Episode 123 – Hayden Nilson

Hayden minds the net for better connections


Hayden Nilson was part of a high school state championship hockey team, which is really saying something considering he grew up in Alaska. He continues to play goalie about once a week, but has moved on to coaching and being an advisor to the Board of Directors for his old Youth Hockey League.

In this episode, Hayden and I talk about how playing goalie in hockey requires a certain attitude and confidence which translates directly to standing out in the business world. He hasn’t been afraid to get very involved at both his firm and with the Alaska Society of Certified Public Accountants, both of which have benefited his career. He encourages others to have confidence in yourself – and not just in your technical abilities – in order to get ahead.

Hayden Nilson is an Accounting Associate with Robinson & Ward, PC in Fairbanks, AK. He also serves on the Financial Literacy Committee and the Relations with Education Committee with the Alaska Society of Certified Public Accountants.

He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with both a BBA, Accounting and a BBA, Finance.

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Other pictures of Hayden

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Wake surfing on Harding Lake, Alaska

Hiking Worthington Glacier, Alaska

Final year of competitive hockey

Hayden’s links



  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 123 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett and each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby for a passion, something that makes them standout like a green apple in a red apple world. And when I tell you to imagine an apple in your head, just think of an apple. I’m sure for most of you it’s red, right, because in school remember that A is for apple, picture on the chalkboard. It was always that red apple because that’s the stereotype.

    But the interesting thing is that all apples actually start out as green. And then overtime they turn red turning into that stereotype. And I think just like that, we’re just like those green apples. And as a matter of the characteristics of apples are very similar to those professionals. They’re durable. They have a long shelf-life and they grow round overtime, which I don’t internet, cuts a little too close to the bone.

    But deep down inside all of us is this passion for something other than our jobs and that’s what I love to shine a light on each week. And I’m also doing some research. It’s super short, one-minute, anonymous survey about firm culture and how the Green Apple message might apply in your world. So if you’ve got just 60 seconds, please go to greenapplepodcast.com. You can click on the big green button there, answer a few quick questions.

    Again, it’s totally anonymous and I really, really appreciate the help. And thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests I had every week like this week’s Hayden Nilson. He’s an associate at Robinson & Ward, PC in Fairbanks, Alaska and we’re right in the thick of busy season. So I know you’re a busy, busy guy, Hayden. Thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Hayden: Thanks, John. Great to be here.

    John: Yeah, I’m excited to share your passion with everyone. But before we get into that, maybe touch on the career side just a little bit. I gave everyone the introduction, a piece of value, but maybe in your words where you’re at now and some of the work that you’re up to.

    Hayden: Yeah, yeah. So I work at a public accounting firm called Robinson & Ward up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Been here about two and a half years, two years now and it’s going great.

    John: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. And you started there straight out of school?

    Hayden: Yeah. So I did internship here and got turned into a full-time job and they decided to keep me around a little bit longer. So now we’re here for the long haul.

    John: Right, right. Now, you’re in. It’s too late. You got the tattoo and the chip has implanted. But that’s great I mean when you’re able to make the internship turn into full-time then there’s a lot less stress. That’s awesome, man. And are you more on the audit or the tax side?

    Hayden: So we’re more on the tax and advisory side. So no auditing.

    John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s a little more fun I guess. Because then you get up into the business with a lot of the small businesses. I remember I was talking about that before. So that’s great, yeah. And what made you want to get into accounting?

    Hayden: So I had a professor in college who, she’s actually been on this podcast for Amy Cooper.

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Hayden: She has a passion for the accounting field and she’s kind of the one that steered me this direction, convinced me to switch from being a marketing major to an accounting major and probably one of the best decisions I made while going to school. And I guess I’m in it for the long run now.

    John: Yeah, yeah. And Amy, she’s also got a passion for Auburn football that’s for sure. So when you’re not busy advising and doing taxes, what kind of hobby do you love to do?

    Hayden: So my hobby is hockey. So I do everything from play it to watch it to coach it. I help out with our local hockey organization here, just kind of it’s taken over my life since I was a little kid.

    John: Yeah, yeah. And I guess in Alaska, are you just born with skates on? Is that how it works or…?

    Hayden: I think that’s how they do it in Canada, but not here. Here, you’re pretty much either it’s hockey or basketball. Those are the only two indoor sports you can really play all year long.

    John: Right, yeah. Yeah, I’ve never been to Alaska, but I have to imagine that that would make a lot of sense now that you bring it up. And so you’ve been playing — when did you first start?

    Hayden: I think I started when I was around 10 years old.

    John: Nice. I mean did you play in college as well or was it like a rec league sort of a thing?

    Hayden: No. So I just played youth hockey and then once I finished basically high school, I started to help coach and I work with the college team there on campus while I was going to school. But yeah, no, my whole family’s kind of grown up in the hockey world. Cousins play hockey, brother plays hockey, it’s kind of what you do.

    John: Right, right, right. That makes sense. Do you have a preferred position that you like to play?

    Hayden: I was actually a goaltender.

    John: Whoa! You’re crazy, man. That’s crazy. So you’re like super flexible?

    Hayden: Not anymore.

    John: Yeah, not anymore.

    Hayden: Once you stop playing a lot, you kind of lose that.

    John: Yeah, yeah. No, but I mean does it hurt when the — I know you have pads on, but still I mean you take one off the facemask or something that’s going to rattle you a little bit.

    Hayden: Yeah, no. It doesn’t feel the greatest no matter what. You got to be a little bit crazy to stand in front of a puck coming at you that fast. It’s one of the things you just get used to.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. So do you have any like coolest or most rewarding story from your hockey days?

    Hayden: So I guess probably my most rewarding story would be my high school hockey team won the state championship here one year.

    John: Wow!

    Hayden: So that’s probably the most rewarding one, but other than that it’s just kind of — I think the game builds who you are as a person and that can correlate into your life and also back on the ice.

    John: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean that’s really interesting. So I mean how so?

    Hayden: So I think like with playing hockey, it gives you an attitude and a confidence that I don’t think you get playing some other sports. And I think that helps to not only build your relationship with coaches and your community members. Playing hockey in Fairbanks at least, you’re really involved in the community to where you’re at.

    Like the college games, you’re out there selling those 50-50 tickets or selling the chuck-a-pucks to be thrown in between periods. So you’re very involved from a young age.

    John: Right, yeah. So then you see how each piece fits in into the bigger picture as well. And do you feel like any of this translates over to your CPA job?

    Hayden: Definitely. I would say it helps you to build those client relationships. Building relationships is something you’re doing from — basically when you’re starting to play hockey, you’re building relationship with the coaches, with the trainers, with your teammates. And I think that correlates back into the profession of accounting where you’re building those relationships with your coworkers, with your clients and I guess with your future partners hopefully.

    John: Right, right. And I mean I would imagine there, I mean hockey is probably a pretty popular topic for people that are either playing or at least watching it, yeah?

    Hayden: My firm is not too big in the hockey. I work with 13 other women and none of them play hockey or interested in hockey. Just me and call one of the partners, the other guy and then we’ve got all the ladies here at the office. So not too much sports being talked around our office.

    John: Right, right. So you got to come on the Green Apple Podcast to get it all out, huh? Is that’s what’s happening?

    Hayden: Yeah, right.

    John: Right. So do you find other common ground to talk about when you’re there?

    Hayden: Yeah. So I mean my coworkers, they’re kind of like family. We go out pretty much almost every weekend. We go grab drinks after week. We just kind of all have that bond. We’re a pretty tight knit group and I think that just kind of works, gets everyone comfortable with each other. It kind of breaks down those barriers of I’m your boss. I’m your supervisor kind of thing. It separates everything to where you’re on equal playing field at that point.

    John: Yeah, yeah. Because you’re out of the office, it’s a little more casual. That makes a lot of sense. When you deal with some clients, do you find that sometimes the hockey comes in handy or is it more of a skillset rather than a relationship builder?

    Hayden: It’s both. So you got to play the client kind of thing to where if you can tell kind of what they’re interested in, like you’ll have a client come in and you’ll see that they have a hockey jacket on and that right away helps to build that bond. And other times, it just helps you to I guess gauge kind of the person that’s coming into your office. I guess you get to know people.

    John: Right. That’s really cool. And so then you like to watch, do you have a favorite team?

    Hayden: Yeah, I like the Minnesota Wild. They’re not doing so hot, haven’t been doing so hot the last couple of years, but they’re hanging in there.

    John: Right. Yeah, yeah. And what made you pick them?

    Hayden: So when I was little, I just kind of I liked their logo.

    John: Right, yeah. That works, man. That works. Absolutely, yeah. Because I mean they weren’t even a team for a long time. There were the Stars and the North Stars and then moved to Dallas and then yeah, they had nothing. But yeah, now they’re going. So that’s cool, man. That’s very cool. And now, you’re also doing some of the tax and advisory work for hockey leagues, right?

    Hayden: Yeah. So I work with one of the hockey organizations here in town helping their board out, helping their treasury out. Kind of making sure they’re staying compliant and all that stuff. Just kind of looking after their stuff.

    John: Yeah, yeah. And so that’s going to be really cool because it’s what you love anyway and it’s kind of merging the two worlds together.

    Hayden: Yeah, it kind of makes it come full circle. So now, I’m not playing too much anymore. I just get with a group of guys once a week and I’m coaching now. So it kind of you go from player to coach to now helping basically run the organization. And I guess it brings it to a close almost, like you come all the way around from being a player to now you’re at the top almost.

    John: Yeah, yeah. That’s really cool though and really cool. And especially when you worked your way up through it all, you’ve done it all. So you know how that works.

    I guess one thing that I always think about is just how much is it on an organization to create a culture like you have there where it’s cool to share, it’s cool to hang out together outside of work? It’s not all billable hours. And then how much is it on the individual just to maybe just create a little group on their own?

    Hayden: So I think it definitely starts at the top. It starts with your management and kind of how they want the firm to look as an organization. But then it really does come down to the staff members you bring on board. So more than anything, we’re not filling a seat. You’re filling a spot in the family kind of thing. So I think that’s the most important part is you’re bringing on someone who you can do that stuff with. You’re not necessarily bringing on someone who’s an expert in taxation or in advisory, because there’s lots of those. And not all of them have personalities I guess.

    John: Yeah, no, absolutely, absolutely. And so are you involved in like the interviewing process for that?

    Hayden: I am. So I’m involved in our recruitment process. We recruit out of the university, but I also don’t discriminate against other people applying for jobs here. So kind of I went from being recruited to doing the recruiting. So kind of come full circle on that too.

    John: Right, right. And so I guess what are things that you look for or are there certain questions that you ask or ways that you talk to potential recruits to see if they will be a good fit?

    Hayden: So I imagine we’re like a lot of firms where first we look at your academics, see if all right, this person can complete their schooling. I mean maybe they don’t have the best grades, but they were able to get through it type of thing. And then also we just have a conversation. Sometimes we ask the questions off of our sheets, other times if they bring up something interesting, we’ll talk more about that.

    Our interview process is more just to get to know the candidate better, kind of see who they are, see if we could go out and have a beer with them after work kind of thing. Instead of having them rattle off all of those standard interview questions that you’re pestered on in school.

    John: Right, right, right. What kind of tree are you or whatever? No, that’s great, man. Because, yeah, I mean like you said, everyone — there’s a lot of people that are tax experts, but are you a tax expert that I feel like being around eight hours a day?

    Hayden: Exactly.

    John: Yeah, that’s great, man. And congrats on moving on up like that and being a part of that because you’re making a big impact on the firm. So that’s really cool. Do you find that some people are reluctant to share?

    Hayden: I mean yeah. I think it takes a little bit to break some people down until they’re comfortable around you. I think everyone has that stage where you got to feel the other people out before you just dive on in and open up. Myself, I’m not really like that. I’m pretty comfortable around people, open up pretty quick.

    And I think it helped to not only help my advancement in the firm, but also to help my relationships with my coworkers and also clients and kind of — I guess the faster you open up, the more comfortable you get in your position and I guess the easier it is to probably advance.

    John: Yeah. And what do you think it is that — I mean because I was pretty similar. I think it was just I didn’t know any better I guess. What do you think it is that made you more willing to open up than maybe some of your peers at other firm even?

    Hayden: I think it’s probably like a confidence thing, more of a confidence in yourself rather than a confidence in your abilities. Because you can learn how to basically — for me, I can learn how to input a tax return, but it’s harder to learn those soft social skills after you’re in it, to where if you have those going in, I feel like you’re in a better position. And that’s one thing I think the schools are working on applying to their students is getting them to know those soft skills at an earlier stage instead of getting on the job and then having to figure out that portion of it.

    John: Yeah, yeah. I mean that’s so huge that you recognize that at such an early point in your career as well because that’s definitely where it’s at. The personal skills and the human-to-human interaction is hard to teach, it’s hard to learn. It’s a lot easier to learn this number goes into this box on this tax form. So I mean I guess, yeah. When you take a couple of hockey pucks to the chest, that’ll give you some confidence, right.

    Hayden: I guess when you take a couple to the head and knock something —

    John: Right, right, knock something lose, right. This Hayden dude isn’t normal. Yeah, well, he was a goalie. Oh, okay, never mind. Like I get it.

    Hayden: Yeah, I get that a lot. That’s more common than you would think.

    John: Right, right, right. That’s awesome. So do you have any words of encouragement to anybody that’s listening? That they’re like, “Hey, no one else does my hobby or cares about what my passion is.”

    Hayden: I guess give it a chance. I mean if you don’t care about something, what’s the point of really doing it kind of thing. I think if you have a hobby, it will help to get your mind off of work so that you’re not constantly thinking about, “Oh, I got to go do this tomorrow, I got to do this tomorrow.”

    It’s almost that mental break. Even if your hobby includes a lot of thinking, it’s different from when you’re doing from eight-to-five, nine-to-five taxes and you work in 12 plus hours. You need a little me time, a little getaway. So having a hobby I think can help that out tremendously.

    John: Yeah, yeah, for sure, man. Absolutely. And plus you find that you’re using a different muscle group if you will that you’re exercising that then you can bring into the office, a different skillset if you will, that other people aren’t always using. And so if you hold that back and don’t bring it in, then you’re really hurting not only your own career, but also the firm. So that’s great, man, very, very cool.

    Yeah. I mean state championship hockey team, goalie, like I mean that’s awesome. And now coaching and helping run the organization, that’s really fantastic, man. Hockey is easily the hardest sport that I’ve ever attempted to play.

    The fact that any goals are scored at all is a miracle if you ask me. Because I mean like you’re on ice, you’re on narrow pieces of metal. You have a stick that’s like five feet long. I mean it’s nuts. It’s like I don’t know how anything happens, but it’s impressive.

    But I do have my 17 rapid fire questions I got to run you through in order to just get to know Hayden a little bit and make sure that we can actually hang out. So let me fire this thing up here and here we go. Here we go. I’ll start you on super easy, super easy. What’s your favorite color?

    Hayden: Blue.

    John: Blue, there you go. How about a least favorite color?

    Hayden: Red.

    John: Red, nice. All right, what’s a typical breakfast?

    Hayden: Breakfast burrito.

    John: A breakfast burrito, okay, all right, nice. Do you prefer pens or pencils?

    Hayden: Pens.

    John: Pens, there you go. Do you have a favorite comedian?

    Hayden: John Garrett.

    John: John Garrett. You know everyone says that and I think they’re lying. I don’t believe that.

    Hayden: Louis C.K.

    John: Louis C.K. Yeah, all right. Absolutely, man. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Hayden: Early bird.

    John: Early bird, all right. How about sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Hayden: Sudoku.

    John: Yeah, there you go, numbers. Do you have a favorite number?

    Hayden: Five.

    John: Was that your hockey number?

    Hayden: No. I played soccer. It was my soccer number.

    John: All right, all right. Do you have a favorite band or musician?

    Hayden: Casey Donahew Band.

    John: Okay, nice, very cool. What’s your favorite tax form?

    Hayden: 1120S.

    John: And what is that one? I don’t even know.

    Hayden: S Corporations.

    John: Oh, okay. There we go. How about favorite movie of all time?

    Hayden: Happy Gilmore.

    John: Nice, wow. Are you more jeans or khakis?

    Hayden: Khakis.

    John: Khakis, fancy. Do you have a favorite ice-cream flavor?

    Hayden: I’m just going to go a nice simple vanilla.

    John: Okay, all right, all right. We got three more. On your computer, are you more PC or Mac?

    Hayden: Mac.

    John: Mac, fancy, man. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Hayden: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars, there you go. And favorite toppings on a pizza?

    Hayden: Pineapple.

    John: Wow, all right, nice. And the last one, last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have.

    Hayden: I guess my favorite thing that I own would be my car.

    John: Your car, right, because it takes you where you want to go.

    Hayden: Exactly.

    John: Yeah, yeah. And I imagine in Alaska especially around this time of year, super important. So that’s awesome, man. Well, thank you so much, Hayden, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Hayden: Yeah, thanks for having me.

    John: I just want to say how much I liked how Hayden said have confidence in yourself just as much as the confidence in your technical abilities. I mean anyone can learn the technical skills, but those combined with your unique personality will be such a huge career accelerant. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

    And if you’d like to see some pictures of Hayden on the ice and connect with him on social media, go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re on the page, please click that big green button, do the anonymous research survey about company culture. And thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.

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