Episode 91 – Tim Cowley

Tim’s rugby scores big with coworkers


Tim Cowley started playing rugby after a friend suggested they both join a team as they were watching a match on TV. It had been several years after his college football ended, but Tim thought those skills would translate well to the rugby pitch. Besides, it was in his blood because his grandfather had played Gaelic Football in Ireland and then a little bit after immigrating the US. He’s also really into table top games and microbrewing beer, all of which give his skills that make him a better CPA.

In this episode, Tim and I talk about how important it is for accountants to know how to network. Through his hobbies, he’s learned that there are a variety of people out there, some with non-traditional jobs, so they might be looking for someone who isn’t a traditional accountant. He also finds that it’s really important to take the time to talk with everyone because “making a non-business connection to others is the key to being a good accountant.”

Tim Cowley is the Managing Partner of Cowley CPAs outside Detroit, MI. He’s also an Adjunct Professor at Oakland Community College and an active member of the AICPA.

He graduated from Kalamazoo College with a BA in Economics, Business and then received his MS, Accounting from Walsh College. While at Kalamazoo College, he was a member of the football team.

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Other pictures of Tim

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Tim poses just before a beard modelling contest.

Game night at Tim’s house.

The combination of two of Tim’s passions: a game based on micro-brewing beer.

Playing rugby and enjoying the hits more than the running!

Tim’s links



  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 91 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion. Making them staying out like green apple in a red apple world. And to put it in another way, it’s like helping people find their ‘and’ as in my guest Tim Cowley is an accountant and plays rugby.

    And as you’re going to hear, the rugby generates interest from co-workers and clients and there’s a lot of science behind this because there are chemicals in your brain that are released when you meet interesting people. Like for instance an accountant who plays rugby and it’s norepinephrine. It creates engagement and then another one called oxytocin which creates trust and bonding and both of these are really, really crucial they’re developing a positive corporate culture.

    But before I get to this week’s interview with Tim, a quick favor to ask and I like to show what I’m listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app it would be really cool for you to just subscribe and the leave a five-star rating and maybe a comment because it appears the silly computer algorithms like to suggest shows with more ratings. So you doing this would be a huge help to spread the show to new listeners because everyone has been telling me how they really like the Green Apple Podcast. It’s the least business issue out there. It’s so cool that you’re telling people stories, so just trying to spread this as far and wide as possible, so thank you so much.

    Now it’s time to introduce you to this week’s guest, Tim Cowley. He’s the managing partner of Cowley CPAs outside of Detroit and an adjunct professor at Oakland Community College. I know you’re really, really busy Tim so thanks so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Tim: It’s good to be here.

    John: Oh, man. I’m so excited to have you on the show and I gave you everybody a little bit of your introduction and based on your headshot, you’re going to be perfect for this, but I guess a little bit of where you came from and how you got to where you’re at now?

    Tim: Yeah, so I started working at accounting probably nine or ten years ago. And after I worked and I did internship at a 200-person firm which was basically audit for one tax season and then I started working at maybe 25 to 30-person firm after that and worked there about maybe six years I think and then about half the firm left to a new firm for about two years and then I left that firm about seven, eight months ago now.

    John: Congrats, man. That’s fantastic and one question that I love to ask everybody is just how did you get into accounting?

    Tim: It was kind of random actually because when I first trying to look to go to school, I didn’t really know what school I was going to go to and when my friends from high school was looking at the small school over the west side to stay over in Kalamazoo and I never heard it before and we went to go visit because he was visiting to go potential play football up there. So we went out there and I did a visit with them and I want to talking to the football coach is out there and we wound up playing in college which I never thought I would do based on the way high school went. I was Division III but you know, still.

    John: Still, man. That’s a lot of time. My brother played D3 and it’s not easy.

    Tim: Well, it’s a lot of time. But then working out there or going school out there and trying to figure out what I do and I was doing like basically an Economics degree and you could focus in business or public policy or something else and that was about all the business classes I had because it’s Liberal Arts school .

    So one of the guys that was professor there and still is taught the business classes in Accounting and Marketing that kind of stuff and Corporate Finance and my dad was like, “Oh, yeah. Go get an MBA” and he’s like, “Yeah. Well, that’s a terrible idea now because there’s a lot of people out there with MBAs and there’s –”

    John: Right.

    Tim: So he basically suggested to look at doing an Accounting masters which was about a one-year program versus a two-program and I actually was able to find a job as opposed to not.

    John: Right. No that’s awesome, man. And now look, you got your own shop. That’s great. I mean you’re your own boss. That’s really, really cool, man. Really cool so congrats on all that. It’s amazing how when you go through life I mean, I’m the same way that in the moment, you’re like it’s a helter-skelter, I don’t know what to do and yet you look back and it’s almost an exact straight line to where you’re at now.

    Tim: Now but at the time, I was like, oh, it’s a totally random —

    John: Right, yeah. No, I mean I know the feeling. I mean clearly I didn’t go to Notre Dame to end up telling jokes for a living and then becoming a corporate speaker. You know, that isn’t always the route.
    Tim: Yeah. We never know we’re going to do this.

    John: Right that’s awesome, man. And so on your nights and weekends whenever you have some free time, you have several hobbies and passions which I think are really, really cool but I figured I’d let you share some of those with everybody.

    Tim: Yeah. I mean the typical week, everyone’s throwing the rugby season is Mondays I go to a game night, that’s by my house that’s for table top games, that kind of stuff. And then Tuesday, Thursday usually is practice. And then on Wednesday nights right now, at least I teach a class at a local college.

    John: Nice. There you go.

    Tim: And then Friday, I guess, it’s taking a night off and then Saturday usually we have games around the state.

    John: No, that’s really cool and so I mean what makes you get into rugby? I mean that’s clearly not a game that a lot of people are picking up especially in the Accounting world.

    Tim: My grandfather used to play Gaelic football in Ireland and he’d came over back in the ‘40s and play a little bit here, but I never have actually played that, but I used to watch him all the time. We go down at the Gaelic League downtown and watch it on Sunday mornings, but I don’t know if he ever was a fun of rugby, but one of the people I knew in college and my wife was friends with her or his wife, went to Michigan and I guess he played club there for a couple of years and we just start talking about it sometime and I started watching it because it was on Fox Soccer Plus back when they actually showed it. Sort of watching a little bit and the guys started doing it and I went out and just tested it out in about eight or nine years after I’ve done any type of serious exercising since college was given back in shape and just going out there and doing it.

    John: Yeah, and I mean that’s not going for a run, I mean that’s a —

    Tim: It’s going for a lot — yeah, there’s a lot of running involved.

    John: But there’s a lot of hitting and a lot of bruises and —

    Tim: I prefer that to the running part but you know.

    John: Yeah, you’re right. Do you have like a more rewarding experience from your rugby playing career, if you will?

    Tim: I mean, you know, it’s like anything else if you got team sports like that where you do a bunch of stuff together and there’s a nice tight-knit bond that forms that’s good for some networking, it’s good for meeting a bunch of people that share some kind of an interest and I mean there’s also some pretty random people that play — we got a couple of people who are in doctoral programs and some people who work on the opposite end just doing a construction job or doing whatever. It’s kind of an interesting diaspora of people that are there getting together and doing stuff together.

    John: Yeah. That’s really neat and it’s just having that passion for the game. And so would you say that rugby has given you some sort of a skill set that you use at work or do you even share this with clients and coworkers?

    Tim: Yeah. I mean some people that you know, clients that I meet and we start talking about this and that or I meet somebody somewhere and we were talking about interests and stuff and then people getting pretty into that kind of stuff because it kind of gives you another dimension. I went to a baseball game one time and this guy wouldn’t believe that I was a CPA and I was like, “I’ll show you my card, I guess, but I don’t know why you don’t believe me.”

    John: Right. I mean why would I make that up, right? I remember when I was doing comedy full time and I used to joke about being a CPA a little bit from the stage and then after people come, “Are you really an accountant?” I was like why would I make that — I mean if I was going to tell you something, I would say actuary if I was trying to be cool. I mean like come on.

    Tim: And also some pretty cool actuary.

    John: Right, no, exactly. I mean that’s what I’m saying. I would brag up. That’s awesome, yeah. No, that’s really good. So just out of curiosity, do you feel like there’s any skills from rugby that translate to the office?

    Tim: Yeah, man. I guess in terms of working with people of different interests in backgrounds and being able to communicate with different types of people. I mean networking is obviously a big part of Accounting where a non-business connection I guess is really the key to doing that kind of stuff. So just being able to work well with other people to have different skills that’s parallel as you can draw I guess between billing a good team in the office versus on the field knowing you got to pull your own weight and how to talk to people when they’re not pulling their own weight and some of those, I don’t want to call them soft skills because it kind of demeans what they do.

    John: People skills. That’s really great and it’s really cool that you see the benefit of that in the moment. I find that a lot of people just think that their hobbies and passions are just throwaways and clearly, no one in the Accounting class or there’s no CPE for playing rugby, but there’s certainly skills that you’re sharpening that are really cool. So I think that’s great, really great.

    I know that based on your headshot with the beard you mentioned that at one point when we talked earlier that a beard competition or something like that, that I thought it was really awesome.

    Tim: Yeah, I was kind of forced into Beard and Brahms and Burlesque Festival depending on which headshot you’re looking at and probably now, my beard is about a year longer than that one is probably.

    John: Wow, man. No wonder the guy was like there’s no way you’re a CA. That’s probably why right there.

    Tim: No, I didn’t win those.

    John: I did all these for nothing and one thing that you alluded to earlier was the microbrew stuff that you really enjoy. So how did you get into that?

    Tim: Yeah. I mean when I was going to school in Kalamazoo which is where Bell’s which is a pretty popular brewery in most parts of the country because they have it but they have a homebrew store there and I kind of got interested in you know, being out there and so I started making beer when we moved into a house in senior year. I had some good and terrible experience. I stored some bottles next to my bed and I woke up until my head exploded and I, you know, had a bed full of glass and so I started — I was into that.

    And then my family has a restaurant. Well, I worked there since I was 15 but bartending in grad school and doing all that kind of stuff and I got involved with this guy who does educational talks. We would do like a monthly beer night where we have different topics and stuff and then I’ve been doing like judging from that. So we got all these homework competitions and all these other things where you go and basically evaluate for different categories and stuff and almost kind of being waiting because there’s just haven’t been that many competitions in the state as there used to be. I drink a fair amount of beer because I enjoy it.

    John: Well, you got to stay up on the — you’re just training. You’re in training. Maybe that’s what it is, right?

    Tim: Yeah. It’s like professional education. It’s a kind of some struggle to be current.

    John: Exactly. So that’s cool. I mean is there a most rewarding thing that maybe you can think of from your home brewing or the judging competitions?

    Tim: Yeah. I mean I think mostly just — I did win an award one time for a second place on one of the categories which wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was but —

    John: That’s awesome though.

    Tim: Yeah. I mean most of the connections of the people and meeting people that are interested in making and judging and then actually a bunch of connections from doing all those beer events at my family restaurant making a bunch of connections like brewers and people that actually own businesses that do brewing and stuff and all kind of sees into the skill set and again, those people are making beer and stuff but not in a traditional career and they may like somebody who’s not a traditional accountant so you know, mostly there’s some —

    John: I mean that’s perfect.

    Tim: There’s some connection there.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Because you’re going to love working with those clients because they’re in the business that you love being around. I mean that’s the ultimate right there. If you have a firm that squashes everyone’s hobbies and passions, then you’re not going to know who should be on what client because you don’t know anything about the people that you’re trying to staff.

    Tim: Yeah, exactly.

    John: Yeah. I mean that’s such a cool thing and I mean when you walk in to tell them about the services that you can provide and then someone else walks in and doesn’t know anything about brewing, well, I mean your way ahead of them because I mean you’re using the lingo which is so cool.

    Tim: Yeah. Well, all of those people you know, I mean, I guess a lot of business owners they want to focus on doing what they do in their business. So if they get into making beer, they don’t want to do all of the accounting. I mean they find stuff they don’t want to be doing that you could provide a lot of value to them. I mean there’s plenty of stuff to do for that work, even as to take over certain tasks that they don’t want to deal with and they’re better off, and you’re making a bit money and you’re expanding that network of, you know, and then there are people that go to a network group and hopefully that leads to referrals.

    John: Yeah, man, then you have a niche and a niche that you love to be in. And then the third thing that you brought up when we talked earlier was just board games and just being way into that. I mean is that just something that carried over from when you’re young?

    Tim: Yeah, kind of. I mean it’s again, kind of like a random thing that just happened. Me and my brothers and a couple of other guys we also used to play like my uncle had played a couple of the more involved games like Axis and Allies and stuff.

    John: Oh, I was going to say. I love that game, man. Axis and Allies and Risk and oh, man.

    Tim: I used to love those games but now there’s games that do so much more for so much less time though but anyways, I used to do that so we did that growing up and even through college, like some of our roommates were pretty into playing those too. Obviously video games, that kind of stuff but I mean we still did some of the analogue stuff as well. But just kind of randomly — I don’t even remember what I was doing.

    Well, I think probably there’s a game store is by our house and it was like a little tiny game store and me and my wife like to go walkthrough then do shopping and stuff like that and we go there sometimes and we kind of linger next to the games store and then we go, this was interesting and you get to there and like oh, I don’t want to go up there and it seemed like I’m totally in this because people are going to think I’m weird which is a stupid thing to think.

    I think I brought like a game or two and then we had some trip randomly and I was looking up like a review for the one game I had bought and this whole channels of videos of people doing game reviews and talking about games and stuff and I started getting into that and then we spent about a year and a half buying the games again and I got about 50 or 60 now so I have a bit of a problem.

    John: Are there some that are your favorites like some of the newer ones?

    Tim: Yeah, it depends on the group you’re playing with and I mean I go at least one weekly one by my house which is pretty good networking too. Because you get people that show up where they’re like attorneys or they’re — I mean it’s basically a mix of people, but it skews towards people who are a little bit more into careers that have some type of economic acumen required. But yeah, we play a bunch of other stuff.

    I mean for the most part, it depends on I guess the group I’m playing with but I really Martin Walsh who’s a designer who’s trying to get about 20-30 games out, but they’re more like — some of them were the heavier but I also like some other games that are not quite as heavy and just have some — just get in there which basically means that they kind of go through and have like a really strong theme to them and they have kind of simpler mechanics but you kind of go through and as opposed to like the Euro-style game which is kind of like oh, we’re trying to score much points and takes a bunch of thought to get through this.

    I like them all but I’m kind of into mix of them and spending from — some take three to four hours to get through and some take maybe ten hours to get through. It’s a good way to get together with people and do some stuff in family events and in we’d play — so whenever I go to my parents’ house, we play Euchre.

    John: Yeah, Euchre. Absolutely, man.

    Tim: Traditionally, there’s an Irish — my grandparents are from Ireland and there’s this game called 25 which basically is 10 people and it kind of plays like Euchre but it doesn’t because we use the whole deck.

    John: Is it like Pitch? Have you played Pitch? Is it similar?

    Tim: I haven’t but you basically try to win side tricks and that’s kind of weird Trump system but it’s kind of like an extended Euchre idea but you play with the full black and people are trying to prevent someone from winning but then they try to win themselves so it’s kind of an interesting dynamic especially playing with family where basically you get the point and people are cutting through their throats to try and win the game which is an interesting family dynamic. I grew up playing with them.

    John: Yeah, do what it takes.

    Tim: Yeah, exactly.

    John: But I have to imagine. I mean playing all those games probably helps with some skills when you get to the office, I think.

    Tim: I guess we won’t get back to that.

    John: Right, yeah.

    Tim: Definitely. That kind of stuff is pretty good. I always thought I was pretty good at like back when I was doing auditing and doing other stuff like that more often kind of go on to apply and showing up and having them tell you x, y, and z, and then being able to understand their systems of accounting and all these other kind of stuff quickly which is a pretty good skill to have and there’s some similar skills with that or you know, I’ve never played this game before, but I kind of understand some of the mechanics and I can be competitive because I can pick it up pretty fast or just I mean like anything else, stuff that’s really specific rules-based stuff where you have to know how to apply something in which, you know or whatever else you’re looking at from a work standpoint, you know, you have a certain thing, a statement, and you have to apply that somehow to a situation which I think is a similar skill to some of that stuff but I mean some of the games require like more social — social deduction or something else where you try to read people so I mean there’s a whole bunch of skills that we translate between those two that I guess I won’t think about as much but you know, there’s a bunch of crossover for the things.

    John: I mean that’s like the most fun CPE you could — I mean they should make every firm do this game. I mean like just because not only is a great interaction amongst the team but I mean there’s skills that are being learned there on accident type of thing.

    Tim: Yeah. Basically yeah, like I don’t know, I think I know they have these — I don’t know like I don’t want to say but like the brain training things that probably help you but don’t really help you.

    John: Right, depending on yeah.

    Tim: But yeah, that kind of stuff. We’re like, yeah, I’m tricking myself into learning some things. That’s kind of the same thing but I mean, it’s the same time I mean, if you have a personality where you like I mean I like to learn stuff anyway just for the fun of it. So I mean that could be potentially why I like learning a bunch of new games and stuff because I get into it and you don’t understand how it works and then try and make the best of what I can do.

    John: Yeah, man. I think that’s great and I guess one thing that is always neat to me is just to hear, I’m not sure, are there any places that you’ve work where they did some great things to encourage people to share or to set an example maybe at the top or something like that, that you’ve come across?

    Tim: Yeah. I think it depends. I mean the couple of places I worked at have not been like that as much but there was one firm I used to work at where we kind of had an interesting dynamic or partners where we have basically one partner who was kind of a like a rainmaker type and he didn’t really do a lot of detail work which makes sense to me because it’s kind of what you’re doing as a partner sometimes, but he would basically come in, you know, he’d roll in like 10:00 or so.

    And he would walk around to talk to everybody for a minute or two and just say hello and he’d be in his office a little bit and he’d head out for lunch and then come back hours later and do that a couple of hours of work and then head off to an event or something but he was really good at basically getting people work and then having them come back to him and explain the issues and trying to work through a couple of those things but basically making you figure out what to do and given that situation.

    John: Right, I mean it just challenges you to grow which is what you’re supposed to do as a leader and as a manager and especially as a partner is develop that team below you. If the partner did all the work then no one’s growing and it’s going to be not a fun place to be. So you know, that’s cool.

    Tim: Yeah, and I’ve had the opposite experience too where it’s like okay, well, we’re not going to train people correctly and then we’re going to get upset with them about not meeting budgets or not being able to something and then we’re not going to tell them that we’re upset with them and then we’re going to basically let them.

    John: That’s awesome. That is not the way to do it, everybody. There’s all that. I was like oh, man. I love that story you know, that partner, he’s just taking the time to be genuinely interested in everyone around them and show that he cares and then to help them grow and plus, it sounds like he’s a fun guy to be around. So everyone’s getting their work done.

    Tim: Yeah. He was pretty interesting. I think he was on his third marriage I think but his first wife works in the firm still he’s an interesting guy. He actually passed away young suddenly but he’s a really interesting guy and he had all these friends that were artists and you know, he’s just a really interesting guy who, like you’re saying, taking interest from people and a lot of people kind of — even though he didn’t understand sometimes what the purpose was like I had a couple of things where I wanted to go explore doing business valuation or doing whatever, and they’re okay, well, I don’t see what the purpose is at this point but you know, I don’t want to not have you do that. And then, you learn some skills that you can use somewhere else and I think a lot of stuff that I kind of get into doing was because I had some freedom to do that for that.

    John: Right, no, that’s awesome, man. And what a great ending point of just someone that — even if they don’t see it, they don’t want to hold you back, and that’s such a great feeling and someone that you’ll remember forever right there. I mean that’s such a great thing. Really, really cool and I wish everyone was like that. That’s the end of the goal in this whole game is that, but you know, one day, man. One day.

    Tim: Yeah, but if everyone were like that though then there would be no diversion

    John: Yeah, right, and everyone would want to be an accountant.

    Tim: Exactly. So you need all types but I wish more people thought that way.

    John: Yeah. At least the majority tipped us a little more.

    Tim: Yeah, because we need those people who don’t like interacting and who just want to crunch work. So it takes all types but —

    John: Absolutely, man. Well, this has been really great but I have a rule where I can’t come hangout and drink some beer and play some games until we do my 17 rapid fire questions so I’m going to fire this machine up here and here we go.

    Tim: Is it a random question generator is it — are they all the same?

    John: Some are the same, some are some random.

    Tim: Okay. I like it.

    John: It’s all good. Here we go. All right, the first one. Are you more of a PC or a mac?

    Tim: Definitely PC.

    John: A PC and when it comes to your mouse, are you click or right click?

    Tim: Probably click.

    John: Click. All right, it’s a silly question. How about when it comes to trilogies, more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Tim: Probably more Stars Wars.

    John: All right. How about do you have a favorite color?

    Tim: Probably green, I guess.

    John: Green. All right, nice. How about a least favorite color?

    Tim: If I had to pick one, I would say yellow, I guess.

    John: Yellow, okay. How about more pens or pencils?

    Tim: Definitely, pens.

    John: Definitely pens. How about more Sudoku or a crossword puzzle?

    Tim: Crossword.

    John: Crossword, all right. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Tim: I think currently probably Idris Elba.

    John: Right, that’s so good man. That’s such a great answer. I love it. More suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?

    Tim: I guess more jeans but I don’t mind more suit, but probably more jeans.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a favorite animal? Any animal?

    Tim: Favorite animal. I will say cat, I guess.

    John: Cat, all right. We’ve got seven more. When it comes to financials more balance sheet or income statement?

    Tim: I think I’m a balance sheet guy.

    John: What do you have for breakfast? What’s a typical breakfast?

    Tim: This morning I had some fruit but I prefer a more substantial breakfast than that. That this morning was my breakfast.

    John: All right. Favorite place you’ve been on vacation?

    Tim: Costa Rica.

    John: Oh, very cool, man. That’s awesome. How about a favorite number?

    Tim: Favorite number is eight.

    John: Eight. And why is that?

    Tim: The number I play in rugby.

    John: There you go. I mean that’s good as it gets. Three more. Do you have a favorite band or musician?

    Tim: Clutch.

    John: Clutch. Oh, wow. All right. Are you more early bird or night owl?

    Tim: Probably early bird.

    John: Okay, all right. And then I think older people just get up so early that it’s actually night owl. You like circle back.

    Tim: Right, yeah. It’s a regression back.

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

    Tim: I am going to go with my Brian May special guitar.

    John: Oh, wow! Play guitar too! Look at you just dropping that at the end.

    Tim: I know.

    John: It’s fantastic, man. Very cool. That’s great, man. Well, thank you so much, Tim, for being me today to the Green Apple Podcast. This was fantastic.

    Tim: I appreciate it.

    John: Wow! That was so great. I loved how Tim said, “Making a non-business connection to others is the key to being a good accountant.” That’s dead on right, and it’s unfortunately nothing that they teach us in school or CPE classes. If you like to see some pictures of Tim playing Rugby or is his gnarly beard competition shots, or maybe connect with him on social media, please go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re on the page, you can click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.

    So thanks so much for subscribing and for the ratings on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing us 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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