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Transcript: Interview With Brandon Pope, CPA

May 1, 2020

This episode is part of our weekly series on how VSCPA members and partners are managing and even thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maureen talks with Brandon Pope, CPA, associate director, accounting and finance at Vaco, about the current job market, challenges his clients are facing, and talent retention and acquisition. Brandon shares a helpful tip that will ensure teams are successful during this time. Listen to the full podcast here.

 

Maureen: Welcome to leading forward the Virginia Society of CPAs, podcasts where we focus on innovation, leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host Maureen Dingus and I invite thought leaders for sure, casual conversations on topics and trends important to the success of the CPA profession. This episode is part of our series on how the via CPA members are managing and even thriving during the code 19 pandemic. Thanks for listening and I wish you all could help.

Maureen: All right, welcome to today's episode of leading forward. We are with Brandon Pope. He is uh, uh, with Vaco. He handles their, um, accounting and finance recruiting area and he is going to give us a glimpse at what he's dealing with personally, um, dealing with, uh, adjusting to coven 19, but also about how his clients are, are dealing with it. So he's going to have a really neat perspective that maybe we haven't heard yet. So welcome to the show, Brandon.

Brandon: Thanks Maureen. Happy Monday.

Maureen: Yes, thank you. Thank you. Glad you can make it. Um, Brandon, before we dive into some of the questions, I'd love to hear about your leadership journey. How did you get to where you are today with Vaco?

Brandon: Absolutely. Uh, so born and raised in the star city, the South Roanoke, Virginia, uh, proud, hokey, getting my bachelor's and master's in accounting and information systems. Uh, started my career in Deloitte and then, uh, finding a home at kinder and the business advisory and assurance services group where, uh, mainly focused on financial services, uh, real estate and not-for-profit clients. Um, and the more I grew at the firm and in the industry, the more I learned to, um, like to get to know my clients, uh, understand their problems and ultimately just be a problem solver. Uh, and so, you know, a lot of times life is a series of, um, opportunity, meeting, preparation and, uh, the combination being, you know, luck. So, uh, I feel lucky to have found the opportunity that I'm in now because I feel like I'm able to continue being that problem solver just in a different capacity now.

Maureen: Right, right. So you are the problem solver at a very unique time. Not only do you have to solve the problems of how to work, but there are a lot of other folks out there that are kind of facing some problems. What are, what are you hearing from your clients right now? How are they, how are they faring?

Brandon: Well, no doubt about it. I mean we're, we're definitely all facing the same problem at the same time and all having to adjust to it effectively overnight. Um, and so, you know, our clients are facing a series of problems and challenges. Um, you know, more than anything. I think part of it is just trying to figure out how to communicate properly, uh, with their teams. Um, working remotely is not necessarily the norm for most people, especially on the corporate side. And so, you know, learning to trust, learning to set expectations and learning to properly communicate given the set of circumstances is definitely a set of general challenges. I think everybody is facing. Um, we can jump into some specific ones.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So as far as the, um, kind of cut to the chase, the, the job market out there are people already making changes. What are, are they already coming to look for it to use for different types of talent? What, what's the, what's the general feel out there?

Brandon: Well, you know, I'd be lying if I didn't say it wasn't turbulent turbulence. Probably the best way to describe it because you know, everybody can read the headlines and see, uh, you know, different layoffs and furloughs and freezes. But the fact of the matter is that's not the case for everyone. And so, um, different companies are having to rely on their focuses to look at, okay, what are we doing right now and what are most important projects that we need to focus on? Um, and sometimes that looks like talent retention and talent acquisition. Um, I think some folks are realigning their focus knowing that they don't know what the rest of the year's forecast looks like. And so they're having to reconsider alternative, um, employment options. Uh, so whether that's consulting fractional, um, you know, contract level work, uh, where you can still get that expert-level talent, but without the full-time employment obligation that comes along with it. It's definitely an Avenue that I think a lot of folks are taking an extra look at right now.

Maureen: Right. So kind of pausing on that, maybe that just that traditional go to market, hire someone, wait a couple of years, figure out if they work out and train them up. Um, and look, just trying to be, maybe it sounds like a little more nimble, um, getting the job done that they need with, uh, with some more unique opportunities.

Brandon: Absolutely. And you know, to that extent, there are still plenty of opportunities on the direct hire side as well. I mean, the accounting and finance, unemployment is still at a record low. And when you are able to take advantage of some of the other companies that are going through tough times and you know, people start to wonder, well, maybe I need to love for my next time, then the market becomes that much more dynamic and you have different options to choose from at that point.

Maureen: Right, right. Yeah. So, um, you know, you mentioned we, we've been reading in the papers turbulent times and there are already some, some layoffs and furloughs and different industries and you know, we're starting to hear about that from some of the larger firms. Um, what are you hearing from, um, others, other size firms? What's, is there a, is there a general, um, action that you're seeing or a variety?

Brandon: Definitely a variety. I mean, I've heard from just pay cuts, uh, based on a graded scale to, you know, furloughs to just hiring freezes, um, to, to absolutely nothing, trying to hold on to everything that happened and make it through the storm on escape. I think the fact of the matter is, we all know this is a tough situation. It's a tough situation for clients if you're in a client service industry or you know, it's difficult for your employees in the corporate world. Um, so knowing that and just being compassion, I think leading with compassion is really, um, where most people are finding success at this point because it's a difficult situation for every size firm.

Maureen: Right? Right. Yeah. There, there isn't a one size fits all. And I think that it's, it's hard no matter what. And I think that that's what we're hearing is this is, it's just really, really hard. And, um, keeping kind of that, uh, that human side alive and well is, uh, when we're all under this massive stress is, is, is just vital. Sure. That you're feeling that on your end too.

Brandon: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I think a lot of people are just looking for a sense of normalcy and sometimes you don't always get normalcy, but maybe you'd get a positive attitude. So knowing that, you know, just treating somebody with respect and kindness and just trying to stay positive can make a difference, uh, every day. Um, because you never know what somebody has gone through.

Maureen: Right, right, right. So, um, you know, you mentioned there they're still, there are still some direct hires happening. They're still thinking about talent acquisition with, you know, the potential of there, there being some, uh, additional talent out there. Um, what, what, how can firms be ready to, um, attract that talent? What do they need to, what do they need to do? So in other words, I, I've heard one of one person say that they were looking to trade up potentially. So, um, maybe not retaining some of the folks that they had, um, kept on board maybe a little longer than they should. And, and look for some of that, uh, that talent that would be out there. What w what should firms be looking at doing to be ready for that, that, that trade to wants to come to them?

Brandon:  Sure. You know, talent acquisition is a multidimensional feature that is not more than just meets the eye. So I think my first, um, piece of advice to firms that are looking to reassess their situation is really, you know, look inside, uh, take a look in the mirror. I think a lot of companies and firms right now are looking at budgeting and forecasting for the rest of the year. You know, every company is having to think about how they're going to revise their budget. Um, so knowing, you know, where you can make the moves, um, is critical. I mean cash management, um, it's such a big deal for, um, everyone, you know, especially the longer the pandemic goes on. Um, and then, you know, just overall leadership, you know? So I think the reputation of companies and firms goes a long way, especially in the talent market because I think for firms and companies looking to level up and really make the most of the situation, you're going to have to look at, um, you know, how do you come out of this in a positive light? Will you be more flexible because of it? Will you be able to provide extra benefits because of it? You know? How did your affirm and how did your company respond? You know, when it was a time of difficult, um, situations that everybody was facing, you know, so I think that's really the inside out.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. And that, that reputation doesn't come just because you've decided, Hey, I can, there's good internal talent out there. That's, that's a long, that's a long game, right?

Brandon: Absolutely.

Maureen: You're, you're building internally with your team and externally out in the market and those relationships out in the market. So that's a, that's a great point that, um, that's something that even after we're out of this.

Brandon:  The other piece of that Maureen is, you know, we, we tell our clients all the time that even though this is a turbulent time and some companies are having layoffs and furloughs, the fact of the matter is finance and accounting, unemployment is still at a record low and will continue being at a record low because of the added needs. And the fact of the matter is whether there's a lock-down or a quarantine going on, business goes on and accounting and finance professionals are still very much essential. And so we tell our people that if there's somebody that you like hold on tight because you know, it now more than ever, there's going to be different opportunities that are going to be enticing them. So I think looking at your current, you know, a lot of folks and really assessing how you can retain them.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah, yup. So anything else firms need to be thinking of in this market or, or can we move to what, uh, what the talent can be thinking?

Brandon: No, I mean, I, like I said, you know, making sure you're taking care of the house first, you already have the people in the door that are already there. And focusing on keeping them is definitely important for wanting to do that. Um, and that can get down to specifics of, you know, maybe you look at interim financial leadership, maybe you really focus in on AR and collections because that's going to be such a key piece to getting through, you know, the rest of this month and the rest of this quarter and moving forward, uh, in a positive way for the rest of the year. So, um, I think that's probably what I would suggest.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Um, so what about the folks that might, um, decide they want to look around? What are some, uh, things that are different looking for a job during a pandemic? What does that even look like?

Brandon: It's, it's definitely interesting. I mean, we, we have been able to utilize the techno greatness at our fingertips, um, to maximize the six feet approach, um, or the six feet apart, but closer than ever approach. Uh, because, you know, video conferencing has changed the way everybody's doing business right now. And so being able to use, utilize zoom and Microsoft teams to do interviews and do meetings, um, with hiring managers and candidates, um, really sets you up for a different dynamic. So, um, I guess for people that are looking for different avenues, um, just being willing to get outside your comfort zone and, and hop on a video call and make sure that, you know, you're not all the way up on the camera. And, um, as much as we all love the kiddos and the spouses running around, you know, making sure that there's still a professional environment to be in that element for.

Maureen: Right. Great. So do some practicing, I guess, and have a safe room.

Brandon: A safe room is very critical. I could tell you some stories, but uh, that'll be post-recording.

Maureen: Oh my gosh. I think that, um, we've all had so many stories now that it's just what are people thinking?

Brandon: Well, and that's, that's the fun part, right? I mean, we're all human. We all have circumstances. So if we can make it out of a pandemic with a couple of stories that we all laugh and smile at, then, you know, we'll treat it as a blessing.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's the lucky side. Right. Um, so you said six feet apart, but closer than ever that, that's beautiful. Did you make that up or did you find that on an ad somewhere?

Brandon: No, it's not an ad. I, unfortunately, can't even take credit for it, but, uh, you know, I will, I will gladly give credit where credit's due. Our fearless leader and CEO, Jerry Bostelman, um, is a man of many words and very creative. And, uh, he, he coined that term and phrase. And I love it because it's so true. I mean, this is a time where we are all so distant and apart from each other, but with so many resources at our fingertips to connect with you and so many other people across the state and across the country and across the world. Honestly. I mean, um, it's amazing to see how different companies and people are getting creative with, you know, virtual happy hours, virtual meetings. Um, and trying to continue life at a time that's very uncertain.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. I know that, um, right now I think that it just feels like everyone's trying to deal with the world being turned upside down and we're, we're starting to see, Oh, is this how we will network? Is this how we will have meetings? I don't know that I could ever just have a conference call now.

Brandon: No, absolutely not. No. And why would you, right. I mean, you know that it's so much, you get so much more out of it knowing that I can see you, I can see your facial expressions. Um, you know, I think success will favor those who embrace, um, the change that's going to come along with this because it's not fun. You know, nobody wants to have the world and, you know, the routine changed on a dime. But, uh, you know, we adjust and we try to make the most of it.

Maureen: So what are some of the changes that you, you don't think are going to go away?

Brandon: Like the video conferencing you, uh, noted. I mean, I definitely think, you know, a stereotypical conference call is a thing of the past. You know, most boardrooms are equipped with a video camera and an ability to see multiple people across one screen. So, um, I can't imagine that that would ever go back to, you know, just a voice to voice. Um,

Maureen: We're hearing a lot of the, the remote work, whether it's at this lift, this level. Um, but that seems to, most people I talked to you seem to think that that's definitely not going away. So managing remote workers and remote projects seems to be at the top of the list too.

Brandon: Well, it's interesting because I actually would share a different sentiment, not entirely, but, um, I would say managing is the keyword there because I don't think working from home a hundred percent is the new norm, not at all and not in a long shot. Um, but I do think you will have a growing level of companies and you know, employees who will want some level of flexibility and the fact that hiring managers and companies can recognize that as a viable option now, um, is definitely something that will not allow them to, uh, escape by without. So I think being able to adjust to the flexibility and manage it is definitely the thing that doesn't change.

Maureen: Right. Right. Good, good. Um, so any, any, uh, any last thoughts that you might have for, um, employers out there that are, uh, in the, in the, in this tumultuous time that they need to think about when they're considering talent?

Brandon: Oh, well, you know, I mean, culture is King even in a pandemic. Um, you know, so often, you know, you can see people that have the skills and the criteria and minimum qualifications to do a job, but if you don't fit in and get along with people, then it's just not going to work in the longterm. And there are so many studies and statistics to show how expensive it is to hire and fire and, and onboard. Um, you know, I think people look at, you know, talent acquisition as something that, you know, it's just a transaction. It really is and it's all about a relationship. You know, you really need to focus on finding the right talent, um, and being able to access that expert-level talent. So, um, I think if the pandemic has shown us anything, it's that, you know, I think more companies and firms will need to be comfortable with looking at alternative means, whether that is contract consulting and fractional level work or you know, just a different employee that comes out of it that needs different flexibility, um, needs and whatnot. So, you know, just staying comfortable with being uncomfortable I guess.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Brandon, I, I'm, I'm so happy you've given us a little bit of your time this afternoon before we sign off. I do have one last question for you. And that is what have you been doing during this pandemic to personally cope or relax or just unplug?

Brandon:  Well, if you know me, you know that I don't do well with staying in one area at one period of time. So working from home is not ideal for me, but definitely trying to make the most of it. So, um, I think for me physical exercises definitely be then the, the key. Um, I try to keep as much of a daily routine as I can. So, um, being able to get up and make that workout my number one priority. That way if, uh, the rest of the day goes to the wayside, at least I got something knocked out. So being able to have

Maureen: You do, do you, do you run? Are you a runner?

Brandon: I do run. I am proud to say I have run the Richmond marathon before, but uh, more than anything right now I am a proud F 45. Uh huh.

Maureen: Okay.

Brandon: And uh, also, um, channeling the Peloton app. We don't have the Peloton bike, but we have, uh, just a stationary bike that we channel the app through. So, um, you can find me dripping on that most mornings.

Maureen: That's amazing. Well, good for you. I haven't, I haven't embraced the new schedule yet, so I better get on it because it's time sticking. But I love that you keep your routine and get out there and start your day because what a better way.

Brandon: Well, that, and you just have to take light where you can and have fun with it. You know, I love to tail, uh, dead jokes, um, and, you know, make light of certain situations, but do the quarantine. I'm only telling inside jokes now,

Maureen: Only inside jokes. Well, boom, boom.

Brandon: That's all I got.

Maureen: Yeah. You're, you're hearing the laughter. It's just, it's just I didn't have my last track button on.

Brandon: Maybe we can edit that in.

Maureen: Yes, yes. Yes. All right. Well, I'm Brandon again. Thank you. This has been a great little, um, insight into, uh, into your world, into something that our, uh, many of our members will be thinking about in the, in the coming weeks and months. So take care.

Brandon: Thank you. You too. Take care of everything.