Episode 55 – Jen Gardner

Jen makes business connections a full contact sport


Several years ago, Jen Gardner saw a flyer for learning roller derby basic skills. She thought she might enjoy it because she grew up figure skating and tried her hand at hockey in college but couldn’t quite master the puck handling. After a few roller derby lessons, it was clear she was a natural and now she’s a regular player on Mob Squad in the Providence Roller Derby League.

In this episode, we talk about how letting professionalism win turns you into a stock photo. Like many of us, Jen was reluctant to share her roller derby passion with coworkers and clients because of the firm culture and how she felt others would judge her. A combination of moving to a different company and being more experienced with her work, she found that as she started talking about her hobbies more, people started to open up as well and stronger relationships were formed. So much so that the owner of her current firm has attended some of her roller derby bouts!

Jen Gardner is the Corporate Controller at The Copley Consulting Group. Prior to that, she worked in public accounting and then in a company’s Internal Audit Department.

She is a graduate of The University of Rhode Island with her M.S. in Accounting.

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Jen pushes through the pack.

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Jen plays to win during her roller derby bouts.

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    JOHN. Now it’s time for this week’s guest, Jen Gardner, the Corporate Controller at The Copley Consulting Group in Providence Rhode Island. She graduated with both a BS and MS in accounting from the University of Rhode Island before going into public accounting, then the industry side and internal audits, and finally as a Controller. She’s definitely on the fast track so I’m so happy she’s with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. Jen, I’m very excited to get started with a question that I like to ask most of my guests, what made you want to become an accountant?

    JEN. I kind of accidentally stumbled upon it.

    JOHN. Sure.

    JEN. Halfway through college. I started as a Chemistry Major and didn’t like Chem 101 so I didn’t get very far.

    JOHN. I was the same with Engineering, Physics was my thing. It’s like, “I can’t even see this stuff, I think you’re making it up.”

    JEN. I liked the logic of it, I loved it in high school, but then in college I just didn’t enjoy it. I tried a lot of different things trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. Eventually I went into the college of business and took accounting and just loved it.

    JOHN. Nice.

    JEN. It was just intuitive.

    JOHN. Right, so you backed into it, and now look. You’re rocking it.

    JEN. Exactly.

    JOHN. So I know work keeps you pretty busy, but when you’re not doing that at the Copley Consulting Group, what hobby or passion occupies your nights and weekends?

    JEN. A lot of my free time is spent playing roller derby.

    JOHN. That is so awesome! Just so awesome. I’ve never talked to anyone who’s done roller derby. That’s so cool, and I’m sure you get that reaction a lot from people. Checker for elbow pads or what have you. Roller derby, that’s not something that you accidentally start doing one day, how do you get into roller derby?

    JEN. You definitely don’t accidentally start doing roller derby.

    JOHN. You don’t fall out of bed and go, “guess I’m doing roller derby this morning.”

    JEN. I have pretty extensive figure skating background, I grew up figure skating. In my family you played an ice sport, figure skating or hockey, your choice. I probably did that for eight years in my childhood, and then I tried ice hockey in college, which was not my sport because of the stickhandling.

    JOHN. OK, the hitting was good.

    JEN. I could not get a handle on it, literally. Then I found something, I saw the roller derby and didn’t really think much of it. Then I saw an ad or something for a skills clinic where you don’t have to have any experience, you just show up and they give you everything you need, and they teach you stuff for two hours. So I showed up.

    JOHN. And the rest is history. You were like, “hey, this is ice hockey without the stick and the puck.”

    JEN. It’s basically my skating skills without having to deal with any puck or balls. I didn’t grow up playing any sports with a ball, puck, or anything.

    JOHN. Right.

    JEN. So it’s perfect.

    JOHN. It was destiny, that’s what it is. It was meant to happen. That is so awesome, and I think it’s great. So how often do you have matches? Are they called matches?

    JEN. They’re called bouts for teams.

    JOHN. Bouts, that sounds even more intense.

    JEN. There’s one time I said, “it’s bout day,” on Facebook and someone said, “what gym do you fight for?” That’s way more badass than what I do.

    JOHN. It totally is, that’s so intimidating. “So do you have a game today?” “No, they’re called bouts, thank you very much.” That’s impressive, so how often do you have bouts?

    JEN. We have them once a month during home season, and when I played on trial team we had bouts twice a month, one of which was travel. So that was an exhausting schedule.

    JOHN. Yeah, that takes up a good amount of time there. Plus there’s practice, I imagine, in between.

    JEN. Oh yeah.

    JOHN. Yeah, that keeps you very, very busy. What would you say is maybe one of the coolest bouts you’ve had? Or maybe a most rewarding experience from doing roller derby?

    JEN. Probably some of the greatest parts of roller derby is the life long friends that I’ve made. It’s an excellent, tight knit community you just kinda grow into. I think I also spent a lot of time honing my leadership skills.

    JOHN. On nice, very cool. That’s got to be tricky too when it’s pretty much all volunteer, I imagine.

    JEN. Oh yeah, it’s a completely volunteer run, nonprofit organization. It’s very democratic process to make any changes within the league, and everything has to be put to a vote and discussed thoroughly and the membership has to be fully behind anything. So when you’re on the board and proposing changes you learn quickly that you have to have buy in from everybody.

    JOHN. It’d be like, “I can’t believe anyone ever even thought of that, whatever question you’re asking you crazy lady.” It’s like, what?

    JEN. Sometimes you know it’s the right decision for the league but people don’t understand why, so they’re going to say, “I don’t know, that sounds crazy. We’re not going to do that.” You have to learn how to explain it to them and make sure they not only understand it, but want the change, understand why it’s necessary.

    JOHN. That’s got to be huge when you get back to the office, when you’re back at work.

    JEN. Yeah. I think it’s really helped my leadership style because I’m all about buy in and people understanding why they’re doing something.

    JOHN. That’s fantastic. So this is clearly something that you talk about at work.

    JEN. Yes, I do talk about it at work, now.

    JOHN. Now? OK. So when you say now you mean like at prior jobs?

    JEN. I’ve talked about it at prior jobs, but I was a little more hesitant to, because I think I wasn’t sure how it was going to be perceived. It’s not exactly a run of the mill activity.

    JOHN. Yeah, it’s not like golf or running.

    JEN. Yeah, exactly.

    JOHN. When it’s called a bout that’s when you’re like, “oh, I don’t know.” That’s understandable. I guess, what made you want to be more confident to share now, versus earlier on in your career when you started roller derby?

    JEN. It probably had to do with confidence, I think. When you’re clearly passionate about something people know you take it seriously, and people know that I’m kind of a serious person anyway. Nothing I do is too frivolous. People know that you’re really passionate about it, you spend a lot of your time doing it. You know when get started talking about, “oh how was your weekend?” “What are those bruises on your arm from?”

    JOHN. Yeah.

    JEN. It comes up, you know, in the course of the conversation.

    JOHN. Sure. It just comes up organically. It’s not like you’re bragging about it, shouting it from the rooftops, or coming in on your skates. It just comes up. So what would you say people’s reactions are usually?

    JEN. I think people usually need a moment to processes what I said to them.

    JOHN. I think in or out of the office people would still need a moment. Like, “hold on,” they would look at you and figure this out.

    JEN. Then they remember the roller derby of the 80’s, which was kind of more like wrestling, it was a little more staged.

    JOHN. Right, yeah, a lot more neon colors I would imagine. Then they’re like, “oh, you clothesline people, elbow people in the face.” “No, I don’t do those things.” But it is full contact. “I’m going to clothesline you for asking an annoying question, that’s what I’m getting ready to do.” That’s so great. So have people come to see your bouts?

    JEN. Yeah.

    JOHN. Oh, OK.

    JEN. Actually, the owner of my company came to see one of the bouts this season.

    JOHN. Wow, that’s cool.

    JEN. He loved it.

    JOHN. That’s so great. So, I guess, before you got into roller derby, was there something else that you would talk about at work? I guess, just wanted to talk about a little bit of the dynamic of being more confident now to want to share.

    JEN. I don’t think it was anything too exciting, I think it was the safe subjects like food, restaurants, kind of the safe stuff. I also used to work in a little more conservative atmosphere at the different company, and I don’t think there was this much—not necessarily socialization, but there was less chit chat–everyone was confined to your office and cubes, keep your head down, get your work done.

    JOHN. Which is very common, unfortunately, where there’s not a charge code for socializing so get back to work. It’s like, “we might work better, together, if we know who each other is. That might be good. There’s not a charge code for a smoke break.

    JEN. I definitely think that. I think my team now is really cohesive. I wouldn’t say we were friends, we don’t hang out outside of work or anything, but we all know about each others lives, kids, what our weekend plans are.

    JOHN. Yeah, absolutely. Then you know who the person is, what drives them, what they love to do, and you know maybe if they’re dealing with something outside of the office then it’s understandable why things are the way they are, or what have you. I think that’s great. So, do you do things specifically, or does Copley Consulting Group do things specifically, or is just a culture thing?

    JEN. I think it’s a culture thing. Our employees are nationwide, most of them work with the clients or work from home themselves. Really just my admin group and then a few software developers are in our office, there’s not too many of us, less than ten.

    JOHN. So then it’s pretty easy to just happen to know about everybody.

    JEN. Yeah, and my group works so closely together and I don’t like being called a boss, I try to be more like a facilitator for the team, and try to really make it a team atmosphere. I feel like everyone likes coming to work and feels comfortable asking questions and learning, continuing self improvement or processes improvement. I think it just creates a good atmosphere to work in.

    JOHN. Yeah, so one thing I think about sometimes, because I have some free time, is how much is it on the organization to create that culture versus it’s on the individual to open up and want to share what their hobbies and passions are?

    JEN. It’s probably in the middle, but in my public days when I was an auditor you know you walk into some companies where people are miserable, it’s not encouraged.

    JOHN. Yeah, you can just tell. Everything is gray, even the personalities. It’s like, “c’mon you guys aren’t like this outside of work, what’s up?”

    JEN. Right. And then you walk into some companies where there’s just a great atmosphere. You learn in college about the talk down effect, and I think it’s really true. Then I’ve worked in companies where my department was fun to work in, but maybe others weren’t. So I think that often does depend on the leader. If you’re standing at someone’s cube chit chatting and your boss comes around and gives you a look like, “get back to work.” Of course you’re going to be discouraged.

    JOHN. Right, yeah, like even to coming into work the next day. Like, “who wants to work here?” That’s alarming. It really is. It’s funny because I was just speaking at a conference in Los Vegas for the DFK, it’s an association of firms, and it was a lot of partners, 80 or 90 partners. I said to them, “it’s not a millennial thing, it’s just a human thing. When you started, what did you want it to be? You’re in charge now, make it that. It doesn’t have to be the way it was when you started, make it what you wanted it to be.”

    JEN. Definitely. We don’t have to be stuffed shirts right?

    JOHN. Totally! And it sounds like now that you’re a “boss” you’re doing that. That culture is there and it’s more of a facilitator role, it’s not all about you, which is great. Also, if you need to you can clothesline somebody.

    JEN. Right, exactly. Better watch out.

    JOHN. “You better have a good attitude today or else.”

    JEN. My uncle owns his own business and he likes to say he’s going to send me out to do his debt collection.

    JOHN. That’s so funny. So what would you say, I guess, going back to that confidence thing, what is it that was the tipping point to where you were like, “you know what, I’m going to start talking about this, this is what I love to do.”

    JEN. It’s probably when you feel confident in your skills. I don’t know. I don’t know about other people, but for me it was a long time that I thought people were going to find me out that I had no idea what I was doing, why are they still paying me?

    JOHN. Totally, I was there.

    JEN. You panic at your desk like, “I have no idea how to do this!”

    JOHN. You go ask a client for something simply because it was in last years file, and then the lady is like, “why do you need this?”  and you’re like, “I don’t know, I’ll go ask my senior, I’ll be right back.”

    JEN. Yes, yes.

    JOHN. It’s like, “I don’t know either, it was in last year’s, c’mon just give it to me.”

    JEN. Yeah, so I spent a long time being slightly terrified on the inside. You’re more worried about just keeping your head above water.

    JOHN. Right, yeah, because it is intimidating and work wise. So yeah, I guess if you show that you have something outside of work people might think, “oh you’re not as dedicated.”

    JEN. At the beginning of your career is a weird time when you’re trying to figure out your place in the business world. I didn’t grow up with, no one in my family is in the business world, they’re artists, teachers, and brave blue collar. So the business world was shocking to me. Everyone was like nice and shiny, and professional.

    JOHN. Right, on the outside.

    JEN. On the outside, right. It’s like you aspire to be a stock photo that you see in your college business brochure.

    JOHN. That’s what I think a lot of people do, they fall into line with that. Like, “this is what the brochure looks like, so this is what I have to be.” It’s like, “no, that’s not you!”

    JEN. I have to have lots of black pants, glasses, and look perfectly like everyone else.

    JOHN. Blue shirts.

    JEN. And play golf.

    JOHN. That’s exactly right, and we all play golf. I’m more of a put put person, but that’s a different type of golf apparently. That’s such a great observation, we do get out and see what the brochure stock photo is and we just become that, subconsciously. Like you said, as we get more confident in our work we realize, we can be ourselves, we don’t have to be that.

    JEN. At some point I realized that people understood that I did know what I was doing, and I felt more confident in my job for sure. I think everyone knows how seriously I take work and I’m one of those people where I’ll always discuss it with you and we’ll arrive at this is what we should do, but let’s talk about what we actually are going to do. I have all those conversations, so I think people know that I take it pretty seriously. Once you feel the confidence and you feel like you have your coworkers have confidence in you, or your boss, then maybe it doesn’t matter so much what you do outside of work. Then, maybe, they’ll actually find it interesting and ask you all about it. You have this kind of connection where you stop worrying so much.

    JOHN. That’s what I was going to ask you, did you find a difference from when it was all work pretty much to now where it’s, “yeah, you roller derby, what’s up?”

    JEN. I know it’s kind of an exciting alternative, but even people who do less alternative things, when you know about their life outside of work you just kind of know them better and you want to work together, or you trust them more. I don’t even know what it is, you just feel more comfortable with them I guess.

    JOHN. That’s exactly what it is. There’s actually chemicals in your brain, there’s science behind this. Oxytocin, Norepinephrine, some chemicals in there that when you know someone better and they’re vulnerable, you can see who they really are, you trust them more. It’s just how it is. That’s so cool that you were able to feel that and see that first hand. So do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that might be on the fence, or they also do roller derby and are like, “I don’t want to talk about this at the accounting firm,” type of thing. There’s got to be thousand of roller derby accountants out there, c’mon Jen!

    JEN. There has to be, I’ve only met one other one.

    JOHN. She’s also the treasure of the ‘Herboard’ 19:53 , and that’s where you met at the meeting. For other people that are doing, even the mainstream hobbies and passions, but definitely the alternative ones, any words of encouragement for those people?

    JEN. I don’t know. I think it’s all about confidence for me to go on building my career. I honestly think I built a lot of confidence in roller derby too, being on the board. So maybe doing things outside of work can help you, whether you’re on the board of some other organization you feel passionately about, like I know someone who’s on the board of an animal rescue league, I think that really helped my career. Actually, that’s a selling point we use, “we have a vacancy on the board.” We try to remind them, “this can go on your resume, this is a skill building experience you’re going to have. It’s a true leadership position.”

    JOHN. I think that’s great how they go hand in hand where you get a little bit more confidence from participating in roller derby, and then that translates over to a little more confidence at work, and you’re on the board now so there’s even more confidence there, now more confidence at work. I love how it builds together where sometimes, I think, professionalism teaches us that one will tear the other down.

    JEN. Yeah.

    JOHN. It’s actually quite the opposite the way you’re explaining it. So that’s so great, that’s so great, that’s awesome. Golly, this is so mind blowing, I’m talking to somebody that does roller derby, that’s so cool, that’s so great. Before I come strap on the skates and get clotheslined by you, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run everybody through.

    Do you like cats or dogs?

    JEN. I’d say both now. I used to be a cat person, but I got a dog a couple of years ago.

    JOHN. You transitioned over.

    JEN. Yeah, so both.

    JOHN. Do you prefer Sudoku or crossword puzzles?

    JEN. Sudoku.

    JOHN. Do you have a favorite color?

    JEN. Blue.

    JOHN. A least favorite color?

    JEN. I think red, it’s an aggressive color.

    JOHN. OK, very opposite of blue, that’s good.

    Do you prefer Star Wars or Star Trek?

    JEN. I don’t have a strong preference?

    JOHN. A movie trilogy of any sort?

    JEN. I’ll go see any of them, they’re all fun, either series.

    JOHN. Computers, PC or Mac?

    JEN. PC.

    JOHN. Mouse, right click or left click?

    JEN. Definitely right click.

    JOHN. That’s where all the crazy happens.

    Do you have a favorite Disney character?

    JEN. Little Mermaid.

    JOHN. Wow, you don’t hear that one very often, that’s great.

    JEN. Really? She’s the best.

    JOHN. She is the best, she’s a mermaid, c’mon.

    Do you have a movie that makes you cry?

    JEN. Probably The Notebook, which might be stereotypical.

    JOHN. That’ works.

    JEN. That Nicholas Sparks, get’s me every time.

    JOHN. Yeah, he’s like a magician with that stuff.

    When it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?

    JEN. Income statement.

    JOHN. Diamonds or pearls?

    JEN. Pearls.

    JOHN. There we go, guess that goes with the mermaid, ocean stuff.

    JEN. Yeah, I’m from the ocean state, so definitely love most things nautical.

    JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?

    JEN. 6.

    JOHN. Do you have a favorite sports team?

    JEN. I guess I would say my home team for roller derby.

    JOHN. What’s their name?

    JEN. The Mob Squad.

    JOHN. The Mob Squad, that’s not intimidating at all. I’m going to the bout with the Mob Squad in Rhode Island. Wow. We’ll have a link on Green Apple Podcast so people can check it out.

    Do you have a favorite food?

    JEN. I love a lot of foods.

    JOHN. It’s a trick question for a foody like you.

    JEN. Maybe nachos.

    JOHN. I did not see that one coming. I’m not going to lie to you.

    Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    JEN. Drew Barrymore.

    JOHN. Are you more of an early bird or night owl?

    JEN. Night owl for sure.

    JOHN. A favorite thing you own or a favorite thing you have?

    JEN. That would probably be my engagement ring/wedding right. It’s a sea captains wife’s ring from the 19th century.

    JOHN. Holy cow!

    JEN. It’s very cool. It’s a blood stone and it has an anchor and it has what you’d use to stamp those wax seals.

    JOHN. That’s so cool.

    JEN. It’s really cool, fits the nautical theme. My husband knew I didn’t want a typical diamond or gem stone.

    JOHN. Wow, he nailed it. He went back in time to the 1800s. That is so awesome though, very, very cool. He’s a keeper, that’s for sure. Thank you so much Jen for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast, this was so awesome.

    JEN. No problem, thanks for having me.

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