Episode 154 – Dave Erb

Dave hunts lighthouses and gets some unique connections at work


Dave Erb became interested in hunting lighthouses through his passion for boating. Living in Maine has given him so many opportunities to explore areas that are harder to get to, especially by land. It’s been nice to share this time with his family, researching lighthouses and finding them while they’re out on the water, which gives everyone such a different perspective. One of his favorite lighthouses is on Halfway Rock in Maine, which is only accessible by helicopter.

In this episode, Dave and I talk about how it’s much easier to start a conversation about interests outside of work that can lead to a conversation about work, but it’s nearly impossible to go the other way. Living in Maine, it was natural for him to talk about his passion for boating but it took people asking him, “so what do you do on a boat all day?” for him to open up about his fascination in lighthouses. BerryDunn encourages sharing outside of work experiences at the start of meetings because, “I think we work better together because of the strength we build from sharing our passions.”

Dave Erb is a Principal and the Tax Consulting and Compliance Practice Group Leader at BerryDunn in Portland, ME.

He received his Bachelor of Science, Accounting and his Master of Science in Taxation from Bentley University.

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Other pictures of Dave

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The tower of Grindle Point Lighthouse. This lighthouse is rumored to be haunted.

Visiting Seguin Island Lighthouse. This is the highest lighthouse above sea level in the state of Maine. It is rumored a ghost resides here.

Passing by Spring Point Lighthouse in South Portland Maine. This is a “sparkplug” lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper’s house is the light tower.

Visiting Wood Island Lighthouse off the coast of Biddeford Pool in Maine.

Dave’s links


  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 154 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett and each Wednesday I interview a professional who just like me is known for a passion or an interest or hobby outside of work making them stand out like a green apple in a stereotypical red apple world. Put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their end as in my guest, Dave Erb. He’s an accountant and a lighthouse hunter. How cool is that? It’s neat to hear how Dave’s passion for boating and lighthouses create some really unique relationships at work that otherwise would have never happened.

    I’ve got a quick favour to ask you. If you liked this show and are listening on iTunes or your favourite Android app, don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week of people shattering the stereotype. This week is no different with my guest Dave Erb. He’s a principal in tax consulting and compliance practice group leader at BerryDunn in Portland, Maine. This is going to be so much fun, Dave. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Dave: Sure, John. It’s good to be here.

    John: I’m so excited to have you on. When you’re not ruling the tax world, what hobbies and passions and interest do you love to do outside of work?

    Dave: I’ll tell you the one I wanted to focus on. It started out as a passion for boating in particular. It was really my escape to get out on the water. It was really to explore areas that weren’t easy to get to because you needed a boat. I really started out that way. It was great family time. I’ve got two young kids. There’s only so far they can go on a boat. It kept us together. It was forced family time. It worked well. That was the beginning of it. But here’s where two things merged. I also had this weird passion for lighthouses. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of lighthouses. Basically, I have a totally different perspective on the water, from the water. It makes sense to me. But then I started experiencing on a boat. It started out checking out different lighthouses along the coast, but then I found out the more fascinating lighthouses were the ones that were the most difficult to get to. I love nothing more than being on the boat with my family and checking out or finding some of these lighthouses that are in the middle of nowhere on a pile of rocks, for example. You know, John, I’m not really a history buff, but I get immersed in the history of these things when I’m out there thinking about how this was built back in the 1800s. I think about the families that lived out there and in that isolation. I just don’t know how they did it.

    John: Right. Yeah. All the ships that wrecked before they built it.

    Dave: You’re right. It’s amazing. They actually do serve a purpose these days even though it’s outdated. I do like to hunt and find. Some people call me a lighthouse freak. I prefer to call it a lighthouse hunter, but I try to find lighthouse. They’re all charted. It’s not like I’m discovering new things that nobody have seen before, but it’s to get to the ones that are the most difficult to find and the hardest to reach.

    John: Yeah. I know that’s really cool. What kind of boat? Is it sailing or more motor or what?

    Dave: Well, I started out sailing, but when we had the kid, there weren’t enough people to sail and watch the kids. We decided to go power. It’s been power ever since. It’s motor boating. It’s a lot more about the destination than the travel.

    John: Yeah. Most definitely. I grew up sailing. My dad was really into it. Yeah, certainly. You’ve got to be paying attention because that boom comes swinging across and kid gets caught in the head. But that’s so cool. The history of lighthouses, in general, where did it first start? I didn’t even know any of this. I never thought about it before.

    Dave: Well, you know, John, each one of them, it’s funny. They all seem to have a unique history. Right now, I probably couldn’t get really into it reading about each one, but when I’m there in the moment, I absorb myself trying to understand what happened. I know my kids probably aren’t as into it as me. I still try to force the history lesson, but for example, I’ll give you a quick one. There’s a lighthouse called Seguin Island Light. It’s, of course, on an island. The story goes that this lighthouse keeper’s wife were out there. It’s very isolated. The isolation drove the lighthouse keeper’s wife kind of crazy. He brought out her piano right. They bring it out to the island. Story says she only knew one song so she played it over and over and over again, drove him crazy.

    John: Drove him crazy?

    Dave: Supposedly what happened — I don’t know if any of this is true — supposedly what happened is he took an axe to the piano, his wife and himself in that order.

    John: Oh, my Lord.

    Dave: The lighthouse is haunted these days supposedly because this ghost thing. It’s kind of a cool story. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m fascinated by it. It reminds me of The Shining movie.

    John: Right. But I mean all of them have this history. You’re right. They’ve been there for over a hundred years or more especially in the northeast there. Do you have some that are more of your favourites?

    Dave: Well, I mentioned the ones that are the most difficult to get to. Actually, this one’s interesting. There’s one called Halfway Rock that’s about ten miles off the coast of Maine. You can see it on a clear day, but it literally is a pile of rocks with a lighthouse and a house that’s been washed out, washed out a number of times. It’s really just a tower these days. Actually, I’ve gone by it on the boat a number of times, but it’s pretty rough out there. I’m headed out there in a helicopter with my family. I’ve never done a helicopter ride. You land on this pile of rocks. Then you can check out the lighthouse. I’m looking forward to that. But that one, I’m very intrigued by because of how isolating it is and how desolate it is. It literally is a pile of rocks and no one nowhere.

    John: Right. No, it’s so fascinating. How do you get the building materials out there to build it? That’s wild.

    Dave: It’s funny you say that, John. I know because these are built in the 1800s.

    John: What?

    Dave: You wondered. It’s probably not the pyramids, but it reminds me of that.

    John: Pretty close. Just probably the Egyptians, either way. They were so smart. They knew everything. That’s really cool though, man, really cool. Do you do it mostly in the Northeast or lighthouses really anywhere?

    Dave: It’s really Maine. I’ve been there. It’s really been on the coast of Maine. I don’t know how many on the coast of Maine, but I haven’t found them all yet. I’m still going. Maybe when I run out of lighthouses here, I’ll have to move on.

    John: Right. That’s really neat though, man, really neat. That’s cool. Is this something that you talk about at work?

    Dave: You know it’s funny. Everybody knows I’m an avid boater. That’s my escape. Then that leads to the next thing because I think people scratch their heads and say, “What do you do on a boat?” Then it leads into that. That’s usually the next question because it doesn’t sound like something you’d do a whole lot and not be bored about it. Usually, they ask you what happens and what you do. You get into this whole thing about lighthouses. I have some personal stories about things that have happened on different islands. Then I have the one I told you about the history of lighthouse. It’s a great connection because some of it’s interesting.

    John: Yeah.

    Dave: Well, I find it very interesting.

    John: Yeah. It seems like it leads to stronger relationships at the very least.

    Dave: Well, it does. I think, John, anytime you share your passion with somebody about something you do that’s probably a little odd because a lot of times when you first say it, they’re, “What are you talking about?” Because they immediately think of a lighthouse should drive up to a big parking lot on the coast and take a look, grab a few pictures and leave. There’s probably not a lot to it.

    John: Right. Maybe take the stairs up if it’s a short one.

    Dave: Exactly. Exactly. But when you talk about, seeing it from the water and visiting some of these islands, it’s just a whole different experience. People, generally, are intrigued by it. It leads to a lot of discussion about my passion. Ultimately, it gets back to their passion because, sure, I love to share what I do, but I also enjoy hearing about whatever gets them going.

    John: Right. No, absolutely. Would you say that it even gives you a unique skill set of sorts that you’re able to bring to work?

    Dave: Well, it did. I get into this. It had nothing to do with my accounting profession when I get into boating and touring and checking all these lighthouses. But what surprised me is the connections you make. You’re always meeting new people because there’s a lot of people. Maybe not the lighthouse crowd, but the boating crowd, there’s a big crowd. You’re meeting a lot of people. A lot of those folk’s maybe business owners. They may be other accountants either in my firm or other firms even. They may be bankers in town or attorneys that I work with. You have this special connection that really translates to positive results on the business development front. The relationships I’ve been able to build both inside the firm and outside the firm have really helped on the development of new work and development of new clients.

    John: Yeah, I know. That’s fascinating. I guess one thing that I’m always curious about is typically, people don’t want to share their passions and interests within the office walls. They walk in. They become what they think a manager should be or what they think a partner should be or whatever role they have. Even if someone asks genuinely, they still don’t share. Why do you think it is our default mode? That’s where we go by default I guess.

    Dave: John, that’s a good question. I don’t really know. This isn’t unique to the accounting profession, but I think in any job, during the workweek, a work day, you probably spend at least or more waking hours at the office than you do at home.

    John: Oh, for sure, yeah.

    Dave: At least, in a workweek. I think it’s so important that you develop relationships at the office. This to me is just such a natural relationship builder to understand what people do beyond the firm because I think everybody has to have a life outside of their job. I think that’s where you build these relationships. I think we work better together because of the strength we build, share in those stories.

    John: Right. Is the boating and the lighthouse hunting something you talked about early on in your career as well or was there something else or were you reluctant also to share those?

    Dave: I think the boating pieces seemed natural to me because we’re on the coast here. It’s not an odd thing. There’s plenty of people that enjoy boating. That was the natural thing to talk about. The lighthouse thing, you don’t know how people react to that because it is a little different. Some people think it’s cool. Others, I think, are less interested. But I don’t care. I usually tell them about it anyhow because it’s just easy to break the barriers between when you’re trying to meet somebody new.

    John: Right. Yeah. Most definitely. I mean we’re not in sixth grade anymore where, “Everyone’s going to make fun of me,” type of thing.

    Dave: If they do, who cares?

    John: Right. See? What’s the worst thing that happens? Nothing bad happens. You’ve never had anything bad happened where someone’s like me, “Man, my grandmother died from a lighthouse falling.” There’s no story like that.

    Dave: No, no. But now that you brought that up, it might. But no, I’ve never been into something like that.

    John: I think I just jinxed you, my bad. How much do you feel like it’s on the firm or on an organization to create a culture where, “Hey, it’s cool to share those things,” and people do want to know about them versus how much is it on the individual to jump in and be a part of that or maybe be a source of the change themselves?

    Dave: Yeah, I know. I think it’s both. I think the firm needs to help create that environment so that it’s a natural thing, whether it’s at a client office or whether it’s in the office. I think it’s important that the firm supports that. But then it’s on the individuals to execute. It maybe it starts with the leadership of the firm and being open about what they do and talking about some of their passions and their interests. Then it sounds like, “Hey, it is okay to talk about this stuff.” It seems like the natural conversations that can happen at the office. I think it’s important. They can start in the lunchroom. I’ll tell you that’s a great place or the classic water cooler where those discussions can happen. Then they build and three or four people end up talking about the same thing. I think that’s just very powerful.

    John: Yeah. I mean I agree totally. It’s just cool to hear that it’s happening there, which is really neat, really neat. Are there things that BerryDunn does specifically to encourage this? Or is it more of a tone at the top thing and everyone just jump in as you feel it like you should?

    Dave: I think it’s both. I think the tone at the top is very open and comfortable here. But I think we’re also very intentional about sharing experiences and sharing activities or hobbies we do. It isn’t uncommon for us to start a meeting, let’s say, or a gathering of a group of people. Let’s say it’s a training event or something. We’ve got some new folks joining us. We might start out by, “In your introduction, tell us something about yourself, one of your passions or something you like to do.” On day one, as part of their introduction, they’ll say, “Hey, I’m Dave Erb. I just joined the firm. I graduated from so and so college. My passion or what I’ve done this summer is X.” It really does start on day one. I think that does help set the tone. It’s comfortable for them to talk about because this is something they like to do and hopefully something that they enjoy talking about.

    John: Right. Yeah. No, I love that. Because it’s on day one so then they know.

    Dave: You’re right.

    John: This is how it is here. It’s not something that they have to accidentally trip into and be like, “Are we allowed to do that? I didn’t know.” Yeah, we all started that way. That’s how it goes here, which is fascinating because then if somebody else also is into boating or light house hunting, then now you have a friend more than a co-worker type of thing. I found this, I don’t know is true for you, but because clearly no one else that I ever worked with ever did stand up comedy, but even if it’s unique, that almost makes it stronger because then everybody knows. If you golf or something that everyone else does, then it’s like, “Yeah, whatever. Everyone does that.” But when it’s really unique, then I think it spreads like wildfire even more.

    Dave: You know, John, you’re absolutely right. I mean it’s the kind of thing where people are like, for better or for worse, “Oh, yeah. That’s the lighthouse guy.” But at least it’s memorable. You’re right. It’s because it’s a little different. I think it stands out.

    John: Yeah, that’s why we’re doing what we do. I mean that’s what scares me. There’s people that I’ve worked with that I can’t remember at all. They’re completely forgettable because I don’t know what their passions were outside of work. That’s a lot of the people that were around and that’s us. I’d hate to leave work after all the hours and time that I spent here and then three years later, people are like, “Who? No, I don’t know.” “You remember the tax guy?” “Yeah, there’s 17 of them. What do you mean the tax guy?” “It’s the lighthouse guy.” “Oh, yeah. Dave? Totally.” That’s why we’re here to make a remark and to make a difference in a good way. Good for you, man. Good for you. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that might be on the fence that are like, “I like to look at lighthouses too, but it has nothing to do with accountings. Why should I tell anybody?”

    Dave: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the beauty of it. It has nothing to do with accounting. That can often be the lead topic that could generate some discussion around whatever your interest is, in my case, lighthouses or boating. Then I think you can bring it back to business when you need to. That may be the icebreaker or the thing that gets you comfortable in the conversation and gets the other person engaged. You may talk about their passion, but then ultimately, it can end up with a business discussion that leads to maybe a technical matter or a business development opportunity. Who knows? But, boy, it’s a great way to make that connection upfront. That’d be my advice. Don’t be shy. You’re right. You’d be surprised at how many people probably have a similar passion. If they don’t, most people are going to be interested in what you have to say because you’re probably passionate about it. You’re probably enthusiastic about it. They want to hear more.

    John: Yeah. Yeah. I love how you said that how you lead the conversation with that and that’s how you get people engaged. You’re not getting people engaged talking technical tax updates or their tax returns or things like that. There’s not a lot of engagement there. I love how you can bring it back to business. It’s hard to start business and bring it to passions and interests. That’s really profound how you said that. I love that. I like that a lot. Really cool, man, really cool. Before I get on a plane though and fly up there to Maine and get on a boat with you and we go check out haunted lighthouses, that’s a lot of time together. That is a lot of time together. I have to make sure that we can hang out. I have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I like to run you through just to see, get to know Dave a little bit more on the next level.

    Dave: Sure. I’m ready.

    John: Let me fire this thing up here. All right, here we go. Here we go. All right. This one’s an easy one. More oceans or mountains?

    Dave: You know what’s crazy? Oceans in the summer, mountains in the winter.

    John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. Would say more Sudoku or a crossword puzzle?

    Dave: Sudoku.

    John: Okay. Nice. Do you have a favourite colour?

    Dave: It’s blue.

    John: Blue. That’s mine, too, man. Absolutely. How about a least favourite colour.

    Dave: Peach. Not the fruit, the colour.

    John: Peach. Yeah. I know that’s a solid answer. When you’re on an airplane, are you more window or aisle seat?

    Dave: It depends on who I’ll sit next to, but generally a window.

    John: Okay. All right. Do you have a favourite actor or actress?

    Dave: Olivia Newton John, by far.

    John: Oh, nice, very nice. All right. More Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Dave: Not a big fan of either, but Star Wars over Star Trek.

    John: Okay. All right. All right. When it comes to a computer, more of a PC or a Mac?

    Dave: It’s funny because we’ve got one of each in the family, but PC absolutely.

    John: PC. All right. Do you have a favourite ice cream flavour?

    Dave: Ooh, that’s a good one. Just about anything Ben and Jerry’s.

    John: Oh, yeah. Up there, especially, that’s solid.

    Dave: Exactly. Exactly.

    John: How about do you have a favourite Disney character?

    Dave: Goofy.

    John: Goofy. That’s solid answer, solid answer. More cats or dogs?

    Dave: Dogs, absolutely.

    John: Dogs. Yeah. All right. We got six more, six more. When it comes to tax returns, Full 1099 or easy?

    Dave: I’m going to say Full 1099.

    John: You’re looking for those deductions. That’s what it is.

    Dave: Yeah, exactly.

    John: When it comes to toilet paper roll, over or under?

    Dave: I don’t think that’s a choice. It’s over.

    John: It’s over. Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a favourite number?

    Dave: It’s always been seven, but I don’t know why.

    John: Yeah, I know. It’s mine too. Solid answer though. Do you have favourite sports team?

    Dave: New England Patriots.

    John: Oh, sure. Sure. Two more, two more. Early bird or a night owl?

    Dave: Total early bird.

    John: Yeah. The last one, the favourite thing you own or the favourite thing you have?

    Dave: I’m going to say it’s the boat because that’s my escape. It’s funny. In a few minutes, I can just be out in the middle of nowhere. It’s probably the boat.

    John: Yeah, I know. That’s solid, really cool. Well, thanks so much, Dave, for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Dave: Sure thing, John. It was fun. Thank you.

    John: Well, that was really great. I loved how Dave said, “I think we worked better together because of the strength we build from sharing our passions.” As Dave has seen in his career, the ironic thing is that it’s these outside of work interests that actually bring his closer when we’re inside the office. It’s boating and passion for lighthouses that’s done wonders for his career.

    If you’d like to see some pictures of Dave hunting lighthouses or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this 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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