Belicia serves an ace for coworker connections
Belicia Cespedes loves tennis. She also happens to be the youngest person to ever pass the CPA Exam (at age 17). Professionalism would tell her that the latter is most important for her career but she has found a great deal of success creating coworker connections through tennis, even teaching some of her PwC co-workers how to play. And her competitive side comes out during the table tennis tournaments (very similar, I mean it’s got “tennis” in the name!) the audit team had during Busy Season. What’s most impressive is all of this is from an intern – the first intern that has been a guest on the show!
In this episode we talk about how playing tennis translates directly to her role as a forensics auditor. Each person is ultimately responsible for their own performance but you can always turn to the rest of the team for support. We also talk about how much professionalism weighs on interns and new hires as they feel the pressure to impress at work, not realizing that sharing your hobbies or passions actually helps more than hurts your career.
Belicia is currently working as a Risk Assurance Intern with the Forensics Team at PwC.
She is attending CSUN and pursuing her MSA.
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John: Welcome to Episode 37 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion. And don’t miss any future episodes by subscribing on iTunes or Stitcher. If you don’t know how to find the show on there, just go to greenapplepodcast.com and I’ll show you the way. And while you’re there, it’d be great if you could just take 60 seconds to do my anonymous survey about employee engagement and corporate culture by clicking on the big green apple there at greenapplepodcast.com. It’s only a few questions but it’ll really help the research that I’m doing for my new book, so thank you so much for doing that.
And let me introduce you this week’s guest, Belicia Cespedes. It’s my first time having an intern on the show so I’m excited it’s Belicia because she’s with my old firm, PwC. So it’s only a matter of time before she’s doing stand-up comedy as well. And one really big thing that Belicia’s done is she’s the youngest person to ever pass the CPA exam. I mean that’s huge. It’s so impressive, and now she’s an intern with PwC in Los Angeles and their forensics team. So Belicia, I’m so glad you’re here. One question I love to ask everybody is just, what made you to get into accounting to begin with?
Belicia: Well, I have to give a lot of that credit to my parents, specifically my dad. I would consider myself a daddy’s girl, and he’s an entrepreneur so I would just kind of follow him around in all his different business ideas, and go to his offices and write the checks, and so I knew I liked the concept of business. So when I graduated high school at 13, I just took a year off and traveled and took some fun classes. One of them was a bookkeeping and accounting class, and after I did that, I was like, “Yup, this is it. I know I want to study this.” Yes, so it was really that first accounting class that cemented that in my mind.
John: Yeah. So graduated at 13, were you home-schooled then?
Belicia: I was. I was home-schooled pretty much my whole life. High school was kind of combination, but.
John: That’s great! That’s impressive. Holy cow, you were just ready to go. This is great! So your dad is still running businesses and what have you?
Belicia: Yeah. So he jumped around a little bit and now he’s running the landscaping corporation that my grandfather started. So he took that over and has been doing that.
John: That’s great. So it sounds like entrepreneurship runs in the family then. You have your grandfather, your father, that’s awesome. So I know when you’re not at PwC being like a TV star with your forensics, cool stuff, what kind of hobbies and passions do you enjoy doing when you have some free time?
Belicia: Well I am a big family girl, so anything around my family is really just enjoyable for me. And our family’s main activity is tennis. We just love playing together. We’ve done that for years now. So I’d say tennis is probably my biggest hobby. That’s the one I get most excited about.
John: That’s awesome.
Belicia: Yeah, anything surrounding sports, but specifically tennis.
John: Yes, sports in general but something where you can take out a lot of frustration and just hit something really hard. Long shoot over the fence and be like, “Oh, now I got to go get it.” I’m sure you’re much better than now, that’s for sure. So you got into it from when you were a little girl?
Belicia: Yeah. I kind of played since I was maybe seven or eight? It’s been like a good ten years. And I competed with it until I was 16, when I started studying for the CPA exam obviously that had to give a little. But yeah, we were serious with it. We played tournaments, we played doubles partners together. It’s tons of fun.
John: That’s great. So doubles partners, you and one of your parents, or?
Belicia: One of my sisters. So I have four sisters and we all play.
John: Wow, that’s great!
Belicia: All girls, I know, poor dad.
John: Oh, no. No wonder he was an entrepreneur. He’s like, “Whatever I can do to get out of the house. I can’t even get into my own bathrooms in my own house. I got to get out of here.” That’s cool. So you played competitively there in California?
Belicia: I did, yeah. And California’s actually a really difficult place for competitions.
John: I was going to say, that’s intense out there.
Belicia: Yeah. I wasn’t on the better half of the average for competition-wise.
John: Yeah but you’re in the mix.
Belicia: Yeah. But it was definitely a lot of fun. And really challenging too, and that’s one of the things that I really liked about it.
John: And what would be maybe the coolest or most rewarding tennis experience or match that you got to do?
Belicia: Match, I would say — I just remember it, I did lose that match but I played the number one seed and we had like the best rallies. And it was just like that, that mental grit combined with that physical suffering, but you knew that you you’re pushing yourself, and it just felt really good to be able to play that way. I don’t know why when mental is combined with physical that it just takes it to another level, but there’s something that clicked there that I would just — I loved it. And I knew from then on I’d be playing tennis for the rest of my life.
But as part of our tennis program, we did a lot of outreach thing, and I feel one of the most rewarding things was just that we were able to do a couple marathons and five K’s, ten K’s for United Way and aid research. Just being able to do that with the people I played tennis with, my family, my friends, and doing it for a cause was really cool. I really liked that.
John: It feels good to help our charity as well. That’s great. Tennis is, people play it for fun in the park or whatever, but then when you start being competitive, that’s really intense. So, good for you. I mean, that’s not easy to be in the mix that’s for sure. And especially in California, there’s people that go on and play professionally. That number seed, everyone is maybe going to hear her in a couple of year. And then you can be like, “I went toe-to-toe with her one day,” and —
Belicia: “And we kicked it off.”
John: Exactly. And then you can investigate her for white collar fraud and then bring her down and be like, “What’s up now?” That’s crazy. So I guess, I know that being just and intern, this is a cool thing for the podcast because you’ve been at PwC now for just under a year, which is great. It’s a short amount of time but I guess, how would you say that tennis — is there anything that’s translated from tennis to work there at PwC?
Belicia: Oh, absolutely.
John: Yeah? Like what?
Belicia: Just first generally, there are a lot of things that sports in general but I think individual sports especially just teach you, is that you’re responsible for your own performance, but you also depend on this team around you. So that was kind of one of the concepts that really translated easily from tennis in the PwC.
Especially as an intern, sometimes you can feel the pressure, almost, to have to perform. And like, I’m a CPA already, they kind of expect this of me, but knowing that your team is really just there to support you and they’re not there to point the finger at you. It was really cool to kind of get that at PwC and feel that in a working environment rather than just the play environment. And then just personally, a lot of people that I’ve met play tennis as well, and we’ve actually gotten together outside of work on weekends and stuff and played. I taught my mentor, I had a “lesson” with him, and we were just having fun. I was teaching him and then a couple of us get out and we’re actually joining a league together. It’s been a blast.
John: That’s great! And are you driving the ship on this?
Belicia: Yes. Well for a lot of the meet-ups that we’ve done on weekends, yes I have been. But for the league I actually met someone who’s already part of one, so that we’re going to start one. So we’re kind of co-leading that, I guess.
John: Good for you. That is so great! I mean it’s so inspiring for people that listen to the podcast that are on the fence or not sure if sharing s a good thing, and you’re just coming in there and being like, “Hey, I play tennis and this is what I do.”
Belicia: Do it. Hey, if an intern is going to do it? I mean, come on.
John: Exactly. And you taught your mentor so then you can just beat him. I think that’s even better. It’s like, “Yeah, I’ll teach you how to play,” and then you can win all the time. That’s so good, like such a great trick. No, but I think that’s really inspiring and such a cool example for others to follow. And so how did it come up that you play tennis? Was it something that you just threw out there? Or did it just come up in conversation?
Belicia: Yeah. I guess from the intern perspective it’s a little bit easier to bring your personal life. They are genuinely interested in you especially when you’re first coming in to the firm. So I always made that a part of my life that I just kind of express, especially my family life.
Because in normal conversations they’ll ask you about school and what you hope to do, eventually like, “What are your five-year goals?” And I would always incorporate family into that, and then just through family would come this other side of my life which was tennis and sports and friends and fun. So yeah, using a bridge is just really the way I did it.
John: Was there anything specific that PwC did, like you said as an intern, that made you feel welcome or feel like that’s a place that you can safe to open up about?
Belicia: I wouldn’t say specific but I think just the people there are very interested in your life. I mean everyone knows that you do have a life apart from work, and they would talk about work-life balance but more in a general way. So once you just get to know people one-on-one I think is when you can really take it from just a work team to like a real team, you know?
John: Right. Absolutely. It’s easier to start on like a one-on-one basis and then kind of grow from there so kind of a ripple effect, yeah.
Belicia: A little bit, yeah. Or you’ve been the first one to ask the question like, “Okay, what do you enjoy doing?” And it always comes back to you. And that can be done in a group setting as well.
John: I think that’s great because that’s the thing that — you know when I was starting, work-life balance was the huge push. It’s not just a whole work, you have to have a passion outside of work and balance that whatever. Although it was weird how it never quite worked out with your chargeability rate to be able to use al your vacation days. because it was like, “Wait a minute, if I use all my vacation then I’m not going to be — never mind.” And they were like, “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” But I think that the ball is dropped because have these passions but they very rarely bring them back.
So it’s really encouraging to see you coming in and bringing that in to the fold, and in your five-year goals you also have your family and your passions that are mixed in with your career goals. So that’s such a cool thing for people to hear and people to think about because that’s not always how people approach it. And so I think that’s great. That’s really cool. So like you said, stronger relationships with co-workers, I’m sure you’re getting to meet people outside of the forensics team as well throughout the firm.
Belicia: Absolutely. Yeah, sure.
John: And that’s just only going to lead to better opportunities for you down the road, that’s for sure. No doubt. Well that’s awesome. So I guess the one thing that I think is interesting is just, when it comes to an organization creating this culture type of thing versus the individual feeling confident to open up and share their passions at work, where do think on the spectrum more the responsibility lies? More on the firm itself or more on the individual?
Belicia: I would have to say I think the responsibility really lies on the individual if they bring these things up and want to be able to talk about them and have these connections; they’re the only ones that can bring it up in the first place. I do think the firm has some responsibility to be open to those things and no look down on them. But even if the firm was completely willing and the individual wasn’t, it just isn’t going to happen. So I would say the individual is primarily responsible. And if they bring it up, they are really involved it in their everyday work life, then I think it will happen regardless sometimes of even the firm.
John: Yeah, and I agree totally because one thing that you pointed out though is just firm leadership doesn’t look down on people that do have passions outside of work. Because I think people are starting to realize now that these skills that you’re developing, and like you said, the responsibility of performance and mental toughness and things like that, they come into play that if you never played tennis, then you would never have those skills.
Belicia: Right. Yeah.
John: And so it’s just as important as knowing that debits go on the left and credits go on the right. I think that’s a really profound statement that you had, for people not to look down on that because it is important. Definitely. One thing that I think is really cool that you brought up earlier is just with those meet-ups and bringing people into the fold. Did you have any cool stories or experiences of where you have the team together, and I think it’s great that you’re just creating those experiences that you can all share and talk about when you’re back in the office.
Belicia: Yeah. I think one of the coolest was, one of my teams, this was when I was actually interning in risk assurance. And assurance teams can get a little crazy. They’re a lot of fun because they’re just there for so long. They’d be like, “Oh let’s do something.” So we started a ping pong tournament, and I kind of stayed in the tennis because if you played tennis you can play ping pong pretty well. That’s what I do. And we have this tournament going and it was the funniest thing on planet earth because everyone can play, you know, even if she’s never played a racquet before. And it was just great to be able to laugh over each other and encourage each other and still have that element of competition and you want to do well but you’re supporting your other team members. And we played some doubles in there and singles and we had some really good points and really bad points, losing the ball into the fridge, in the microwave and all that kind of stuff. So yeah I would say that was one of my highlights. I really loved that team just even more because of that tournament we had.
John: Right. And that’s the thing that you think about when you think about those co-workers in that team, is right away the ping pong tournament. It’s not any of other work you did. That’s how it’s going to be. That’s the thing.
Belicia: It’s totally true. Yeah.
John: And so when did this tournament happen? Was it just after hours or was it taking a break in the middle —
Belicia: It was kind of interspersed throughout the day. It was really fun, because we were there, it wasn’t busy season so we were there until at least — 8:00 PM would have been an early day. So we would do it either at lunch break, or we would cut our lunch hours short so that we could play a little bit more. And then we would do it after a well, or when we just really needed a break. We would all just stand up and say, “Hey, let’s just go play, at least four of us. Let’s go down.” So it was kind of interspersed and the actual tournament part we would just keep a mental roster of who’s been unbeaten right now and who’s second place after that. So it wasn’t like, “Alright let’s do a rotation of three rounds,”
John: So not a formal bracket on the wall. Plus, then when the partner shows up then there’s no proof. So it’s just like —
Belicia: And the partner ended up getting down there and playing a little bit. So it was good.
John: Oh, that’s so cool! See? And the thing is, there’s no charge code for ping pong. You just go do it and who cares, get over it. That’s the thing. Sometimes people are like, “There’s no charge code for socializing.” And it’s like, “You know, we’re re not paid to learn about each other,” and actually you kind of are. That’s why you’re there to learn about each other and work better. Because like you said, when you have these fun experiences or you know someone better or what their passions are, then you know them better and you’re a better team for it. And just so much stronger.
Belicia: Absolutely. And it makes the work go smoother too. Afterwards you would always hear something about ping pong during the day during work. It’s like; they just bring it up —
John: Talks and trash or whatever.
Belicia: It’d be fun. Yeah, talks, trash absolutely.
John: That’s hilarious. They’re like, “Belicia, you sure you played tennis? Are you sure?” And you’re like, “You want to take this outside? Literally, let’s go outside, I’ll beat you there.”
John: That’s awesome. So what might be some barriers that you think people who — maybe some of your peers or some people that you’ve seen that are kind of reluctant to open up and share their passions? What might be some of those barriers?
Belicia: I think most of the time it’s just personal barriers that they put up. Just hesitations and the thought that this is work and I will b looked down upon if I just bring up something besides work, or if I’m not completely serious. And especially as an intern, I think a lot of the people or the interns around me and other associates just like people who’re just starting in the firm, kind of probably have that view more so. Just because they think they have to impress and they got to put this front up that they’re all business.
And I think that hurts them a lot more than helps them. I’ve been able to develop a lot of deeper relationships and everything simply because my mentors and the partners around me and stuff have really been the best at just showing me that I can be myself and that I can feel free to bring up anything I want to with them. I know some people may not have that great of a mentor that I’ve had, but I think it’s really good personal guidelines that they put on for themselves.
John: Yeah, because people just get in their own head, and they’re trying to be super accountant, and it’s like, “Hey if you’re at PwC, you’re already a pretty good accountant. I mean look around, they all are.” And you know, “How are you going to stand out when we’re all really good accountants?” It’s like, “Well, so is she, so is he, and so are you. We’re all the same,” type of thing.
So what makes me different than anybody else, and it’s like, “Well, I love to play tennis.” And bringing that into the fold, I think it’s so awesome how you’ve done that. You’re even leading the charge on some things and that your partners and mentors have encouraged that. There’s really refreshing to hear. That’s so cool. So do you have any words of encouragement to anybody that’s maybe reluctant or on the fence to share?
Belicia: I’ll just say, have that — plant that bridge that I was talking about before because it can be sometimes just hard to be like, “Okay, I graduated from CSUN, and by the way I play tennis,” kind of thing. So having the reason behind why you enjoy what you enjoy, I think knowing that will definitely help to just talk about it, even if the other person doesn’t necessarily play tennis or play your sport. But knowing why you enjoy it I think is a big part of it. For me it was family obviously, but then also just that mental and physical toughness and the characteristics that it breeded in me and just that other element of life that it brings to me. So knowing why you enjoy what you enjoy, and what it’s done for your life I think will be an easy way to bring it up.
John: I think that’s awesome and very well put. And something that yourself able to recognize that it’s not just a passion or a hobby that you have; it’s also something that’s developing a skill that translates to work. Which really, almost anything does, to be honest.
Belicia: Absolutely, yeah.
John: So that’s fantastic. That’s so cool. So Belicia, this was fantastic, but I do have a rule to if we should hang out sometime, if I see you at conference or if I’m at PwC there in L.A. I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run people through to really get to know you. So I’m going to fire this up right now, so here we go. Cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. Alright. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Yeah? You’re like intense about it?
Belicia: Oh, yeah. I used to be one of those people that have the calendar —
John: Oh, like every day?
Belicia: That you have to do a puzzle in order to turn the next one. Yeah.
John: Oh, wow, that’s intense. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Belicia: Star Wars. I grew up on that.
John: Oh, you grew up on that. Good. I thought you were going to be like, “What’s Star Wars?” And I’m going to be like, “Oh, my Lord.”
Belicia: We had the VHS and my man, we’d watch it for every road trip.
John: That’s so good. How about PC or Mac.
Belicia: Mac. I’m sitting in front of one right now.
John: Oh, goodness. So you are one of the cool kids, that’s for sure.
Belicia: I am.
John: What’d you eat for breakfast?
Belicia: I had a smoothie.
John: Oh! That’s so Southern California of you.
Belicia: It’s hot our here, man.
John: I know. It’s crazy hot. I was in Palm Springs last week, it was 126. That was stupid. That was insane, it was pretty nuts. But I still went to In and Out, you better believe it. I got priorities. How about favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Belicia: I’d have to say I really liked Spain. So when I graduated and I took that year off, after high school, we took a cruise and it was to Europe. And I think my favorite place is Spain. I really loved that country.
John: That’s great. Very cool. Balance sheet or income statement?
Belicia: Balance sheet.
John: Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Belicia: Night Owl. You’re like, “Is it a Friday or a Saturday? Or in a weekday?”
John: Do you have a favorite number?
John: Fifteen. And why is that?
Belicia: You know when you’re a kid and you play stuffed animals and you have to give them names and ages, I always picked 15. I don’t know why. I always did and it stuck.
John: That’s just your number. That’s fantastic. Alright. How about, do you have a favorite color?
John: Green. How about al east favorite color?
Belicia: Probably forest green.
John: Oh, Okay. So like a hunter, dark —
Belicia: Yeah. Like darker green.
John: Alright. How about, do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Belicia: I am not a big crier but The Passion of the Christ. That movie definitely made me cry.
John: Diamonds or pearls?
Belicia: Probably diamonds. I’m not an old lady. I’m just kidding.
John: How about, do you have a favorite band or musician?
Belicia: I really love Pentatonic.
John: That’s really good.
Belicia: They’re very cool.
John: Very cool. Alright. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Belicia: I really like Gregory Rush? The guy who played Capt. Barbossa. I love him.
John: Right. That’s good. We got two more. Pens or pencils?
Belicia: Mechanical pencils.
John: Mechanical pencils. We got to get specific again. Not green, dark green. And the last one now, the favorite thing you have.
Belicia: My family has always had a really big property. So one of the things that we have is a dune buggy basically. So we have a really big backyard, and so I love riding that thing in the hills and just getting super muddy with that. So yeah, I’d say our dune buggy.
John: Yeah. That’s cool! That is so awesome! Well, thank you so much Belicia for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was so fun.
Belicia: Of course. Thanks for having me.
John: I just can’t get over how Belicia is only an intern but she’s being so proactive ins haring her passion of tennis, even teaching some of her senior staff how to play. In such a short time with the firm, she’s already seen how that has benefited her career compared to her peers who aren’t as connected. Be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com, you can see some pictures of Belicia on the courts and links to her social media accounts, and while you’re there please click that big green button on the right and help me out by doing my research survey.
All right. Thank you so much for sharing us with your friends so they get the message that we’re trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.