Episode 78 – Scott Duda

Scott hits the fairways for better client connections


Scott Duda was given a choice by a partner when he first started in public accounting — either take Friday afternoons off to golf or you can stay in the office and work. Through that partner, Scott became a much better golfer and learned how to network, developing new relationships and strengthening current relationships. He also happens to cheer for all Ohio State sports, especially football. During our talk, it comes out that we were both rooting for our respective teams at the Notre Dame vs Ohio State football game in 1996!

In this episode, Scott and I talk about the best way to build both relationships and teams is to just be yourself. He talks about how it’s okay to not be an expert at everything but instead just know who to reach out to. Scott even tells his staff, “It’s okay to not know everything. As a matter of fact, trying to learn everything will slow your career down.”

Scott Duda is the Managing Partner of the Raleigh, NC office of Cherry Bekaert LLP.

He graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting.

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Other pictures of Scott

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Presenting a technology award for the most successful companies in NC

Family time in the ‘Shoe

Quality time with his partners

Hosting an event with Cherry Bekaert partners

One of these people is the funniest accountant in the Triangle. The other two are good golfers.

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    Now, it’s time for Scott Duda. Now, I first met Scott a few years ago after speaking at a Cherry Bekaert partner retreat and had a ton of fun, so I knew I wanted to have him on the podcast. I’m so happy you could be with me today, Scott, on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Scott: Absolutely, John. I’m looking forward to it.

    John: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it too, but before we get into it, let me just give everyone a little bit about you, having graduated from the Ohio State University and now a managing partner at the Raleigh, North Carolina office of Cherry Bekaert. You’re really into this accounting thing and one thing I’ve never asked you is how did you end up choosing that major?

    Scott: I could’ve told you freshman year of high school I was going to be an audit partner in a CPA firm in the south. I tell people that and they’re like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I had an uncle who was a CPA, so I had a little bit of frame of reference about the profession. When I was in 7th Grade, my 7th Grade math teacher — I went through the entire 7th Grade and didn’t miss a math problem until literally the last final. I missed two problems on that last test. The guy was so upset at the fact that he was going to have to — because I missed two. If I missed one, I bet that he would’ve twisted it —

    John: Rounded up?

    Scott: Yeah, but I missed two. He called my house to talk to my parents about how he’s going to react to this, but he over the years had told me as I was going through his classes and whatever, “You need to be doing something around numbers and math. You should think about being a math teacher or whatever,” which I think if I wasn’t a CPA, I would be doing that. And part of the reason that I love being a CPA in a firm is I get to teach this stuff that I’ve learned that people taught me. I get to teach to our staff. So that’s how I got here. I love numbers. I always knew I was going to do something around them. I knew about the CPA profession. I love the compliance aspect of it. Give us a new standard, Rev. Rec. Standard, and let’s figure out how to apply this to folks and what are the rules. I could’ve told you a long time ago this was what I was going to do and I ended up here, lucky enough to end up here.

    John: Yeah, you actually self-actualized. You’re one of the few. You made it. You did it.

    Scott: Well, I will tell you, if there’s a trait of me, it’s just persistence. So whatever I was going to set myself out to do, I was going to do it or die trying, but I was going to just continue on that path. My wife can tell you that. The first time I met her, within a week I told my best friend at the time, I said, “I’m going to marry her.” It literally took me seven years to convince her that that was even an option. I was just going to wear it out, so same thing with this.

    John: That’s funny, man. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Well, I’m glad you didn’t pick an NBA center because that would’ve been kind of hard.

    Scott: Right, absolutely. Well, I told you, die trying, right?

    John: Yeah, so you went within your skill set. I like that. “Accountant is where it’s at. I’m good with that.”

    Scott: Yeah, I can do that.

    John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. So nights in weekends when you have some free time away from being the market leader there, what sort of hobbies and passions occupy your time?

    Scott: You’ve mentioned Buckeye’s. I always thought that this was normal, but if you walk into our house, there’s going to be some sporting event on and it’s going to be — I’ll watch Buckeye swimming or synchronized swimming or diving or wrestling. You name it, it’s going to be on. If it’s on television, it’s going to be on in our house. I grew up with that, so that’s just what I thought.

    And then my wife tells me all the time, she’s like, “All my friends, their husbands, they never watch sports at all.” Maybe the NCA championship they’ll watch, but that’s it. I’m like, well, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry.

    John: “Invite them over here. Come over to my house.”

    Scott: So I do a lot of that. I’m passionate about Buckeye football. I’m normally passionate about Buckeye basketball. We’ve been down for a couple of years.

    John: Can Urban Meyer coach basketball too?

    Scott: We’re going to find out, I think.

    John: Right.

    Scott: And then I do a lot of golfing. I used to play a lot of basketball in my free time, but as I’ve aged, my knees don’t do that as well. I actually tore my Achilles last April, and so that slowed me down a little bit, so I play less basketball. I do a little bit more golf now. I don’t have a lot of passions and interests beyond that. I’m pretty simple.

    John: Yeah, but I know that Buckeye passion goes deep.

    Scott: It does. Exactly, right. They absolutely both do.

    John: Absolutely. And so, you graduated from the Ohio State. Is that how that happened?

    Scott: It is, yes. I went to a smaller school right out of the gate and was thinking about doing some things there, running track and some other things. What I saw was all of my buddies were down at Ohio State and they were having a great time. They’re going to basketball games and watching Jim Jackson play and they’re going to football games and watching Eddie George play and Robert Smith at the time. I’m hearing all about this and I’m like, well, that sounds a lot more fun than what I’m doing. And so, I transferred down there and finished out there and had just a great time.

    John: You know what? We might have been at the same game. Did you go to the Notre Dame at Ohio State game?

    Scott: Yes.

    John: I was in the marching band in 1996 maybe.

    Scott: Yeah, absolutely.

    John: Ohio State had an NFL roster. You had Orlando Pace. You had Eddie George. You had Bobby Hoying at quarterback. You had Shawn Springs. It was crazy, the NFL talent that was on that team.

    Scott: The ’95 and ’96 teams I think are still the two best that have gone through there and we had nothing to show for it because we couldn’t get past Michigan.

    John: Right. Michigan State, I remember at one year too.

    Scott: Yeah, that was a rough one.

    John: Yeah. That’s crazy. We were at the same game. Look at that, small world, small world for sure.

    Scott: Absolutely.

    John: And then golf, how did that start? Was it because of basketball dwindling? I’m sure you were into golf earlier than that.

    Scott: This is literally how it started. I had always played a little bit in high school and college just to do something and be outside because some of my buddies played a good amount. I never really had a passion for it and never really had an interest in it. And then I go through my first busy season in public accounting and we get out of that busy season. And the partner that I worked for — the way that that firm was structured, you basically worked for a partner. And so, the partner that I worked for, he came by one of the first Fridays after busy season and he says, “Hey, do you golf?” I said, “A little bit. I’ve got a set of clubs and I could hit a ball.” He says, “Well, listen, you’ve got two choices this summer. One, you can be in here very Friday and you can work on some stuff here, or two, you could be out on the golf course with me networking or with a client and developing client relationships.” I said, “Okay. I’ll go to the driving range this weekend. I’ll see you next Friday.” That was literally how it happened.

    And so, we played a lot of golf and he showed me literally how you use golf to network and develop relationships and strengthen relationships with your clients. His father owned a golf course in Florida. And so, what we would do is we would go down right after busy season in early part of May. We would fly down to Florida, to Tampa, and we would play golf from Monday morning until Friday evening as soon as we woke up to when we went to —

    John: That’s so nice.

    Scott: We were playing five rounds a day. We would play around and we would eat breakfast. We would play two rounds, we’d eat lunch. We’d play another two rounds and we’d eat dinner. And then there’s a little Par 3 next to the parking lot by the clubhouse so you get to see with the lights from the parking lot. We would stay out there and chip balls closest to the pin until whatever, 10:00 or 11:00 at night and get ready to go to sleep and then do it again the next day. So you would come back from that and you would be ready to go. Your golf game would be in shape. And so, that was a big part of it, and then just that networking and developing relationships. The draw for me — well, two things, one, how few hours you get to be outside anymore.

    You’re in your car, you’re in your office, you’re at your client’s, so to be able to spend four or five hours outside on a golf course, that’s just great. And then it’s given me an opportunity to have my kids out with me. My son is 15, daughter is 12. My daughter and I started — she doesn’t play, but what she loves to do is drive that golf cart. And so, the last couple of years every Sunday afternoon, we’re up at the course and she’s driving me around and I’m playing 18 and it’s just a great opportunity to get to spend three or four hours with her.

    John: Hopefully she doesn’t learn any new words then we’re all good.

    Scott: Yeah. That’s fine. She’s going to be a better driver than my son because of all the time she spent driving that golf cart.

    John: Yeah. Look at that. That’s a huge benefit right there. So is there any cool, most rewarding thing that — I guess maybe Buckeye football or Buckeye sports. What was your favorite Buckeye sports moment?

    Scott: The 2013-2014 season, the year we won the national championship. I’m not a season ticket holder, but I go to practically every home game, and that year in particular — because we had Braxton coming in. He’s going to be our senior and we knew that we were going to contend. I had tickets lined up and trips the entire home schedule. I think we might have been going to a couple of away games, and then he gets hurt. And so then I had to go tell my son. I break the news to him. I’m like, “I think our shot at the national title is gone,” and that’s how everybody felt.

    John: Yeah, sure, definitely.

    Scott: And then I’m at that Virginia Tech came when Barrett looked so bad and we lose, and he was there with me. I’m like, “Oh, this team is going to be terrible.” I’m thinking about selling those tickets and not coming up, but we had the trip scheduled and we had a lot of fun, so we go to those games. We go to the Michigan game and that’s the year — so we’re beating them. He and I literally walked — it was right before the start of the fourth quarter. It’s like a couple of plays before the start of the fourth. We’re like, let’s beat the crowd. We’re going to go get something to eat and then we’ll come back out and watch the fourth. We’re doing that and we come back and we see Barrett on the ground and that’s when he — I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me that this happened twice in one year.

    John: Crazy.

    Scott: There goes our shot at the national title again. And then we beat Michigan and we go on the field. So my son and I, 50-yard line, taking selfies after beating Michigan, and then we go on the tear with Cardell and win the national title. That’s my favorite Buckeye sport memory.

    John: Wow! That’s awesome, man. What a cool moment. What a really, really cool moment. That’s for sure. And then as far as golf goes, any course you played that sticks out in your mind or a really fun round or a hole in one?

    Scott: Yeah. I’ve had two holes in one.

    John: Really? That’s great! And not like mini golf. We’re talking real golf. That’s amazing. Wow!

    Scott: I’ve never seen my ball go in the hole on either one of those. So one was on elevated green and we hit up and I knew it was close, but we walk up there and turns out it’s in, and the other was at the Columbia Country Club. I was playing with a guy that was basically scratch and at the time I was probably, I don’t know, 20 something, handicapped. We’re playing and he’s having a heck of a round and I’m just trying to keep up with him, just picking up balls and stuff and trying to keep up with him. It’s getting late in the day and there’s a Par 3 there that is basically even with your eye level, but the sun was setting right behind it and 190 some yards. I’ve got a 3-wood just trying to get it there and I hit this thing so thin. It’s a screamer.

    He sees it hit and he goes, “It disappeared. I think it’s in the hole.” I’m like, no, there’s no way. It would’ve rattled off the pin. It was just moving too fast. It’s got to be through the green and off the back. And so, we pull up and there’s one ball on the green and I said, “I told you. I promise you we’re off the back,” and he goes, “I’m telling you, you need to look in the hole.” I said, “We’re not going anywhere near that hole. You’re not getting my hopes up,” and we walk around back and we’re looking forever, no ball. I said, “All right, we’ll look in the hole,” and we walk up and sure enough —

    John: Wow!

    Scott: This was on the Fourth of July 1999, so we drive back. Our wives are getting dinner Fourth of July celebration stuff together for us and then for the kids and everything. He walks in and he’s like, “Somebody got a hole in one today,” and his wife is like, “Oh, that’s awesome! Congratulations!” and he goes, “It wasn’t me.”

    John: Wow! That’s funny. That’s really cool.

    Scott: Those are some fun times. I took my son to a practice round at Augusta and we got to sit there on 16, the Par 3 that they —

    John: As in all the pictures.

    Scott: Yeah, and so we’re sitting there on that hill just watching the guys come through. I think it was on Wednesday and that’s the day that they chip the balls or try to chip them across or skip them across the water and put them up on the green. We probably spent two hours there and that’s one of my favorite memories on the golf course, too.

    John: Yeah. So is there any secret to using golf to network? Are there any tips that you have? Because it’s always interesting to me when people have these hobbies and passions, but they think that they don’t really matter to business or to work, so how do you go about that?

    Scott: When I started, when I became a partner, my client base 20% maybe golfed. What has happened over the years is you gravitate to people that have the same interests and hobbies as you. And so, as I have had an opportunity to chase work, it’s been, “Do you golf?” as a way to connect, and then you win that work not because of golf, but it certainly adds. And then you strengthen the relationship because you spend time on the golf course. And so, I would tell you probably 80% of my client base, somebody in management there golfs and I spend time with them on a golf course. And just having that opportunity to get out away from the office, not business professional, just get to know each other and spend some time together, it strengthens the relationship and it helps you work because you know how you work together and how you communicate. It just helps strengthen those relationships.

    And so whether it’s that, whether it’s getting to know a referral source, you name it. And having hobbies in common allows you to make that connection. And everybody that we meet, you’re looking for a way like what is it that you and I have in common that we can share, that shared experience, and for me a lot of times it’s golf.

    John: Yeah. I think that’s really fantastic, what you just said. It humanizes you and you’re able to create that personal relationship on another level that’s outside of the office, that’s outside of work. That’s actually a genuine relationship there more than just what can you do for me work-wise.

    Scott: Yeah, and it’s allowed me to develop relationships with our partners, partners in other offices, our staff, although I will tell you, I don’t know how this happened. When I was starting the play, you started out and you weren’t very good and you played more and you played more. All these folks that we’re recruiting, these 24, 25-year-old folks, they’re all scratch golfers and I’m like, how do you do this? And then after a while, I don’t want to play with them anymore.

    John: Yeah. This isn’t fun anymore, guys.

    Scott: Yeah.

    John: So I guess what makes you more willing to open up and show that human side of Scott as opposed to be the buttoned-up partner that needs to know everything?

    Scott: I think because those people aren’t real. There’s nobody that knows everything. When I started in the profession, I was probably one of the last generation of generalists, so for a period of time, probably my first four or five years, I did both audit and tax. And then after I was in for a while then we sort of started to transition to the specialization because things just got so complicated. You can’t know everything. And so for me, it was going through that process and realizing it’s okay not to know everything. It’s okay to tell the client that I don’t know the answer to this. I haven’t dealt with this before and I’m going to need to research it, maybe talk to some other folks in the firm and I’ll get you an answer. That’s okay, that in and of itself, just knowing the best way to develop relationships, to build a team, to do anything.

    Just be yourself. We’re all in this — and it’s one of the reasons that I’ve been with this firm for almost 20 years, and the reason is because we’re genuine. And so, we’re all just coming to the table trying to do the very best we can for our clients and then go home and do whatever it is that we’re passionate about. I think probably a lot of it came from those first partners that I worked for that I saw. They did things that way and I saw it worked for them and that it was okay to do, so it’s okay to say you don’t know everything. One of the very first things I tell our staff that first year when there’s so much to learn is it’s okay to say you don’t know. Don’t feel like you have to clear every review note, you have to know every answer.

    If you don’t understand a review note, come talk to us. That’s part of the job, and again, that’s the part that I really enjoy, is the teaching. When somebody figures out how to do a cash flow statement for the first time or they’re struggling with whatever it is and then the light bulb goes on and you can see it, I love that.

    John: Yeah. I’m waiting for that particular light bulb to still go on. Cash flow, the hair on the back of my neck just stood up. I’ll just take a D and move on.

    Scott: That one took me longer than most, too.

    John: That’s really funny, but I think that’s so cool that you just give the staff permission to — yeah, it’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to be human. We’re not robots. That’s really awesome just setting that example for them like the example that was set for you. It’s really neat.

    Scott: Well, a lot of my advice to our staff is because of mistakes that I’ve made coming into the profession, so I was that same way. I’ve got to know everything. I’ve got to be able to clear every review note without talking to anybody and asking additional questions and all this. It slows your career down. It slows your ability to learn. And so, it’s a lot easier to sit in a room and have a conversation and why did you make this decision and understand how did you realize that this was the solution or this was the path that you should go down. Have that conversation and then figure out how people think and then that allows you to do that, so yeah, absolutely.

    John: Yeah. One thing that you just said that I think is gold is where you just said trying to learn everything will slow down your career, which is counterintuitive to all that we’re taught all through school and CPE and everything. That’s such a great quote for sure because the people that are real, that are genuine, those are the people that get ahead in business and in life. And so, if you put that to the side then you’re going to be handcuffed. There’s a glass ceiling there for sure.

    Scott: Yeah. Well, just be good at what you can be good at and know who can help you with the other stuff, whatever that is. Just be able to reach out and understand they’re going to help me today and I’m going to help them tomorrow, but as a team, we’re better because I’ve got these skills and they’ve got those skills.

    John: Yeah. That’s so fantastic, man, really fantastic. This has been so fun hanging out again and talking and everything, really, really rewarding. Before I get on a plane and fly down to play some golf with you, first of all, I’m going to need to buy some extra balls because I might lose a couple, but I do have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I’d like to run you through to make sure that we can hang out.

    Scott: This is the part that I’m the most concerned about.

    John: Yeah. Well, you should be. No, I’m just kidding, so let me fire this thing up here. All right, here we go. I’ll start you super easy. What’s your favorite color?

    Scott: Red.

    John: Red, I figured. Your least favorite color?

    Scott: Michigan blue.

    John: Michigan blue. It was going to be either maze or blue. I knew it. Are you more of a suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?

    Scott: Oh, that’s a tough one. Definitely not suit and tie. Between those two, jeans and a t-shirt.

    John: All right. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Scott: Chevy Chase.

    John: Chevy, solid answer. There you go, going back to the Caddyshack days. There we go. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?

    Scott: Antigua.

    John: Nice! That’s a very good answer, very good answer. Okay, pens or pencils?

    Scott: Pens. Yeah, don’t make mistakes.

    John: Right. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Scott: Can I choose neither?

    John: Yeah, okay. All right. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Scott: Oh, Star Wars. Star Trek is not even a tenth of Star Wars.

    John: Right. Prepare for hate email. No, no.

    Scott: Don’t give them my Twitter handle.

    John: Right. Do you have a favorite band?

    Scott: Oh, Guns N’ Roses, without question.

    John: Wow! Okay. That’s funny. What’s a typical breakfast?

    Scott: I haven’t eaten breakfast regularly since I was in 6th Grade. I’d rather sleep in.

    John: Wow! Okay, all right. That’s an excellent alternative. All right. How about when it comes to computers, more PC or Mac?

    Scott: I’m going to say PC for the computer, but I’m a big Apple fan on the iPhone and iPad.

    John: All right, so when it comes to a mouse, more right click or left click?

    Scott: Left click. There’s no question.

    John: Sure. Okay. All right. When it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?

    Scott: Income statement.

    John: Okay. All right. I’m glad you didn’t say cash flow again. Good Lord.

    Scott: No.

    John: Are you more into oceans or mountains?

    Scott: Oceans. I could spend all day every day at the beach.

    John: Favorite number?

    Scott: Two.

    John: Two. Why is that?

    Scott: I was born in February, birthday is on the 26th, even numbers.

    John: Do you prefer cats or dogs?

    Scott: Dogs.

    John: Dogs, okay. And last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Scott: My favorite thing is I have a mouse, a wireless mouse for my computer that I absolutely love. It’s my mouse.

    John: That’s impressive. Well, we’ve learned a lot about Scott for sure, so thank you so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was really, really fun.

    Scott: Great! I’m glad. I had a great time and I appreciate it.

    John: That was so, so good! I just loved how Scott said trying to learn everything only slows your career down. That’s such great advice. So just be good at what you do and then know who to reach out to when you need some help. Be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. You could see some pictures of Scott and connect with him on social media. He’s all over Twitter. And while you’re on that page, please click that green button and do the anonymous research survey for a book I’m writing on corporate culture. So thank you so much for sharing this with your friends and co-workers so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.

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