Episode 80 – Steve Snyder

Steve tailgates his way to better relationships


Steve Snyder is a college football tailgating expert. Specifically, Penn State football. He’s been a fan for a long time but it wasn’t until his kids started going there that he was able to justify getting season tickets. He quickly realized that having food and drinks before and after games was a great way to develop friendships with people both in and out of the office. So if you’re at a Penn State game and see a German flag flying, tell Steve I’m the one that sent you over.

In this episode, Steve and I talk about how changing the environment to outside the office helps people relax and be themselves. This leads to deeper relationships back in the office as you now have a shared experience to talk about. We also learn Steve’s secrets to a happy life are: a good mattress, a good spouse, and a good job that you like going to. And since he’s been in firm leadership roles, he makes sure to show a genuine interest in those around him. He says, “Do right by your people and all things will come together.”


Steve Snyder is a Principal with Stambaugh Ness in York, Pennsylvania.

He graduated from the University of Maryland University College with a degree in Accounting and later completed the Graduated Leadership Training Program through Leadership York.

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    Now, it’s time for Steve Snyder. He’s a principal with Stambaugh Ness in York, Pennsylvania, and I first met Steve when I spoke at a firm event several years ago. I even randomly brought him up on stage with me and had a great time getting to know him, so I’m so excited that he’s able to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast, but one thing I’ve never asked you, Steve, is just how did you get into accounting?

    Steve: That’s a good question. Obviously, when I almost failed high school, I didn’t think I was going to do much of anything, so I joined the army. And while I was in the army, they give you a lot of money to go to college. I go to college thinking I’m going to be an engineer. It’s what I wanted to be. I think like 80% of all accountants, we all started off as engineers and we realized this is really hard. What am I going to do with all this math? And lo and behold, here I am. I’m in my Accounting class and I’m like, hey, I can do this!

    John: Yeah. Physics was my demise. I remember I was in the first semester final and I literally said out loud, “Who cares?” at one of the questions and I just turned it in and left. It looks like this Engineering dream is not going to happen. Sorry, LEGOs, not going to happen.

    Steve: Yeah. I was so good at LEGOs, too.

    John: I know, LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, you give me those, I would’ve gotten an A+, but it just got demolished. So yeah, we’re on the same boat. Accounting, it’s easier. You can see it. You can comprehend it. It’s not like make-believe particles in another universe. It’s money, financials —

    Steve: Right. It works.

    John: Right, and it all adds up. There are no little squiggly marks in the formulas where you’re like, “I don’t even know what that figure is. It’s Greek.” Anyone who’s gone through Engineering knows what I’m talking about, but yeah. So I know you’re super busy and especially now with busy season wrapping up and a new wave coming in shortly thereafter, but what kind of hobbies and passions occupy your free time on your nights and weekends?

    Steve: Well, we’re getting to the point where the weather is turning and it’s getting nice out. I love to golf and weekends are filled with golf. And then when football season hits, I love to tailgate up at Penn State games.

    John: Oh, there you go. Now we’re talking. Did you graduate from Penn State?

    Steve: I did not, but a lot of my money went there for my kids.

    John: Okay. Well, there you go. Not even an honorary degree? Come on!

    Steve: Oh well, you would’ve thought I would’ve at least gotten a shirt or something, but no, just the bill.

    John: Right, just the bill, and you can’t even wear that. That’s terrible.

    Steve: You can, but it’s tacky.

    John: Right, it’s tacky because I’ve met you, Steve, and you’re all class.

    Steve: All class all the way.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. So what made you want to get into tailgating?

    Steve: Well, the first time was — I’ve always been a Penn State fan and I’ve been up to a couple of games over the years with people I’ve worked with and neighborhood friends where I got the invite to get up there and just to see the atmosphere and how happy everybody is. There’s a reason why everybody is happy, but it’s just very friendly up there. Then when my oldest son went up to be an engineer, which he didn’t finish Engineering either, but went up there to be one —

    John: It’s genetic. It’s not his fault.

    Steve: It’s not, yeah. The cards were stacked against him from the beginning.

    John: Right.

    Steve: But he went up there and that was a great way to spend some time up there seven weekends a year to see him, and that was no problem convincing his mom to get some season tickets so we can go do that, and that’s when it all started. You just start buying things. Next thing you know, you’ve got a rhythm going in how to pack the car, what gets packed and how you prep the food and everything. That’s where we’re at now.

    John: Yeah, that’s impressive, man. Do you roll out with the tents and tables and chairs and all this? What’s your typical setup?

    Steve: Typical setup is not extravagant, but yeah, we’ve got the tent. We’ve got the tables all set up. We’ve got the grills going. We go up with a good friend of mine, so we park side by side and get everything set up and we make sure there’s enough room for everybody that rolls in throughout the day. There are always rolling groupies I guess you could call them.

    John: Right. Well, yeah, just people that need food, right, and that’s pretty much —

    Steve: Who has a bottomless cooler of beer and food? That’s where they come.

    John: Steve does! Let’s go! Yeah, that’s so great. So do you have a flag that you put up then so they know how to find you?

    Steve: Actually, yeah.

    John: What’s your flag?

    Steve: My wife is German, so we fly a German flag. You don’t see too many of them and one time we did see one and my wife was like, “Hey, let’s go over there.” So we walked over there to talk to those people and we walked in. My wife walked in and talked in German and they were looking at her like she’s an idiot. They’re like, “We’re not Germans,” and she’s like, “Why are you flying that flag?” He goes, “Well, I thought nobody else would have one, so it’d be easier for people to find us.”

    John: That’s so funny. That’s so funny.

    Steve: All kinds of flags for people to figure out where you’re at and that was one of them.

    John: Yeah, absolutely.

    Steve: We fly it with a purpose.

    John: Yeah, at least you have a reason. You should’ve taken that one down. I’m surprised your wife didn’t. Now, you’re flying their flag. It’s like, oh yeah, that’s now ours.

    Steve: I think they were flying a Swedish one the next week.

    John: That’s an easy one. No one’s flying one of those. That’s so great, man. I’m a huge, huge college football fan and certainly tailgating is a huge part of that experience. It’s an all-day thing. You’re not just showing up to go to the game.

    Steve: It’s a great way for people to just get together. I live about two hours away from the stadium, which is not very far, and you get up there and after a while, everybody knows that you’re there and they just come wandering in whether it’s to stay for most of the day or just to stop in and say hi. The camaraderie is awesome.

    John: Yeah, that’s really, really neat. So is there a coolest, most rewarding tailgating experience that you can remember? Or maybe it probably ties to a certain game, I’d imagine.

    Steve: Well, there’s quite a few of them. The guy I park with is a huge Michigan fan and I’m going to make sure he listens to this story.

    John: Right. I’ve got some for him, too. Talk slower so he’ll understand it.

    Steve: When we go up for the Michigan-Penn State games and he wears those Michigan gear — and it’s always White Out — and after four overtimes, we were standing down at the front row and it’s a sea of white and there’s this perfect picture on ESPN of a Penn State guy going up and grabbing the pass, Allen Robinson. And in the background, you see a sea of white and one little blue shirt with a guy with his mouth wide open. Yeah, that’s my buddy.

    John: Oh, that’s hilarious. That’s so funny, man.

    Steve: And they lose, so that’s great.

    John: That’s so funny. That’s so great. So he roots for Penn State otherwise, I guess?

    Steve: Otherwise, yeah. Yeah, he does.

    John: All right. Well, he’s got to at least win a couple of games, so that’s how that works. I think that’s so fun and really neat. I love how you’ve blown it up into an all-out process now. So you’re still going to the games even now that your kids have graduated?

    Steve: Well, the oldest one finished up three years and he’s off to the military, so that works out well. The youngest one is now up there currently and he’s in the Blue Band.

    John: Perfect! Oh, that’s neat.

    Steve: He’s a sophomore, so we’re still going up.

    John: Yeah, that’s really cool. I’m a marching band nerd myself, so, represent! That’s great, very cool. So would you say that tailgating is — is this something that you’re talking about at work? People know, “It’s Saturday. Steve’s going up to the games to tailgate.”

    Steve: Yeah. There are planning sessions. There are conference rooms booked for this.

    John: You’re marinating meat on your desk on Wednesdays.

    Steve: Menus have been drawn up during the work time.

    John: That’s so great. So what gives you the confidence to be able to just openly talk about this stuff and not be a super accountant guy?

    Steve: The atmosphere here is great. Everybody gets along phenomenal, and like I was telling you, it’s just an open door up there. Everybody can come through. So I’ll get text messages while we’re up there, “Hey, are you around? How do I find you?” People just come on in and we share that type of stuff in the office anytime I can. If I find out if somebody’s going up, I invite them over just to stop over if they can. If they have their own tailgate, that’s fine, maybe some other time. It hurts that I can’t get out. I don’t get to hop around too much because most of the time you’re hosting and then everybody’s coming through. That’s great. I love it.

    John: Right, yeah. That’s got to lead to clients as well, I’d imagine, on top of co-workers.

    Steve: Yeah. Even in our firm, our firm does a couple of events a year. We have another principal here that he puts together a pretty big shindig and invites a whole bunch of people in, mostly clients, prospects and everything. It just makes for great social time. I do my own thing with family, but I’m there every weekend and I just make sure everybody has an open invitation to come over. It’s just a great way to get to know people.

    John: Right, because it’s out of the office and it’s more relaxed. You have a common bond over Penn State Football or college football at the very least.

    Steve: Yeah. Even if they don’t like Penn State, that’s okay. A lot of people just come up to have fun.

    John: Right. If you don’t like Penn State, you get the hotdogs and then everybody else gets the burgers and the steak.

    Steve: Bring your own bun, buddy.

    John: Exactly. That would be so funny if I go to a game and I see a guy walking around with a hotdog with no bun. I’d be like, oh, he was at Steve’s tailgate. That’s great. I think that’s so fantastic and what a great way to establish greater connections with people in a really relaxed environment, and I have to believe that that pays dividends because you get back to the office and you’re talking with co-workers about the game or about the weekend.

    Steve: Oh, definitely. It goes beyond that even with clients and such that are up there. Sports in general allow you to have that kind of connection, but then you take it to the next level where you’re actually having a social event tagged along with that and it’s just great because we’ll spend that next Monday talking about how much fun it was and some of the dumb things that happened or smart things that happened.

    John: Right, yeah. That’s fantastic. That’s really great, really great. I guess one thing that I always struggle with is just — I know when we first met, you were at another firm and that culture was pretty healthy as well, and then the one you’re at now is the same. And so, how much is it on the organization to create that culture where it’s okay to be human and to be a little bit vulnerable and to show your passions and your hobbies versus how much is it on the individual to create that themselves or find their little circle of friends type of thing?

    Steve: Well, it’s all cultural, so if you walk in the new guy into an organization, you’re not very influential. It takes time, comfort, but with time, you’re going to find others that feel the same way and then it’ll start to grow from that. When I’m looking for a place to go, and I’ve not changed jobs much at all, that is so important that wherever you go, you want to be able to have a culture that feeds the relationship side of your job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t like going to work every day. What you like about it is the people you work with. It takes up a major part of your day. You’ve got a major part of your day sleeping, so you’ve got to buy a good mattress. A major part of your day is working; you’ve got to have a good job. And if you’re married, the other part, you’ve got to have a good spouse and kids. That’s what makes life good.

    John: It’s that simple right there. You need a mattress, good mattress, good wife, and a good job. That’s it right there, kids. Good night!

    Steve: I just boiled it all down into something so simple.

    John: Right. It’s not your car. No, no!

    Steve: Oh no, it’s the mattress.

    John: It’s not your cellphone. Yes, exactly. That’s so profound though and you really nailed it.

    I love that quote. You can’t do a good job if you don’t like going to work, and a lot of that is the people that are around you. And so, if you’re able to let the walls down a little bit and just be yourself then you’re going to create those stronger connections where you actually genuinely care about the people you work with.

    Steve: Yeah, exactly.

    John: Is there anything at the firms that you’ve been at that do anything special that create that or is it more of just the tone at the top thing?

    Steve: I would say the tone at the top definitely helps and that can squash that culture if you don’t have the right tone up there, but I think it’s all the way around. I think the proper firm is going to draw those people to the firm and allow you to be open and help you to be more interactive with your co-workers to create that atmosphere. So I think it goes all the way around. The tone at the top definitely drives everybody around feeling comfortable to do it, but you’ve got to have the right people there, too. You definitely got to have the right people.

    John: Right, and I guess it is a little bit harder then on leadership to recruit and hire the right kind of people to let this culture continue to thrive.

    Steve: Right, exactly.

    John: Rather than just hiring everyone with a high GPA. It’s like, well, you’ve got a high GPA, but maybe you’re not quite the right fit.

    Steve: Exactly. We work too many hours with each other to just hire simply because of a high GPA. We’ve got to be able to work as a team and I’ve got to be able to trust the people on the team if they’re doing what I’m asking them to do and that they’re going to get it done on time. It’s open communication and that’s so much easier when everybody gets along.

    John: Right, yeah, absolutely. So do you ever find — now that you’re a principal in a partner level type, are there any things that you do to let the staff know or the younger people know that it’s okay to share type of thing or is it just because you’re asking them what kind of meat they like in their tailgate and that’s pretty much the green light?

    Steve: No. It’s one of those things where I can’t sit at a table, at a conference table when we’re out doing an audit. I can’t sit there for 14 hours during a busy season and not talk, so I’m going to ask those questions like, “Hey, what have you got going on this weekend? What are you doing when you finally get out of this busy time of year? What are your plans? What are you doing for vacation?” You get to know people that way. You find out their personal situation if they’re willing to share. It just helps to build that relationship. Next thing you know, you’ve got a friend and then everybody that’s working together just gets along great and you know a little bit about everybody.

    John: Yeah. You don’t have to know everything, not all up in their business, but you genuinely care about them. If it’s a Penn State grad or another Penn State football fan, it’s like, whoa! Magic happens because now you guys can talk about every single play of every game.

    Steve: And not get anything done.

    John: Yeah, that’s a whole side note, but that person now has a relationship with — you’re not the partner. You’re Steve. “Just go and talk to Steve.” “Well, he’s a partner.” “No, you just go talk to him,” whatever.

    Steve: Exactly.

    John: Yeah. And I know that when we had talked before at another time, we had talked about some of Tom Rath’s books and one that I really love is called Vital Friends. It leans into what we were just talking about and in there, he did a study and he found that 96% of people who have three somewhat close friends at work are more satisfied with their lives.

    Steve: That is so true.

    John: Which I thought was really profound, I mean, not just more satisfied with their jobs, but their lives. It’s like, wow!

    Steve: That goes back to the mattress thing. You spend so much of your day working with people side by side. It’s just a matter of getting out of bed and going to work in the morning, “I’m going to go see some friends of mine. I can’t wait to hear what Jimbo said or what happened this weekend for Patty” or anything like that. I think that’s dead on. Three or more friends, that’s definitely — I remember when I was younger, you had those three friends that you consider real close and then in the public accounting world, there’s turnover. People leave for other jobs. I remember one year, two of my good friends left. I was devastated. I was like I guess I’ve got to start looking for a new job.

    As time goes on and you get closer with others, one of the guys that I got to be real good friends with is the guy that I tailgate beside every weekend and a Michigan fan.

    John: That’s so great and I’m glad you were able to overcome that deficiency in his genetic code.

    Steve: Nobody’s perfect.

    John: Right, exactly. I can’t wait for him to listen and then hate-Tweet me for the next six months.

    Steve: Because he knows. I’ve been up to the Michigan games with him too up in Ann Arbor. I love going up there too. There’s no hate whatsoever.

    John: Oh yeah, none, just the other 99,000 people in the stadium, but not him. I think it’s so great and I think it’s such a great example that you’re setting for everyone around and how you just show that genuine interest in people, “Hey, you’re coming up to the game, cool! Find the German flag and stop by and bring your own buns.” That’s such a great example for everybody and I have to believe that those relationships with clients and co-workers are just so much stronger and I think that’s really fantastic. Do you have any encouragement or words of advice to other partners or firm leaders of how to create that culture or how to go about making people want to share their hobbies and passions?

    Steve: Well, I would say that be careful maybe looking at the firm first instead of the people because if you get caught up in worrying about the firm and the top number, it’s the people that drive that for you, so take care of your people. Get to know them. Make them feel welcome, help them move on in life whether it’s up at your firm or out to other clients, help develop them the best way that you possibly can, even those that aren’t fitting in your culture. We talk about people that fit. You want to always hire the right people and that doesn’t always work out. You’re going to have turnover. You’re going to have those that don’t fit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do them right. Make sure that you’ve developed them the best you can and help them to find their right bus, get them on their right bus. It might not be yours, but you can still do the right thing to help them on. And I think if you do right by your people, all things come together. They’re willing to go beyond. They’re willing to go that extra mile to help you out, help the firm out. There’s pride instilled. Taking care of those around you is just so paramount. It’s so important to a healthy, vibrant firm.

    John: Man, you nailed it right there. Just do right by your people and all things will come together. I love that, really, really great. So Steve, before I fire up some tickets for this fall and find the German flag in Happy Valley and come to a game with you and tailgate, I have to run you through my 17 rapid-fire questions to see if we can hang out here, so here we go. I’m going to fire this thing up and this would be pretty easy, I think, pretty easy. So we’ll start with the first one. First one, do you have a favorite color?

    Steve: Blue.

    John: Blue, and how about a least favorite color?

    Steve: Red.

    John: Red, easy. Are you more boxers or briefs?

    Steve: Let’s go boxer briefs.

    John: Oh, look at you getting all fancy. All right. What’s a typical breakfast?

    Steve: Egg sandwich on a bagel.

    John: There you go. Nice! I like it. Do you have a favorite band?

    Steve: Yeah, I guess, probably Metallica.

    John: That’s mine too! Look at you, man! Look at you. That’s my favorite first three concerts, Metallica. No one saw that coming either. Are you more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Steve: Oh, Sudoku.

    John: Yeah. How about pens or pencils?

    Steve: Pen.

    John: Right. You can scratch it out, right? It’s all good. How about a favorite comedian?

    Steve: John Garrett probably.

    John: Right. You’re already on the show, man. Enough already.

    Steve: Right now, probably Bill Burr.

    John: Bill Burr, yeah, that’s a solid answer. He’s a solid number two behind me. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Steve: Oh, Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars, okay. How about when it comes to computers, more PC or Mac?

    Steve: PC.

    John: PC, and a mouse, right click or left click?

    Steve: Wow! It’s left click.

    John: Left click. You’re making decisions. There is it, boom! How about when it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?

    Steve: Balance sheet.

    John: Balance sheet, all right. Do you have a favorite TV show of all time?

    Steve: Wow! I think I would have to go with — man, I was talking about it the other day, Married… with Children.

    John: Oh wow, yeah, that’s a really great show. It’s so funny. It’s such a long run as well. Do you have a favorite number?

    Steve: Four.

    John: Four, and why is that?

    Steve: I don’t know. I just picked one. You said there were no wrong answers.

    John: No, there are no wrong answers. Four is a good answer. How about more cats or dogs?

    Steve: Dogs.

    John: Dogs, and how about more early bird or night owl?

    Steve: Early bird.

    John: All right, and last one, a favorite thing you own?

    Steve: I don’t know. I’ll just go with my grill. That would go with that. I love that Coleman travel grill.

    John: Your grill, Coleman travel grill. That’s excellent, man. That’s an excellent answer. So this was so great, Steve. Thank you so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Steve: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

    John: That was so, so good. I loved how Steve said your people drive the numbers, so if you do right by your people, all things will come together, and that’s so true and unfortunately so easily forgotten. That’s a great takeaway for everyone. Be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com so you can see some pictures of Steve in action and connect with him on social media, and while you’re on the page, please click that big green button there. It says “Do the survey” and do my anonymous research survey for this book on corporate culture that I’m writing. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friends 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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