Episode 125 – Josh Lance

Josh uncorks great client connections


Josh Lance started making shiraz and zinfandel wines with a friend several years ago. He found that the process was very similar to accounting, in that the process is very detail-oriented and there’s a fair amount of math. Unfortunately, you can’t really taste the fruits of your labor for 1-2 years while the wine ferments. In the meantime, he realized he could home brew beer that had a much shorter wait time, so he began to explore that as well.

In this episode, Josh and I talk about how this passion allowed him to quickly develop a client niche. He’s as excited about their business as his clients are, so it makes going to work much more enjoyable. He also created his own firm four years ago with a group of other young parents who appreciate flexible schedules. Josh also feels that it’s important they have passions outside of work, adding, “While we might be good at it, we are all much more than just accountants!”

Josh Lance is the Managing Director of Lance CPA Group in Chicago and Adjunct Faculty at Northwestern University. Josh was also selected to the 2017 class of the AICPA Leadership Academy, named as one of the 40 under 40 in 2017 by CPA Practice Advisor, and selected to serve on the Xero Partner Advisory Council.

He graduated from Miami University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, majoring in Finance and Accounting with a minor in Arts Management.

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Other pictures of Josh

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Enjoying a beer with my employees at Skeleton Key Brewery

Getting a whiff of some fresh hops at the Iowa Beer Conference

Hanging with our friends at Sketchbook Brewing at the Illinois Craft Brewers Conference

Josh’s links



  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    This is John Garrett and welcome to Episode 125 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them standout like a green apple in a red apple world. I’m always so fascinated at how we always try to standout with our technical expertise. I’m here to shine a light each week on somebody who understands that this expertise isn’t always earned in degrees and certifications. Sometimes, it’s experiences from your passions outside of work that actually make you better at your job.

    This week, you’ll hear how those passions have actually allowed my guest to create a niche market for himself making it much easier to be excited to do his job every single day which is crazy that that’s such a weird thing.

    Really quickly I’d also like to let you know I’m 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. If you’ve got just 60 seconds please go to greenapplepodcast.com, you can click a big green button there, answer a few quick questions again. It’s totally anonymous and I really, really appreciate your help.

    Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Josh Lance. He’s the managing director of Lance CPA Group in Chicago and an adjunct faculty at North Western University. Josh was also selected to the 2017 class, the AICPA Leadership Academy, named as one of the 40 under 40 in 2017 for CPA Practice Advisor and selected to serve on the Xero Partner Advisory Council. Wow, that’s really impressive, Josh. I’m so excited to have you with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Josh: Hi. Thanks for having me.

    John: Oh, man. I’m so excited to get to your passion which is a passion of a lot of people I think indirectly. But first off, maybe in your own words, what are you up to now and a little bit on how you got there?

    Josh: Yeah. Right now, I am the managing director of Lance CPA Group which is a virtual CPA firm I founded about four years ago, we’re based in Chicago but again, virtual serve clients all over the place.

    John: That’s awesome, man. Yeah, so you started it four years ago and you had some public experience before that so just kind of worked in the I can do it better sort of a thing.

    Josh: Exactly. I don’t know if I ever intended to start a CPA firm since that happened to me and there was always those things that you know, being in public — I was in public for seven years and saying, oh, man, if I ever started my own firm, I would do it my own way and I just happened to have the chance to start my own firm and did those things I said I was going to do.

    John: Yeah. Well, congrats, man. I mean four years you’re doing it so that’s awesome, man. That’s very cool. I love how you say it’s something that happened to you which is how I got into accounting. The one question I love you to ask everyone is just how did you get into accounting?

    Josh: I’ve always been a numbers guy, love math and all that stuff so I knew I was going to do business, I knew I like math. I didn’t know how to interplay that together. My high school happened to have two accounting courses you could take and so I took them both and loved them and it’s like all right, this is what I want to do. I can do accounting, this makes sense to me, it’s numbers, it’s business, that’s what I wanted to do and so I went to college and got an accounting degree and started there.

    John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man. All right. So you knew, you knew going in. See me, yeah I just got my butt handed to me on engineering so I also liked math but yeah. That’s great though, that’s great. Running your own firm, I mean that’s going to take a lot of time and eat up a lot of hours but when you do have some free time, what hobby, passion do you really love to do?

    Josh: I’m a home winemaker. I also do home brewing. It’s one of those things where it’s a creative element that I can participate in and enjoy that it’s not business, it’s not dealing with the day-to-day. It’s kind of just like element I can be in where I can create and have fun and enjoy and you can do that stuff.

    John: Right. You’re not worried about the budget?

    Josh: Right now, worrying about budgets. Exactly that.

    John: Exactly. That’s awesome, man. I mean how did you get in? I mean winemaking? I’ve heard of the microbrews and we’ve had a couple of people on the podcast that have done that too but we’ll get into that. But on winemaking, how do you get into winemaking?

    Josh: I got into it because home brewing has become his big thing and I wanted to do something but not do that initially. I go into like Napa and Sonoma and things like that so it’s like okay, I’ll try homemaking. Hey, why not? Let’s give that a shot. It’s almost kind of like accounting. It’s this process that’s very detail oriented. It takes a long time to do whereas like home brewing, you brew a batch and two weeks later you can enjoy it.

    Winemaking, you do the work for the initial process but you can’t taste the fruits of your labor for a year or two years later. But it’s very detail oriented, a lot of math comes into play with winemaking so I started there because I thought that’ll be fun and interesting and something different to do and from there, I started doing home brewing as well and I had a friend who is really into home brewing and has probably the most elaborate home brews that I’ve ever seen in my life and so I’ve brewed with him but it’s fun things to do, it’s fun to do with our people and it’s a thing that takes some time but also to see those efforts, the fruits of your labor afterwards, and enjoy that, it’s a lot of fun.

    John: Right, right. That pretty awesome, man. But that’s a good point. I never thought of that on the — I mean with the microbrewery, you can drink it pretty quickly but on the wine, you don’t know for two years whether or not you’re terrible at it.

    Josh: Right and I was terrible the first couple of times. I open them up, it’s like, “Ooh.” But you’ve learned and you adjust and you try better next time.

    John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. Do you have a favorite kind of wine that you like to make?

    Josh: Oh, the favorite kind of wine I’d like to make is like a Shiraz or Zinfandel. There’s a little bit more from a red wine perspective, a little bit more forgiving if you have some issues, you’re running the things whereas like a Cabernet, if you screw up a Cabernet, it’s pretty evident. I like the ones where I can have a little bit more flexibility in that and to at least enjoy it even it’s not the best in the world.

    John: Yeah. I like it, man. That’s awesome. That’s very cool. So you said that you have a friend that also does the microbrew so you guys collaborate together on some things or I mean I’m sure that it brings people into the fold as well?

    Josh: It does, yeah. When he’s done brews, it’s one of the things where you can get a bunch of guys or people together and you can do it together that takes you know, a brew day may take four or five hours to do. Sometimes, it’s just sitting around doing nothing but it’s a kind of fun thing to do it and then I came out and talk and spend time with each other.

    John: Yeah. It’s a lot like an audit, sitting around doing nothing and all of a sudden we got to do stuff really fast. Mother Nature is the client and she’ll deliver the papers when she’s ready. That’s how it works, right? That’s awesome, man. Would you say that any of this has helped you like a unique skill set with your career?

    Josh: It has and that I’ve been able to when I started my firm I wanted to okay, I had to start and do something. I didn’t want to be a journalist and I’m not a tax guy by trade, I’m an auditor by trade and so it’s like okay, well, what am I going to do? Who am I going to serve? I was like well, I like making beer, I enjoy beer so why don’t I craft my CPA firm to serve breweries and so that’s what we did and it’s been really cool to take that kind of passion that I have on the side and do it every day now and work with breweries and help them grow and see what they’re doing and see how they’ve grown from starting up to doing the cool things they’re doing now.

    John: Yeah. That’s really, really cool, man. It’s really profound that you were like oh, I can’t do — I could do accounting for everyone but then you’ll get just lost in the masses and so just really to standout like that and it’s something that so now I imagined that you’re more excited to go to work because you’re dealing with clients that you love and people that are doing something that you are also passionate about.

    I remember once I did a bakery, I mean it was like a giant bread-making place and it’s like I mean I like bread but not this much. Gosh. You guys kind of smell weird, it’s kind of a weird yeast smell but with beer at least there’s a reason why that’s going on so that’s really cool, man. That’s awesome. Is it something that you did before you started your own firm I would imagine, right?

    Josh: Yeah. Come back to my friends who has as crazy elaborate home brewery setup before I was even thinking about starting a firm, he had the idea of what if I started brewery and I was like okay, let’s start a brewery together. So we went through kind of all the things you do when you try to start a brewery, build a business plan and figure out other regulatory issues and all that stuff and so we kind of got through this whole process and at the end, it ended up falling through through but I had all this knowledge that I’ve taken from this so it was like okay, well, now I have this like what do I do with it, right?

    I spent six months studying and getting into the weeds and all the tax issues and regulatory issues and everything so okay, so let’s do this. Shortly thereafter was the time where I had the chance to start a CPA firm and it’s like okay, well, I have all this knowledge when it comes to breweries, why don’t I utilize it and serve the breweries. Now I serve it because I like beer but I also get to serve them because I understand exactly what’s going on in the industry. I understand what their issues are. I know where the things where they can run to trouble at.

    I have that appreciation from beyond just brewing beer and all their aspects of going through running a brewery and able to utilize them so I think that was — I wasn’t able to start the brewery with myself, being able to take that knowledge and use that to help breweries going forward was tremendously helpful and obviously, for breweries who are looking for an accountant, it’s help for them too because I already understand the business. I know what’s going on.

    John: Yeah and that’s awesome, man. I love how you said you weren’t able to necessarily do the microbrew yourself but you’re a part of all of these other ones which is even more impactful which is cool, man. That’s really awesome. When you worked in the public firm days before starting Lance CPA Group, did you talk about making beers on the side or was it something that you just sort of kept under wraps?

    Josh: I talked about it a little bit because people are interested and like, “Oh, you make wine at home. How does that work?” It was interesting but in my public days, I was doing audits for financial institutions which was kind of as far as ways you get from being a winery or brewery.

    So people are like, “Oh, that’s interesting” but it wasn’t really anything that people ultimately cared about or I could really utilize my day to day work but I think people were just interested especially on the winemaking side, it’s like, “How do you actually do that? What’s going on here?” And so it’s fun to kind of explain like how that process works because a lot of people do home brewing understand that at least tangently or have gone to a brewery and done to tour and the brew process but they don’t understand what’s in the wine.

    John: Yeah, yeah. That’s the really cool, man. That’s really cool. I know that there’s a lot of people, when I talk to them like when I speak to firms and conferences and stuff and they’re just always hey, I have this hobby but no one else does. No one else is going to care because clearly, there’s not a lot of winemakers out there that are also in public accounting. How does that come up or how do you feel about I’m the only one? Did you feel kind of odd or nervous about talking about it?

    Josh: No, not really. There are a lot of things in public accounting. I felt I was the only one that thought these things so I was trying to have preferably in my public accounting days, I don’t want public accounting to kind of consume my life so I wanted to have that outlet whether it’s winemaking or making beer that was separate from that, that didn’t kind of interfere with work and so I think it was cool to talk about that. I just also — one of those things where people like, “Oh, I don’t have time to do that, I’m working all the time.” It’s like oh, okay. Well, I need some outlet or else I’m going to go crazy.

    John: Right, yeah. I mean if you’re working all the time I think you’re doing it wrong, to be honest.

    Josh: Right, exactly.

    John: Like how bad are you at this job like I mean really. I’m getting it done so I’m not a rocket scientist here but you create the time that you want to have. Obviously, you’re doing well so it’s not you’re just sloughing off and mailing it in. Yeah, I mean that’s going to create better relationships and I’d imagine the people that did find out about that and you could have those conversations, you had a different level of a relationship than strictly talking about accounting or talking about the audit side of what’s going on which is kind of cool.

    Josh: Yeah. There’s only so much you can talk about accounting together or audits together and so you lose your mind so the talk, especially you travel for audits, you’re having dinner and lunch with your co-workers, you want to talk about something different than the work papers you’ve done. Somebody’s going to talk about beer making and winemaking. If you have a nice restaurant and we had nice wine or beer and you could talk like I actually understand what they’re doing when they made that wine or made that beer. It’s fun to talk about and people seem to enjoy that.

    John: Yeah, yeah. One question that I’d really like to noodle on is how much do you feel like it’s on a firm or on an organization to create that culture to where it’s okay to be human, if you will, and share those hobbies, passions versus how much is it on the individual to step up?

    Josh: I think it’s both but I think the culture that the company creates is critical to that and if the culture doesn’t allow the expression of individuality or have a life outside that company, it becomes hard for the individual to be there and do that on their own. Fortunately, like a lot of large public accounting firms that the culture really isn’t there and it’s work, work, work, work, work and if you’re not working something must be wrong and how can you have free time and things like that. When I’ve started my firm, I wanted to make sure we have the culture that our firm is not their entire life, it’s a place where they work, it’s a place where they can find enjoyment in work but it’s also a place that allows them to do what they like to do and have a life outside of work.

    If we have a culture where everyone needs to work constantly and if we’re not working constantly then we’re doing something wrong then that’s not the place I want to create for myself and that was really important for me when I built my company was to have the culture that said all right, we are doing accounting work and we all have that knowledge-base that we come up to and we’re good at it but we’re more than just accountants and we have everything that we like to do and we want to support that and have time for that, enjoy that.

    I think it really does comes to the company that sets the culture that allows for them and then the individual being able to express that and say yeah, I really like to mountain bike and I want to do that a lot and I want to have the time to do that and tell people about it and hear people enjoy it why I like to do mountain bike. Having that culture I think is important because if that doesn’t exist, you really start to lose the person that’s there and that person becomes more of a number and a resource and less of a co-worker and a human that you’re working with.

    John: Wow, man. That’s so good. I love that how we’re more than just accountants. I mean that really sums it up right there because I mean that’s the way that, yeah, people look at it. I guess do you feel like when it’s a larger organization, is it a little more difficult to have that impact versus on a smaller team maybe the audit client that you were working on and that team had a certain culture versus a different team or is it more of a firm-wide thing that goes all the way down?

    Josh: No, I think the firm-wide sets at least that’s the direction and I had people I worked with that there was a different culture and different vibe with than with the firm-wide culture was but the firm sets that and ultimately, it becomes almost a top-down situation. It’s one thing that if you have your partner saying, oh, yeah we support work-life balance and all that stuff but they’re not doing it, it becomes believe what they say, right?

    And then that filters down and people see that and then they don’t feel like they can participate in that or if those things were participated in like the firm that I had worked at, had allowed flexitime for people who wanted to stay home with their kids and have more of a flexible schedule, they said they’ll give us a part of our culture but then people who took advantage of that were almost treated like second class citizens at the firm. They got passed from promotions, they weren’t given good client assignments, they were kind of shift off to the sides and that says a lot.

    It’s one thing to say we believe these things but it’s how you actually live those things out on a day to day basis and if those don’t jive then that becomes a big issue and that was an issue for me when I left there was I didn’t feel the culture that they were trying to have or trying to say that they had was actually the culture I was being lived out and it started to not jive with how I want to live my life and my future that I had envisioned for myself and it became a place or a time where it’s like all right, I need to get out and leave and do something different for because those things weren’t aligning anymore.

    John: Right, yeah. I mean that’s so glaring, I mean it’s so obvious to everyone and it’s funny how some places try to — yeah, they say things or they have the slogan on the brochure or on the website or whatever and then you walk in and you’re like there is no oxygen in this office. I mean like there’s no color, there’s no anything and yet work-life balance is our number one and it’s like this is crazy.

    I mean no one’s allowed to look at you in the eye, I mean it’s like where are we? Is there anything specific that you do at Lance CPA Group or that you’ve seen in your past life or some friends of yours or whatever that firms do to encourage this sharing or this work-life balance? I guess a good example would be actually living it out instead of just saying it, that would be one, I would imagine.

    Josh: Yeah. I mean that’s a big thing that we have. Our firm is one, that we’re virtual but two, that all of our employees are stay-at-home parents and one of the reasons I created that was just from my experience working at the firm that I worked at was there wasn’t a good space for someone who you know, they had a kid and they wanted to kind of change their kind of work-life situation. The firm said that they had, you know, “Oh, yeah. We support that” but then it’s evident that it wasn’t so you had all these really qualified individuals who end up leaving the firm because they didn’t feel like they’re being supported in what they’re trying to do.

    And so I saw that and was like okay well, if I’m going to start a firm, that will be a great place to start looking for employees because there’s a lot of talented individuals, a lot of talented accountants who are again schlepped off the major firms because they want to work a flexible schedule and they don’t want to be working 80 hours a week and so that has been really cool for us because now everyone can share that but it also helps from a cultural standpoint because we understand the needs of everyone and hey, I can’t work today because my kid’s got a field trip. It’s like great, that’s awesome. We’re here support that and do that and that’s no problem.

    That’s frowned upon that hey, I’m not going to work today because I’m going to be with my kids or things like that and so it’s having that culture where people who are in that particular life situation have the ability to do the work that they’re talented at but also fit that into their life as I thought was really important when I started the firm. I think it was a huge thing that we did and it’s been helpful too. Everyone in the firm has kids around the same age range, right? We’re all dealing with the same things so we’re not talking accountant like we all have some places in our lives that we can talk about beyond just doing debts and credits.

    John: Yeah, absolutely and I imagine that’s got to be so much more powerful and just gas on the fire in a good way of just really bringing everyone together and it’s all in the open from the beginning so it’s not like you’re encouraging people that they have to hide it or they have to work around this or they have to be uncomfortable. It’s no, no we want you to be comfortable and thrive and be here. That’s really awesome. Now, how about when it comes to people’s hobbies and passions and things they like to do outside of work, outside of their kids, I’m sure that that comes up in conversation at some point or is it a specific thing that you look to bring out in people.

    Josh: It definitely comes up and everyone’s got their things that they do like one of our staff members, she loves to do photography and she has one of those photography side business and so that’s stuff that we talk about and we try to incorporate into the business where she now uses her photography skills to do some marketing.

    One of our employees, she’s big in the sports and playing sports and that gets brought it and we do events then around things that she likes to do that are outside of work and I think it’s important to bring those things in because just like how I started my firm, I brought in my home winemaking and home brewing. Bringing those things in has value to our firm and ways we can utilize that and utilize what they love to do outside the accounting world ultimately brings us to the do better work for our clients but then we also find a cool new ways to interact those things.

    John: Yeah, I mean that’s so awesome because the way that you just said it, I mean not only does it bring everyone together and closer and as a team but you’re able to use those skills to make the firm better and they’re able to use those skills to make their careers better and to standout and no business school or no CPE is telling you that. That’s what it’s all about, man. That’s really awesome, man, really awesome.

    So before we come in for a landing here, do you have any words of encouragement or something for people that are listening that are maybe on the fence of I’m the only one that does this hobby or how should I go about talking to people or sharing this?

    Josh: Yeah. I would say this is kind of just from my own experiences, there are other people who feel that same way too like when I was working in public accounting and it’s like am I the only one that thinks that going by the hour is stupid? There are other people out there that think that same thing too, right? So find those communities.

    I’m a part of a community called Thriveal which is a bunch of entrepreneur CPAs and finding there are people who are like yeah, I believe those same things too and I think those are important is good because you’re not the only one who thinks that and there are people who are also thinking about it and like say okay, what can I do differently? How can I change this? How can I bring what I love to do outside of work into my work-life and what I do on a day to day basis?

    And finding those communities of people to kind of encourage you and say yeah, you can do this and what you believe isn’t stupid or dumb or you’re out by yourself and alone, you may feel like I’m the only one who does this, I’m just the weird one here, and I’m the dumb one here but there are people out there who do that and so when you find those other people and find their kind of community to help you like yeah, you’re not alone here. I think that’s important because that kind of gives you the courage to kind of do what you want to do and to do the things that you think are important.

    John: Yeah, man. That’s so great. Yeah. Just sharing a little bit of yourself or what you’re thinking and then before you known it it’s like wow, I’m not the only one and that’s nine times out of ten or more, that’s going to be the case and it’s all in our own head and yeah, that Thriveal group’s great, Jason Blumer, a guest on Green Apple Podcasts well. Yeah. So before I fly to Chicago and we start making some wine together, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I have to run you through.

    I’m going to fire this thing up here. All right, here we go. All right. First one, I’ll start you out with the easy one. Do you have a favorite color?

    Josh: Green.

    John: Green, all right. How about a least favorite color?

    Josh: Pink.

    John: Pink, all right. That’s solid. How about when it comes to a toilet paper roll, are you more over or under?

    Josh: Oh, definitely over.

    John: Definitely over, all right. Good answer. We can hang. All right. Are you more sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Josh: Crossword puzzle.

    John: All right, interesting. How about pens or pencils?

    Josh: Pens.

    John: Pens, all right, no mistakes. Look at you, man. Do you have a favorite comedian?

    Josh: Jim Gaffigan.

    John: Oh yeah, Gaffigan’s really great. Very funny. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Josh: Because I have kids now I’m an early bird.

    John: Right. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Josh: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars, there you go. How about favorite place you’ve been on vacation?

    Josh: Hawaii.

    John: Hawaii. Solid answer. When it comes to computers are you more PC or MAC?

    Josh: I’m PC. I’m a PC guy.

    John: Yeah me too. I’m a PC guy. On a mouse, are you more of a right-click or a left-click?

    Josh: Left-click.

    John: Left-click, all right. More cats or dogs?

    Josh: Definitely dogs.

    John: Definitely dogs. Do you have a favorite kind of dog?

    Josh: I would say havanese just because that’s the dog that we have right now.

    John: Oh, there you go, perfect. In case they’re listening then they don’t get their feelings hurt. So perfect. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?

    Josh: Balance sheet.

    John: Balance sheet, there you go. How about a favorite sports team?

    Josh: The Green Bay Packer.

    John: Woah! The Chicago guy just got out it. How about do you have a favorite number?

    Josh: 10.

    John: 10. Why is that?

    Josh: That was the number I always was assigned in sports. It’s my jersey number.

    John: Oh, it’s a solid number, man, that’s a good answer. Last one, last one. Do you have a favorite thing you own or favorite thing you have?

    Josh: I would say the favorite thing I own which I don’t have in possession right now but it’s coming in the mail is what’s called the Growler Chill, it’s basically like a home bar setup where you can put three growlers in and have tap handles to support them. It’s not here yet but it’s coming so that right now is going to be my favorite thing.

    John: That’s awesome, man. That’s very cool, very cool. Well, this has been really, really fantastic. Thanks so much for taking time today, Josh, to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Josh: Thank you.

    John: Man, that was so so great. I loved how Josh said, “Well, we might be good at it, we are all much more than just accountants.” This is absolutely true, no matter what your profession is. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate yourself based on what you do so instead, look to who you are. Those hobbies and passions and things you do with your free time.

    If you like to see some pictures of Josh making his wine and connect with him on social media, please go to greenapplepodcast.com, all the links are there and while you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.

    So thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing us 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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