like, like pants or something. Because like one of my one of my mentors, David Grayling, who’s an awesome partner, former managing partner of GRF, just retired. Like, I was like, I thought he was gonna be disappointed in me. Right? Like, he was like, my dad, and I love him so much, you know? And it was pretty funny. I think it literally took, I’ll be honest with you, I think it took to last May when we had our we had our first in person retreat after the pandemic, we were at a nice hotel or something with the partners and managers. And I was like, forget, I’m wearing shorts.
So then I get paraded around a little bit and they’re like, hey, look, you know. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Right? There was like most people like, oh, okay, whatever. What’s the big deal? So that was a pretty funny story. So I just sort of like, you know, in my mind, it’s fun out of control that I didn’t want David, “my dad,” to see it. You know, my work dad. But he would not have even cared, I don’t think.
No, and that’s that goes back to that culture, then—being yourself being you know, not hiding. The tattoos are part of you not hiding that and being open. And it sounds like you guys have that culture? Yeah, other than being paraded around a little.
That was funny. I think actually, Eleanor, one of our awesome partners in OAAS, she, dragged me over to Jackie, she said, look! So it’s pretty funny.
Alright. Alright. Other corporate culture. I mean, you guys do get together as a team, You did mention retreats? Is there any things you feel adds to that culture?
Yeah, I mean, we work on a ton of different fronts, we have a DEI initiative, we have employee engagement initiatives where the employees without partners are there to help kind of change or not change, but work on the culture of the firm and and trying to make this their firm because we really do believe this is their firm, right? And so there’s those aspects, you know, from our, you know, we have staff meetings, we have virtual meetings, we try to have fun, we have family picnics, we have holiday parties, we close between Christmas and New Year’s now we made that official two years in a row.
Yeah, it’s awesome. And I can’t tell you how much, you know, for me, I’ve always thought that was wasted time during that week. And you know, people’s minds are obviously elsewhere, let’s just close the firm. And, of course, the result was obvious and immediate. Our team members absolutely loved it. And, you know, they just, they’re super thankful to be at GRF, because we do that type of stuff.
You know, we do have, we’re very active users of like, you know, Zoom and Teams, and in the chats that are part of that. And we try to build a we built a little community around, you know, kind of the, the messaging and have a little bit of fun with our coworkers, try to create some levity during the day to try to create some laughter. You know, it you know, you know, when accountants are like, everybody’s got a different personality, you’ve got a big range. So, some people participate more than others, but I think it at these shows are folks that, you know, hey, we’re real people. We spend a lot of time with each other and, you know, we can laugh.
Yeah, it’s that, honestly, that week between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve seen more and more firms not a ton, but starting to do that. I know Jennifer Wilson, I think is talking about that quite a bit. I think they do that. But my wife’s work does that—she’s not in public accounting, but they do that. But yeah, like you said, it’s wasted time. And boy, the benefits I’m sure you get from that from the employees is really amazing.
Another thing, because I want to go backwards a little bit. Because you talked about onboarding clients and having discussions and, you know, this is what we expect. And this is how we work with you, and we want to be your team member and help you grow and all this. When you don’t have the clients that you want, when you brought in somebody that’s not a complete fit, I assume, you know, maybe you guys do such a great job upfront that this doesn’t happen. But I assume there is certain clients that you have to say, Okay, we’re no longer a fit for you. Is that? Is that a common? Do you have a an annual basis, quarterly basis? Do you look at that and where you need to go?
We do. I mean, we look at that two ways. Last year, we actually built it into our 2022, I mean, we built it into our partner goals that everybody at least has to evaluate all their clients. Every department has a different level of workload, and it could be that, you know, certain departments like you absolutely have to cut clients. Right? It could be the case. You know, we weren’t exactly at that point where we, we weren’t drowning, right? Because, you know, just because we’re differently structured.
But, you know, we did undertake that analysis. Pretty fortunate that our client makes his been pretty great to us. And, you know, but we have a client ranking worksheet, we update it regularly. And we’ve taken steps, you know—I prefer to be short and sweet, to be honest with you, when when it comes to comes to terminating clients. It’s like, hey, you know, you don’t have to explain a lot. I also learned that from David Grayling, it’s just short and sweet. You know, we’re no longer fit. And we wish you the best of luck and stuff like that. So we definitely do that.
And so that’s the normal evaluation. You know, obviously, my actions start to change, and I take quicker action, if our staff were to come to me in tears and say, this client was disrespectful to me, you know, we’ll have to reach out and kind of figure out, okay, what happened? And how do we make sure that doesn’t happen again. And then depending on the severity of the situation, you know, I might actually have to say, thank goodness, I haven’t had to say this, but like, you know, I have not had to say, hey, if that happens again, you know, that’s gonna be the end of our relationship. I’ve not had to do that. But I’m sure it will happen sometime.
Yeah, and I think that’s important, because that’s goes to their culture, too. Especially. It’s nice that you haven’t had to, but man, your your staff will be so appreciative if there is that person that has brought to tears because of a client’s thing or whatever.
So things you can do like that to show the people you work with that. They’re important, as you said, they’re, they’re the most important part of what you do, which is, which is awesome.
Another thing that you and I talked about, which I think may play into this a little bit as a couple of things, but it sounds like these two go together is, you know, you as a leader, it’s important to be working on the business rather than, you know, creating this new environment and client base. But tying into that too, because this is a huge subject I love talking about as well is billable hours. So let’s just talk about working on the business. And then tell us how you deal with billing? Is there three tiers, is there billable hours? Is there value billing? How do you work?
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Yeah, huge question. I actually don’t give, we don’t give our outsourcing staff billable hour targets. So I’ve always thought that that’s my problem. You know, if I hire people, and I don’t have the work for them, that’s my problem. I mean, tossing aside any performance issues or something like that, you know, that’s another story. But all things being equal, and you’ve got decent quality staff, you know, their utilization and billable hours is a function of what we give them. I’m probably simplifying in some situations, but that’s what I believe, primarily.
So then how do you, is there a fixed fee for each engagement? Or how do you, is that?
We charge their hours at this point. I mean, I think I would like to investigate getting rid of the timesheet. I still think we’re a couple years away, maybe two or three years away. Don’t quote me on that. But like, I mean, I guess you will quote me on that.
Yeah, this is, people are gonna hear this, not just you and me!
I think we’re, I think we’re probably a couple years away. I mean, I think we could be, you know, we could be one of the first departments in GRF to do that, if there’s appetite for that. But so yeah, the team still uses the timesheets, we still have, we bill a lot on a fixed monthly fee. We have some stuff that’s hourly, on a fixed fee, if we have items that are out of scope. I mean, honestly, we just build that hourly because it’s easier. I mean, we’ve goofed around a little bit with saying, Okay, well, let’s do that on a unit basis. So it’s like one extra, let one extra employee, it’s an extra X dollars a month. I found that hard to navigate. But like, I know some folks listening may do a great job at that, like unitizing their services. We haven’t done that.
Have you looked at, or heard of Ron Baker’s new book, Time’s Up?
Do you have a copy?
No, I haven’t gotten it yet. But it’s funny. I just saw him speak at Digital CPA. And yeah, it was pretty funny. I loved when he was up on that stage. And he was talking about subscriptions. And he was talking about waiting in line for that hotel. And I love the feistiness in him because he was like, you’ve wasted my time. And I was like yes! This guy is so awesome. You know? Because he expressed what all of us feel in that moment, right?
Yeah, I’m very fortunate to have seen him speak multiple times. He’s been on the podcast, at least twice. He was on our virtual conference last year. He was one of the main speakers there. And yeah, I just hearing him speak. And he gets people thinking against people. He’s a change agent, I guess. So that’s pretty cool.
And then how about you personally running this practice? And working on the business? Although it sounds like you work in the business as well, you have what three and a half million dollars of stuff that you work on?
Yeah, for sure. So a couple of thoughts I have on—you know, it depends a little bit on who you are, and what you do. But you know, and I know, there’s different types of partners. But for me, I’ve always been skeptical of the concept of minimum billable hour targets for partners. It just doesn’t make sense to me. And I’m not saying I’m the smartest guy in the world. So take it for what it’s worth. But at the end of the day, our job is to make the organization better and to get work for other people. I mean, the hours that I work are absolutely irrelevant. My job is to make sure that I’m replaceable—that my team is here, and they’re ready, and, you know, we’re good to go. Like, I mean, we have to run this like a business, but we also have to be we have to be open to new ideas, we have to be willing to try and fail stuff. And to do that you have to spend time, admin time. If I’m spending all my time, you know, ticking in time, you know that that is a terrible use of my time. And there was another thing I was gonna say, but I think I forgot. I got on a tirade there.
I get on my soapbox, or I rant. So you were doing one of those two, so.
Totally, yeah. Oh, the other key thing—how I manage that book of business?
It’s basically leverage, I would be dead without leverage. Like, you know, we have a lot of really talented team members, and I rely on them. And it works. It’s a symbiotic relationship at work, because it allows me to do more and allows us to grow. But it also empowers them. They feel like they don’t have to come to me for every little decision. They know I’m here to help them. But at the end of the day, you know, they can try it, they can do whatever they need to do and it empowers them, and it empowers them to get better to try, they learn. And so the cycle just seems to work.
Yep. That makes sense creating the, as you said, a sustainable practice, right. You know, you you’re important, but if something were to happen, they can continue on with that.
I like that. I like it a lot. Alright, any final things that we need to, that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to before I ask you two final questions?
Yeah, um, I think I told you when we talked one time, you know, I try to think about, like the approachability thing. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the fact that when I was like 15 years old or something, my mom dragged my lazy little butt up to the local grocery store and said, “Give this loser a job.” I’m pretty sure that was transformational for me. And you know, a shy little kid from the suburbs being tossed into a grocery store, you know, with a bunch of different people from all backgrounds and stuff. And you know, I’ll just never forget the first day I started and someone said good morning to me, and I, you know, typical shy kid, I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. And she called me right out, you know? “You’re not going to say good morning to me?” And I was like, oh my gosh,
So that was one of the first sort of lessons that I got. And it took a long time to kind of sink in, but like, you know, it’s like communicating with people. Oh, people, you know, I feel like working in a grocery store. And I loved every second of that, by the way, I think if I retired tomorrow, I think I would probably walk right up to the local giant grocery store that we have here and be like, hey, go find some place for me to work. You know, I love it.
Nice. That’s what my godfather did he retired very early. I think he was mid 40s or something. And then, you know, as a retirement jobs, they’re working at a grocery store and the vegetable department and loved it.
Yeah, I think I would love that.
Yep. He definitely did. And he’s now been in Florida, retired for many, many years.
Alright. So the two final questions. The last one, we’ll talk about contact information. But before that, this is not because I’m a big fan of John Garrett, but I always feel like I’m stealing John Garrett. Every time I still ask this question. “Damn you, John Garrett, I asked this question before I met you,” but I love John. He’s great. What is your outside of work passion when you’re not running the, wait. O-A-A-S. I can’t say it.
The CAS Practice, yeah?
What are your passions outside of work?
Yeah, so some would say I have too many.
You can’t have too many.
Yeah, a couple of things. And they sort of come and go, right, a little bit. I’m huge into music. I love guitars. I love guitar amps, specifically electric guitars and amps and stuff. I love the noise they make. I wear earplugs to protect my hearing and stuff. But like, I just love feeling when you crank that guitar amp up, and like the speakers move air and it hits your chest and stuff. So like that’s pretty cool. So I love that stuff. It causes me to buy guitars and amps at an obscene rate and I swear I’m better now. You know, I’ve gone to rehab with shopping. So that’s one thing, guitars and amps.
I love like sort of winter sports like skiing and snowboarding and stuff. It just like to me it is one of the few things that actually relaxes me as I know you all can tell I’m a super relaxed guy. So being out on the mountain and like this feeling, that, I love that. And so I love skiing and snowboarding, mediocre at both, so. And I’ve also you know, for a long time, I started playing adult league ice hockey as is as an adult after college. I’ve been doing that for a long time too. So those are some of the stuff that I love to do. I have a nearly six year old son who’s awesome so I love spending time with him and stuff like that. So I think that probably covers it.
Well, you brought up your son and he has a unique name if I remember. What your son’s name?
He does have a unique name. His name is Wolf. So that is his middle name, it was not my idea. It was my wife’s idea. His name is James Wolf, and we wanted to give him a cool middle name. But his name is pretty cool because his first name James, I think, Randy, you may remember this, he is named after James Hetfield of the band Metallica, which is my favorite band of all time. Typical CPA, I know, right? So named after James Hetfield, the legendary rhythm guitar player and singer of Metallica. And you know, Wolf is his middle name. And it’s not short for Wolfgang, it’s just Wolf.
Just Wolf. And does he go by James or Wolf?
So it’s funny, he mostly goes by Wolf. But when he dresses—he’s in a police phase right now. So he dresses up in a police uniform, six years old, and he goes by Officer James at that point.
Awesome. That’s awesome. Well say hi to Officer James for me.
He’s a character.
Yeah! Then that leads to one more question. So Metallica then you’re, what you’re playing on the guitar or what’s your style?
I try. You know, I don’t play as much as I should. You know, I have more time. I do more shopping than I do playing, you know, practicing. But yeah, that’s mostly what I’m playing. It’s like, like a little hodgepodge, like Metallica riffs and other stuff.
Yeah, nice. Well, John, I’m thrilled we did this. It was awesome. I appreciate all the information that you were able to share. I think people can learn a lot from just the culture you guys have, how you look at the business, and how you built this nice, outsourcing, O-A-A-S.
You got it!
So mechanical when I say it. O-A-A-S. Got it. I’ll get there. It’ll flow eventually. But again, John, thanks for being on The Unique CPA.
Absolutely. Thank you. It was a blast.
About the Guest
John Pace has worked in accounting and finance since 1998, with a primary focus in outsourced accounting, assurance, consulting, and business valuation services to clients in the nonprofit, government contractor, and professional services industries. He specializes in supporting government funded clients and provides guidance on compliance issues, development of accounting policies and procedures, preparation and review of indirect rate calculations and structure, preparation and review of incurred cost submissions, assistance with negotiated indirect cost rate agreements (NICRA), incurred cost audit support, and accounting system audit support.
As a partner and director of GRF’s Outsourced Accounting & Advisory Services group, John is responsible for overseeing the full range of outsourced accounting services, supervising review and compilation engagements, and providing consulting for the firm’s nonprofit and for-profit government contractor clients.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.