Zach is a CPA & Runner
Zach Gordon, VP of Accounting at Propeller Industries, talks about his passion for running and traveling. He discusses how his experience in running marathons has helped him with discipline and goal setting in the workplace, his initial culture shock when he first started at Propeller, and much more!
• Getting into running
• His favorite marathon
• Discipline and setting goals
• How Propeller Industries encourages an open workplace culture
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Welcome to Episode 531 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. And to put it in 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.
And if you like what the show’s about, be sure to check out the award-winning book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside of work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. And I can’t see 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.
If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. And please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast studio 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, Zach Gordon. He’s a VP of accounting at Propeller Industries in New York City and was a CPA practice advisor 40 under 40. And now, he’s with me here today. Zach, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Zach: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
John: Yeah, this is gonna be so much fun. I have some rapid-fire questions though. Get to know Zach out of the gate here. I’ll ask you the first one. I love this one. A favorite animal. Any animal at all.
Zach: Dog. Gotta be a dog.
John: Dog. Okay. All right. Going old school. I like it.
Zach: It solves the dog or cat question. That’s easy.
John: I’m not even asking you that one. There we go. Perfect. All right. 16 rapid-fire questions now. No, I’m just kidding. How about puzzles? Sudoku, crossword, or jigsaw?
Zach: Well, given that we’re accountants, work with numbers, gotta be Sudoku.
John: Sudoku. There you go. I always joked that that’s how I do my tax returns.
Zach: You and me both.
John: You’re right. Yeah.
Zach: Kidding. Kidding. Anyone listening?
John: Right. It’s so annoying when you’re not a tax person and everyone thinks you should be. And it’s like no. Like we do more things than just tax, everybody.
Zach: Does every accountant do taxes?
John: Right? I mean, they do them. Are they right? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s a simple one for you. Favorite color?
John: Blue. Mine too. There you go. How about a least favorite color?
Zach: That’s a great question. Some electric pinks out there I just can’t get behind.
John: Perfect. Yeah, neon anything really. But neon pink, yeah, that’s pretty high up there. Are you more of a talk or a text?
Zach: Text. I mean, getting on the phone more than we have to already. You know, the Zoom fatigue is real. Let’s put it that way.
John: Very real. And I appreciate you making time to do this podcast. Definitely. Because texting it back and forth would be weird.
Zach: That might take a little more time.
John: A little bit. A little bit. How about a favorite comedian of all time?
Zach: That’s a really interesting question. Probably have to go Chris Rock.
John: Oh, yeah. Solid. Yeah, he’s great and super nice, which is cool too.
Zach: First comedian I ever saw live. So you know, something to that.
John: Well, that’s a pretty good start. How about a suit and tie or jeans and a T-shirt?
Zach: Depends. Usually, the jeans and T-shirt. But you know, if you have to suit up sometimes, we all have to do what we all have to do.
John: Yeah, absolutely. No, suit and tie is great, especially now that they have like the made to measure type companies.
Zach: I just got one. And man, it was perfect.
Zach: They’re wizards out there.
John: No, it’s so good. And like it makes you wanna wear it more ’cause it’s like I picked the lining, I picked all this like, and it fits right. You know, it’s not off the rack where you gotta, yeah, feel like you’re in a box. So, good for you, man. Yeah, that’s awesome. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Zach: Star Wars by a long shot.
John: Okay. Yeah, mine too. Same. How about your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?
Zach: You know, I had the blessing to be on a Mac for a long time, and I had to relearn how to use a PC once I got back into public accounting. So, Mac by a mile.
John: Okay. Okay. That’s funny how you called it a blessing. That’s awesome.
Zach: Listen, I know accounting software and some of the stuff that we need isn’t quite the same on a Mac, but it’s just so much easier and more intuitive to use.
John: There you go. I’m not cool enough to even walk into a Mac store. I’m just gonna take your word for it and keep going on.
Zach: Come on. Come on.
John: Right? Oh, maybe I’ll get around it now. Yeah, there we go. How about more oceans or mountains?
Zach: You know, it’s really interesting given that was just up in Colorado. Got to experience the mountains a little bit, but usually the ocean to be honest.
John: Yeah, it’s usually warmer. I don’t know why when you think ocean, you think beach. You don’t think Maine in February, you know.
Zach: No. Nobody wants to. Good Lord.
John: Nor do you want to. Right. Some things you can’t unhear like that.
Now, ice cream. I’m a huge ice cream junkie. Do you get it in a cup or a cone?
Zach: Oh, cone.
John: Cone. There you go. How about a favorite adult beverage?
Zach: Ooh, man. Been a real bourbon kick lately. So there’s a couple of local distilleries up here that have just been knocking out of the ballpark.
John: Nice. There you go. We got six more or five more. How about balance sheet or income statement?
Zach: Balance sheet. It tells the whole story.
John: Oh, okay. All right. All right. There you go. Your first concert.
Zach: So this is a little embarrassing. It was actually Kiss. I went with my mom.
John: That’s awesome. That’s incredible.
Zach: I must have been one of the three youngest people in the crowd. But yeah, she went to the concert at whatever the arena was called back in the day in Albany, New York. And yeah, we ended up going together, you know, 7 or 8, whatever I was. Yeah. That was quite the experience.
John: That is quite the experience. That’s awesome, man. That’s pretty cool. How about a favorite number?
Zach: 22. That was my baseball number. Stocker football for a million years.
John: Okay. Yeah. Solid. How about books? Audio version, e-Book, or real book?
Zach: Oh, the real book. There’s nothing like having a tangible book in your hand as you try to— Well, given I have a little one here, finding that time to actually read is difficult. So you know, the answer usually ends up being audio ’cause there’s no other time. But yeah, if I have my choice, it’s a physical book.
John: Real book. Yeah, I’m the same. I’m the same. And the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
John: Time. Nice. Good answer.
Zach: Try not the way you wrote the—
John: No, that works, man. I like it. Yeah. It’s wide open. So, time. Yeah. No, that’s good. And especially with a little one. So now, you’re just showing off. That’s good, man. Yeah. So let’s talk running and adventures, and how did you get into this? Is it something that you did since you were younger? I mean, it sounds like playing sports of course, but was that always a thing?
Zach: Yeah. So I actually started running track in high school. It was a way to keep in shape during the winter. I’m from upstate New York, so outdoor options are, let’s say, limited. So being able to run track indoors was a nice way to stay entertained, stay out of trouble. And funny enough, I actually started as a sprinter. For the life of me, I could not run more than 800 meters without pacing.
Zach: I had that wall. I don’t know why, but just I could not do it.
John: That’s amazing.
Zach: Yeah. So you know, played sports a long time where all you have to do is sprint, so never too big a concern of running any more than that. And after college, just sort of started expanding it out and then someone got the crazy idea in my head to run a marathon. And it took a long time to get up to that. So started doing some 5Ks and just expanding out from there. And I’ve done 7 marathons so far, doing another one this year.
John: Good for you, man. Congrats. That’s incredible. Yeah, I’ve done one half marathon, and it should not be called a half of anything. It is far.
Zach: 10.1 miles of fun. What are you talking about?
John: Yeah. And it’s the 0.1 that really gets you.
Zach: You’re joking about that, but that’s true though.
John: No, I’m not joking about that. I’m dead serious. Like I did it in under 2 hours, which I was pretty excited about.
John: And so, my whole mantra during like training ’cause I ran in with a couple other people, and I was not as dedicated to the training as they were, and they were frustrated by that. And my whole mantra was just peak on race day. Like I don’t wanna peak too soon. Like I gotta just keep going, bring it on race day, like that’s it. And I did like luckily, but I was like “All right, I’m not doing this again. Like this is crazy.”
Zach: Let me ask. Was the runner’s high real for you?
Zach: Oh, man, you missed the best part.
John: I did. There’s a lot of people that get it and that’s great. And it was in Indianapolis, so it was kind of cool. You ran around the race track at the Indy 500 and so that was fun. There’s a lot of people along the sides that kept it entertaining. It kept moving, I guess, for me ’cause that’s the problem is when I run, my brain starts going squirrely ’cause you don’t really have to focus a whole lot. And so, when there’s other distractions, it was helpful.
Zach: Well, if you wanna hear the most nerdy thing of all time, I’ll listen to CPE podcast sometimes when I’m running.
John: Oh, there you go.
Zach: So, multitasking. I’m getting CPE and I’m running.
Zach: And that’s probably one of the top 3 nerdiest statements I’ve ever made.
John: Right? It’s like what’s more painful? CPE or running? Then it balances each other out. It’s like two negatives make a positive. That’s awesome, man. But it’s efficient. That’s efficiency. But 7 marathons, do you have one that was your favorite?
Zach: The first one.
John: Which one was that one?
Zach: New York City. So being able to run through, just getting the excitement, the energy. I mean, there’s a million people all along if you count everybody up and just everyone’s super into it.
And the runner’s high was real. So you’re right, the 26.2, that 0.2 at the end right through Central Park was a nightmare. Oh, man.
Zach: But being able to actually cross the line finish, yeah, it was so much fun.
John: And in New York. I mean, that’s cool too, you know, being from upstate and all that. That’s exciting. Yeah. And you run through all the boroughs and yeah. I mean, it’s just cool.
Zach: Exactly. I got to run by my house, which is fun, you know.
John: Oh, even better. Yeah. That’s awesome, man. And it sounds like you’ve done running, I mean, outside of structured runs like a marathon or whatever, but all over the world really.
Zach: Yeah. So I have this interesting habit depending on what you think is interesting. But anywhere I go, I’ll get up super early in the morning and just go explore. So I’ll just go run through wherever I am. And so, a couple weeks ago, I was out in Denver and, yeah, got to explore pretty much every inch of the city, which was pretty cool. They like to broadcast they have one of the best downtowns of any city in the country. And it’s like “Oh, let me check this out.”
John: Yeah, I’ll be the judge of that.
Zach: What authority I have, but—
Zach: A few of them have gotten a little more crazy though. So, going into Safari and Africa, asking some very specific questions on where I can run. Little details like that, but it’s cool. There’s no better way to learn a place or find little fun spots than that. I mean, going back to my first marathon, you get to go through some really interesting areas of Brooklyn, of Queens, the Bronx. You know, that sort of got me thinking. And like you said, you have nothing but time. So the head starts going all over the place. I’m like “Wow, that looks like a cool bar. You know, that place looks like it has some pretty good food, so let me come back and check it out.” And then you start heading to enough spots and I wanna see what’s out there. And Yelp just isn’t the same.
John: Yeah. Oh, no, no, That’s awesome, man. And I mean, you’re staying fit, you’re exercising. When you fly somewhere, any jet lag or anything like that, you can work that out and it just gets your blood going. And that’s cool, man. That’s really neat. That’s really neat. And especially like in other continents, which is cool too type of thing.
Zach: Yeah. I mean, running an altitude in Peru was interesting.
John: Oh, wow.
Zach: Yes. I think we’re about 11,000 feet up, 12,000, somewhere in that ballpark. So yeah, being a little careful on that run too, but—
John: Right. Right.
Zach: Yeah. Being able to experience the different flavor so to speak has been a really interesting experience.
John: That’s fantastic, man. And do you feel like any of that translates to a skillset you use at work?
Zach: There’s certainly a discipline aspect to it as you said with jet lag or some of those late night meals, and adult beverages, and such. Yeah, sometimes you have to peel yourself out of the bed to get up and out there. So that’s certainly a big part of it. And yeah, I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned from running, is just keeping that discipline and having a goal and moving towards it as corny as that sounds.
John: No, no, that’s incredible because, I mean, otherwise you’re just a ship without a rudder just aimlessly wandering around just doing whatever happens to be coming up next. And it’s like “No, no, like I have this goal and I’m gonna work towards it.” And then there’s a sense of accomplishment there. There’s so many great things that come from that. And I would imagine too when you’re in the middle of a busy project or an intense time, it’s that last point too of the marathon type of thing. You’re like “Hey, I did a marathon. We’re good.”
Zach: Of course. Then you start telling those stories and most people just roll their eyes. You know, the marathon, right. Yeah.
John: Oh, yeah. This guy again. Right. Well, you don’t have to tell the story. It’s more just to yourself maybe.
Zach: I should probably learn that lesson at some point.
John: Right. No. Or maybe people should just get out there and run one or a half or something.
Zach: No. Honestly, it really is a great experience. You don’t have to sprint it. You don’t have to go for the world record. But the best advice I ever got for running is just after the first step, it’s all momentum.
John: There you go.
Zach: Physical aspect to it doesn’t matter. I was taking the Staten Island ferry out to keep going back to my first one and next to me was a 74-year-old woman who had been running the marathon consecutively for two plus decades, whatever it was. And so, she was telling some stories ’cause you have an hour to kill basically. And at the end, if she can do this, I can do this. If she can set some pretty tough time milestones, what am I complaining about? What am I worried about? You know? It’s all momentum at a certain point, and there’s gotta be a lesson in there somewhere.
John: Oh, totally. I love that phrase. I mean, after the first step, it’s all momentum. That’s the first step’s the hardest kind of concept and whatever it is. Yeah. ‘Cause it really is and then you’re just one foot in front of the other. Just keep going type of thing.
Zach: Exactly. I mean, you might need a little water, maybe a power bar.
John: Right. Some electrolytes.
Zach: Yeah, maybe.
John: Right? Yeah. But you know, it is momentum and I mean that works figuratively for work in so many things and that’s great.
And so, has there ever been a part of you that’s like maybe I shouldn’t share an outside of work me ’cause clearly running marathons has nothing to do with any accounting job at all? Like has it ever crossed your mind that like “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t share”?
Zach: Yes. You know, there’s plenty of people out there who don’t necessarily value those type of extracurricular activities that sometimes in those work settings that really the focus is really on work. They don’t want to hear about some of those things. And yeah, it can come off a little braggadocia sometimes, which I can definitely understand. So, trying to posit in a careful way. And the same thing with traveling all over the place too. I mean, telling stories, going on safari, some people are either super interested or you get the eye roll and moving it on, that sort of thing.
John: But I mean, that’s on them, you know.
Zach: Of course. I’m definitely not the shy type, so I will definitely share without a doubt. But just being measured in how do you share those stories is something I try to be at least a little cognizant of.
John: Yeah, absolutely. No, for sure. Yeah. ‘Cause you definitely don’t wanna come across braggadocious like you said. It’s more of just “Hey, this lights me up. I wanna talk about it. You know, what lights you up? Sure. I’ll listen to you talk about volunteering at the dog shelter. Go nuts.” You know? Or whatever your thing is. Or you watched every House of Cards episode for the fifth time or whatever it is. But you can just tell the passion when people are talking about it. They’re excited. They’re animated. Their eyes get bigger. They’re alive sort of a thing.
John: That’s always good to ask others as well to work around that.
Zach: So I will say the Mile High City wasn’t that much of a challenge. I was expecting—
John: Well, have you done Peru? Peru is twice as much apparently.
Zach: Oh, that was years ago. I was a younger let’s say “athlete” at that point.
John: I was under 30.
Zach: Yes, I was.
John: Yeah. I mean, I don’t have a problem. I’ve never had a problem when I adjusted to Denver or when I leave and come back. Like I personally don’t, but I also don’t run. So now, we’re even.
John: Yeah, you’re right. Right? But yeah, I mean, I think if you go up in the mountains though, that’s when it starts to get a lot more on that. That’s for sure. And I guess at Propeller, I mean, a lot of you are remote. Is there anything that the firm does, the organization does to encourage people whether it’s share their hands or get to know each other on a human level?
Zach: I’ve gotta be honest. My first week in the firm, I was in a state of complete culture shock. You know, coming from public accounting, going through multiple firms, it was a completely different experience. So the way you posit What’s Your “And”? is exactly what that first week was like. And that was truly shocking.
John: That’s awesome.
Zach: There was a genuine sharing of not just the work side, but a personal type of aspect as well, which is something I think the greater accounting industry can and should begin to take in.
John: Yeah. Or the greater corporate world could take in.
Zach: Exactly. And that’s something that startup land has definitely gotten right for the most part, you know, big tech. Say what you will. But from a culture standpoint, it’s a very different presentation and that’s sort of the expectation of this new workforce out there and it really should be for all of us. And I’m getting off my soapbox, I swear.
John: No, no, no. I’ll encourage you on this one all day long because it was just people asking just pretty much like who is Zach and what do you like to do, what lights you up sort of thing.
Zach: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m also in a bit of a specialized situation working in crypto, which is always a good conversation starter. But beyond that, what makes you tick and vice versa? We’re sort of stuck working together for a while, so let’s see if there’s some sort of interpersonal connection we can make.
John: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love that so much. Yeah. Because, I mean, it matters. I mean, the technical skills, you either have them or we can teach you them or computers do them. But the human side of things and who are you, and the more that you can understand about someone’s story, the better everything’s going to be, you know. And so, it’s great to hear that they were doing it from the beginning, which is cool.
Zach: And it’s not always easy for accountants. I mean, so many introverts in the industry and just not necessarily the most outgoing of individuals. And that’s not good, bad, or otherwise. People are who they are, which is fine, but trying to find that middle ground is always a big deal. And especially in a client-facing, service-based industry, we should probably be doing that anyway. Shouldn’t all just be debits and credits.
John: Yeah. Because, I mean, that’s truly a differentiator especially with a client relationship side of things. ‘Cause, I mean, another accounting service can come in and do the accounting. It’s not like what I’m doing is I’m the only one and no one else can do this.
John: Right. You’re right. Exactly. Debits are still on the left. Okay, cool. They match. It’s like another organization can come in and do that.
Well, yeah, I mean, I guess that’s true. But you know, if you get to know the human side and bring some of that in, then that’s like when I speak a lot, it’s just bring the human from behind the job title. Like What’s Your “And”? is who else are you besides the job title?
Zach: It’s really funny. I think it was my second year out of college. I was working on some random real estate company, whatever it was. And I’m a bit of a sports fan if you can’t tell, but the CFO for the real estate company was a huge Knicks fan. So we were just talking basketball all the time and how terrible they were. You know, that type of stuff.
John: For sure. It’s Knicks. Right.
Zach: Exactly. That we have to go through. But because of that, we developed this awesome relationship, and he ended up calling me first before calling the partner, the manager on the job, or whatever the case. And people couldn’t figure out why. And it’s like “Listen, there’s nothing special about me. I’m, what, 22-23 years old, whatever I was. I don’t know anything about accounting, let’s be honest, but—”
John: But the human side of things, you know. Yeah. And it’s I trust you more because I know you more type of thing. And you know, the industry wants to call themselves trusted advisers and you’re an adviser adviser probably. What are you doing to develop trust? And being good at your job does not develop trust. Like everyone else is also good at their job.
Zach: It’s a baseline. It’s not a plus.
John: Exactly. And you gotta get to the pluses in order to develop trust. And I mean, there’s brain science behind it as well and all that. And so, that’s cool man. And you did it on accident kind of, but you learned and you observed it, you know. But you observed it and you’re like “Hey, there’s something here” and that’s cool that you’re carrying it forward. So that’s cool.
Zach: It’s been working so far anyway.
Zach: And to bring this full circle, it’s just that sort of interpersonal relationship building. And I told anyone who would listen, this is different than really anything else I’ve ever seen. And again, that’s not the disparage or say anything otherwise about any other experiences that I’ve personally had, but there’s just some really good lessons in there to learn and things that I took to heart for sure.
John: The more that organizations can bring the human to work and from the beginning, then the better it will be for everyone. And you’re a living example of this. The fact that it was a shock is sad, but you embraced it. I think more people are getting there, so it’s encouraging to hear. But you have any words for anyone listening that maybe has an “and” that they feel like has nothing to do with their job, but they still have a passion for something outside of work?
Zach: Yeah. Don’t ever give it up and find a way to communicate with your team, your friends in the office, wherever the case within the firm where you’re not necessarily alienating anyone, but just that it becomes a natural part of the day to day.
John: There you go. That’s the magic right there. It’s something that happens on the regular. So, cool, man. Well, this has been so much fun. And before I decide to lace up and go run with you sometime, I feel like it’s only fair that I turn the tables and allow you to ask me any sort of questions you would like. We’ll make this the first episode of The Zach Gordon Podcast. I don’t know what kind of music you like, but anyway.
Zach: For the show, but—
John: Right. Right. There you go. But yeah, but I’m all yours man. Whatever you got.
Zach: Perfect. So I know you’ve traveled around a little bit yourself. What’s your favorite city?
John: Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably Cape Town, South Africa is probably my favorite city.
Zach: Oh, man, that’s up there for me too.
John: It’s a unique mix. Due to the apartheid, there’s a lot of western influence, so there’s the infrastructure. And there’s a grid, but there’s still that raw African vibe and culture there. Plus, there’s nature, and wine country, and all that.
Zach: That’s only an hour away and—
John: Exactly. It’s a cool city for sure. You really gotta want to go there ’cause it’s far, but it’s a cool city.
Zach: Yeah. You have to make a trip out of it and then—
John: Yeah, exactly.
Zach: What’s your least favorite?
John: Least favorite city? Ooh, that’s a good question. Oh, man. Wow. That is a really good question. Shreveport, Louisiana is easily gonna be my least favorite city, easily for so many reasons. My senior year at Notre Dame, we played in the Independence Bowl and it’s in Shreveport, and it should not be a bowl. It was in their state fair rodeo stadium. So they didn’t have enough bathrooms or food vendors. So it’s like Porta Johns. And we played against LSU, so it’s like home state. And so, it was absolutely crazy. And then I went back probably 10 years later to the Funny Bone in Shreveport and that’s a long week ’cause that was like Wednesday night through Sunday night. So it was almost like 6 days you’re there.
It was a long week, and I’m not sure I’m gonna go back like ever. Like if there’s a company that wants to bring me into Shreveport, I’ll pay for everyone to come to another city and let’s just go to like somewhere else.
John: Right, exactly. That’s how much— Yeah, Shreveport, Louisiana. That’s definitely gonna be my least favorite. I could say that with conviction.
Zach: I can see that.
John: I’m sure the people are nice, but yeah. Yeah, it’s a whole another episode when I’m back on The Zach Gordon Podcast.
Zach: There, it’s perfect.
John: Yeah, exactly. You got one more?
Zach: What’s your favorite sandwich?
John: Ooh, favorite sandwich. That’s tough man ’cause like a Reuben’s good, like a Cubano’s good. Something with bacon always good.
Zach: I’m giving the hard hitting tough questions out here.
John: Yeah. But they’re hard, man. You make me think. Like my brain’s hurting. Preferably anything with bacon. There’s cheese on there. That’s always a plus. But yeah, probably one of those two would be good. Yeah. I wonder if there’s a Ruben with bacon on it.
Zach: I’m sure you can make that happen.
John: Yeah, that would be pretty magical. It’d probably be a restaurant in Shreveport and now I really got to decide like—
Zach: The only place in the world that serves that sandwich.
John: Right? It’s like “Well, John, which one’s the best here or the worst?”
Zach: And how far does Uber Eats go?
John: Right? There you go. That’s awesome. Well, thanks so much, Zach, for being a part of What’s Your “And”? It’s really, really cool to have you on the show.
Zach: No, I really appreciate you being here. Thank you so much for having me.
John: Yeah, absolutely. And everybody listening, if you wanna see some pictures of Zach from his adventures running or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. And while you’re on the page, please click the big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to check out the book. So thanks again for subscribing on Apple Podcasts 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.