‘Become a valuable expert in your niche …’
Building success out of failure: After I failed at my first career owning an indoor rock-climbing gym, I completed my accounting degree and became a CPA. I won the Gold Medal Award for the highest score on the CPA Exam in Oklahoma in 1995, which enabled me to get a job with a Big Four firm in Dallas. Afterwards, my career led me to a 10-year stint as CFO of a large oil and gas company, where I co-founded a drilling company with my boss. We sold it to Chesapeake Energy in 2010 for almost $90 million. I semiretired to Bend, Ore., where I did fractional CFO work from 2010 to 2018 and served clients in the cannabis industry and began teaching accounting for the cannabis/CBD/hemp industry to other CPAs all over the United States. In 2017, I was runner-up in the Portland Business Journal’s CFO of the Year in the small company category, becoming the first-ever cannabis CFO nominated in that program.
After receiving that honor, I started getting emails from CPAs asking for advice, so as a side business, I began educating other CPAs on how to start a cannabis accounting practice. It grew quickly, and in January 2018, I transferred all my clients to my student CPAs, started Dope CFO, and began focusing 100% of my time and energy on that.
Startup founders need CPAs’ help: I have found that many startup founders in cannabis come out of social equity programs and often don’t have a business education or background. Many of these startups achieve $5 million to $20 million in sales, but they are weak in basic accounting, controls, governance, and tax, even though their products and brand are strong. They need help from qualified professionals, and it has been great to provide a real value to these types of business owners.
Finding success in a niche practice: Some sources expect legal recreational and medical cannabis sales in the United States to reach $33 billion in 2022. This sector is generating interest and research by governments, universities, and the pharmaceutical industry. I would advise new CPAs to consider picking a great and rapidly growing niche, such as cannabis. For CPAs to be effective in the cannabis market, they need more than just accounting and tax knowledge. They need education on topics covering medicine and science, branding, software, operations, politics, compliance, cost accounting, federal tax codes, and court cases. By investing time and money into your knowledge and skills, you can become a valuable expert in your niche, which could lead to a successful and lucrative career.
Favorite food: Simple foods like pasta, eggs, steaks, pizza, and mac and cheese.
Favorite musician or group: Bruce Springsteen was my first favorite, and I still enjoy music from that era.
Favorite travel destination: Europe. I’ve been three times and love it.
Favorite leisure activity: I’ve been a rock climber for over 40 years and still participate at a pretty high level, even today at age 58.
— As told to Teri Saylor, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest another subject for Last Word, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.