Kelly films her way to better connections
Kelly Richmond Pope is on a mission to show what an accountant is not. She’s shattering the stereotype of an accounting professor by continuously looking for new ways to keep students engaged by learning with different media. Her latest project is a feature documentary All the Queens Horses about the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history.
In this episode we talk about how important it is to tell stories to make your point stick with the listener, whether that’s accounting students or audit clients. Kelly also brings up how important it is to always bring your best self to work, which means not hiding your hobbies or passions. Be sure to stay to the end because we have a lot of laughs during the “Get to know Kelly” rapid fire questions.
Kelly Richmond Pope currently teaches forensic accounting at DePaul University in Chicago and is the founder of Helios Digital Learning. She is also a fraud filmmaker, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed educational evangelist.
She received her Ph.D. in accounting from Virginia Tech.
I’m doing a research study about Corporate Culture!
It’s anonymous and I promise it’ll take less than 2 minutes.
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John: Welcome to Episode 30 of the Green Apple Podcast. Before I introduce this week’s guest I just wanted to remind you about my anonymous research survey. The more data points I have the more legit the research so if you haven’t done so already please go to greenapplepodcast.com. There’s a big green button there, if you just click it it only takes 60 seconds to do and I really, really appreciate it.
And this week’s guest is Kelly Richmond Pope. She’s a fraud filmmaker, Accounting professor, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed educational evangelist. Wow, that’s a lot. She really, really likes Accounting so much so that she received her PhD in Accounting from the Virginia Tech. And as a filmmaker, Kelly is currently working on her second documentary, All the Queens Horses, with Kartemquin Films. She currently teaches Forensic Accounting at DePaul University in Chicago and is the founder of Helios Digital Learning.
So Kelly, one thing I love to ask everyone is just how did you get into accounting? I mean, you’re a professor, you really, really like it.
Kelly: I really, really like accounting. And so funny thing, I started taking accounting in high school. I remember Mrs. Farrow was my Accounting teacher in Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina. And from there I liked it, I majored in Accounting in undergrad at North Carolina A&T State University, go Aggies. And when I was finished I decided I would go and get my Master’s and PhD Accounting and so I went to Virginia Tech to complete those graduate degrees — go, Hokies! And so yeah, I started early, I started in high school.
John: Wow, yeah! So what made you want to go PhD level on this?
Kelly: Well, I grew up in a very education-focused family. My father was a professor, his PhD was in operations research, and my mother was a guidance school counselor and she used to be a teacher. So I had that educator’s bone in my body and so I liked helping people but I also liked Accounting. So yeah, that’s how it all came together.
John: That’s fantastic, I love it! You don’t come across — well, I don’t anyway — too many PhD accounting types so it’s like after you graduate college you don’t see them around, so I think that’s cool.
Kelly: Yeah, I really enjoy the merging of the academic side with the accounting profession so it just was a natural fit for me.
John: Yeah, it sounds perfect and you’re doing really well at it, so that’s fantastic. And you mentioned earlier, on nights and weekends, when you have some free time, making documentary films, and I think that that’s so cool. How did you get into wanting to make documentary films?
Kelly: Well, if you think about the field of Accounting, accounting numbers tells stories, right? And so I love TV, I love movies, those are just some of my passions, and so I wanted to figure out how I could really invigorate my class. And so I started bringing in different movie clips and reality TV like The Profit and Shark Tank. And so one day I said I can really create my own content. And so since fraud and white collar crime is my research area I was at a conference several years ago, I was listening to a convicted felon who did a talk and I thought wow, it would be really great to create some content on my own that I could use in the classroom. And so from those experiences led to me developing documentaries.
John: Yeah, that’s such a great idea, rather than use other people’s stuff, just create your own, and then you know it’s tailored specifically for what you want. And so what’s the focus of this All the Queens Horses documentary? I’m assuming obviously, fraud, but more specifically?
Kelly: Sure. Well, All The Queens Horses is a documentary that chronicles the $53 million dollar-Dixon, Illinois fraud. So several years ago, the city comptroller of Dixon, Illinois, her name is Rita Crundwell, embezzles $53 million over 20 years and no one knew. And so the documentary really shows the impact of what Rita Crundwell had on the town. So it answers two primary questions, one, how does one person embezzle $53 million and nobody know it.
John: That’s the question that I want to know the answer to, actually.
Kelly: Right, from a town that has 16,000 people and annual budget between six and eight million dollars, how did that happen. And then the second question is who was responsible for finding this fraud, was it the city residents, was it the bank, or was it the city council.
So the film seeks to answer those two primary questions. And with some civil in between because Rita Crundwell was one of the number one Quarter Horse breeders in the country winning 52 World Championships.
John: Oh, boy, yeah! This gets deeper and deeper as you peel it back, that’s fantastic. Yeah, very cool, that’s awesome! So you’re in there talking to the people that, I guess, worked in city hall and the town residents, and things like that?
Kelly: Absolutely! So we’ve interviewed residents of Dixon, we’ve interviewed the late mayor Jim Burke who passed away earlier a couple months ago this year; we’ve interviewed the whistle blower, the person who discovered the fraud; we’ve interviewed the current comptroller. And so it’s going to be a great film.
John: Yeah, I think that that’s really fascinating, very cool. And how long do you anticipate it being?
Kelly: Either it will be a TV hour or which will be on for sixty minutes or it may be a little bit longer. We’re in the post-production stages right now so we are currently editing. So we’ll see. But hopefully, it’s a minimum an hour.
John: Yeah, that’s great, and when you’re in the editing phase that’s really exciting because part of it’s like “Oh, shoot, we should have set that extra 30-second thing” or whatever. But the other part is “Wow, I don’t even remember shooting that and that’s just so cool that we got it on film” type of stuff.
John: Yeah, so that’s an exciting time when you’re coming in for a landing. It’s more like landing the space shuttle, I think, where it’s like “Ah, everybody hold on!” It’s a cool time though, very neat.
Kelly: And global fraud is a big issue and municipal fraud, of course, is a big issue. And what I’d like to say is if it’s happening in Dixon, it’s happening everywhere because Dixon is this small town, the birth place of President Ronald Reagan, the founder of Walgreens is from Dixon. So the city of Dixon is a good character to really look at the whole world because if it’s happening here you know it’s happening everywhere.
John: Right, I can just imagine on my block in Brooklyn, it’s got to be seven of them, just gosh. Yeah, that’s exciting. And so I guess through doing this documentary, has that enhanced your work as an educator, have you learned some new things?
Kelly: Absolutely! Doing the documentary has really enhanced my experience in the classroom as well as my experience what I’m doing corporate seminars. Because what it’s helped me become is better storytellers and we’re all storytellers and if we’re not we should learn how to be. And so through story now I really teach so every little segment I’m teaching a story, I’m opening up with a story. And so I’ve learned that process through documentary filmmaking.
John: Yeah, that’s such a great insight, that yeah, I’ve never really thought about how we all are storytellers even if you work in audit or in consulting, or whatever, when you’re talking to the client there’s still a story to be told. Yeah, that’s an excellent point and I’m sure that by doing this we should all be making our own documentaries.
Kelly: We should! And you know, right about it is we actually can. With iPhones, with all the cheaper software, you should document your story whether that’s your story in your family. I think we all should live behind our story because I think that’s important, that’s how you sort of track, you pass down your story through generations, so I think we all should do that.
John: Right. And even if it is, “Hey, I swindled $53 million out of this small town”, that’s your story. Don’t do it that way, that’s not good, definitely.
So is this something that I have to imagine comes up at work with the other professors, with students, and what have you?
Kelly: I think I am probably one of the more misunderstood CPA academics because this is so uncommon for an academic to do especially the accounting discipline. So I’m sure that if it does come up it comes up in a way like “What is she doing now?” But I think students really appreciate my different approach to how I attack the classroom because I really use documentary filmmaking and visual storytelling as a way to connect with them because when you think about this generation of Millenials that’s how they learn, they consume information visually and digitally so I try to use that and make myself become a more effective communicator with them.
John: Right, that’s exactly right. If you can tell a story they’re going to remember that story, if you just rattle off facts of how to do a cash flow statement, they’re going to forget that the moment they walk out the door.
Kelly: Right. But if you talk about how to do a cash flow statement in the context of a story and how a person use the cash flow statement to hide the fact that they were stealing money from their employer, then they’ll appreciate why learning a cash flow state is so important.
John: Right, absolutely, yeah! That’s something that had my Accounting professor done I might not be doing comedy. So I guess I should thank here in the end. But no, that’s exactly right, no matter what it is that you’re telling someone, whether it’s a client or another co-worker or whatever, if you can do it through a story then it’s definitely going to stick a lot better. And then when you can get it on film and all that, then you can share with everyone even better. So yeah, this is a cool thing, very cool.
Kelly: Yeah! Those that are listening and interested, our film website is allthequeenshorsesfilm.com and at that website you can see a short little trailer and you can read about my team and hopefully coming 2017 we will be out amongst the world.
John: Yes, absolutely, and we’ll put a link to the website on greenapplepodcast.com, your show page, and so then people can go there as well and I’ll remind them at the end. Yeah, that’s a very cool thing, so cool. And so would you say that doing this documentary, so when it comes up in conversation, like you said, some people are like “What’s crazy Kelly up to again” type of stuff, do you think that it opens up conversations or people kind of shy away from wanting to talk about it?
Kelly: I think it opens up conversation. I think that whenever you’re able to find your own niche, I think that always open up conversation. And so it’s similar to what you’ve done, you’ve taken your role as a CPA, as an accountant and really found a niche for yourself and that’s similar to what I’ve done. And so I really think that whenever you are different, that’s a good thing. And so figuring out how you can merge your two passions together and use your foundation or your expertise as a springboard to do something else, really opens up conversation. Because I think that people have this idea of what an accountant is and my goal is to show them what an accountant is not. And so there’s a lot that the foundation accounting can allow you to do. You can do comedy, you can do filmmaking, you can even do fashion design, and so that’s really what I like to do. So I think that it really opens up conversations.
John: Yeah. And I think that’s great, to show what an accountant is not, because I get so frustrated when people say “Well, I’m not the stereotypical accountant” and it’s like well, I think the definition of stereotypical accountant is upside-down, I really do. I think the stereotypical accountant is you and me and everyone else who’s been on this podcast and all the people that are listening. There’s accountants and even consultants and lawyers and what have you that are out there doing fun cool things on the weekends, their passion, and they’re just afraid to let it out. I think that that’s part of it, they’re afraid to share that in conversation because they want to fall in line with kind of what professionalism has taught us to be is toe the line and do what everyone else does. But it’s like you said, being different is a good thing, you don’t have to be a total weirdo about it but just be yourself and only good things happen.
And so before you got into the documentary filmmaking a couple years ago, was there something else, like a hobby or passion that came up in conversation that you talked to people or was this kind of the one thing that kind of blew it open for you?
Kelly: Well, what I was doing before putting these stories into an actual film is I was going around and doing interviews with felons and so I was fascinated with how good people can make really poor decisions and so the rationalization component of how that can lead us to making a wrong choice. And so I was going around and doing interviews and talking to people that most people wouldn’t talk to, and I found people that committed a crime, not your con artist of the world, but that the neighbor, the person you go to church with, the person you work with, those kinds of people. I thought it was really interesting to hear and learn from them as to what led them down that slippery slope.
So I was doing that anyway, and so again, that was interesting. But what I wanted to show people was through those experiences, you are very similar to the people that I was talking to, we all make very similar decisions. Now some of these guys have happened to get caught, well, I think that the way to make the world a better place is helping us understand what we have in common with people that make poor decisions because if we’re able to be self-reflective and see our own flaws then that will help us be better people.
And so I started going around doing that and taking those types of stories and those types of visual stories into the classroom and so that really is what led me to linking them all together. And so my first educational documentary that I did was something called Crossing the Line: Ordinary People Committing Extraordinary Crimes. And from that work I launched a business called Helios Digital Learning and we’ve been around for four years and we operate in the academic base and in the corporate training base, so that led me to that path. But again, it’s all from really taking that accounting foundation as a springboard and figuring out where there was a void for someone like me.
John: Yeah! It’s so excellent how you just kind of explore and take one step at a time and just do what you’re supposed to be doing and then as you come down that and then now look, you start Helios Digital Learning, you have a full-feature documentary film that you’re editing, this is awesome! You don’t have to go from zero to sixty, there are steps along the way, I’m so appreciative that you just outline that it started out with doing some interviews and then doing a documentary. So there’s steps that people take. I think sometimes people get worried that oh, if I share that I’m doing something then it’s not the full-blown super big cool project — it doesn’t have to be, you know, it’s baby steps.
Kelly: And what’s interesting too about this idea of step is I think that one would help is early on identifying what your passion is and we all have them and putting those baby steps in place to get to that. And so I think the problem is sometimes we face is our step are out of whack. And so you really have to think about them as step because one foot goes in front of the other and goes in front of the other and goes in front of the other and it makes sense. And so I think our step have to make sense.
So if you start with like whatever that passion is and for me it was TV and movies. I love TV and movies and so that was one of my passions. And then I like talking and working with people, that was another passion. So if you think about it all the steps makes sense and I think that’s the key.
John: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And the biggest part is just not being afraid to explore that and let it rip and see what happens. Absolutely. And I guess one thing that I like to ponder in my small brain is just when it comes to organizations and firms and even in the academic world, I’d imagine, how much do you think is on an organization to create a culture where people can feel free, open, to share versus it’s on the individual to just make that happen on your own type of thing.
John: I think that the true innovators in the world had it within them. And I don’t think that we could totally put it all on corporate culture because a culture can only bring out so much, this has to be in you. You have to have that burning desire in you and I just don’t know that an environment can spur that. I think it can nurture it if you have it but I don’t know that it can bring out innovation.
So I don’t know if I totally feel like it’s the responsibility of the organization to create that type of environment but I think it’s important for the individual to know their selves and know what makes them tick and what makes them work. And I think if you know that you will live in a way that you go after those things.
John: Right, I agree, yeah, a culture can only do so much, like you said. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink type of thing.
Kelly: Right! You can’t develop a one size-fits all culture because everybody is so different. You have introverts, you have extroverts, and then you have some people that are 50% of both, all in one place so it’s hard to figure out a culture that brings out qualities when you have people that are so complex and so different. So that’s why I think it’s really important for everybody to identify what their passion points are and then bring that to the organization, and hopefully they’ll support it wherever you work for that.
For me personally, I’m an academic and I use my academic environment as a place to create and be creative. And so as opposed to some academics if I wanted to teach my class the same way using the same book in the same method every day I could do that. However, I look at my role as an academic as a place to be creative, I can do whatever I want to do in the classroom so I always want to be innovative and try different things. Like my next thing I want to do is I want to bring in virtual reality into the classroom, I want to figure out a way if somebody could give me a grant and I can have some type of VR kind of system or Google Glass and use that as a way to really amp up the classroom.
So I always want to be different. I look at my job as a place where I can be creative. But it starts with you, it has nothing really to do with the environment for me. I think it starts with you.
John: Yeah. And then see whatever will stick, but those are some excellent ideas. Like you said they’re you bringing it to the table, it’s not DePaul saying “Okay, Kelly, here’s how you’re going to teach this”, it’s you bringing it to the table and that’s definitely huge. And what might be some things maybe that you’ve seen whether it be in the “real” world or with other academics that might be barriers to where people don’t want to bring those ideas up?
Kelly: Well, when I think about the academic environment, I think one of the barriers is just how we function which is the whole tenure structure because our idea of research and what we might want to do innovatively in the classroom sometimes don’t connect so that can be a big disconnect there. I think in the corporate space I think people are often reluctant to change, I think people get comfortable with what they know and change is hard. And so I think that sometimes when I think about running efficiently sometimes staying the same is the way to run efficiently because sometimes it can be costly to change.
So I think its two barriers, one from the corporate and one from the academic side that I think make it hard to sometimes embrace innovation but you have to, ultimately you have to.
John: Right, absolutely. So do you have any words of encouragement maybe from your own experience for people that maybe are on the fence where I have this passion that I do outside of work but I don’t really share it at work. Any words of encouragement, I think you’ve covered it but I didn’t know if there’s anything else that I might have leave the door open for you.
Kelly: Well I think that if you really take three steps back and if you look at what you’re doing outside of work and look at where you’re working, I bet you you can find a commonality between the two. And I think that if you can’t find a commonality then something needs to change because you want to bring your best self to anything that you’re doing and the only way to bring your best self is to follow what that burning gut feeling in you that you do.
So I think that hopefully if a person is sort of on the fence about well I do this outside of work but this is where I work. Hopefully you can do some self-reflection and find a connection between the two but if you can’t I think something needs to change because that’s the only way the best self comes out.
John: Yeah, I agree, because then it’s your whole self. That’s awesome, very cool! This has been unbelievable, my brain is like hurting from all the stimulation and knowledge, like this is really great insight and I can’t wait to see All the Queen’s Horses when it’s out full run. But until then I’d like to remind everybody to go to allthequeenshorsesfilm.com and you could see the trailer and check it out.
Kelly: And you can connect with us and you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll let you know where we are. We plan to do screenings all over the US, pending funding, we’re trying to raise more money so we can go across the country and show people this amazing film, and hopefully there’ll be a call to action that people are a lot more accountable and you will hug your accountant after you see this film.
John: Who doesn’t want more hugs? Come on. Well, that’s awesome. I think we’ve all gotten to know you but I have a rule where I have my 17 Rapid Fire Questions to see if maybe we should really hang out type of thing. So I’ll run you through the wringer here really quickly. So the first one is Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kelly: Neither. And I will say it, neither. I am not either one of those. I don’t like either one of them so I’m sure everyone’s going to like X me now, but neither.
John: No, that’s fine. I figured with being such a film junkie you would have something up your sleeve.
Kelly: They’re too long to me.
John: How about cats or dogs?
Kelly: Dogs. I have a dog named Nigel, I have a Lakeland Terrier named Nigel. He’s a year old.
John: Oh, that’s awesome. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Kelly: I’m going to say crossword puzzle because I grew up watching my dad do crossword puzzles and every time I try Sudoku I can’t do it, so crossword puzzles.
John: Favorite color?
Kelly: Favorite color is green.
John: And how about a least favorite color?
John: How about PC or Mac?
Kelly: Both, I use both simultaneously side by side.
John: Wow, holy cow, that’s unbelievable! How about right click or left click?
Kelly: Right click.
John: It’s a silly question, it doesn’t even mean anything.
Kelly: Yes, it does, it means something to me because– no, I’m sorry, let me change that. Left click because left click is the one that has all the information to it, right click is the afterthought, and the afterthought when you’re struggling with something you always right click and then it’s there. So I like left click because all the information is already on the left click side.
John: Right, and that’s where you’re making the decisions, it’s like “I choose this.” Do you have a favorite sports team?
Kelly: I’m going to be like everybody else and say Golden State because of Stephen Curry.
John: Right! It’s hard not to like them. How about heels or flats?
Kelly: I’m going to say for comfort, I’m over 40, I’m going to have to say flats.
John: I thought you were going to say one of each. How about balance sheet or income statement?
Kelly: I’m going to say income statement.
John: Do you have a favorite band or musician?
Kelly: My favorite band — okay, my husband’s going to die that I’ll ever say this. I have a favorite singer and it was Whitney Houston.
John: A lot of people like Whitney.
Kelly: I was so upset when she passed.
John: Wow! That’s great, you just turn up the tunes on the drive and just jam out, sing along. I could see that.
Kelly: She had a beautiful voice.
John: Right, yeah, very powerful. How about pens or pencils?
John: Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Kelly: Yes, Steel Magnolias.
John: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one. How about do you have a favorite number?
Kelly: No, I don’t have a favorite number.
John: All of them, all the positive ones, right? how about a favorite TV show of all time?
Kelly: I have a lot so I can’t… I have a favorite right now in terms of it just makes me chuckle, I have two right now, and it’s Black-ish and Modern Family. I love to laugh, I really do, it just makes you feel good when you laugh, you know, one of those unconditional laughs where you almost start crying because you’re laughing so hard. And I just do that off of those shows.
John: That’s excellent. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Kelly: My favorite actress right now is Regina King from American Crime. She’s a phenomenal actress, and I don’t think you hear enough about her but she’s phenomenal.
John: Yeah, very good. And here’s the last one, the favorite thing you own.
Kelly: Okay, my favorite thing I own right now is my black Nike Sky Air Dunk wedge tennis shoes.
John: And is there a reason why?
Kelly: Because they’re hot, that’s why.
John: That makes it easier to sing Whitney Houston’s songs when I’m wearing these shoes.
Kelly: If you haven’t seen them, oh, my God, if you don’t have a pair you should because they kill with everything, they’re comfortable and you look so on trend no matter how old you are.
John: That’s so perfect, that’s so perfect. Can I get a pair or they’re women’s only?
Kelly: For the men, they’re boots but for the women they’re wedge heels.
John: Got it, yeah, I will do the boots. That’s awesome, very cool, Kelly. Well thank you so much for taking time to be with me today.
Kelly: Yeah, sure, absolutely, it’s a lot of fun.
John: Wow, that was super fun. I love how Kelly said you have to bring your best self to work so don’t neglect your hobby passion side. You could see some links to Kelly including her documentary, All the Queens Horses, and some pictures at greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re there please don’t forget to do the survey. Thank you so much for listening and sharing with your friends so they can all go out and be a green apple.