Episode 385 – Derek Abdekalimi

Derek is an Accountant & Judoka & Skier

Derek Abdekalimi talks about his passions for skiing and Judo, how they coincide with each other and his career, and why he feels it is important to be able to talk about passions with co-workers in the office.

Episode Highlights

• Getting into skiing
• Favorite places to ski
• Getting into Judo
• How Judo has helped him with discipline in the office
• Don’t be fake
• Why it matters that the individual plays a role in workplace culture


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    Welcome to Episode 385 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.

    If you like what this show is about, be sure to check out the book on Amazon, Indigo, barnesandnoble.com, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in-depth on the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your organization’s culture, and I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and writing such great reviews on Amazon and, more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.

    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 week is no different with my guest, Derek Abdekalimi. He’s the Director of Finance and Accounting of Green Bean CFO, and now he’s with me here today. Derek, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Derek: Hey, John. Thanks for having me.

    John: Absolutely, man. This is going to be so much fun. Before we jump in, get to know Derek on a new level here with my rapid-fire questions. Hopefully you’re buckled in, got your seat belt fastened. Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. Okay, here we go. First one, favorite color.

    Derek: I like all of them. I don’t really know what to say, but I like them all. There’s a reason for each one.

    John: Okay. All right. So there’s no least favorite color then. No, I’m just kidding, man. That’s silly. All right, fair enough. How about talk or text?

    Derek: Lately, it’s been a lot more text. Work, we don’t even talk all the time. It’s been more like texting or WhatsApp or Slack.

    John: Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?

    Derek: I used to be really into Sudoku, and I’m trying to do crossword puzzles.

    John: Okay, okay. Sudoku is how I do my tax returns.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: Not at all what you should do at all. How about a favorite Disney character?

    Derek: Oh. Well, now that they own Star Wars, I’m going to say Darth Vader.

    John: Okay, all right. Yeah. You can get in through a loophole there. I like that. Fair enough. Fair enough. How about a favorite athlete?

    Derek: Right now, and I know it’s kind of cliché, but I really like LeBron because even now, they were talking about mid-season that he should take a couple of days off, but he’s just the best player. He’s a really good defensive player, offensive, and I just like his work ethic. I’m reading about his diet and things like that. He’s just somebody that I really admire. I also really admire Muhammad Ali. I read the book about him, and he’s a real athlete and civil rights person. A lot of athletes really inspire me.

    John: Yeah, yeah. LeBron does a ton for Cleveland and keep putting kids in school and even college. He does a lot for the community that he doesn’t really talk about, which is also cool. He doesn’t need all the attention. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Derek: Lately, it’s been working at night because nobody is messaging you. I can get some things done and not have the distractions of the day.

    John: Sure. That makes total sense. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Derek: Going back to liking Darth Vader, I used to be a really big Star Wars fan as a kid.

    John: How about your computer, PC or a Mac?

    Derek: I’m a Mac guy. I know everybody on this podcast is like, I love PCs. They’re better for accounting software, and I think the version of Excel is a little bit easier. There are more shortcuts, I think, on the PC than on the Mac, but my Mac has Final Cut Pro. I could edit ski videos for myself. Or Apple Care, so if I accidentally spill coffee on my laptop, I can go and get it fixed.

    John: I feel like you’re speaking from some experience right now.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: Maybe so. Maybe so. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Derek: You know what, I actually like making ice cream.

    John: Oh, you make it yourself. Okay.

    Derek: I’ve done it a couple times where it’s like the camping style where you do the two cans and the rock salt and threw in a bunch of random stuff. I did that at Yellowstone a couple of years ago.

    John: Do you have a favorite flavor?

    Derek: I really like the Ben and Jerry’s stuff where they just throw random things in.

    John: Yeah, and chunks of stuff. I’m a huge fan of that.

    Derek: Yeah, they figured out how to do it. There’s an Everything Bagel flavor that this brand makes that I want to try out.

    John: Okay.

    Derek: I do want to get the piece that you can put on a mixer. I just like good ice cream. I think one of the cool things about Ben and Jerry’s is they have brick and mortar. You can try it on a cone, and it’s really good.

    John: Oh, man. Yeah, we’re going to have to hang out sometime, for sure.

    Derek: Yeah, definitely.

    John: Eat all the ice cream. How about seasons, favorite season, summer, winter, spring or fall?

    Derek: I love them all.

    John: Okay, all right.

    Derek: It’s the whole year.

    John: Because the colors are also in all the season.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: That’s why, just keeping with the theme. I like it, man. All right. How about, ooh, the accountant background, a balance sheet or income statement?

    Derek: Okay, I’m probably the second person on your podcast to say this, but I am a fan of the balance sheet. It’s not just, are we making money, but if you’re — for example, one of my clients, I could see them selling parts of their business or possibly going public in a couple of years, and they need a strong balance sheet if they want to go public. Or if I’m going to go and invest in a small business, I want to see that they’re handling everything. They’re not just profitable.

    John: Right. There’s a lot more to the balance sheet. That’s for sure. Here’s one, chocolate or vanilla.

    Derek: Probably chocolate, yeah.

    John: All right. No, totally. How about when it comes to books, audio version, Kindle or real book?

    Derek: All of them. It depends. If I’m traveling, I might get some audio books. I’ve been using the Libby app for the library a lot, and throwing that on my iPad. I also do print. I go to Barnes and Noble a lot because it’s the only actual bookstore near me. That’s how I got your book actually.

    John: Yeah, well, thanks, man. Yeah, you got the printed version.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: Yeah, totally, man, that’s awesome. Well, thank you. Two more, two more. Favorite day of the week. Favorite day of the week.

    Derek: I don’t know.

    John: Saturday because it’s not work?

    Derek: Yeah, sure. It’s the one day of the week that I don’t work.

    John: Yeah, there’s no work. It’s not like tomorrow there is work. Yeah. No, that works.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: Okay. All right. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.

    Derek: I don’t know.

    John: Sounds like your Mac Book.

    Derek: No, no, that’s definitely not my favorite thing that I own. There are things, I’ve got a lot of hobbies, so there are some things in my garage that — I just got a new pair of ski boots.

    John: Okay.

    Derek: Because of COVID, I can’t really spar with people, so I got a couple of punching bags from my garage.

    John: There you go.

    Derek: I can do that. I don’t know, just doing things at home or going for a walk or gardening, basic simple things.

    John: That’s awesome, man. Very cool. Yeah, and that leads in perfectly to talking about the skiing and how you got started with that and with your new boots that you got for this season. Did you grow up skiing?

    Derek: Yeah, it’s definitely a really big family thing. My wife’s also a skier, and her brothers are skiers, and my parents and my brothers. Everybody skis in my family.

    John: Nice.

    Derek: That’s how I started. Then I kind of took it my own way after college and moved to a ski town. I lived in Lake Tahoe for a bit, and I tried to ski or mountain bike whenever I could. There are some years where I put in 100 days on a mountain.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Derek: Yeah, and the attitude, even if it’s an icy day, I’m going to go, and I’m going to ski really hard. I’m from the East Coast, so I know, ice. When you go to Squaw Valley and it’s a bad winter, I’m the only person on Headwall because it’s just ice. They had a drought about five years ago, maybe six years ago, but just skiing that is fine.

    John: That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite place that you’ve skied or a favorite go-to place?

    Derek: There are a few places. I did actually think about that. I really like Banff. I have some family that lived in Calgary. I’ve been to Lake Louise at negative 50 degrees.

    John: Oh, my Lord.

    Derek: Yeah, it’s freezing. This one time, I wasn’t wearing the right base layers, and I didn’t have the right gloves. I was freezing, but I was also in this state of bliss, skiing.

    John: Right. Right.

    Derek: In the US, I’m going to have to say Squaw Valley because the people at Squaw are crazy. There’s a lot of people who are trying hawk cliffs and stuff like that, and you want to go and do that. There’s a run that’s named after Jonny Moseley that’s a crazy mogul run. There are all these really crazy runs. I love the snow at Utah. I have of a lot of different places.

    John: Sure. No, it’s totally cool, man. That’s awesome, just to hear about them.

    Derek: Yeah. Deer Valley in Utah, if you’re into groomers, that’s the best place ever. They do have some crazy mogul runs that they don’t groom that nobody skis. A spring day there is pretty good. Whistler is really good. Mammoth is really good. In Colorado, Telluride with Palmyra Peak where you’re almost at 14,000 feet, if you can hike that. I’m just going to say I love skiing.

    John: Right? I love it, man. No, but those are all awesome places, and it’s really cool to hear that you’ve had the opportunity to ski at them.

    Derek: I’ve skied pretty much the whole US, and I’ve skied three different provinces in Canada.

    John: Which, are there more than three? I don’t even —

    Derek: No, Canada is a big country.

    John: I’m teasing. I know there are. I’m joking. All the Canadians right now are like, arr. That’s super cool, man. When you’re skiing, is it the freedom? Is it the break away from work? What is it about skiing that really lights you up so much?

    Derek: Definitely the freedom and just trying to go as fast as I can. Even some of the more technical runs, I don’t really have falls. I fall more on green runs maybe because I’m more focused. If you fall, it’s just really bad, especially if it’s not on a powder day.

    John: Yeah, yeah, totally. I also know that you also do Judo, and that’s been a newer thing.

    Derek: Yeah. I like judo. It’s also more — well, skiing is more outside also, but Judo is, it’s a Japanese martial art. It’s in the Olympics. Many people on your podcast are talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That’s how I started, doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I like to try different martial arts, so I went to a Judo class. They were, because I was starting, they were showing me falls and showing me different things that I wasn’t doing in jiu-jitsu.

    This one dojo — there were some people who were national champions and black belts, I’ll say. I started switching over to Judo, and I even did some competitions. I’ve been able to score at Nationals.

    John: Oh, congrats, man.

    Derek: Thanks.

    John: That’s really cool. That’s a lot of work.

    Derek: Yeah. I like that it’s more international. To bring the two passions together, I know that I was supposed to go to Japan this year. I wanted to go practice at the Kodokan which is the school where it started, and get some certificates and go powder skiing.

    John: Yeah, best of both right there.

    Derek: Yeah, so the term Judo is gentle way. I think jiu-jitsu transfers to hard slow or hard soft or something. I can look that up. There’s a lot of, even being a smaller opponent, I’ve gone up against way bigger people who were maybe a couple weight classes bigger than me, and I’ve been able to throw them. This one guy in jiu-jitsu was an MMA fighter, and I was able to, because he doesn’t train with a gi, I was able to choke him, rolling, which was cool.

    John: Right. That’s amazing, man.

    Derek: Yeah, I love it. You go, afterwards, and you get a drink with everybody. You beat the crap out of each other, but it’s fun and…

    John: Right, but it’s not like punching each other in the face.

    Derek: No.

    John: Yeah, it’s almost wrestling kind of martial arts, or is it —

    Derek: Yeah. Also in jiu-jitsu, but Judo really focuses on your jacket. There are these different weaves. One of the weaves is a competition jacket, and they’re heavier. The fabric is stiffer, so you get a harder grip.

    John: Oh, that makes sense. All right, I didn’t even think of that.

    Derek: There’s grip, and there’s throwing people and being, I could turn — if you watch the UFC, you don’t see anybody even wearing a shirt because I could turn your shirt or your jacket into a weapon.

    John: Oh, yeah. That’s true.

    Derek: Early pride, you see some Judo guys wearing a jacket, and it’s a big disadvantage. That’s why in MMA, they don’t wear jackets or anything.

    John: Oh, wow. That’s interesting. Yeah, I’m glad we do in the office, though, because weird. No, I’m just kidding. That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool to hear about. I didn’t even realize that. Do you feel like either the Judo or the skiing gives you a skill that you bring to accounting or to your career, maybe a mindset or something?

    Derek: Definitely the Judo, and even sales because you go — or your career in comedy. They always talk about comedians bombing a lot and trying to figure out their own style and their own voice and connecting.

    John: Yeah.

    Derek: When you start with like Judo or jiu-jitsu, you’re just constantly — the first month in Judo, you’re just working on falling. That’s how you get your yellow belt is that you can take a throw. It’s like falling and getting up and going to competitions and facing unknown competitors. Even if you lose, everybody thinks you’re a better person because you actually went — like the man in the arena thing.

    John: Yeah, totally. I love that quote.

    Derek: Yeah. I think having anything that you get after. Another book that I really like is the Originals by Adam Grant.

    John: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Really good book.

    Derek: Yeah. They talk about — so, in accounting, it used to be, when I started, it was frowned upon to talk about your hobbies. Even, I interviewed at a sports camp, a sports organization, I’m not going to name them, but I’m a fan. The Tax Department was like, we don’t want to hire fans because we don’t want you to bother the athletes. Wouldn’t you want to hire someone who’s a big fan of, like, if you were at Notre Dame, someone who likes their football or something?

    John: Oh, totally. All my friends that work there are also massive fans.

    Derek: Yeah, that is really good culture, the organization.

    John: Yeah, yeah.

    Derek: Adam Grant talks about there’s this one thing about Nobel Prize scientists and you’re more likely to have a Nobel Prize and be a really good, some type of performing artists, whether it’s doing theater or violin or something like that. I’m not trying to make a living as a skier or in martial arts. If there was a way to make a living, maybe, but my job is good enough. I think having that outlet, baking, whatever your thing is, don’t be afraid that you like it and try to find people who like it, and don’t be fake.

    John: Yeah, I love that, man. Don’t be fake. Totally. It’s have a genuine interest in those people. When I asked you about skiing and Judo, I want to know. I legit am interested in that.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: I love that. Don’t be fake on telling people that you like skiing. If you’ve been once and you didn’t like it, well, don’t tell them that you like it because they’re going to keep asking you.

    Derek: Yeah.

    John: Just be genuine. I love that.

    Derek: This took a while for me to figure out because I used to talk about it a lot and then it didn’t really fit in at work, but you’ve got to be yourself.

    John: Yeah, and it depends on the workplace culture where you’re at. You can change it a little bit at a time, I think, even amongst a small group of two or three or four people. Maybe it grows from there. I love that idea and that mindset of it all. How much do you think it is on an organization to create an atmosphere where people can share their “and”, versus how much is it on the individual to make that difference themselves? Is the tone at the top really crucial?

    Derek: It probably is, but I’m more of an individual person. I think it probably should be the people talking about it, even if you’re at a CPA firm. I know that they want you to work seven days a week or whatever.

    John: Right. Or maybe eight if they could.

    Derek: Yeah, or eight days.

    John: Yeah, so it does matter for the individuals to step up and, yeah, just share a little bit.

    Derek: Even at lunch.

    John: Yeah, just at lunch.

    Derek: What did you do over the weekend? Someone might say, “I went to watch the US Open.” That’s really cool. Use it as a way to talk to people. What do you do? How did you get into tennis? Or how did you get into skiing? I think it is some organizations because there are places — I tried to get a drink with everybody I work with, or coffee. There are some places where, like, the Accounting Department, nobody went out afterwards, but I made friends with this guy who worked in HR, and we hung out a bunch.

    John: That’s super cool. That’s such a great example for people listening that maybe they feel like, well, my department doesn’t do this. Well, okay, but I’m sure other people do because they’re human. So, other departments, you can find somebody and just start small.

    Derek: Yeah. When you’re back in the office, if you pass somebody in the hallway, say hi to them. If you pass somebody’s office every day, why don’t you knock on the door and introduce yourself and say, “Hey, I’m Derek. I work in the Accounting Department. What are you working on?” If they’re receptive to talking to you, that’s good. Or if they’re like, “Get away, I’m trying to do something,” then you don’t need to talk to that person.

    John: Right. That’s a great example. It’s also great, if your name is actually Susie, just still use Derek as your — hi, I’m still Derek. That way, they’re like, who the hell’s this Derek that keeps coming by? It’s like, just people that listen to What’s Your “And”? That’s all. That’s all.

    This has been awesome, man, and so encouraging. I just appreciate you, one, reading the book, but two, reaching out to be a guest on the show. It’s super cool to share your story with everybody. It’s only fair that since I started out the episode, firing away at you with rapid-fire questions, that I now turn the table and make this the first episode of The Derek Abdekalimi podcast. Thanks for having me on. Thanks, man. I’m all yours.

    Derek: I guess my first question is, you have several “ands” as well, do you still do stand-up?

    John: I don’t do comedy clubs anymore, no. That has been put on the shelf. I do take a lot of that experience and the skills that I learned from stand-up and apply them when I’m speaking at conferences and the all-staff meetings and retreats and things like that. No comedy clubs anymore, man. Sorry.

    Derek: What’s your favorite ice cream?

    John: Favorite ice cream probably is chocolate chip cookie dough, just because you can get it everywhere. It’s kind of hard to mess that one up. I still get the chunks in there. Yeah, anything with brownie bites or… I want the one ice cream where it melts, but then I want to also chew stuff after, type of thing. It also gets as many calories into my face as possible, so it’s probably not healthy. Yeah, chocolate chip cookie dough would be the super quick answer.

    Derek: Is there a pizza that you like?

    John: Oh, wow. Yeah. Here in Denver, there’s a — it might be a chain. There’s a handful of them, Ian’s Pizza. They make a pomodoro. It’s super good. It’s got feta cheese and spinach. We add pepperoni and then a sweet tomato sauce. That’s really good. When I lived in New York, there were plenty of good pizzas there. That’s for sure, New York City. Yeah, all the meat, all the meats, and then maybe a couple of vegetables on accident. This has been so much fun having you be a part of What’s Your “And”?, Derek. Thanks so much for taking time to be with me today.

    Derek: Thanks for having me.

    John: Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Derek in action, or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com All the links are there. 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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