Episode 46 – Ron Shah


Ron calls play-by-play to better connections

 

Shortly after starting at Hodges-Mace, one of the salespeople told Ron Shah that he’s “not the typical CFO” simply because he brought his personality to work with him. In the same way that he does in the office, Ron brings his personality to being the play-by-play announcer at his son’s youth football games. So much so, by his third game, people were noticing how much fun he was having in the booth.

In this episode, we talk about how Ron’s sharing stories about his play-by-play calls or other stories about his family, it humanizes him in such a way that makes him approachable. This allows everyone around him to feel comfortable and develop trust, which is the first key to engagement. By getting others to talk about their passions, it creates an energy in the office that’s infectious. Ron encourages everyone to “rip the band-aid off” and just share a little bit with a client or coworker — you’ll be amazed at the interest level and how others will gravitate toward you.

Ron Shah joined Hodges-Mace in October 2011 as the Chief Financial & Operations Officer. Prior to joining Hodges-Mace, Ron served as Chief Financial Officer for PhyTest, a leading provider revenue cycle management services for physicians. He previously spent eight years as an investment banker and also worked as a management consultant, working with clients to implement operational improvement and information technology-related initiatives.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from Babson College and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Virginia.

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Transcript

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    JOHN. Now it’s time for this week’s guest Ron Shah, the CFO of Hodges Mace. He graduated from Babson College with a BS in Finance and later got his MBA from the University of Virginia. He’s got a ton of great work experience in both finance and consulting, and now he’s here with me on the Green Apple Podcast. So Ron, thanks so much for being with me today. Hearing my intro about how the definition of stereotypical accountant or CFO is completely upside down.

    RON. Yeah, I would agree with you. It’s funny that you say that as I’ve been here in my current job for about a year or so and one of our sales reps came by and he made a comment something to the effect of, “you’re not a typical CFO.” I wasn’t sure how to take it at first, I was like, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “you kind of have a personality.” I wasn’t expecting that. I was like, “well, I guess that’s good. I’ll take it as a compliment, as I like to think I do.” I like to think that all the folks on our team here have a personality if you come by and get to know us a little bit. It’s a unique crew and we all have various things that we like to do, that we like to talk about. Some folks may be more introverted than the sales people, who are mostly extroverts, but we’re still fun people to be around.

    JOHN. That’s exactly it. It’s so frustrating, makes me want to punch a wall.

    RON. Yeah.

    JOHN. I don’t know who created that definition, but it’s so annoying to me. It really is, because there’s people like you, people like me, and other people that I’ve had on the podcast, that are clearly not that way. I think part of it is that a lot of people just fall in line with what they think they’re supposed to be. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If an accountant has a hobby or a passion, but never shares it at work, does it exist? That’s what I’m trying to do with this podcast and then my book, just get people talking about it to show that we’re not that way, that’s not the case.

    Then, in the mean time, from doing the podcast, consultant friends of mine, lawyer friends of mine, even engineers, are like, “hey, this applies to us as well.” It’s basically, professionalism kind of takes over and tries to teach you this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s like, “why?” No one has ever stepped back and been like, “well that’s stupid.” I’ll get on my survey and people will be like, “there’s no charge code for getting to know our coworkers.” Well why not? First of all, that’s the lamest answer I’ve ever heard. What kind of jail or prison do you work in? But also, there should be, that’s probably the most important thing that you do, clients and coworkers.

    RON. When we’re interviewing folks, whether it’s here on the team, or really any part of the organization here, to me it is so important, cultural fit and personality are so important, in that interview process because you spend so much time at work, we all spend so much time at work, during a day, a week, a month, whatever time period you want to look at. Who wants to be around people that you can’t interact with, you can’t have some fun with? There’s work to be done, but gosh you got to enjoy the people that you’re around a little bit. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends and do everything together, and all that. You’re at the office, get your work done, but also have some fun doing it.

    JOHN. I agree totally. So are there certain things that you look for? I guess, how much do you think it’s on Hodges Mace, or even you as the CFO, to create that culture? How much is it on that individual to be willing to step up and share when appropriate?

    RON. I think as an organization we’ve got a culture, I think, that is very friendly. When candidates come in and meet with us I think they see that and they feel that just by walking around the office and seeing the interactions that folks are having. It’s hard for me to quantify because it’s a little bit of a gut feel thing for me when I’m in an interview with someone, I’m talking with them, I’m seeing how they interact with me as we’re walking down the hallway, and seeing how they might interact, or don’t, interact with other’s they see. I pay a lot of attention to that because I think it is important, like I said, to have folks that when they’re here, and you never know what sort of environment someone is coming from, they may be coming from an environment that may be more buttoned up, stiff, or what have you. So you kind of need to see where they’re coming from, but also see where their personality is coming through. We’ve had folks where they come on board where, you can kind of tell during the interview they’re going to be good folks to have on the team, but it takes a while after they start, it takes a few weeks after they start, for them to open up a little bit.

    One of the reasons I was really interested in your podcast, and one of the things that I do a lot of, is I share a lot of stuff about me and my family with people at work. I like to talk about what my kids are doing, what my wife and I did, because I think it personalizes me, it humanizes me a little bit. When people get to know me as a person versus me in the job role that I have, the function that I have, I think then it starts to break down some of the stereotypes. They’re like, “oh, Ron has three kids and a wife. He’s going to his daughters ballet recital this weekend.” Or, “he’s coaching his son’s baseball team.” Or, “he and his wife went to dinner last night and went to this movie.” Whatever it happens to be. I don’t want to bore people with all the details about my personal life, but when you share a little bit and ask people what they did over the weekend, or you get to know their families a little bit, I think it really starts to break down some of the walls a little bit. Then, all the sudden, they’re like, “OK, this guys is a normal person and maybe now I can get to know his personality a little bit more.” When you know the person a little bit you’re a little more willing to joke around a little bit around some things, even topics that you’re not supposed to talk about at work like politics, or things like that, you can joke around about things a little bit more and not have anyone take anything too seriously and have fun with it. They know you versus they know the role that you have.

    JOHN. I think that’s so excellent. Instead of being the CFO in the corner office it’s, “that’s Ron, just go into his office and talk to him.”

    RON. Yeah.

    JOHN. Then, you can weather some storms together because you have that ability to joke around with each other and have fun, to actually care about each other as a person. So when things get rough, or extra hours are needed, or things like that, it’s not as brutal.

    RON. That’s right. You can break up the tension with a little bit of, you did stand up comedy but I’m sure in your day job when you’re doing the CPA work, because of your sense of humor you probably interject your humor into a lot of different things. When you’re in tense moments, or particularly busy times, sometimes a little bit of humor, a little bit of levity, goes a long way. The folks on your team know that you’re willing to inject a little bit of humor it sort of breaks that tension a little bit and they say, “OK, we have a lot of work to get done, but we’re going to work through it together.” Versus, “oh, I’ve got to get this done and he’s going to kill me if I don’t get it done by this time,” that sort of mentality. You want to get away from that. That’s a stress that folks, I feel like, don’t need. We have enough stresses in our lives.

    JOHN. I remember a story when I was with PricewaterhouseCoopers and we were pretty much full time on the client. I remember the partner, maybe once every six weeks or so, if he got some bad news or whatever he’d be like, “Garret get in here and make me laugh.” It was like I was the court jester or something.

    RON. “I don’t do this on command. You can’t just call me in here.”

    JOHN. Exactly, I was like, “um. This is a lot of pressure here buddy, hold on.” It was always really funny and it just showed you don’t have to have a charge code for that, you don’t have to be working eight solid hours, or whatever it is. It’s OK to take a little bit of time to grease those wheels and build those relationships. So that’s so cool that you’re doing that from the top, I think that’s awesome. So one question I love to ask everybody, how did you get into accounting to begin with?

    RON. I got into accounting, I’m not a CPA, but I was a finance undergrad major and initially went to consulting route and did that for several years. I went back to school and got my MBA with concentration finance, again, and got into the investment banking industry where I was able to put some of my finance skills to work. I’ve taken a lot of accounting classes over the years, but I’ve got more of a finance bent than an accounting bent. After spending about eight years in investment banking I decided I wanted to make the leap over to the corporate side and came across this opportunity with an entrepreneurial company that was growing rapidly and was in need of some leadership on the finance side. I knew the two founders of this company from a prior relationship and so it made a lot of sense. Accounting is obviously a big part of what I do day to day, I also have a couple strong folks on the team that are CPAs, but they help support me on some of the technical items. We work well together. I’ve always had a numbers bent, but really more on the financing side than the accounting side.

    JOHN. Yeah, you’re living the dream. You got the CFO but you didn’t have to go through all the pain of…

    RON. That’s right. I didn’t have to sit for the CPA, and I’m happy about that.

    JOHN. How to do a cash flow statement, it’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t have any idea how that works. There’s a computer for that. That’s how that works.”

    RON. Great software does that for you now.

    JOHN. Exactly. That’s so awesome. So obviously being a CFO takes up a lot of time I’m sure, but what sort of hobbies or passions do you enjoy doing when you have that free time?

    RON. I’ve always been a huge sports fan, loved sports from an early age. When I was a kid started doing fantasy sports and watching sports and playing sports. So I’ve always sort of been around that, and now with my own kids they’ve developed a passion for sports, I guess largely by watching my wife and me. I do things that a lot of parents do, I help coach my kids teams, and I’m involved in that way. One of the things I got to do which, was really cool, was for my son’s football team I got to do the broadcasts for them at the stadiums for their games. So for all their home games our team was responsible for providing someone to go up in the press box and do the announcing, plays, who was carrying the ball, who got the tackle, and all that sort of stuff. I sort of got it by default because none of the other parents wanted to do it so I said, “that’s fine, I’ll do it, how hard can this be?” I’ve watched a lot of sports on TV and I always complain about how the announcers are terrible and I can do a better job than them. So I was going to give it a shot myself and see how I did.

    JOHN. That’s so great man, so how many years have you been doing that?

    RON. I’ve done it for a couple years now, started last year and it’s been a lot of fun. I will say, it’s harder than I expected it to be. Pro guys have a bunch of other people in the booth, a spotter to tell them what’s going on, people in their headsets telling them, I was kind of flying solo up there and trying to watch all of what’s going on in the game. You get the roster for both teams the visiting team, of course I have our roster memorized, but you get the roster about five minutes before the game so you can’t memorize any of the numbers and names. So I’m sitting there trying to figure out, “number 12, who’s number 12?” Trying to find that name on the roster.

    JOHN. Two plays later, “touchdown, I don’t know, whatever.”

    RON. You know what’s cool for kids, and we’re talking about 9, 10, 11 year old kids, when they hear their name in the speaker over the stadium they love it. That’s so cool for them, so it’s so important to get the names out there and make sure you get that for kids on both teams, because there’s a pride there when they hear that and their team mates go up and give them high fives and all that sort of stuff. I pay a lot of attention in trying to get that right and making sure I get the pronunciations right and all that, because it’s so important to them.

    JOHN. I think that’s so neat, especially that you got it by default, but you grabbed the bull by the horns and are jumping in there and doing it. It’s got to be pretty awesome to hear your voice coming over, that first time had to be kind of weird yeah?

    RON. The first time was a little weird, and I have to admit, it took me a couple of games to get into it and develop a little bit of personality in doing that. You can just do the plays, and that’s fine and like I said it’s important to the kids and they love it, and the parents in the stands love hearing their kids name. Then, you start to sprinkle in a little bit of personality. During the time outs the different sponsor announcements I have to make, and things like that, so you try and put a little bit of personality in doing the sponsor announcements, or playing music during the time outs and half time, things like that. There was one particular game where it had been raining all game, so during half time I pulled out my phone, pulled up iTunes, and found every song in my phone that had rain in the name of the song and just made a play list. So we had Milli Vanilli, Blame it on the Rain, and all that sort of stuff playing over the speakers. People were looking up in the press box and just laughing. That was kind of fun.

    JOHN. That’s awesome, that’s so great. Just hearing you talk about it, it’s almost parallel to what we were talking about earlier where you can be an accountant, or you can be a CFO, or you can be an announcer, but to show your personality is where it’s really at.

    RON. Yeah.

    JOHN. It does take a couple of games, or a couple of days int he office, or weeks if you will, but showing your personality where people do start to smile and I think that’s unbelievable those parallels there that I just realized as you were talking about it.

    RON. It’s funny, it was probably the third game of the season, or something like that, where one of the other parents on my son’s team said to my wife down in the stands, “I think Ron is having way too much fun up there.” I started to break some things out and my wife just kind of rolled her eyes and said, “yeah, we need to get him out of there, we can’t have him keep doing this.”

    JOHN. Or just have you and a mic and it only goes to your headset and not blast it out to the whole stadium, so you feel like you’re doing it.

    RON. She was a little bit afraid of what might come out of my mouth. One of the things that I always wanted to do, and I might be dating myself a little bit, ???17:57 is still on TV, he’s got this thing when he does games and they cut to him he does this, “you are looking live.” It was probably the fifth or sixth game of the season where it was like, “you know what, at the beginning of the game I’m going to do a, ‘you are looking live.'”

    JOHN. “Of course we are Ron, we’re at the stadium, what are you talking about?”

    RON. Yeah, exactly. They do the coin toss and all that sort of stuff, I play a little bit of music before the kick off, and I get on the mic, “you are looking live,” and mention the name of the sponsors, because the field had sponsors that it was named after and all that stuff. None of the kids really got it, but all the parents looked up at the press box when I said that.

    JOHN. That’s so awesome, I love it, that’s so great. I would be so nervous having that kind of power, because yeah, I would just run way out of control with that. So good for you. I think that’s so fantastic. I’m crying over here just imagining you with, “we are looking live.” It’s like, “of course we are dude, we’re in the stadium, who do you think is watching this?” So clearly you talk about this at work, I would have to imagine.

    RON. I did. After the first time I did it I came in and told a couple people at the office about it, and the reaction was, “wow, that’s pretty cool.” So then, kind of, every week people would come in on a Monday and say, “did you do it again this weekend?” After I did it the first time I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a permanent thing or we were going to rotate different parents doing that, but it turned into permanent thing. I would come in and say, “yeah I did it again.” “What did you do this week?” I’d have some sort of shtick that maybe I did as part of that. People get a kick out of that.

    JOHN. I think that’s so great, and it gives you another wrinkle to that dimension more than just your career. What a cool thing, if anything they’re going to start asking you to make announcements over the PA system. It’s like, “alright, I’m not that good, everybody calm down.”

    RON. Right, I’m not quite there yet, I’ve got a little bit of a raspy voice, I don’t have the James Earl Jones voice to get on there and do the real deep voice and do the announcements over the PA. The local restaurants, and all that, that sponsor our league here, I think they got their monies worth out of those announcements.

    JOHN. That is funny, because people always say that my voice, well people, other comedians and weirdos, say I sound like Super Dave Osborn a little bit because I’ll hit this pre puberty crack every once in a while too. Only people who are Super Dave fans or comedians really know, but it is eery how similar it is, and it’s definitely not a radio voice. People still listen to the podcast, so god bless them.

    RON. There you go.

    JOHN. It’s mostly because of people like you. So I guess before you got into this announcing hobby, were there other things you shared at work, or was that kind of the thing that cracked it open, or even earlier in your career?

    RON. I always sort of talked about two topics that I think are generally safe to talk about at work, and you can generally engage people in conversation on. One is sports and two is family. So, every place that I’ve been in my career I’ve always been very open about my passion about sports, the teams that I root for, and all that sort of stuff. You always find sports fans in the mix, so you stand around the water cooler, or coffee pot in the morning, talking about the game over the weekend, or the night before. So people always knew they could talk to me about sports. Then, as I mentioned earlier, talking a little bit about my family without kind of killing them with details, but sharing a little bit about who they are and what they do, and things like that. Getting to know their families a little bit too. Other than the sports there weren’t specifically hobbies that I really got into.

    JOHN. Watching sports definitely counts.

    RON. If you call watching sports a hobby, then certainly yeah.

    JOHN. I mean, college football is coming up and it’s definitely going to consume a lot of my time, so I definitely count that.

    RON. Absolutely, it will consume a lot of my time as well. I know a lot of folks around here actually have College Colors day that we do here at the office, coming up this Thursday, where everyone is encouraged to wear their t-shirts or whatever, polos from their favorite college team. We’ll have the corn hole tournament and pot luck lunch, and all that. That gets pretty intense, because you have a lot of college football fans around here.

    JOHN. Yeah, Georgia, Georgia Tech, or some other random team. That’s going to be awkward.

    RON. Exactly, yeah.

    JOHN. Suddenly people are moving cubicles, “I can’t sit next to this person, that’s terrible.” I think that’s a great example of something that people can do in their company that’s so simple, and it’s just what college you went to, or wear your colors of your team, and just take a little break. Cornhole, have some food, relax, break the walls down and get to know each other. That’s a great example of something like that that you do. So that’s cool. So, are there any other things that you’ve seen or ways to encourage others? For people that are listening and are like, “well I don’t know what my company can do, what I can do within my firm? Or things like that.

    RON. I think it really is small things. I think if you try and formalize it, it doesn’t come across as authentic. So, I think folks really kind of have to be comfortable in the environment, and comfortable with the people they are around. Every company has got it’s own culture and I’m not here to say which one particular type of golfer is better than another. We tend to, round here at least, be very focused on delivering great service to our clients of course, but when we’re around each other, regardless of titles and things like that, there’s not a whole lot of hierarchy and I think folks feel very comfortable talking to anyone in the company. They’re not like, “oh, well so and so is in a different department so I can’t go talk to them, or they’re a different level so I can’t go talk to them.” I think it’s the lack of maybe formality or hierarchy that helps more than anything, because folks will then engage with everyone in the company, versus feeling like they got to stay in their department, or the area of the floor they happen to sit on.

    JOHN. That’s well put. To me it seems like, the only easiest way I can think of it is, professionalism kind of teaches you when you’re new or coming through school or anything that there is a hierarchy and departments, and can’t do this and you can’t do that. Professionalism builds these walls and it’s great that Hodges Mace there, you, and everyone there is able to just bash those down and be like, “that’s ridiculous, it doesn’t even make sense.” It’s not even good for the bottom line.

    RON. In terms of professionalism, you’ve got to trust people are going to act professionally. Just because you don’t have rules in place that dictate certain things, trust that the people that work for the company that you made decisions to hire are going to act professionally and do the right thing. If you have an employee handbook that’s just volumes of rules.

    JOHN. Like a phone book.

    RON. First no one is going to read it, second people are just going to look at it and be like, “wow, this place is really kind of stuffy. Why do they have so many rules? Why do you need to tell me all these different things, don’t you trust me?” Trust people.

    JOHN. Yeah, because obviously you can be a professional without being too stuffy and letting professionalism take over. So I think that’s great, good for you. Do you have any words of encouragement to share with anyone who might be on the fence, or maybe they’re doing the announcing at their kids high school football game but they never told anyone at work? Any encouragement for those?

    RON. I would say, whatever the hobby is, interest is, or passion is that you have, if you’re scared or maybe intimidated in sharing that, it’s hard but you almost have to rip the band aid off a little bit. Share that with someone and you’ll be amazed how interested other people are in the things that you do and wanting to get to know you. It’s not that you’re doing a lot of self promotion, or out there kind of touting, “hey, I’m doing this kind of cool thing.” It’s a way to connect with people that is outside of the debits and credits we deal with everyday.

    JOHN. You can see people’s eyes light up. If you’re talking about the balance sheet, I’m sure not super excited. If you’re talking about, “man, listen to what I did last night at the game.” It’s a lot more energy and everything, and it’s infectious.

    RON. And it is. I think you nailed it right there, the word you just said, energy. It creates energy, it creates some additional energy that helps you power through that grind.

    JOHN. Ron this was so awesome, and I’d love to come down and hang out with you in Atlanta, but I’ve got my rules to come to a game and check you out, to be live in the stadium. I’ve got my rules, and my seventeen rapid fire questions.

    Star Wars or Star Trek?

    RON. Star Wars.

    JOHN. PC or Mac?

    RON. PC.

    JOHN. When it comes to a mouse, right click or left click?

    RON. Oh, right click.

    JOHN. Right click, nice, that’s where the options are.

    Do you prefer cats or dogs?

    RON. Neither, I’m not an animal person.

    JOHN. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    RON. Sudoku.

    JOHN. Do you have a favorite color?

    RON. Blue.

    JOHN. Do you have a least favorite color?

    RON. I don’t think so.

    JOHN. Alright, you like them all, nice.

    RON. I like colors, you should see some of my Power Points, lots of colors.

    JOHN. I think everyone from Hodges Mace just laughed really hard at that point.

    What did you have for breakfast?

    RON. I had some shredded wheat and yogurt this morning.

    JOHN. Wow, look at you, that’s healthy.

    Do you have a favorite TV show?

    RON. yeah, I would say, wow.

    JOHN. Of all time.

    RON. Of all time? Probably Seinfeld.

    JOHN. That’s a great show. And it’s also still on today, so good for you.

    RON. It’s still on, you can catch the reruns almost any time of day now.

    JOHN. When it comes to financial statements, the balance sheet or income statement?

    RON. Income statement.

    JOHN. Do you prefer jeans or khakis?

    RON. Khakis.

    JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?

    RON. Seven.

    JOHN. Solid answer, is there a reason why?

    RON. I don’t know, for some reason when I was younger I decided that seven was my favorite number and it just kind of stuck with me.

    JOHN. It’s mine too.

    RON. Nothing particular tied to it.

    JOHN. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it’s some sports thing, but I’m not sure either.

    Do you have a movie that makes you cry?

    RON. Hoosiers.

    JOHN. There you go, I was going to say there’s plenty of sports movies and I tear up in all of them.

    Do you have a favorite sports team?

    RON. I’m a fan of all the Philadelphia sports teams, so the Philadelphia Eagles for football is probably my favorite team.

    JOHN. Wow, it’s been tough, good for you for sticking in there.

    RON. It’s been rough sledding for all the Philadelphia teams for a while here. We’re toughing through it right now, but yeah.

    JOHN. The sun will come back.

    Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    RON. Good question, I don’t know that I do.

    JOHN. It’s more the movies.

    Do you have a favorite comedian maybe?

    RON. I’ve always loved Jerry Seinfeld, that goes back to the show, I think he’s just hilarious, and still is to this day.

    JOHN. He’s absolutely hilarious.

    Are you more of an early bird or night owl?

    RON. Early bird.

    JOHN. The favorite thing, or the favorite thing you have?

    RON. The coolest thing, or favorite thing, that I own. I got a baseball back when I was probably in middle school. I went to a Yankee’s game, I grew up in New Jersey, and I went to a Yankee’s game. I got a baseball or a game when we were there for batting practice. It’s an obscure player who never spent a whole lot of time in the major leagues, but a player named Kevin Mmahat who was up for a short while with the Yankees, he came over, tossed the ball up to me, and he stood there and talked to me for a while. It always stayed with me that he did that and it was such a cool experience when I was younger. I’ve kept that ball with me all through the years, and all the moves that I’ve made, I still have that ball.

    JOHN. That’s awesome man, that’s really cool. Thank you so much Ron for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast, I really, really appreciate.

    RON. John, thanks so much for having me, I had a bunch of fun.


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