Episode 156 – Teryn Grater

Teryn navigates the globe for better business connections


Teryn Grater is an avid world traveler, favoring places best for hiking, kayaking, and other activities of the like. Some of her most memorable trips have been to Malawi, New Zealand, Ecuador, Peru, and hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. Her travels make for great conversations at ATKG, where she is currently a partner.

In this episode, Teryn and I talk about her vision of an ideal workplace and the experiences she went through to determine that vision. Teryn recognizes the cause of a lacking talent pool in the accounting industry to be the typical overworking climate it provides.

Teryn joined ATKG in 2001 to help out on projects while Melanie had her twin boys. What started out as a favor from one CPA friend to another turned into Teryn becoming a partner in 2003, which was likely, Melanie’s master plan the whole time. Of course, Teryn’s quite strategic herself, so it was very likely part of her master plan as well!

She graduated from the University of Arizona with a BSBA, Accounting and Finance and later received her MBA from the University of Manchester Business School.

Episode Highlights
– How travelling influenced Teryn’s skills on problem solving in the office
– The importance of establishing trust by being open
– What ATKG’s worker-friendly environment entails and why

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    Welcome to Episode 156 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. Because when you think of a stereotypical professional, it’s someone that only does work that has a charge code for the billable hour, and it’s somebody that then goes home and does more work or veggies out on a couch, I don’t know. But based on my own research, I found that 91% of people have a passion or an interest outside of work and yet professionalism prevents us from sharing that in the office. And so basically, the stereotype is like the red apple and these are green apples shattering that stereotype. It’s like encouraging people to find their “and” as in my guest Teryn Grater is an accountant and has traveled all over the world and even lived in South Africa for a couple of years.

    What you’ll hear in just a bit is it’s really cool what they’ve implemented at her firm to encourage others to share their outside of work interests and how beneficial that’s been to their work culture. I’ve got a quick favor to ask, if you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite 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. This week is no different with my guest Teryn Grater. She’s an owner at ATKG in San Antonio Texas. This is going to be so much fun, Teryn. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Teryn: It’s great to be here, John. Thank you so much.

    John: Oh, I’m so excited to have you on after hanging out there in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago when I was there for the Texas State Society annual member meeting or whatever it’s called. But yeah, it was so cool to come by the office and hang out with you guys. So I’m excited to have you on. I start every episode with some fun with rapid fire questions right out of the gate and get to know Teryn. So I’m going to fire this thing up and hopefully you’re ready.

    Teryn: All right, I’m ready.

    John: Yeah, all right. That feel like you can get me back at the end. This is what I feel like. Here we go. I’ll ask you an easy one. Favorite color.

    Teryn: Oh, my god. I really don’t have one.

    John: Oh, okay, all of them. You’re afraid they’re listening. You don’t want to offend any of them.

    Teryn: I just don’t care.

    John: Okay. All right. Do you have a least favorite color?

    Teryn: Brown.

    John: All of them except for brown are your favorites. Got it. All right. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Teryn: Sudoku.

    John: How about more diamonds or pearls?

    Teryn: Neither.

    John: How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Teryn: I’m a big Brad Pitt fan.

    John: That’s a solid answer. I’m not even going to ask why. How about do you have a favorite TV show of all time?

    Teryn: That one is easy. Survivor.

    John: Survivor. Really? Okay.

    Teryn: If I wasn’t an accountant and I could make a decent video, I’d have to try out.

    John: Yeah. Rupert, who won the first one, is from Indianapolis and used to work at the Comedy Club there, at Gregory’s Comedy Club. So there’s our little small connection. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Teryn: Neither.

    John: When it comes to a computer, you got to pick one of these. More of a PC or a Mac?

    Teryn: I love Macs.

    John: Really? Okay. All right. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Teryn: Unfortunately, I love them all.

    John: Unfortunately. That’s hilarious. That’s funny, even the brown ones because those are chocolate, right?

    Teryn: My downfall.

    John: No. I’m right there with you. How about more pens or pencils?

    Teryn: Pen. I don’t bother with pencils.

    John: Yeah, no mistakes here. I am straight ahead. What’s a typical breakfast?

    Teryn: Well, I’m actually trying to go super low carb right now, because of that ice cream problem. I’m right now on eggs and sausage.

    John: When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?

    Teryn: Oh, my god. It’s the balance sheet that matters.

    John: Now, this one is critical right here. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?

    Teryn: I can’t believe this is a question. Over.

    John: Right. But you to know, you got to ask. How about do you have a favorite number?

    Teryn: No.

    John: Even the negative ones?

    Teryn: I like the really, really big ones.

    John: There you go, okay, all right. How about cats or dogs?

    Teryn: Dogs.

    John: Okay. Two more. More of an early bird or a night owl?

    Teryn: Both.

    John: Both. Wow.

    Teryn: I don’t sleep very much.

    John: Oh, okay. I was going to say, do you sleep in the middle or — yeah, just not at all. All right. Last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Teryn: My kids.

    John: Your kids. Oh, that’s a solid answer.

    Teryn: I guess that’s rude to say I own them, but they’re my favorite.

    John: No. That’s why I say a favorite thing you have. It brings in everything. That’s awesome. Very cool, very cool. Awesome. All right, so we can hang out which I already knew anyway since we’ve done that before. But one question I didn’t ask when I was there which I love to ask people is just what made you want to get into accounting in the first place?

    Teryn: I definitely have no idea. But from the first job I ever had, I was always better at the numbers than anywhere else, my first job being Dairy Queen Cashier.

    John: Nice.

    Teryn: They quickly figured out I could balance the register at the end of the night. So I had to then balance all of the registers at the end of the night. It just lead me to business school and eventually I really realized, hmm, everybody else is having a hard time passing these classes and I can actually make it through them and it makes sense to me. I must be pretty okay at this and maybe I should think about accounting as a career.

    John: That’s awesome. Well, there you go Dairy Queen. It also explains the ice cream addiction. Yeah, you were right there in the belly of the beast with the DQ.

    Teryn: Well, working at DQ will make you not touch ice cream for about ten years and then it comes back.

    John: Oh, no. All right. I’m going to stop going to Dairy Queen. Oh, gosh. All right, yeah, no, I can believe it. All right, cool. But I know, when you’re not being a partner there at ATKG, what hobby or passion or thing do you love to do outside of work?

    Teryn: I love to travel. It kind of adventure sort of travel. I don’t go and just lay on the beach. That’s nice too. I definitely go and do things, hiking. Maybe it’s a bike. Maybe it’s run. Maybe it’s week long hike. I just got back from the Galapagos for a couple of weeks where there’s lots of biking and hiking and kayaking and snorkeling. So active kind of adventure vacations almost.

    John: That’s really cool. I guess did you grow up traveling or was it something that you kind of adopted later on?

    Teryn: I totally did not grow up traveling. We didn’t have any funds for that, but my first trip was saving up my Dairy Queen money to go on a foreign exchange program to France when I was 15, so that was my first flight is to France.

    John: Oh, wow. That’s a long one.

    Teryn: I’ve got an adventurous soul. Not many things scare me, and so I’ll go try anything for the most part. There’s a couple of nos or one. There’s one no that I will never do, but other than that, I think I’m good.

    John: All right. I hesitate to ask what the no is.

    Teryn: You can ask. It’s pretty safe, but I cannot bungee jump.

    John: Oh, wow. Yeah.

    Teryn: I cannot step off myself. I have skydived but I cannot bungee.

    John: Right. I’ve done the same. I’m hesitant to bungee jump as well. I don’t know why it’s — I guess the difference is, is that at least I have a parachute but even then, I mean what’s the difference between that and the bungee cord. But yeah, I agree. Is there a couple of places that stand out as one of your more favorite places to visit or more memorable stories that you’ve been to?

    Teryn: Gosh. I have traveled a lot. It’s definitely a passion of mine, so I have quite a few. But I often get asked for my favorite places in the world. Although I’ve done a lot, I have a lot to still do. Whenever I say doesn’t mean that’s the whole role because I have lots I have never seen, but I’ve had some amazing experiences. The ones that were most surprising are the ones that stick out I would say is Mulawi is actually incredibly amazing place. New Zealand is completely amazing and definitely I need to go back there. I really am into South America at the moment. In the last three years, I’ve been to three different countries, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. I am in love with South America, so I have lots more to do there.

    John: That’s awesome, because Peru, did you do the Machu Picchu experience?

    Teryn: I did. I’ve kind of been on the hiking thing. The last four or five years, I’ve hiked Kilimanjaro. I did a weeklong hike at Machu Picchu and I did a week long hike to Colombia. But yeah, I didn’t do that typical traditional tourist Machu Picchu piece, but I did a glacier hike leading up to.

    John: Wow. That sounds even more challenging to be honest. That’s cool, really cool. Do you feel like from all the traveling that this gives you a skillset that you bring to the office that isn’t necessarily part of what you learned in your accounting school in CPE?

    Teryn: Absolutely. I’m a huge believer of that. If you have the right attitude about it, you learn from everything and that learning can be applied in a million different ways in other parts of your life. I once traveled for about almost a year in my early ’30s and I’ve been between continents actually and took a year off and traveled. Definitely the learning, the big learning that sticks out is especially when you’re traveling that long in countries where you don’t necessarily speak the language and they don’t speak English much, you figure it out. I would say accounting, unless you’re in public accounting, this may not be intuitive. But public accounting is about figuring things out. It’s putting the puzzle pieces together when they’re not working, whether it’s straight up accounting, whether it’s planning, whether it’s succession planning with a client. It is about figuring it out one way or the other and helping you ever find the best solution for it. I think those are absolutely skills that translate to in the industry but definitely public accounting.

    John: For sure. When you’re in another country, I mean I lived in the Azores for two years. My dad was in the military. You’re living there where everyone speaks Portuguese. Yeah, you figure it out. It’s like well, we’re all playing together, so we got to make this happen. That absolutely does. I never even thought of that, but we have an end goal in my and we have to get there. So make it happen.

    Teryn: If you think about it, it’s all problem solving. I would say the other life lesson that travel has taught me that applies to everything in life is most of it doesn’t matter. I say that in most of the challenges and problems really are not a big deal. If you approach it like it’s not a big deal, we’ll figure it out and we’ll fix it. It’s just not the end of the world. Look, there’s people that literally don’t have running water and a toilet to use. Honestly, it’s really not a big deal if somebody gum this up today. We’ll move on and don’t worry about it. That’s a huge one I think.

    John: Especially, I find in the professional services arena, the accounting consulting lawyers. There’s a lot of pressure on that and it’s hard to remember that this isn’t the end of the world. Lives aren’t at stake per se.

    Teryn: Yeah, there’s a reason I’m not a doctor.

    John: Right, exactly.

    Teryn: That thing I do can kill somebody.

    John: Right, exactly. That’s an awesome perspective to have as a partner. I’m not going to lie. People that are around you have to be so grateful for that because that’s not always the case. I know that you do talk about this at work because I was there and saw it and pictures on the wall and things like that of different travel places that everyone goes through which I think is neat. I guess as a partner there and as a leader there, I imagine that it’s a little bit easier to talk about it, but early on in your career, did you talk about this at work as well or were things different then?

    Teryn: Well, I definitely — I’m an open book to open at times I’m sure. I’ve never felt like work was work and my private life was my private life because we are who we are and we spend way too much time at work. I’ve always been a very inclusive and interested curious person about whatever else people have going on because as you know, it builds that relationship. It’s not a work only relationship and the same is true for clients. If that’s all it is, the minute there’s a mistake, you have no forgiveness factor and that’s the end of the relationship because the trust is gone. So there’s always got to be more and I’m a people person. I always want to know more about people and not just can they do the debits and the credits or whatever the job is. I’ve always find that part of it, and so honestly, I don’t ask and it’s not intentional. It’s just part of me.

    As this purpose grown and I’ve been one of the partners from early on where we really started growing, it’s just become part of our culture is that we are not all about work. We are absolutely. I hate the work life balance phrase as I think we’ve talked in a little bit, because it’s just life is about life and its things flow and priorities change depending upon what’s going on where and that’s okay, that’s just the way it is. I have always been totally integrated and I always use the work hard play hard thing and it got me in trouble my second year at EY when I was there by going on a long trip. I think I told you this. My mentor partner who I still go see every year still brings it up 30 years later about how I — maybe not 30, 20 years later how I ruined the firm because of it.

    John: Right, because you made everyone want to actually live, like god forbid. Does he remember any of the other staff people that started with you? Probably not. So you made your mark. It’s like —

    Teryn: Totally not.

    John: Right, but that was clearly a different time. But even then, if you go back in time and offer all those people then, that opportunity — no one is going to say no. This isn’t a new thing. This isn’t a millennial thing. This isn’t anything a generational thing. It’s just human. I love how you mention that it’s a part of the culture which I saw firsthand which is really fantastic. I guess some people think if it is — those didn’t have a chargeable code or billable hours or whatever, then it’s not worth doing. And so get back to work and get back to hitting those charge codes. And so why is it that you guys have not only accepted it, but actually baked it into your culture and it’s almost encouraged strongly which is awesome.

    Teryn: So its business reasons I would say. First of all, it’s who I am, but it also makes good business sense because this industry is, and it has for at least 20 years. There’s been a shortage of people. It’s a really interesting industry, but at the same time, it’s a really frustrating industry as a new staff and I had tons of frustration going through that until I became a partner. You just can’t work all the time and the expectation anybody would ever want to, is kind of ridiculous in my opinion. I don’t understand why is it still prevailing today that it’s okay to have people working around the clock 70 hours a week.

    What it’s caused I think, and this is my own personal opinion. I’m not any expert, but what it’s caused is everyone knows how big turnover is in the firms and then people leave the industry especially women who want to have families and they just know it’s going to be too hard. So they just leave and so we’ve had this incredible talent drain of these super smart amazing people that just leave and go do something else because it’s so crazy.

    That makes me really sad because I love this industry I have a great time. I get to do something different every day. It can be a wild ride or it could be — there’s days that are calm, but I got to do something new every day and I don’t do the same thing every month or every quarter or every day. That’s amazing, but you need the right people who can do that and have those skills. We’re taking them off by this. One, it’s because I love it. Two, it’s because it makes good business sense. So we have a very low turnover compared to our industry because we bring in this personal side of people and we make it about people.

    John: Right, which was so cool talking within the bucket list concept that you brought out recently or in the last year or two I think is really neat and really fascinating. Talking to some of the recipients of the bucket list items was really cool because their eyes just light up. I mean they’re just so happy and grateful that you acknowledge them and care about them enough to want to help them do a bucket list item for their life.

    Teryn: I’m super excited about that and I definitely pushed that one because of my own — it is not just a travel bucket list. It’s anything that people have goals for. We like to award people some things that they just might not do otherwise. Because I’m such an adventurous soul, I really can dive into thing without a problem, but I know everybody can’t do that and just sometimes just the smallest little nudge give them a once in a lifetime that they just wouldn’t have done had they would look back later and I think it does give us a closer tie to our people.

    John: Yeah, because I mean I was talking with the guy who got the really expensive fancy bottle of wine. Man, he was just lighting up about talking about it and just how great it was and how he shared some with some people and some people that were close to him. The cool part I think about your bucket list thing is it’s what three or four times a year maybe that you do it?

    Teryn: Yeah, I mean we don’t have a specific — it’s as the partners really want to. Sometimes it’s random, sometimes it’s specifically awarded for just an amazing job at something. But yeah, I mean there are smaller items that aren’t that expensive or time consuming. There’s larger ones that involve going somewhere and taking a week or two off and travel. And so we do a combination of both, but yeah, probably, we get to six or seven, eight a year.

    John: I think the most important part of all of that though is you make everyone come back and report back on what they did and what it was like and how it mattered to them. Then, it’s not just it happened. It shows everyone else there why it’s important and then you get to know each other on a much deeper level. That connection is huge. I love that part of it because there’s so much of, yeah, just go do it and then no one ever hears about it or cares or asks. But then this is no, no, we want to know. Come back and report which I think is the most important part of that which is really fantastic and really cool.

    Teryn: A few of them that have come back and told their stories have been real tear jerker like the whole office crying in the training room. It’s been fun.

    John: That emotional connection is huge. That shows that people actually genuinely care about each other when you see that. That’s fantastic. Do you have any words of encouragement to people that are listening that might be like, hey, I like to travel but no one really cares in my office or it has nothing to do with accounting, so why should I tell anybody or anything like that or whatever their passion is?

    Teryn: I would say it often just takes one person leading by example to start making those connections and start bringing that side in because absolutely a new staff person isn’t going to come running to me and tell me about whatever is going on with them. But if I tell them first, one, if I actually got to lunch with them. It was just hard to do to find the time, but if you actually make that investment in that time and then lead by example with sharing something about yourself and then giving them the opportunity to do the same, it’s really a natural process is just sometimes people don’t know if it’s okay or not. But if you’re a leader and you’re doing it, then it shows. It’s totally okay.

    Having it be expected is a whole different step to the process versus just its okay but I think that’s what we all should get. If you want this closer connections, you’ll be surprised at how — and I always am. It’s amazing that seven degrees of connection or whatever it is, somebody, and the more you talk about this, the more you figure out like, oh, my God. I have got somebody who does that all day. They can talk to you and you can solve whatever problem you’re having. I can get that solved for you quickly, potentially. There’s those connections that get made that just make everybody’s life better and vice versa. There’s people that know people that can help me with. It different is a two-way street and I always live by. You get out of things what you put into things. If you put that time and interest into people, you will get that back.

    John: No. That’s so fantastic, so fantastic and so encouraging. I just love what you guys are doing down there as a firm and the how it’s baked into the culture. Just to see it alive and how alive the people are is really neat. Before I wrap it up, I feel like I should offer you the opportunity to get me back if you will and put me in the hot seat with some rapid fire questions. I guess I’ll fire up the same machine here and let you run it. Whenever you’re ready, you can fire away.

    Teryn: Okay. I may not have as many — I just have a few really, but what’s on your bucket list?

    John: Oh. What’s on my bucket list? Wow, that’s a really good question. I guess seeing Notre Dame play in the national championship, that would be on my bucket list. That would be pretty cool. I guess I’ve never been to Alaska. That might be kind of cool to go up there and see what that’s all about. I’ve done a lot of stuff. Yeah, it’s hard but the experiences are what I would say, yeah, probably those two. I guess if the national championship was in Alaska, then that would do two at once and we would be awesome.

    Teryn: Any interest in international travel.

    John: Oh, absolutely, yeah. But I grew up in — my dad was in the military. And so we lived in the Azores for a couple years and then I had the opportunity to go throughout Europe and then Italy. I’ve been to Australia. Cape Town, South Africa is amazing. I’ve been to Kenya, Zanzibar. I’ve been to a lot of places, but yeah, I mean certainly maybe even go back to the Azores just to revisit where I was when I was in sixth and seventh grade and see what that was all about again.

    Teryn: That would be cool.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe even some, after you’ve been talking up Malawi and Galapagos. I think that’d be on the list.

    Teryn: What are you grateful for?

    John: What am I grateful for? Having Teryn on my podcast. That is what I am most grateful for. I would say, just the sacrifices that my parents made to allow me to have the life that I have. I would say my father especially didn’t grow up with a lot, actually very little. And so the hard work that he did in getting his college at night and then his master’s at night. He always promised my brother and I that no matter what school we got into, they would make it work. Yeah, I mean just the overall sacrifices in general that they’ve made. To allow my brother and I to be where we are today is something that — I mean that’s something I’m super grateful for.

    Teryn: You are going to have to send him this podcast and tell him to listen all the way to the painful and pass the accounting stuff.

    John: Well, the fun thing is that my parents think that you watch podcasts. We’re still working on the proper verb tense, but we’ll get there.

    Teryn: One more question, are you seeing positive changes in this industry with regards to this hobby personal side of things?

    John: Oh, wow. This is not rapid fire at all, Teryn. No, I’m just teasing you.

    Teryn: I’m sorry.

    John: No, I’m teasing you. Yeah, I am. Because when you start from zero, anything is positive. Any little bit of light is so vibrant. Any little bit of color in a gray world is so vibrant that it’s just like when the sun just peaks over the crust and it just boom. Yeah, I am. I’m seeing firms like yours. There’s a horn as a rather large firm that’s doing some really cool things that are people centric. There’s a firm DOZ in Indianapolis that does a lot of things that are people centric. There are a lot of other firms that I see out there that are HBKs doing some cool stuff out of Ohio. Just some firms that realize that their people are their greatest asset and that’s where they need to focus their attention and their resources.

    So I am seeing a positive change happen. Is it happening quickly? No. It’s just a slow and steady thing, but I think that there are a couple of variables that are happening in this favor that I think are really great. I just want to have this profession be as cool and exciting as it can be which it really should be, but it’s been hijacked by something else. It’s just cool to have people like you alongside to help show people that this isn’t just a make believe idea. This is real and legit and it matters and it makes a difference. I don’t know if that’s an acceptable answer.

    Teryn: Yep.

    John: it’s just so exciting to have you on the show and to share what you guys are doing because it just helps positively reinforce that for everybody listening. Thanks so much Teryn for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Teryn: Well, I feel super privileged to be on your list of people making change in the industry.

    John: Very cool.

    Teryn: Thanks, John.

    John: Wow. That was really great. I loved how Teryn said, “You get out of things what you put into things.” So put that time into your people. As one of the leaders of the firm, it’s so awesome how she’s making the work environment what she’s always wanted. And in all my consulting for organizations and firms all across the country, the thing that makes me the most frustrated is hearing people say, “Well, that’s because it’s always been done that way.” It makes no sense. I hope hearing Teryn encourages you to make a difference. If you like to see some pictures of Teryn from her world travels or maybe connect with their own 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 firm 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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