Episode 258 – Brian Wagner

Brian is an Accountant & Fly Fisherman

Brian Wagner returns to the podcast from episode 74 to talk about his recent retirement, steelhead fly fishing in Alaska, and why workplace culture has to come from the individuals!

Episode Highlights

Steelhead fly fishing
Preparing for retirement with hobbies and passions
How his previous firm encouraged employees to give back to the community
Why the culture has to be created from the bottom up

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Brian’s Pictures

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A 40″ steelhead trout caught and released in Alaska, May 2019

A nice size rainbow trout caught and released outside Bailey, Colorado.

Brian’s links


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    Welcome to Episode 258 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-up Friday edition. This is John Garrett. Each Friday, I’m following up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago to hear what’s new with their passions outside of work and also to hear how this message might have impacted them since we last talked.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published very, very soon. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details or you can sign up for my exclusive list and be the first to know when it’s coming out. Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories every Wednesday and now with the Follow-up Fridays. And this one’s going to be no different with my guest, Brian Wagner. He’s a recently retired partner from Stratagem in Denver, Colorado. Now, he’s with me here today. Brian, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Brian: You bet. Glad to be here.

    John: Oh, this is going to be awesome. We’re hanging out in person, which we get to do on occasion living in Denver. So it’s cool to do it in person.

    Brian: Yeah. How’s the transition been from the city?

    John: It’s been awesome. Denver is really cool. Apparently, I’m not supposed to tell everyone because there’s so many people moving here.

    Brian: The weather’s terrible.

    John: People are rude. Actually, traffic is terrible. But other than that, it’s pretty fantastic. If the Broncos would win some games, then that would be good.

    Brian: Yeah, we’re going yesterday.

    John: Yeah, exactly. It’s all good. I’d start it with the rapid-fire questions up front. Here we go. Harry Potter or Game of Thrones?

    Brian: Game of Thrones.

    John: Oh, okay. All right. More cats or dogs?

    Brian: Dogs, definitely dogs.

    John: How about this one? Oceans or mountains?

    Brian: Mountains.

    John: Okay. I figured, but I just figured I’d ask. This is a good one. Favorite band or musician?

    Brian: Oh man, I love music. And I’ve got such a wide range. I’m actually revisiting some of the oldies right now with some of the movies that have come out recently, like Queen and Elton John. So I’m living on a little retro mode right now.

    John: I saw Elton John in Denver last year. Yeah, he was awesome.

    Brian: I think I was out of town when he came to —

    John: It’s cool that they’re touring as well. So that’s great.

    Brian: I think that was his last tour, wasn’t it?

    John: Yeah. That’s what he says, but we don’t know. As if he needed to sell tickets, right?

    Brian: Yeah, just a way to get another hundred million dollars ten years.

    John: Exactly. Exactly. All right. Three more. Prefer more hot or cold?

    Brian: Hot.

    John: Hot? Okay. How about a favorite Disney character?

    Brian: My daughter was so disappointed in me. She loves Disney. I don’t know. Stages of life with my kids, I go back to the Lion King. I watch that a lot with them and that type of things.

    John: Yeah. Well, that’s a great one. How about toilet paper roll, over or under?

    Brian: Under.

    John: Under?

    Brian: Under.

    John: Against the wall?

    Brian: It’s easier to rip.

    John: Oh, okay. I don’t even want to know how long you’ve been experimenting at this, but okay. All right.

    Brian: That conversation has been had at our house a time or two.

    John: Right. Okay. Now that we know Brian, let’s jump into the fly fishing. That’s still obviously something that you’re still going strong with?

    Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been able to get up to Alaska and do some fly fishing for steelhead, which is one of the holy grails for fly fishermen or anglers.

    John: Oh, nice.

    Brian: I’ve done that, I think, three times now. And that’s just been a ton of fun. Actually, a client invited me to go up there with him and it’s epic. It’s just so crazy. Then I’m planning — now that I’m retired and not actively working busy seasons anymore, I’m planning a trip to Patagonia which is the number one thing left on my bucket list.

    John: Sweet.

    Brian: I want to go fly fishing Patagonia for a couple of weeks. The prime time to do that is February. Obviously, when you’re a CPA and grinding it out, that’s not an option.

    John: Yeah. February’s not an option, not at all. So steelhead, that’s just the type of fish?

    Brian: Yeah. It’s like a rainbow trout, but it’s born in freshwater. They go out to saltwater. They live in the ocean. They go out bigger. Then they come back into freshwater to spawn. And that’s when you fish. Yeah. Then they go back out into the ocean. They do that eight to ten times — eight or ten years. They get really big. Their gene pool hasn’t been polluted by other trout and whatnot. Their protein options in living in the ocean is conducive to them becoming much larger than bug life living in a stream in Colorado, for example.

    John: Sweet. I had no idea. All right. No, that’s awesome. Yeah. And it’s cool now that, yeah, I mean that you are retired, you can plan these trips to Patagonia or really whenever you want.

    Brian: Yeah. My daughter is doing a semester abroad in Chile next year. My wife and I are going to kill a couple birds with one stone, go down there and travel and see her a little bit and go to Patagonia. And I’ll get some fly fishing in. Yeah.

    John: That’s fantastic. One thing when I speak to conferences and firms is how important having these passions are so that then when you do approach retirement, you know what you’re going to go do. That’s obviously something that you are doing inadvertently, I guess. But I think of you as an example of this. How big of a deal is that for people to be thinking of?

    Brian: I think it’s a big deal. If your work is too important to you and your whole life is wrapped up in that, your whole identity and net worth as a human being is wrapped up in that, then when that’s no longer there, it could be a crisis coming. So I think that having hobbies and passions and things to do, not only is it more fun while you’re doing it but then it helps you figure some of the stuff out for when you’re not working

    John: Because there’s so much more to who you are as a person than just the CPA side.

    Brian: Totally. I mean what you do for a living is part of who you are, but it doesn’t define who I am. And if it becomes too important or not important enough, either way, it can be a problem, right?

    John: Yeah. That’s very true too. Yeah. We’re not talking about just mailing it in and getting a paycheck for no reason. But it’s not forgetting these other sides of who you are. That’s fantastic, man. That’s really cool. Have you seen people sharing hobbies more? Recently retired, so before you retired in the last couple years since we last talked, have you seen it being a thing that people are more open to in the workplace or is it still something that, “I still have work to be done,” I guess, basically?

    Brian: There’s definitely still work for you to do. So that’s probably good news for you.

    John: All right.

    Brian: But I would say there’s been some progress. It depends on the professional. It depends on the individual, right? Some people are more willing to get out there and take risks and do some things and be a little bit vulnerable in the right ways at the right situations. Some people aren’t. There’s two applications of that. One is business development side or what your passions are and going out and being friends with somebody and doing something that’s not related to the accounting firm at all. And the other one is our firm encourages all of our team members to get involved with giving back to the community in nonprofit ways. We put that in everybody’s budget so they know hourly how many hours a year they can donate. They can go work at a food kitchen two hours a month for all 12 months. They can take two days and go do Habitat for Humanity, however they want to do it. And what’s ended up happening over the years is certain friends at the firm, colleagues will go do one thing together for a day or something, but it’s not a firm-mandated deal. Culture has to be bottom up. If culture is top down, it’s partners telling people what to do. That’s not culture. So if it’s all organic and it’s bubbling up from the bottom, that’s a lot healthier. And that’s what was happening there.

    John: Yeah. I feel like the top down is like build the same sandbox, but then bottom up is playing the sand. I think that there need to be some parameters especially in these professions where it’s so permission-based. I was the same way. It’s very little asking forgiveness. It’s very much asking permission ahead of time.

    Brian: Sure.

    John: And I think you modeling it at the top is great because then it lets people see like, “Oh, okay.” It’s not only okay, but it’s almost mandatory.

    Brian: Well, we do need to support our people’s efforts and initiatives. There are parameters around it.

    John: Right.

    Brian: That’s a great comment. And people are coming to us and saying, “Hey, look. We’d like to go do this with the firm. Support that with contribution of $1,000 or something like that.” We consider those. As you keep saying, “we” like I’m still there. When I was there, we consider those. Those are all fair game and completely appreciated.

    John: That’s awesome. I love how you took the approach of, “Let’s build it into your hours for the year of the budget, if you will, that you’re going to have a certain number of hours that are allocated to community service and nonprofit work of some sort,” which is really fantastic because I don’t think that a lot of people do that. Why do you think it’s such a big deal to, I guess, give them permission? But not only that but almost be like, “This is important and you need to do this,” as opposed to taking those 24 hours and using them for billable hour work on client work.

    Brian: A couple of things. One, at the end of the day, we are in the service business, right? We want people who are service-oriented, who want to give back, give to their clients, give to their families, give to their friends, give to the community and do those types of things. And two, it’s just part of being a good corporate citizen, right? This community, Denver’s been very, very great to our firm and our people and every thing around that. And for us to give back is the least we could do. There’s not very many hours when you sit there and count them all up.

    John: No, no. You’re exactly right. The ramifications from the positive side are so much greater than a handful of hours that aren’t billable. It’s making people feel good and want to be engaged with each other. Like you were saying, they do it together sometimes.

    Brian: And I think it creates some goodwill for us from the employees too.

    John: Totally.

    Brian: That’s not why we do it, but they’d come back and there’s some energy between them. “Hey, that was great when we did that yesterday,” or whatever and integrate that, “The firm supports us or lets us do that, that not take a day of vacation time or whatever.” I mean it’s a win, win, win all the way around, good for the community, good for our team, good for the firm, good for our clients.

    John: No, that’s awesome because I mean just so much the mentality is, “Keep going forward and pedal to the metal.” And I think it’s cool that you guys took that approach to be like, “No, no. Pedal the metal when we need to. But there’s also — you need to have some other sides to you as well.” That also encourages people to be multidimensional. And it also shows that hobbies and passions are the same. Your passion outside of work doesn’t have to be an activity. Like fly fishing, it could be working in a soup kitchen or the Habitat for Humanity or something like that. It’s just as important.

    Brian: By the way, the firm was doing this way before I was over there. But I read in a book a long time ago that the single biggest correlating factor if they’re happy or not is if they’re grateful. And if you have a grateful heart or disposition or perspective in place in the world, you tend to be a happier person. Well, if our people go out and volunteer with people who don’t maybe have quite as good of a shake in life as they do and they see that and they’re more grateful for where they are, wherever that might be, they’re happier people.

    John: No, that’s huge. And I mean since you’re around them more waking hours than you are in your family, having happy, grateful people is definitely a bonus.

    Brian: I prefer to be around happy people than unhappy people.

    John: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening? Maybe they love fly fishing or something else, but, “That has nothing to do with my career?”

    Brian: No. I mean I think you just pick things you like to do and go do them. Quit worrying about what somebody else is going to think of this. The reality is nobody’s paying attention anyway.

    John: Right. Right.

    Brian: Just go do it. Invite somebody along. It might seem uncomfortable and they don’t want to go fly fishing. That’s great. At least you asked them and they said, “No, it’s really not my jam.” No harm, no foul. You move on. And if they do, maybe you have a good time doing it with them.

    John: And maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe they’re better at it. But I mean that’s such a huge point. It’s invite them alone. I mean there’s no harm in that. And that’s such a big thing. It’s wanting to share it with someone and open up about it. “I’ve never been fly fishing, but yeah, I’ll go. Are you patient? Are we okay?” It’s like, “Yeah, sure,” type of a thing. But you never know until you ask. Or maybe that other person is way into it, like crazy into it. And all of a sudden, you have a best friend for no reason.

    Brian: Totally.

    John: When it comes to the client work and even amongst the team, it’s so many — good things come from that.

    Brian: Yeah. I think in our initial call a couple years ago, I said, “When you get out here, we can you go fly fishing,” and we have not done that yet.

    John: No, we haven’t.

    Brian: We can do that next spring or summer.

    John: That’s awesome, man.

    Brian: Get on the calendar.

    John: I’m going to get some waders. I don’t know. Is that what I need?

    Brian: Yeah.

    John: I’m not sure.

    Brian: You don’t need anything. I have all of it.

    John: You have all of it? Awesome.

    Brian: Yeah. We’ll just go.

    John: Okay, very cool.

    Brian: We’ll get a guide. You’ll catch a bunch of fish.

    John: Yeah. Then on the way home after I’m hooked, then we stop at the store.

    Brian: That’s when you start throwing all your money out the window.

    John: Exactly. No, this has been so much fun, Brian. This is awesome. And what great examples for people listening to take to their organizations.

    Brian: Yeah, likewise. And thank you.

    John: No, absolutely. Before we wrap this up, it’s only fair that I allow you to turn the tables on me and rapid-fire question me. So, two to three questions or whatever you got. I’m ready. Here we go.

    Brian: Yeah. Who’s your favorite Notre Dame football coach?

    John: Favorite Notre Dame football coach? That’s going to be Lou Holtz.

    Brian: Lou Holtz?

    John: Lou Holtz. I was there for his last three years. I was in the marching band. It’s so cool I am. At the beginning of every season, he would always drive his golf cart over after practice and speak to the band and say, “Hey, we’re out here practicing and so are you. You’re just as much a part of this as we are. We hear you playing the victory march and that fires us up. And what you do makes us better.” I thought that was really cool. You’re the head football coach of Notre Dame. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. And for him to take time — I mean five minutes maybe to come over and be like, “Hey, we hear what you’re doing. We see what you’re doing and we appreciate it.” That’s a pretty cool moment. I had a picture with him from when I was a student that I had signed. And just a couple of months ago, I was able to speak at a conference where I was the first day closing and he was the opening of the second day. So I stuck around and got to meet him again and showed him the picture. He was like, “Oh my gosh.” Yeah. It’s awesome. I have it on my Instagram, the side by side.

    Brian: That’s really great.

    John: He’s just the greatest guy.

    Brian: He seems like a great character, dude. My son toured Notre Dame. And we went to a football game there. I mean the marching band from the steps all the way down.

    John: Yeah. From the dome all the way to the stadium.

    Brian: Oh yeah. I mean that’s one of the top traditions in all college sports. And the fight song is obviously very recognizable.

    John: Yeah. It’s a cool place. It’s a cool place.

    Brian: Yeah. That’s cool for sure. All right. Name your top two or three alum.

    John: Two or three Notre Dame alums?

    Brian: Notre Dame alums.

    John: Oh, gosh, not including me. Goodness. So like Regis Philbin. He’s a character. I’ve met him several times, really good guy. Jimmy Brogan, he was the head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for almost ten years and also bit of a mentor for me and a friend. Yeah. We’ll go with those two. They’re the two that come to mind.

    Brian: You’re not personal friends with Joe Montana or —

    John: Oh, yeah. Oh, football-wise.

    Brian: or —

    John: Football-wise. So the last couple of years, I’ve been able to write the Football Awards show. This will be my fifth year coming up. The first year was with Hannah Storm, who was an alum and her husband, Dan Hicks. Then two years ago was Jerome Bettis. Then last year was Aaron Taylor, who was an offensive lineman. Then this year is going to be Ryan Harris, who was an offensive lineman with the Broncos when they won the Super Bowl. I’m the guy behind the guy. I write the whole show. Two of them were nominated for Emmys, which is pretty nuts if you ask me.

    Brian: That’s very cool. How many of your listeners knew that?

    John: Yeah. I don’t know. They all do now. That’s awesome. Well, thanks, Brian. This has been really fun.

    Brian: Yeah, thanks.

    John: Absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Brian in action fly fishing or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, 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 that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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