Episode 346 – Bill Penczak

Bill is a Consultant & Traveler

Bill Penczak, CEO of MICA Ventures, returns to the podcast to talk about his most recent trips, starting his own consulting firm right before the pandemic began, the status of the accounting professional world, and much more!

Episode Highlights

• Recent trips
• How the pandemic affected his value of relationships
• Starting his firm in March 2020
• A shift of focus towards making connections
• You do a disservice to everyone if you do not bring your authentic self


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Photos of Bill’s Travels

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    Welcome to Episode 346 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-Up Friday Edition. Happy New Year. We made it to 2021, everybody. This is John Garrett, and each Friday, I follow 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 hear how this message might have impacted them since we last talked.

    I’m so excited, my book is out. If you didn’t get one for the holidays, you can get one now on Amazon, Indigo, barnesandnoble.com, a few other websites. If you’re interested in buying 25 or more, maybe for your clients or your team, there’s a form at whatsyourand.com for you to get discounted pricing from my publisher. It’s the least I can do to hook you up with that. Thank you so much to everyone who’s read it so far and been kind enough to leave those Amazon reviews. Thank you so, so much for those.

    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 each and every week, and this Follow-Up Friday is no different with my guest, Bill Penczak. He’s the founder and Chief Insights Officer at MICA Ventures in Houston, Texas, and now he’s with me here today. Bill, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Bill: Great seeing you again, John.

    John: Yeah, this is going to be awesome.

    Bill: You’re looking younger than ever.

    John: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Everyone listening, just take his word for it because he’s a genuine liar. That’s what’s happening right here. No, but you’re too kind, too kind. I have the rapid-fire questions, things I should have probably asked you first time and before we’ve hung out before but never asked, so here we go, just seven. If you had to pick, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

    Bill: Harry Potter, never got into Game of Thrones.

    John: I’ve never seen one episode at all.

    Bill: You just look at the clips with the nudity in it, online.

    John: I didn’t even know there was that. Okay, I need to get outside more. How about, this is a tricky one, brownie or ice cream?

    Bill: Oh, God. Ice cream.

    John: Okay. All right.

    Bill: Although, in the past couple of months, I realized that my weight has gained a little bit, so I’ve cut out all the ice cream a little bit and actually made a difference.

    John: Yeah, right. Sad but true. It’s like, ah, yeah. No, I hear you. What is a typical breakfast?

    Bill: Pretty much the same thing every day, bowl cereal with some fruit in it, a little bit of yogurt and a glass of orange juice and half an English muffin.

    John: Wow, healthy, man. I like that. All right. When you travel, planes, trains or automobiles.

    Bill: Well, we like to travel when you can, overseas or to faraway places so, generally, by plane. Although we’ve done a couple of really cool train trips in the past, like in New Zealand. We went across their version of the Alps.

    John: Cool. Now that is — yeah, it’s true because in the US, trains, unless you’re in the northeast, trains aren’t really used. When you go to Europe and then you can ride a train, it’s really novel. Plus, they’re cool, and they’re fast, and they’re really clean and sharp. It’s just neat. How about when it comes to books, Kindle real book or audio book?

    Bill: Real book, that way, and I know you can do this in Kindle, but that way, I can make notes. I dog-ear pages, go back and look at things later on. Yeah, I’m kind of a provincial person about that.

    John: Yeah. No, I agree on that. I agree on that. This one’s tricky too, rain or snow.

    Bill: In the next couple of years, we’re going to move up to the Pacific Northwest, so I better say rain.

    John: Okay. Right.

    Bill: It’s going to be part of the formula, I think.

    John: Okay. Yeah, definitely. I hate rain so much. I really do. I don’t know why. I just… All right, last one, last one, maybe the most important one ever. Toilet paper roll, over or under.

    Bill: Well, this is a big controversy in our household. So, depending on who’s loading the roll, it goes one way or the other. I’m an over. My wife is an under.

    John: Oh, really? Okay. All right. Still house divided.

    Bill: Yeah. We’re not super pedantic about it, but just you can tell who did it by looking which way it’s rolling.

    John: Attention to detail. Come on now. So, last time you were on episode 170. You were talking about traveling. I remember seeing pictures of you wearing, when it was the Green Apple podcast, the shirt in Portugal, which was awesome. It was so fun hearing those stories. Since then, have you been able to do some travel in the last couple of years, pre-March 2020?

    Bill: Yeah, a little bit. We went to Prague for Thanksgiving last year. It just seems like eons ago. A couple little trips I did. I did a fishing trip to New Mexico for a couple of days over the Fourth of July weekend. We went up to Colorado in March for a quick little trip.

    John: Nice.

    Bill: We went to Seattle in the summertime. It was cool because we used to live there, and we’ve got about five or six couple friends that we got to socially distance and see all at once, up there.

    John: Oh, that’s neat, like in a cul-de-sac sort of a thing or whatever.

    Bill: The couple that hosted us has a big backyard, and we sat apart. It was really good because some of these people, it’s spend 17 years since we’ve lived there, and while we stayed in touch with a lot of the people, not as much as you do when you live there. So, we’ll pick up those conversations where we left them off, and it’s really cool to have that kind of bond.

    John: That’s cool.

    Bill: I’m not too philosophical about everything but, I think, over the past year, recognizing the value of that, either the personal relationships that you have or the business contacts that you have, has become more important to me, I guess.

    Starting a consulting firm, the first week of March before everything hit the fan, I always say to clients, “I started this in March, so you can automatically and rightfully question my business sense. Even though that’s what you’re paying me to do, you can question my business sense.” I decided — I’ll tell the short version — decided that I want to do this in January, set up my articles of incorporation, built a website, left the firm in March, and two weeks later, everything shut down.

    In the interim and during that process, realizing that, one, I’ve got a lot of professional friends and friend friends that were very kind and helpful. Two of my clients, for example, came about because people that I used to work with, reached out to me and said, hey, did you know So-and-So is looking for such-and-such, a couple of times, and I wind up getting two clients out of that. There was a book a couple years ago, a guy named Keith Ferrazzi wrote Never Eat Alone.

    John: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

    Bill: He wrote a follow onto that called, Who’s Got Your Back. It’s a little bit esoteric, but it’s basically about paying it forward. Not doing it for mercenary reasons, necessarily, but just because, one, it’s just the right thing to do in the universe, but also, from a professional standpoint, getting to be known as the person that can connect or knows a lot of people enough and doesn’t always have their interest in mind, has gotten more altruistic.

    I kind of pooh-poohed it when I first read it, when it first came out. Now, I think I’ve been able to benefit from that. I’ve got a networking group, and I’ve probably given more leads than I’ve gotten out of it. That’s okay because I think we’re in the long haul. So with —

    John: I don’t know anything about COVID. Knock yourself out.

    Bill: It seems like people are just slowing down just a bit and trying to connect with what’s important to them, whether it’s from a professional standpoint, whether it’s a personal standpoint, families and all that. That may be one of the good byproducts out of all this stuff.

    John: Yeah, and I would think that those connections that you had, those people that do have your back, are people that, they’re not just because they know what you do professionally, they actually know who you are, and you know who they are. There’s a genuine interest in them as a person and in their “And”. You know these other dimensions to them, not just, oh, I know, So-and-So. They’re really good at XYZ technical thing. Because there’s a lot of people that are good at those technical things.

    It is cool to see how this past nine months have shown that, the What’s Your “And”? message, it just ripped the Band-Aid off of this because we’ve been in each other’s homes now. We’ve seen, you know, hey, what’s your dog’s name? What’s your cat’s name? Hey, kids are running around, Amazon deliveries are coming, whatever. It’s just chaos. You can’t put on this facade of, I’ve got everything together. I’m super professional person. No, I don’t even know what the hell’s going on right now.

    Bill: Have you noticed that the dress code has been more liberal in the lockdown?

    John: Right.

    Bill: People might wear a buttoned up shirt. A guy might wear a buttoned up shirt in the beginning. Now, it’s like, everyone is in t-shirts. Read something that said 40% of women now that are on Zoom calls, either don’t put on makeup or just leave their camera off, for whatever reason. It’s so funny. Think about all of what we thought was normal and get dressed up and wear a jacket and tie or you had to wear pants. I’m wearing pants, I promise.

    John: Not pajama pants anyway.

    Bill: Or you can’t work from home. All that’s been blown out. It’d be interesting to see, like in the CPA world, I bet you charge hours are as good as, if not better than they were because people aren’t commuting. They’re not driving to client places. The amount of hours that we’re putting in is probably the same or if not more, but it doesn’t feel that way.

    John: Or even more importantly, just the output is there. Whether the hours aren’t, the output’s there. Yeah, it certainly has just shattered what we thought was important and what was “professional”. That’s what the What’s Your “And”? is all about. What you thought was professional, it doesn’t matter, to a degree. You could still get the work done. As long as you’re not inhibiting someone else’s ability to do their job, then talk about your outside-of-work interests and things that you do and who you are as a person. This is normal.

    Now, we’ve all seen that human side to each of us. I hope that when things start to go back to the office, we don’t act like, I didn’t see your dog, or I didn’t see you on a Wednesday at an 8 am meeting, just not showered or in a t-shirt. We’re humans, and we’re regular people. Embrace that. Hey, that picture that was on your wall, where’s that from? That’s cool, type of thing.

    Bill: I’ve got an old record player, an old phonograph that is usually behind me if I’m sitting in my study. People always ask about it. It goes back to the travel thing that we bought it in Athens. I’ll tell you a quick sidebar story. I used to travel to South America for work and always went to the San Telmo Fair in Buenos Aires. It’s crazy. When you can buy a steak dinner for 12 bucks.

    My wife and I and the kids were on a cruise. We stopped in Athens and went to Plaka and went to some of the old antique stores and found this record player. It was like 120 euros. I was like, great, we’re going to buy it. My wife looks at me, like, you’re crazy. You’re going to take this back on a cruise ship. I said, I’ve got two teenage boys. They’re going to help me with it. So, we gave the guy 20 euros to wrap it up and as a deposit. We come back 20 minutes later. He gives us two boxes. My wife said, he’s probably put bricks in it, and we’re going to find out when we get back in Houston. We’ll see.

    So, we’re leaving. All of a sudden, there’s a commotion behind us, and this shopkeeper, holding the handle that twists and makes it actually work, because we’d forgot to pack it. So, well, it’s probably not a thing of bricks. We can breeze through customs and all that. I tell my wife, I said, I’ve got more stories out of this thing. Especially, like you said, it’s at the background and might see it, and it’s made a lot of cool connection stories of personal connections. Really, the question is going to be, will people put their veil back on again, once we get into the corporate world, and will that truism go away?

    John: I hope not because it’s almost one of those where you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t unsee what you’ve seen, and that’s what I’m pushing for. Everybody listening, wherever they work, don’t let it go back. Ask about those things. When people ask you about that record player, that’s awesome. You light up. Because I remember, we’ve talked on webcams before, and I’ve asked you about it. I could see you light up. You get animated, and you’re excited about, that’s there because I want to talk about it. It brings me joy, seeing it.

    Bill: Mostly just so I can say to my wife, I told you so.

    John: Pretty much. Pretty much. You just wait one April 1st, she’s going to replace it with a stack of bricks, and then you’re going to come. You’d be like, what?! April Fool’s. That’s awesome. Yeah, I agree, I hope it doesn’t. I feel like, because everyone’s been a part of it, you can’t Wizard of Oz this. You can’t just pull the veil over everyone’s eyes on this. Even if you’re the leader of a small team, just keep it going because — I mean, we’re human. We want to be in person again. It’s just human nature, when it’s safe or what have you, but to not act like we’ve seen all that, it’s going to be a real disservice if that does happen. As long as I’m around, there will be people that don’t want to do that, hopefully.

    Bill: Some older person that I was talking to, recently said, “Well, the millennials have won.” What do you mean by that? Well, there’s no dress code anymore, and we’re all working from home.

    John: No, it’s not millennials at all. It’s humans. Humans have won. That’s crazy. Yeah, that person is —

    Bill: That person is kind of old.

    John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re just angry that they didn’t have the guts to say something when they were younger. That’s the thing is, this isn’t even a generational thing. The What’s Your “And”? message and just caring about people, that has nothing to do with generations at all. If anything, it bridges the gap between the generations. Because if you have somebody that’s 60 years old, about to retire, and you have someone that’s 22 that just got out of college, they don’t have a whole lot in common, but all of a sudden, you find out that they both like to ballroom dance, or they both like to paint, or they’re both huge history buffs, or they’re both whatever. All of a sudden, now they have a massive connection, and that bridges that gap between the two. It’s something that you shouldn’t pooh-pooh, I guess, because it definitely brings you together.

    Bill: I just read a book that was published probably 10 or 15 years ago by Daniel Pink. It’s about, I can’t remember the right title of it, but it’s about the power of right-brainedness. I think a lot of the listeners here are probably, in the CPA world, probably tend to be on the left brain side. Some of the things you said resonated, as I’m thinking about the points that he said in the book about things like empathy and creativity and so forth, that that makes us humans. Even in a business sense, that makes us better business people.

    John: Yeah. No, it totally does. It totally does. I think it was called, The Whole New Mind. It totally does. These other dimensions to who we are, they make us better. All the interviews that I’ve done on this podcast, it’s, does that hobby translate at all to work? It does every single time. At the bare minimum, that humanizes you, and lets people know what you’re excited about.

    Oftentimes, there’s a skill that translates over a mindset that comes over. It’s definitely important that not only people have them, but that you keep them and then that organizations find out what those are and care about them. If you’re a leader of a group or a whole company, either way, know what light your people up.

    Bill: It’s funny, I just finished a project for a client, a CPA firm client. We redid their mission, vision and values; and one of the principles is creativity.

    John: Nice.

    Bill: When we’re doing the focus groups, somebody said, “Creative accounting, you can’t say that.” The managing partner is a very down-to-earth but also, in like a Deepak Chopra way, kind of a spiritual guy. He’s actually teaching a class starting next month, about the soul of leadership.

    The whole idea of creativity within the CPA world, on the surface, if you don’t think about it very much, is like, oh, my God, we can’t say that. If you think about it, we are charged with solving problems for clients. While on the tax side and on the audit side, there’s a prescription that you have to follow, typically, looking for different ways of thinking about things brings in that creativity. I think, oh, that idea helps fuel that.

    If you try to isolate yourself as, I’m only going to be this person from nine to five, I can be that other person when I’m not; you’re cheating yourself. You’re really doing everybody a disservice by doing that.

    John: Yeah, I love that. I love that so much. Even if you’re in law or engineering or banking, or any of these professional jobs, it’s the same, where people frown upon creativity. No, no, that’s where the magic is. It’s actually your differentiator. It’s creativity in how you get there. What’s the journey that you take? Or is there a better way?

    You could use innovation, if you want to use that word. It’s the same thing. You’re doing things differently than what they were done before. That’s creative. I love that so much, man. That’s awesome. What a great takeaway for everybody listening right there as well. You’re just doing a huge disservice if you’re not bringing these other dimensions to who you are to work. That’s awesome.

    Well, before I wrap this up, Bill, it’s only fair that I turn the tables and let you rapid-fire question me, since I so rudely started the year out, firing away at you. Happy New Year, and by the way, here are seven questions. So, it’s the first episode of The Phil Penczak podcast, everybody. Thanks for having me on. I’m all yours.

    Bill: Okay, so these are not as rapid as maybe as you want them, but you said a couple of things during the conversation I want to explore. Clearly, you’re a very social person, and you get energy from hanging around other people, talking in front of groups and all of that. How have you been able to focus your energy lately, in a positive way?

    John: I’m a lot more introverted than you would think. When I speak, it is exhausting because I’m giving a little piece of me to every single person that’s in the audience. That is exhausting. Doing it remotely, is emotionally and mentally — it’s just the worst. It is the worst because I can’t connect.

    When I’m in the room, I’ve been onstage over 2,000 times, so I know what’s going on within a millisecond of it happening. It’s like, boom, boom, I know. When it’s remote like this, I can’t. I don’t have my finger on the pulse all the time of what’s happening. I can see in the chat what’s happening, but not always, so I can’t connect. Then when it’s over, it’s just like, bloop, black screen. Okay. I don’t know, but if anybody has any questions, or was that good? All of a sudden, it’s just, okay, it’s over.

    Bill: Movie’s over.

    John: Yeah, and it’s brutal. It’s brutal brutal. So, I’m a lot more introverted than you would think. When I’m on stage, speaking to a conference, I look at that audience as one-to-one. I don’t look at it as 500 people or whatever it is. I look at it as one-to-one. So, it’s been okay for me. It’s just doing the remote speaking is brutal.

    I do enjoy the humans being in the same room together. Yeah, it’s been hard. It really has. I don’t think I answered your question, but I guess I’m making the best out of what I can. Doing the podcast is always, always, always fun, just hearing people’s stories and talking to them about that. It’s always good too.

    Bill: Okay, second slow question is, and maybe this is a byproduct of being more introspective during all of this, how have you thought differently about people who were influential in your career, over the past year? Have you been more appreciative or picked up things that you hadn’t maybe thought of before?

    John: That’s interesting. Yeah, I guess it was cool, like with the book launch, going back through and thinking, like, we were doing this on accident, the sharing What’s Your “And”? Any group that I was in or especially leading, we were doing that. It wasn’t called “What’s Your “And”? It wasn’t — but we were doing it.

    It was fun to reach back out to people that I had worked with, in my corporate days, and just say, “Hey, I wrote a book. I think it’s going to resonate a lot with what we did back in the day, on accident. Now it has a name.” So, it’s been cool to hear their stories and what they remember about me. I mean, it was years ago.

    It has been neat to, just with the book launch, see how much people do remember. People are rooting for each other. They really are. We all want each other to do well and be happy and succeed. It is cool to see that, for sure.

    Bill: What about, did you have a mentor earlier in your career that you think back on?

    John: I did. There was a national partner, Dick Anderson, with PwC, out of the Chicago office, and I was fortunate enough to be in a program where I got to shadow him for three or four days.

    Bill: Did he know that?

    John: No, he didn’t know that at all. I’m in your bushes. What’s going on? Yeah, it was fantastic. That’s how I ended up being selected to be on the largest financial services client that PwC had, for a long time. That was actually the last project I was — I mean, it was for two years. It was an ongoing thing.

    He’s retired now, so it’s harder to get in touch with him. I’ve tried to reach out, but it hasn’t worked. Otherwise, I was influenced by a variety of people. I didn’t have one mentor that I — which is probably why I’m doing this now. No one was really willing to take responsibility.

    Bill: No one was willing to take responsibility for you, yeah.

    John: Exactly. They’re like, yeah, go talk to So-and-So about that. All right. But it has been cool just to connect with, not only managers, but also people that were my peers, people that reported to me. It’s been cool to just circle back on that, thanks to LinkedIn and whatever. That’s the only good use for social media, I think, is something like that.

    Bill: I got to do that with an old boss of mine. He was my boss about eight or 10 years ago. He’s since retired as well. We used to spend all our time together. His office is mine and hours and hours and hours together. He’s retired, and he’s got other things that he’s doing.

    He was so appreciative of the fact that I reached out to him. Then, too, he was so touched that I even did, to say, it was really fun working — he was a pain in the ass sometimes, I learned so much. I wouldn’t be here where I am today had it not been for you. That kind of connection thing is really, is special to me.

    John: Yeah. No, it totally is. It totally is. It’s just letting people know that, hey, you know what? I remember you. I care about you. It definitely matters. I feel like 2020, as a whole, really brought that out in people, for the most part. It’s been cool to see. That’s for sure, man. That’s for sure. It’s been cool. It’s been great to catch up with you.

    Bill: Yeah, it was great talking to you as well.

    John: Thanks so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? and part of the book launch and all that. Thanks, Bill.

    Bill: Sure, my pleasure. Happy New Year.

    John: Happy New Year, exactly, and everybody listening. If you’d like to see some pictures of Bill from his travels or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, and while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to pick up the book.

    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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