Episode 160 – Clayton Oates

Clayton travels the world for work and family vacation



Clayton found his way into accounting when pursuing his goal of establishing his own business. All in the effort to work on his own time and provide flexibility to travel the world. He found it to be a great excuse to take his family on numerous vacations.

In this episode, Clayton and I talk about how he was able to combine his passion for travelling with his professional goal of running his own business and how sharing your passions in the workplace can improve your skills in communication.

Clayton Oates is recognized as a respected member of the Accounting, Bookkeeping and Technology Industries in Australia and Internationally. He has been working in (and consulting to) the industry for more than 25 years. After completing a Business (Accounting) degree at Monash University Melbourne he joined Price Waterhouse, working in the tax division for 5 years, then moving into industry as a retail Accountant followed by 9 years with Accounting firm Rutherford’s (now Crowe Horwath), based in Northern NSW.

Clayton received a Bachelor of Business and Accounting from Monash University

Episode Highlights

• How a family trip inspired Clayton to incorporate international travel into his work as a speaker and consultant
• How the combination of accounting and technology enables Clayton to combine work trips with family vacations
• Clayton’s favorite destinations

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View from the deck outside Clayton’s home office

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    Welcome to Episode 160 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. So they’re basically shattering the stereotype where it’s not all work all the time. These hobbies and interests outside of work actually make them stand out like a green apple in a stereotypical boring red apply world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and as in my guest, Clayton Oates, is an accountant and has traveled all over the world which definitely helps him relate to so many different types of people.

    I’ve got a quick favor to ask, if you like the show and are listening on iTunes, 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, Clayton Oates. He’s the founder of QA Business in Australia which helps small businesses’ bookkeepers and accountants take advantage of technology to become much more efficient. This is going to be so much crazy fun.

    Clayton, I’m so excited to have you be a part of the Green Apple Podcast.

    Clayton: Hi, good day, John. It’s awesome to be here, mate. Always great chatting to you.

    John: Oh, man, we had so much fun hanging out in Boston at Accountex last year and messaging back and forth and everything. It’s always so fun to catch up. So I’m super excited to share this magic with everybody. I won’t break your rib this time so it’s even better. Right. That’s for another time. But to get to know Clayton better, we’re going to right out of the gate 17 rapid-fire questions. I know you’re ready, and you’re going to knock this out. So here we go. I’m going to fire this thing up. I’ll ask you the first one here. Do you have a favorite band or musician?

    Clayton: Well, band, it changes. You stamped me straight off the path.

    John: Well, you can just rattle them off. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be just one.

    Clayton: Well, I’ll rattle them off, U2, Rattle and Hum, what a great album. Let’s go yeah, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, whatever his name is these days. I like very broad music.

    John: Yeah, okay, all right. That works. All right. I’ll go easy on you this time then, sorry. How about a favorite color?

    Clayton: Yeah, I’d go navy blue with that one.

    John: Oh, nice, how about a least favorite color?

    Clayton: Least favorite color? Probably orange.

    John: That’s very specific.

    Clayton: You’ll have to google that.

    John: Right, exactly. We’ll put a link to it on the show page. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Clayton: I hardly do either actually, but I’d go with the crossword on that.

    John: Okay. When you’re on the plane, because I know you fly a lot and especially the long flights to the US and all over the world really, more window or aisle seat?

    Clayton: Definitely the window.

    John: Okay, yeah, you knew that one right away.

    Clayton: Yeah, but in the exit row.

    John: Okay, in the exit row, nice. How about do you have a favorite number?

    Clayton: Seven.

    John: Seven, and what is the reason?

    Clayton: I just like seven.

    John: Yeah, I mean, it’s the most popular answer by far on here, so I’m just always curious.

    Clayton: Really?

    John: Oh, by far. I mean, it’s my favorite number too.

    Clayton: Michael Jordan 23, the next one, I mean, God.

    John: You know, eight is another good one because it’s very balanced. People like that.

    Clayton: No, just the delusional James Bond, you know, probably —

    John: Ah, there you go, that make sense. That’s some influence there. How about do you have a least favorite vegetable?

    Clayton: Oh, yeah, is this a vegetable? It’s sort of a fruit vegetable, a zucchini. That’s not really a vegetable, is it?

    John: Yeah. No, that counts. That counts. That’s awesome. Okay. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Clayton: Star Wars, definitely. Yeah, wasn’t nerdy enough for Star Trek.

    John: Yeah, yeah. No, me too. When it comes to a computer, more PC or a Mac?

    Clayton: Oh, PC, yeah. Strangely enough. It’s really hard for me to learn something else although I have an iPhone, how ridiculous. I like my iPhone.

    John: Yeah, all right. That’s interesting. Now when it comes to your mouse, are you right-click or a left-click?

    Clayton: Left.

    John: Left, making decisions, boom! There we go.

    Clayton: Is there a right-click?

    John: Yeah, right-clicks, like for opening up all other options.

    Clayton: Oh, yeah, well, I use that in software all the time but left for me.

    John: Yeah, yeah. How about more pens or pencils?

    Clayton: Ooh, well, naturally, I’d say pens straight off the bat, but I do use a pencil a lot when I’m reading books.

    John: All right. I got to ask you this one, when you’re looking at financials, more balance sheet or income statement?

    Clayton: You’re weird. Gee, can I phone a friend on this? Is there a lifeline or a 50-50?

    John: Here is the trial balance. You want all of it. Is that what you want?

    Clayton: No. Give me the whole lot. P&L.

    John: P&L, all right, just as long as it’s not the cash flow statement because I don’t know how to do that.

    Clayton: I would not.

    John: This is a very important one, especially here in the US. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, is it over or under?

    Clayton: Does it work under? Oh, I’ve only seen it over. In fact, it’s always over, isn’t it?

    John: One would think, but on occasion I wasn’t sure, since you’re on the southern hemisphere, if you go guys do under, like how your toilet water goes a different way.

    Clayton: Oh, yeah, over and to the left.

    John: Over and to the left. You’re getting more specific. That’s great. That’s great. I got four more. How about a favorite adult beverage?

    Clayton: Vodka, lime and soda, it’s good for you.

    John: It’s good for you. I want to go to your doctor. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Clayton: I was going to say Jim Carrey actually. I’ll go there, but there’s something better. I’ll come back to that one. Pass.

    John: Okay, all right. All right. Would you say more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Clayton: Definitely early, yeah. I watch sunrises all the time.

    John: Oh, nice, and the last one that I’ll ask is the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Clayton: One of my favorite things is a signed autobiography by Sir Edmund Hillary who I got to meet.

    John: Wow! That’s really cool.

    Clayton: Yeah. That’s an interesting backstory on that, if we’ve got time.

    John: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

    Clayton: He’d spoken at a dinner. I invited my sister and my best mate along. I said, “Hey, let’s go and see Sir Edmund Hillary.” What an amazing individual that he is. I didn’t know a lot about him but I had this old book that I bought many years ago. I said, “I’ll take it with me. Perhaps he’ll sign it for me.” Anyway, I got into the dinner and there was like 2,000 people. I was sitting on the last table right on the back on his table.

    Anyway, they had a moment where Sir Edmund would meet the people, and you could go and actually talk to him at his table. I thought, that’s my moment. I’m going to actually go and sit next to Sir Edmund. I took my book with me. His wife actually just got up. I sat down right beside him. We had a chat. It was fantastic. He said, “Oh, that book is well read.” Just a lovely gentleman. We had a great conversation. He signed the book for me. I thought, wow. I was nervous. I felt bold. I felt like, wow, this is a dream come true to meet the man and get him to sign my book. I got up and at the end, the emcee said, “Now, Sir Edmund will be taking no more meet and greets.” I was like, wow, how lucky am I. I’m the last person to meet him.

    I got up and I looked around and there was a line of around 200 people staring at me. I didn’t realize that I completely jumped the queue. They’ve been waiting for ages. “Oops! Sorry about that.” But I think the point was I was probably just a little bit brash.

    John: It’s so great. Some kid’s dreams had been crushed and burned.

    Clayton: I think so. It seems like, I do feel embarrassed telling that. I think, “Oh, no, I didn’t…”

    John: No, man, that’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. You got to get it, man. You got to get it. After hanging out with you and having all the laughs and everything, one question I’ve never asked you for some reason is this, what made you want to get into accounting to begin with?

    Clayton: Well, I wanted my own business. That was the short answer. I went to university. I met some people over there, friends of the family. They had their own business. I looked at them always and thought, wow, they’ve got the two things I really would love. They seem to have time and they have money. Ah, that’s because they’ve got their own business. I drew this parallel freedom, time and money is because you’ve got your own business.

    John: It’s the exact opposite, right?

    Clayton: Well, it doesn’t have to be but for most, it does pan out that way. So I went with accounting because I thought I want to know that baseline financial piece. I thought if I had my own business, I’d do make a great income and want to have a great lifestyle, I need to make sure the money sort of stays there. So I did accounting and then got into accounting, but I’ve almost felt like I got stuck in accounting for almost ten years without the courage to start my own business. Thankfully, accounting and technology sort of combined in the mid-’90s because I just feel incredibly thankful that that ever happened because it has completely transformed my life, my family’s life since then. So I’m very appreciative of the two. I stuck around accounting long enough to find technology to combine with accounting.

    John: That’s cool. It’s about time they caught up with you. I’ve been here all along, guys. What’s going on? Right?

    Clayton: Yeah. I thought it was going to be over in about six months in the mid-’90s. Oh, okay, all businesses are going to be automated. My job is done here. But I stuck a little longer, and we’re getting there. There are some very hopeful horizons, I think.

    John: Yeah, yeah, no, for sure. So when you’re not traveling around and getting everybody up to speed on the technology and the accounting world and all that stuff, what passions and interests do you love to do outside of work?

    Clayton: Well, one of them actually is to travel, strangely enough. I feel as though I actually get to travel. I don’t have to do it. It’s not actually part of my job although it almost looks like that. It was always something I wanted to do. If I go back to university days, I can remember a friend at university saying, “Look, what are you going to do after we finish uni?” It was fine for her because she was doing a three-year degree, and she finished in three years. I was doing a three-year degree, and it took me five years because there were so many subjects that I just love to see a second time just to sort of master them.

    John: Right.

    Clayton: There was eight of them. Microeconomics was actually three goes at that because I just felt as though I hadn’t quite…

    John: Memorized the whole book, like what are you doing?

    Clayton: That’s right.

    John: That’s great.

    Clayton: “Oh, and if you don’t travel as soon as you finish college, you’ll never do it.” Actually that really got at me. I said, “No, no, I’m going to show you wrong. I’m going to actually have a business. I want to be able to set myself up, so I can travel how I choose and where I want to and in which way I want to.” So that was sort of this dream.

    I’d never gone out of Australia. I’d never left the country until 2010. So I was 41 years old, the dream was to bring the kids and take the family to where would you want to go anywhere in the world? Well, you want to go to America, of course.

    John: Right.

    Clayton: So that was wonderful. And then from that, I thought, wow, what if I could sort of combine my work? I got a little bit of traveling in Australia, spoken at conferences and all sorts of things. We ran events for ten years ourselves here running road shows and events around the country. But what if I could do that elsewhere? Then 2011, I went to the latest conference in Las Vegas purely just to learn more. My wife and I, what if we could travel together? Wow, two trips in one year or within 12, 13 months, having not gone out of the country before that. And then now, 26, this is August, I think it’s number 27, international trip that I’ve done since 2011. Probably half of those are definitely work and presenting at conferences which I thoroughly enjoy and love and love the connection with others. But then a lot of that is family trips as well, my wife and I, or our five kids, all of us together. We’ve got another one of those planned at the end of the year.

    So the travel piece really has been something that I just dreamt about. Accounting and technology combined has enabled that to become a reality. I hope it lasts for a long, long time and meeting new people.

    John: Yeah, yeah. It’s so great. Do have any favorite places that you’ve been? I’m sure that there’s more than just one, but any more memorable type of trip that you can recollect?

    Clayton: Yeah. There’s probably several locations that I have gone back to a number of times. Life is so short, isn’t it?

    John: Right.

    Clayton: There’s so much to see. I probably devoted a lot of time to North America or Canada or in the US, but now I want to move more obviously there but to Europe and other parts of the world. But two or three places so far and I’m just starting on this journey really is Queenstown in New Zealand. I just think that’s one of the most fabulous places on earth. If I wasn’t living where I live and I’m probably living — I feel as I’m living in the best part of Australia, Northern New South Wales, overlooking Byron Bay here. But the other place is Sausalito. I love Sausalito just out of San Francisco there and also that Monterey Peninsula area.

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Clayton: Because I do love playing golf.

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Clayton: That to me is a special place as well. But the last place I visited was Austin, Texas, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I’ve got on a bicycle and rode around for days, visited a few bars, and hang out. Everywhere you go, there’s simply something to love about.

    John: Yeah, most definitely and especially when you’re only there for a couple of days, every city has something to occupy you for a couple of days even if it’s a smaller city. Austin has those bats that come flying out from under the bridge.

    Clayton: Yeah. Well, I was riding the bike in the evening and I was riding, “What are all these people doing?” They’re down there, and they’re in boats and canoes, having picnics on the bank there of the river. I saw these bats and I said, “What are those people doing? There’s bats flying around everywhere.”

    John: Why are you there? That’s why they’re there.

    Clayton: Go and look at the bats. They should get out more often.

    John: Right.

    Clayton: Nature is out there everywhere.

    John: Right. It’s not just bats.

    Clayton: Yeah, that was interesting. Riding down South Congress, that’s always interesting but the bat —

    John: No, no, it takes it to a whole new level. That’s for sure, man. That’s for sure. I guess, do you feel like the travel has taught you anything that you bring to work? Maybe a skill or something like that that you’re able to actually use in the office?

    Clayton: Definitely, I think there’s a couple of parts to this is more understanding, compassion. People are different. I had this sort of narrow view that why isn’t everyone doing the things the way I want them to be done? Surely, we’re all made the same. This is ridiculous, sort of closed mind set. The more I’ve traveled, I realize and appreciate that we are different. We’re different in our thinking. The upbringing can have a factor in that, cultural issues, just different circumstances of where people are in their journey of life. So it’s actually to try to be more understanding. You have more empathy, passion, I suppose. We’re all fighting our battles. All of us are fighting our battles.

    John: Right. Everyone wants a good spot to see the bats and not everyone gets a good spot, Clayton.

    Clayton: Exactly. “Get out of my way.”

    John: Absolutely true. Everyone comes from a different place, and then you begin to understand like, oh, you’re not dumb. It’s just you see the world a different way.

    Clayton: Yeah. And just trying to get to the back story really is to, well, what is going on? People usually give what they’ve got. If you’re having trouble at work or you’re challenged with a team member or someone in the organization where you’re working or it could be a vendor, it could be a supplier, a customer, whatever, try and understand what could be going on in their world. If we draw assumptions and think, “Oh, no, they’re not doing what I want or how I expect it,” expectation is probably a killer.

    We usually are disappointed when we don’t get what we expect. Well, change your expectations. Switch that to appreciation. I appreciate what you’re doing is better than I expect you to do this.

    John: That’s deep, man. That’s huge though. I think that that’s something that isn’t taught in education or certainly not CPE. It’s quite the opposite.

    Clayton: Yeah. But I don’t need to worry about that.

    John: Right. Yeah, because it’s not a default mode, I guess. Something else that isn’t default mode is just sharing what these passions are that we love to do outside of work. Why do you think that is? You and I, I think it’s pretty natural to just talk to people about it. But for most people, their default mode is kind of, “Nah, I didn’t do anything this weekend.” It’s like, “Well, you just did something amazing. Why don’t you tell anybody?” Why do you think the people are reluctant for that?

    Clayton: I think I’ve seen this shift over the decades, really. Thirty years ago, starting out in the accounting profession, I started at Pricewaterhouse back in Melbourne in the last century, in the ’80s, which was fabulous. I loved it. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the connection. I loved the tea room chats. We’d sit around waiting for the chocolate biscuits to arrive so we could actually eat them but talk about, “What are you up to on the weekend? Did you go the footy game? How did your team go? What are your plans this weekend?” We were talking a lot about that. I think we’ve moved away from that a bit. The social media piece probably is we tend to publish this instead of talk about it. So we’ve moved away I think from that interaction. We’re also seeing I think more of probably associate what we do with who we are, and this is really the case.

    My mom used to always say and I constantly think about it is that you work to live, not live to work. Not that there’s anything wrong with work, but if you’re thinking your job is who you are and your value and your worth is connected completely to your job, then that’s a problem because when tasks change or your circumstances change, that can actually undermine you and your thinking about you.

    John: Totally. That’s exactly what it is because when people ask, “So what do you do?” “Oh, I’m an accountant.” There’s never a follow-up question because everyone has put you into a bucket. Clearly, you and I are not in that bucket of whatever somebody tries to put us in. I guarantee you, it’s a long —

    Clayton: Well, exactly. Some of that is I just gotten to know.

    John: Right.

    Clayton: My answer that question, “What do you do?” I say, “That’s a really good question. I’m still trying to figure it out.” If you’re asking what tasks did I perform today, I could tell you. Are you saying, “Who are you?” That question is sort of the barbecue stopper, isn’t it, when you say, “Yeah, I’m accountant.” Oh, okay, I’m backing slowly here.

    John: Right, right. There never really follow-p questions. It’s a “Okay,” end scene. The thing that frustrates me more I think than anything is that accountants are — like we ourselves believe it more than anyone else, that we’re all the same and we’re all completely replaceable. We’re just commodities basically, and we’re so not.

    Clayton: Yeah, definitely not, definitely not. The people that I’ve met around the world in this profession are incredible. They’re some of the most connected, some of the most passionate, some of the most caring, giving. That’s just huge.

    John: Right. Hilarious, I was waiting for hilarious. I was waiting for it.

    Clayton: Yeah. That was my attempt.

    John: No, no, no, that’s me not being accepting, and that’s me being a jerk.

    Clayton: John did well in that tryout for that role, but he needs to be more —

    John: Right.

    Clayton: It really is we’re human beings. We’re just trying to get along. We’re trying to win the battles each day, connect with others, grow, contribute. There are some baseline things that ultimately — I think, we’re ultimately looking for fulfilment in what it is that we do. Tony Robbins sort of talks about this. There are six sort of basic traits to obtain fulfilment in your day or in what you’re doing. If you have certainty or some sort of control over your role or your work, if you have variety, not just about being set in what you’re doing but we have some variety or uncertainty even, can we have significance or influence in what it is that we do and how we interact with others? Is there connection? Connection in love, essentially, is vital to have fulfillment.

    Then he also goes on to talk about growth and contribution. Are we growing, and are we contributing? The first four are probably almost sort of self-centered in a way, and we can sort of control a fair bit of that. But growing and contributing to others is something that I’ve discovered over the years. I remember hearing this and thinking, oh, isn’t that interesting? I haven’t really focused on that with all the different times I had, but could I bring that into — how could I contribute more? How can I think of others more? How can I add more value to others? What can I do for someone else? You give, you get — it’s in that order.

    John: Yeah, I love that, man. That’s so perfect. So perfect. It’s the connection piece that I think is definitely missing, the true connection anyway. I work around this person, but I don’t really genuinely care about them.

    Clayton: Well, and being free to be you. Authenticity, that word, being authentic, the authentic you, that’s not someone else can control. You bring that. I’m afraid to say that because what would they think of me? I have expectations around that. We’ve all been there. We all probably battle with this constantly. Can I freely speak my mind? Yes, we can. Do we have to be rude about it? No.

    John: That’s where some people have the problem there. But, yeah, I agree, totally.

    Clayton: Yeah, there’s a lot of grandstanding, thinking, oh, I’ll be disruptive in terms of my manners. Come on.

    John: Yes, this has been so fantastic and so great and so many great takeaways for people. But do you have any words encouragement just at the end for somebody that maybe thinks that their passion has nothing to do with accounting, so why should I talk about it, or something like that?

    Clayton: Definitely. Recognize it. Bring it to the surface because it actually expands your ability to connect with others and just talk about it. Hey, ask others about theirs and eventually that will probably come around to you. Why not? So if you’re interested in this, I tend to be interested in you. I love the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s got a bad rep as far as the brand title, but it’s absolutely incredible, the strategies and the learning and teaching in that, how to actually better connect with people. We’re all part of it. It’s one world, bigger universe, really. We’re all connected. We can actually add to that or detract from it.

    John: So great. So sometimes it’s not fair that I feel like I get to rapid-fire question you right out the gate. So now we can turn the tables and put me on the hot seat if you’d like. If you have two or three rapid-fire questions back at me, apparently people like to get to know me. So I’ll fire this thing up for you, and I’ll let you fire away whenever you’re ready.

    Clayton: Fantastic. Well, come on, John, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?

    John: Oh, yeah, that’s a really great question. I would be Clayton Oates’ assistant. I get to travel all over the world and live in Australia. Are you serious? I would probably be a college football coach. That just seems like a fun thing. Or a TV host like Jimmy Fallon at The Tonight Show or something like that. That would be pretty fun too.

    Clayton: Watch out, Jim, he’s gunning for you. Listen, mate, when are you coming to Australia? That’s what I want to know.

    John: Ah, there we go. Now it’s a personal question. So I’ve been to Australia once, but it was probably five or six years ago, so it’s been a while. So I’m due, man. I’m due for a new one, a new trip.

    Clayton: Well, I’ll talk to immigration because it’s been five or six years, they might well let you back in, mate.

    John: Clear over. But nothing booked right now, but definitely I promise, I’ll come by the end of next year. It would be great if it was this year, but by the end of next year for sure.

    Clayton: We’re going to hold you then. It’s 30% off for you guys in America, of course.

    John: Oh, right.

    Clayton: Given the exchange rate.

    John: It’s like coming for free. It’s just the 14 hours. So when I flew to Australia the first time, on the way home, I saw the sunrise and then I got on the plane and I flew to Los Angeles, landed, and I saw the same sunrise. My mind is still not right from that. I saw two sunrises of the same date and I’m just like, I lost the whole day. I don’t know what’s going on right now.

    Clayton: Well, the thing I had to explain to our kids when they were little, in fact, it was probably me really, well, truth be known, it’s actually the same sun.

    John: What? Get out. No, this is crazy. All right, cool man. Well, thank you so much for taking time, Clayton. This was so much fun. I really appreciate you being on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Clayton: Oh, thanks so much for having us on the show, mate. Keep doing what you’re doing. I love it. The energy, the enthusiasm, the encouragement, the inquisitiveness, the curiosity that you bring to our profession is outstanding. So I look forward to catching up with you soon, mate, in real life.

    John: Cool. Thank you so much, man.

    Wow! That was ridiculously fun. I love how Clayton said, “If you’re thinking your job is who you are and your value and worth is connected completely to your job, then that’s a problem.” And it’s so true. There was actually a study done at Duke University that reinforces this which proved that people that only have one dimension to them such as work are more prone to anxiety and depression. So it’s cool that Clayton realizes this, and it should encourage all of us to see that we’re much more than just an accountant or a lawyer or a consultant or whatever your job is.

    Now, if you like to see some pictures of Clayton’s travels or 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.

    So 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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