Jason cooks up great coworker relationships
Jason Kalies grew up on a small family dairy farm in Wisconsin so he appreciates cultivating the land for fresh food. Then one day he decided to share his homemade salsa and marinades with a team visiting from out of town and deep coworker relationships were made.
In this episode, we talk about whiskey, the Circus Parade in Milwaukee, growing up on a dairy farm and why baking is better than cooking — not necessarily in that order. Jason is currently a senior manager at big 4 accounting firm – having spent over 15 years in the accounting world in both public accounting and industry.
After graduating from St. Norbert College outside of Green Bay Wisconsin, Jason started working at PwC. He later worked for a bank for several years before returning to public accounting a few years ago.
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John: Welcome to Episode 9 of the Green Apple Podcast. Each Wednesday we talk with an accountant who’s known for their hobby or passion, and this week’s guest is Jason Kalies. Jason grew up on a small family dairy farm in Wisconsin, graduated from St. Norbert College and then started work at PwC in Milwaukee on the same big project that I was staffed on so we go way back. He later worked for a bank for several years before returning to public accounting a few years ago, and today, he’s all grown up and a senior manager at a Big Four firm in Minneapolis. And in this episode, we get crazy. We talk about whiskey, the circus parade in Milwaukee, and why baking is why better than cooking. Not necessarily in that order, but trust me, it all makes sense.
So, Jason, how’s it going?
Jason: Hey, John, good. Thanks for having me on.
John: Hey, no problem, man. It’s been a while since our days at Firstar Bank so I wasn’t able to entice you of how fun internal audit was.
Jason: No, not the internal audit side, but certainly we’ve come across each other a couple times, I’d say more than a couple times since we worked together. To this day any time I see a parade and I see kids running out on the street and drawing big circles, I think of you.
John: From the circus parade in Milwaukee?
Jason: From the circus parade in Milwaukee. I still remember we were sitting by cubes because we were up on the fourth floor or something so we have a perfect view, and it was you, my wife, and I were sitting there and my kids are running out in the middle of the street and drawing these big circles and putting their initials and we were like, “What are they doing?” And then finally we realized the horses came down and the elephants. When the horse made their droppings in the kids’ circles, they just jumped up and down. So every time I see a parade, I think of that and I correlate that with you, John.
John: That’s so funny, man, I forgot all about that. But, man, there was one kid that like got all the points — elephant, horses, all the animals. Yeah, that was so funny, I should do that here in New York. I should totally do that.
Jason: Yeah. You’d probably get run over if you try that.
John: Right, right. Oh, man, that’s so funny, I forgot all about that, man. That is hilarious.
Yeah, but one thing that in all the times that we worked together, we were just literally across the cubicles from each other there in that building, I never asked you how did you get into accounting?
Jason: Yeah. I’ve always been kind of numbers-oriented person. I was thinking back, even back to like middle school, for some reason I felt like I wanted to be an accountant. I remember in Careers class in 7th Grade, we had to make like a poster of what you wanted to do in your life, and part of it was it was an easy assignment for me because I just went to my mom and said, “Hey, give me some blank tax forms” and I posted them to a poster. That brought in a bunch of 1040s and a couple of W2s and I was done. It was pretty easy.
But I’ve always been interested in numbers, always liked Math, always been kind of in finance. I grew up on a small family dairy farm, so my parents and two employees, myself and my sister. And you’re always aware of what was going on, whether it was the price of milk we’re getting or equipment we are buying, just your regular household budget was just kind of part of growing up so part of it was always interesting to me. And as I went through high school I took a couple accounting classes and it just kind of made sense to me, the balance sheet concept made sense, the debits and credits made sense. So I just kind of kept going with it and majored in college and interviewed with a couple firms coming out of school and picked it was a Big Six firm at the time, now it’s a Big Four firm, and just kind of kept going with it.
John: That’s awesome! That’s a really interesting thing, that growing up being around basically a small business, with the dairy farm, you were exposed to a lot of that at a young age. I think that your growing up on the farm really parlays into… The next question I was going to ask you is, obviously, being a senior manager is fun and all, but when you leave the office, what is it that you spend your time doing?
Jason: One of my hobbies and one I don’t have enough time to do but certainly when I do it takes me back a little bit to growing up. I just love gardening and baking and canning vegetables and things like that. So when I moved here at Twin Cities, we have a small yard and I finally had some room to plant a garden, so got back into it as well. Same when I was growing up, we always had a big vegetable garden and it was always a chore, like Mom would send me out there to go get whatever, and we always have to weed it and so forth and I usually try to get out of doing that work by doing other work.
But it was one of those things, it was always a chore, but you always had green beans, you always had tomatoes, you always had asparagus and rhubarb and getting apples free. And my mom was always baking and my grandmothers were always baking and had all these old recipes. And I kind of got back into that. I’ll make some salsas, I’ll do canned tomatoes, I can peaches, and I like baking, just in general. I’d be like baking, cooking. I like baking because I’ll cook, I don’t care to cook as much because usually when you cook a meal, you eat it and then you might have a few leftovers. But when you bake, one, it’s usually desserts so it’s more–
John: Yeah, that’s a win right there.
Jason: That’s a win. And then two, usually like in a 9 x 13 pan and you have it for several days. So baking kind of has a longer shelf life on the goods so I always like baking a little more than cooking.
John: That’s so funny. The accountant and you did like the cost benefit analysis of baking versus cooking.
Jason: You get a better, longer return on apple cooking versus making a chicken–
John: That’s hilarious, that’s so funny. I think baking is easier for me because there’s an exact recipe where it’s like okay, this is exactly what you do, it’s not like a dash of this, where cooking is a little more on the fly, and I’m going to screw that up, where baking is very much a science and you just follow these rules. Yeah, it’s basically like doing a tax return except more exciting.
Jason: It is, yeah. It’s very precise and you can’t deviate, and when you do deviate, you may not have anything left, right?
John: Right, yeah. That’s funny, that’s really funny. So there in Minneapolis, I would imagine, what’s your growing time, about three weeks?
Jason: Yeah, it’s about five hours longer than the Chicago area. No, it’s pretty reasonable. You can get a pretty good garden going. And now it’s kind of trendy to have your own garden, the whole grow your own movement and so forth, so more people are getting into it. I do use fertilizers because it helps things grow whether or not people like that or not. But no, I’ll be able to put the garden usually in April and you get a pretty good crop of whatever if it’s tomatoes or zucchini. The problem I always have is if I end up traveling a lot, the weeds will take it over, and you’re kind of fishing through the weeds to get the vegetables out. But you can have a pretty good season.
I don’t have groves of raspberry bushes and peach trees or anything like that so I’ll run to the market and pick those up when those are in season or you go the you pick type places and pick up strawberries and raspberries and I’ll make jams and things like that.
John: Oh, man, that sounds delicious. Yeah, that’s really good. So I guess what’s the most rewarding thing that maybe you’ve gotten out of doing this?
Jason: I think maybe what the neatest thing is when I bring it up in conversation or when it comes up, people always look at me like one, “You bake? You can? That’s something my grandma used to do” type response.
John: Are you Amish?
Jason: Amish, exactly. So how I brought it up one time is I had a team working on a project and they were all from out-of-town so they’re all traveling here to Minneapolis for the project. And you’re on the road a lot, you can certainly appreciate this. You’re on the road, you’re traveling away from home, you’re eating hotel food, restaurant food, it can be a little glamorous at first but it kind of gets tiring, right?
These guys were kind of in a little bit of a rut so I kind of brought it up. I think it was in the summer, I was making some jam or something, I said “Why don’t you guys get some bagels, bring them in, and I’ll bring some jam in, I’ll make a rhubarb crunch, I’ll bring some salsa, we’ll have a little morning buffet” and they were just like in love with that, like it was the best thing.
And I of course tell them how difficult it is to make everything and I really shared the secret of it, it’s not that difficult to do. They thought it was the greatest, right? The feedback you get from that was really cool. These guys are still traveling a lot so my wife and I actually had a team over for dinner, just to get them out of the office and out of the hotel and so forth, and kind of made the same thing. The salsa, we made a chili, tomatoes from the garden and stuff like that, they were just really appreciative of it, one, and two, they thought it was really neat.
John: Yeah, that is really neat that you invite the people over to your house but also bringing the stuff in. It’s sharing what you do with everyone and also it’s completely understandable how appreciative they are because they’re away from home themselves. Yeah, that’s really neat, that has to be really rewarding and I’m sure a lot of people remember you for that.
Jason: Yeah, it’s kind of funny. One of the things I make, I use rhubarb in a lot of things, so there’s a lot of rhubarb desserts. And I don’t know if you ever had rhubarb but it’s kind of a fruit and you have to put a lot of sugar in it and so forth. But you can make there’s a crunch, there’s a cake, there’s bread, there’s cookies, there’s actually a vodka slush with cranberries and lemonade and rhubarb. So you can do a lot of different things with it and one of the guys in this team, they all just loved my rhubarb crunch.
And after the project was over, like two years later, he sent me a message. Everybody’s connected on LinkedIn or Facebook or something so it’s not difficult to stay in touch. So he sent me a message and he was out of the Boston area, he and his wife just bought a house and they have a small backyard and it had just thawed and it was springtime. And he went back and there’s this plant, I don’t know what it is, if this is rhubarb, so he sent me a picture of the full plant. I go, yeah, you inherited their rhubarb plant in your backyard. So he was all excited and he asked for the recipes and so forth and he made this rhubarb crunch for his family and they just loved it. Now, like every spring, he emails me and we stay in touch around the rhubarb harvest.
John: The rhubarb connection? That’s so cool, man, two years later that he remembered you.
Jason: Yeah, it is kind of cool. And he said something like “I would have like dug it up because I have no idea what it was, just looked like this sleepy weed stalks growing in the back corner.” So it was kind of cool.
John: Yeah, that’s so great, and now that you’ve shared the recipe with him, I’m sure he was halfway through making it and he’s like “This is not nearly as hard as Jason made it seem.”
Jason: Yes, my secret was out on that one.
John: But it’s only to him so it’s all good. So obviously from sharing your gardening and canning and what have you, you’ve obviously developed much stronger relationships with coworkers, obviously, this guy remembering you. So before you got into had the yard and the gardening and what have you, was there something else that you shared at work or was this maybe the thing that made you more open to sharing?
Jason: This was probably a pretty big hobby that I kind of opened up with and invited others to maybe poke fun at me a little bit for being the old grandma baking type thing. So there’s that but also and it’s also getting more trendy is I’m kind of into whiskeying.
John: That’s what I remember about you from the Milwaukee days.
Jason: Yeah. It turned out years ago a client of mine, we’re at a conference, and I had never tried a single malt scotch which is a type of whiskey. The client loved it so he bought me a glass and I kind of got hooked on it. I’d have a bottle here or there in the house and not real big into it. And just in the last couple of years I was actually working with a team, Southern Indiana, and so you’re pretty close to bourbon country there. And a couple of those guys were bit in the bourbons, enjoyed that, so kind of rekindled that interest.
So now, we’ve kind of built that into marinade fest and work outings and so forth. What we would do, again, it was a situation where a lot of people were traveling for work, is one guy would get a bottle of something, we’d sit in the courtyard by Marriott Hotel lobby on a Wednesday night and enjoy and do different games and so forth. So that’s kind of another thing that I talk about. And it comes up at work quite a bit and then other people are kind of interested in it or want to learn some more. And it’s probably more a little trendy now, like the home brews type thing that’s a little trendy. And I have friends that are big in the wine and they can tell you everything there is to know about wine. And I’ll have a glass of wine every once in a while but I just felt that area was like too overwhelming to try and get into, to really explore your interest, where the scotch and whiskey I felt like it was a little easier to get your arms around.
So we kind of built that into our parties as well. I have amassed a fairly decent collection of various whiskeys whether it’s whiskey, bourbons, or scotches. So I’ll set up little tastings and so forth. People are really into that, and it just sparks a lot of good conversation.
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic, man.
Jason: It doesn’t even have to be intelligent conversation, it can just be whatever it is.
John: I guess that brings up a question that I always wonder about is how much is opening up and sharing and bringing your hobby, passion to work, how much of that is on you and how much of that is on the organization to create that culture, if you will.
Jason: I think it is up to the individual. And a lot of times, we’re talking about barriers, what prevents somebody from opening up and sharing. Sometimes it’s just somebody needs to go first. So if you got a team of ten people and they could range in age and experience, men and women, they come from different countries, and so on and so forth. A lot of times it’s a little intimidating, like not everybody’s the type of person that just wants to talk about their raspberry jam. They just made this, right?
Jason: But once somebody starts, you kind of break down the tension or I don’t know what the right phrase is but kind of break down those walls, and it’s like “I got some interesting stuff too.” It’s not like instantaneous but once somebody starts there’s kind of that connection that develops and people feel like “I have something interesting to share too that I like to talk about, reflect about.”
John: Yeah, that’s an excellent point, that everyone’s kind of close to the vest but then once one person starts then it’s kind of like a domino effect over time, where it shows other people that you can also let your guard down and you won’t be swallowed whole by the machine or what have you. That this person opened up and it’s actually a good thing so it’s okay to do and I’ll do it, too. Plus, you never know what someone else has in common with you. I’m sure that there’s people that you’ve, through work or what have you, that have cool recipes as well, or like the guy in Boston that found a rhubarb plant and now you guys have your own little rhubarb club, or something like that, that would have never happened. And like you said, he would have dug it up and gotten rid of that. And instead now he’s able to make recipes that you’ve given him and what have you. That’s an excellent point, that it just takes one to get it started.
Any words of advice since you’ve probably been that one, especially on the team where you brought in the jams and the salsa and what have you, for people that are like, “Oh, I don’t know if I should be the first one.”
Jason: Words of advice would be, what harm could it do. You mentioned kind of when we worked together 15 years ago, I don’t know if I had the confidence or just kind of knew the group or people were working with that well, just come out of school, a little younger, to just kind of open up and say, “Hey, I’m making a cherry jam this weekend, anybody want any?”
So once you get over that, just share. Unless it’s something like completely off the wall, you’re probably pretty safe. I’m sure there are things you don’t want to share that hopefully you won’t work in an environment where it’s kind of like junior high or something like that where people are going to make fun of you. So think about what could be the worst thing that happens. So once you get over that, I would recommend people go for it and share what their interest are because in all likelihood there are very few things out there where people haven’t heard of or there’s nobody else that’s interested in that type of thing. If it doesn’t go anywhere it’s a quick conversation and it’s a data point for somebody and they get to know you a little more and maybe it doesn’t come up again.
John: Right. But like you said, somebody like you who willingly says that I, like you said, do a bunch of things that grandmas do. So I’m sure that you’ve gotten ribbed, in a fun way, a fair amount so for you to say that, it’s very encouraging. But everybody remembers you for that and it’s actually a cool thing, even if you’re the only one that does that, you still create those connections with people that you never would have had had you not opened up. And if it happens to be that who knew, maybe there’s another person that loves baking as well and now all of a sudden, you guys have really hit it off, which none of that would have happened had not the first person just opened up and made that move. So I think that that’s an excellent insight.
Jason: Yeah. The other thing I would throw out there is don’t limit it to just your peers, whether that’s people you work with or people your age group or men versus women. When we have these parties, we invite younger people, we invite there’s one gentleman, my wife’s former professor is now retired, him and his wife come, and they’re in their 70s and they interact with everybody as well. So you can find common interests across any group, we have a friend, she grew up in Ghana, West Africa, and she has a very different perspective. So my recommendation is don’t always just try and find the audience that you think would be the most receptive or interested because you never know what people’s interests are and the world we live in now is so diverse and people do so many different things. There’s no way to limit yourself or try and predict what people will be interested in because you never know.
John: Yeah, that’s so profound, just to almost throw it out there and let your audience gravitate towards that type of thing as opposed to trying to pick the audience or who to share it with. Just share it and be yourself and be authentic and then people will be attracted to that as they will. Yeah, that’s a good point, don’t try to pick and choose. That’s an excellent point.
You’re so smart, man, how the heck? It must have been all those years working with me rubbed off.
Jason: Yeah, that was the launching pad, the year-and-a-half or whatever was–
John: If John Garrett can get promoted to senior associate then so can I.
Jason: It’s like watching you, I either knew what to do and what not to do.
John: Right. That was a bold move Garrett just did, I don’t think I would do that one.
Jason: Yeah. I don’t think I’ll be taking the onion to work today like John Garrett–
John: Right. Or the time where they had those giant motivational posters on the wall at the client and I made a giant, those be motivational posters that just come out, and I printed out a big one of those and put it over the top of the real motivational one. It took like three days and then Eric Mercer sees it and he knew immediately it was me. He’s like, “Garrett, take this down” and I was like “How did you know it was me?” And he’s like “I just know” and I’m like “Well, there were quite a few other characters but yes, it was me.”
Jason: Yeah, it was you. It’s funny. So that’s something you did, your humor is your passion, right, it’s something you demonstrated out and expressed yourself in a safe way and certainly weren’t harming anybody, but it’s fine. I literally, you mentioned Eric’s name, I’m 15 feet from his office, and I could walk down there right now and mention your name and he would probably remember every story and all the things that you did and that was what, 15, 16 years ago.
John: I’m not that old but yes. No, I’m just kidding. Yeah, it is.
Jason: If you want to get technical, you started a year before me.
John: Yeah, it’s scary to think that I could be a partner. Well, I wouldn’t be because they would have held me back at probably senior, so I would be the oldest senior associate ever in public accounting.
Jason: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.
John: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong at all.
Jason: But yeah, it’s a good example where and there’s probably three or four people around this office I could go talk to and they remember you not for your internal audit abilities, they remember you for your interest and how you made an impact on them and when you guys interacted.
John: Yeah, and it’s so cool that you’re doing the same. And I think that that’s also tricky when you’re in the middle of it, I don’t think you really understand fully how deep this really is. You’re just like “Yeah, I’ll just do this thing for fun or whatever” because you’re doing it anyway which is the beauty of it.
So that’s cool, man, I feel like we’ve gotten to know you pretty well and I’m excited to get back to Minneapolis to try out some of the goods. But until then, I don’t feel like we get to know somebody totally, and I’m sure you’ve heard on previous episodes, until we do my rapid fire 17 questions, which is super fun. And the next time you’re interviewing an intern, I think you’ll break some of these out and see how they do.
Jason: Yeah, that’s a good idea because it’s always interesting interviewing people.
John: Yeah, and this would totally throw them for a curveball, like “My guidance counselor didn’t tell me these would be on the quiz.” Like who has a guidance counselor in college anymore, I don’t even know. But anyway, so here we go, rapid fire.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jason: Star Wars. But if I had another choice, I’d go Lord of the Rings.
John: Lord of the Rings, all right. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Favorite cereal.
Jason: Basic 4. How’s that for an accountant? But it’s the truth.
John: If I were interviewing you, I would have just hired you right now, like you actually just got promoted. Pens or pencils?
John: Wow, no mistakes here. Balance sheet or income statement?
Jason: Balance sheet.
John: Cats or dogs?
John: Favorite number?
John: Seventy-one. Why that one?
Jason: That was my football number in high school.
John: Oh, okay, that’s a good answer. Favorite sports team?
Jason: Have to be the Packers.
John: Ooh, even though you’re in the evil land. Well, when they win all the time I guess it makes it easier.
Jason: Yeah, it’s pretty easy to be a Packer fan here in Minnesota.
John: Yeah, yeah, they know better. Boxers or briefs?
Jason: Boxer briefs.
John: Ooh, getting combo on me. PC or Mac?
John: Movie that makes you cry.
Jason: We Are Marshall.
John: Oh, that’s a good one. Any sports movie my wife just gets a box of tissues right away since we start it. She just knows.
Jason: We Are Marshall or Remember the Titans, either one of those.
John: Yeah, those are both solid ones. Your favorite color?
Jason: Probably green.
John: Okay, and your least favorite color?
Jason: Yellow, probably.
John: Favorite ice cream flavor?
Jason: Just vanilla, because then you can add whatever toppings you want.
John: All your fruit toppings that you’re making on top of– that’s good. Favorite actor?
Jason: I’m a big fan of the Bourne movies so I would have to probably pick Matt Damon.
John: All right. Right click or left click?
Jason: Probably left click.
John: And what’s the favorite thing you own?
Jason: A couple of them but probably one of them would be a Lord of the Rings pinball machine in my basement.
John: Oh, that is awesome!
Jason: That’s pretty equal. And alongside that I have, it was my grandmother’s toy growing up, is one of those old kind of early pinball-played games. It’s called like a push-em-up thing where you got these little marbles in there and it’s kind of a baseball theme and it’s like a table —
John: Ah, yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah, with the baseball player, and you have to get like nine marbles to win.
Jason: Yeah, I think you got like nine marble balls in there and stuff that will spring.
Jason: And so I have a fairly new fancy pinball machine with all these games and things built into it, and then I have just the basic push-em-up played game that was my grandmother’s toy when she was a little girl. So those are a couple cool things I have.
John: Yeah, that is awesome, man, very cool. Well, I really appreciate it, Jason. This was fantastic and bringing back memories of the circus parade made me crack up, that was so funny. So I really appreciate you sharing here on the Green Apple Podcast.
Jason: Yeah, it was great. Great catch up. Thanks, John.
John: Wow! Jason brought some really good points about not limiting it to who you think your audience will be because you’d be surprised the connections that are out there.
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