Tim Keefe, CPA, CGMA, is continuing a family tradition in the profession. His grandfather, father, and two siblings have been accountants. Keefe has worked in several industries over the course of his career, and he found value in the mentorship of several people along the way.
Keefe is curious by nature, and he likes to see new places. That's one reason he's in the middle of traveling to every U.S. state, where he's trying to see a professional sporting event in each. He's also hoping to visit all the current Major League Baseball stadiums. Keefe, the subject of the Journal of Accountancy June issue's Last Word feature, shared highlights of recent travels, why he thinks listening is so important, and more.
Also, get a summary of recent IRS news coverage by Paul Bonner on two topics:
- A report that shows delayed screening of IRS new hires put taxpayer data at risk
- A letter from the AICPA that calls for further measures to address the IRS backlog.
What you'll learn from this episode:
- An overview of Keefe's family ties to accounting.
- Keefe's takeaways from attending AICPA Council for the first time.
- The value of asking questions and being an attentive listener.
- Highlights of Keefe's recent travels from his home in Vermont.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: Hey podcast, listeners, welcome back to our show, the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I'm Neil Amato with the JofA. It's the middle of summer, and we have a suitably summer topic to share in our main interview. That interview is with Tim Keefe. He is a CPA in the state of Vermont. We're talking travel and also baseball and baseball stadiums, along with some career advice. Stick around for that and also some IRS news that's coming up after this brief sponsor message.
Amato: Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is Neil Amato. Joining me for this segment is Tim Keefe, the CFO of Lund Family Center in the state of Vermont. Tim is the featured CPA in the June issue's Last Word feature. Today we're going to get to know Tim a little bit more, focusing on the topics of that Last Word article. Tim, first tell me something about your family connections and I guess your path to the CPA profession.
Keefe: Sure. I come from a very long line of accountants in my family. Growing up, my dad was an auditor for the state of Vermont for many, many years. For 24 of those years he was the deputy state auditor. Prior to that, his dad had been a utility accountant, and he was also a city auditor for the city of Newport, Vermont, which is right up on the Canadian border.
He did that in the '30s and '40s. We still have some of the audit reports that were done from back then. When I was in high school doing the college prep plan, I took a bookkeeping course. I didn't really expect it was going to change my life. But I was instantly hooked on accounting. I moved on to college courses that I was doing via self-study.
I've been on that path ever since I was 16. I'm the oldest of three, but I was the first of my generation, actually the first of all of us, to sit for the exam. But all three of us are in the profession. My brother eventually took the exam as well. My sister's a longtime CFO. My brother has been an auditor in the banking industry for many, many years now. It really is the family business. That's what my brother referred to it as when he went off to college after the two of us had already gone.
I remember when I passed the exam, being a little bit embarrassed because I got some 75s, and so I apologize to my dad and said something to that effect. He said, "I don't think they print the scores on your certificate," which was his way of saying, "Hey, I didn't take the exam. I know how hard it was. It's great that you did it, and it's great that you passed."
But I will always remember that. I remember the story from the AICPA Council that the new chairman tells about him going to talk to his dad about passing. When he was telling that story, I'm like that is exactly the way my story went, too. But I'm confident Dad would've been able to pass it. He studied more than I did. I'm sure he would have been able to pass it.
But anyway, I'm very proud to be a CPA. A lot of that is what the profession is, but also because that's who my family has been for many, many years. But I was mentioning going to that national Council meeting back in May. That was one of the coolest experiences that I have ever had as a CPA. I've played baseball at Fenway Park three times, I've been on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, but that Council meeting was just as cool as those things. It was really awesome.
Amato: That's great. I assume you're talking about the new chairman, Anoop Mehta, telling his story?
Keefe: That's right.
Amato: Anoop was recently a guest on our podcast in a re-aired segment from the June conference. But yeah, he's someone I've known over the years, first as a CFO and then a CEO, and now chairman of the AICPA board of directors. That's neat. Was that the first time you had been to Council?
Keefe: Right, exactly. Because when I was incoming a year ago, we were all still remote, so I would do the Council meetings via Zoom. But this spring we were lucky enough to have it live in Austin, Texas, so I was able to go, and we have tables for each of the states, and I was surprised I could feel it, something that was that cool at my age, but it really was just amazing.
Amato: Let's talk some about the role of mentors for you and then also I guess maybe you as a mentor yourself, why you think it's important to invest in that next generation of CPAs.
Keefe: When I think about the mentors that I've had, I think about specific people, but when I think about what they had in common was that they helped me believe that I could succeed in this profession. I remember starting out in school thinking, oh, man, this is really challenging. Am I going to be able to pass the exam? Am I going to be able to work for a Big Eight firm? Am I going to be able to do these things?
That's what the mentors did for me, was helped me believe that, yes, I could do that. I was interacting with people who had gone that path. They knew it. They had been through it and they had been through it successfully, and to hear them tell me that I could do that, too, gave me a lot of confidence. It was really integral into me getting into this profession, was the belief in myself that they helped generate.
Now, looking at it from the back end of my career, and I hate to say it that way, but what I want to see is people like I was 35 years ago really wanting to be in this profession. They're curious, they're smart, they're driven, that they just need somebody to encourage them and believe in them and tell them that they can do it.
Because if it was hard in the '80s, it's even harder now. There's way more accounting literature and detail now than there ever was then. CPAs of the future need somebody to nurture them and cultivate them just like people were doing for me back then, and so that's the part that I'm really interested in, is connecting with the young people that want to do that and talking to them about the profession and encouraging them to pursue it, and encouraging them to believe that they can do it.
It is such a great way to learn how business works, is to work at it from this angle. You really come to appreciate how much people with that experience that can communicate to people who don't have that experience, how important that is. That comes with time. It's not something you can see when you're starting your career.
Amato: One of the qualities that you mentioned in the article that you thought was important for CPAs is just the simple act of listening. Why do you think it's so important?
Keefe: Well, I think some of it is just growing up in my family. When somebody older than us was talking, you always had the opportunity to learn something. I was just always very voracious about listening to what people were saying and trying to figure things out and learn and that kind of stuff. I think, especially, when I started in my audit career, they would send you in and say here you need to ask the client these questions, you know, boom, boom, boom.
The important part was listening to what else they told you. Because as they would tell you the answers, you could listen to those and then try to drill down and understand better. One of the phrases, starting with Arthur Young, not Ernst & Young, but they had a phrase, understand your client's business. That was the whole premise of client service and auditing was understanding their business.
I'm really glad I was there when that was the tag phrase because that's what I've used all the way through my career. And since I've gone into industry after nine or 10 years in public, I've been in commercial banking, I've been in regulated utilities, I've been in nonprofits, little bit of state government, and so I've always been focused on understanding what the business is trying to do.
It's funny that even today, 36 years into my career, I'm asking program directors and different people like that, how does this program work? How do we get paid for this? Is this a grant? Is this a contract? What are the requirements of the grant or contract? You'd constantly have to be asking questions to understand things. The way I view it anyway is that you have to really understand it to make sure that the solution is correct.
Because if you have an incomplete understanding, then the solution may not work, and so the old phrase, and I'm terrible with a saw, but "measure twice, cut once" — that's what it's all about. That's why I'm so intent on listening and making sure I have it right before I think that I know what I'm talking about. I've had in the last couple of roles where I'm the point person communicating with external parties about the financial operations of whether it's a utility or it is nonprofit.
In order for me to have credibility and be understood by those folks, I need to be able to talk to people internally and make sure that my understanding is good. That's why I'm always focused on listening. I'm always worried that I don't have it right, so I'm always asking more questions.
Amato: Now, one other aspect of your Last Word feature was that you mentioned some travel and also sports-related, I guess we can call them, quests for lack of a better term. It seems like that you're trying to get to all the Major League Baseball stadiums in all the U.S. states and this is summer, so maybe it's a good time to talk about such things. But where do things stand with visiting those places and those stadiums?
Keefe: I could talk all day about this. My original quest was to see a baseball game in all active 30 major league stadiums. Then I expanded that to include a professional game in all 50 states. I think when I was interviewed for the article, I was at 25 states and 15 major league current parks. I'll put in a plug for going to the AICPA Council meeting because when I went to Austin in May, I was able to sneak up to Dallas and see the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers in their billion-dollar stadium.
It's unbelievable, just in the shadow of where the Cowboys play. When I did that, I think it was my 81st stadium overall, and it was my 16th current major league park in 26 states. I am officially on the second half of both of those goals.
Amato: That's awesome. Do you have a state that you've always wanted to visit that just so far has eluded you that you'd like to go to?
Keefe: Well, living deep in the Northeast Kingdom up here, I envy people who live centrally so that they can go more than one direction. We only go one direction from here, and it's just farther and farther depending on where you're going. But last year in the post-COVID year, I did go a little crazy. I did a week in Maryland, I did a half a week that was Tennessee, North Carolina, and then the last week I did was Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and a couple of places that really stood out for me in those two trips.
One was Asheville, North Carolina. Although I'm embarrassed to say I didn't go to the Biltmore. I did not go to the Biltmore. I should have. But I will tell you that the park, I think it's McCormick Field in Asheville, is like no other. It's just about 100 years old. But they've upgraded it, but it feels like it's old-timey. For whatever reason, Asheville is very much built on hills, and so there's a football field up on a cliff above the baseball stadium. It's a pretty steep hill, but you can walk up the hill, stand on the back of the football bleachers, and look down into the ballpark, and that is one of the coolest things that I've seen on my trips.
The other one was Louisville, Kentucky, where they have the Louisville Slugger bat factory. That tour was absolutely the best. You talk about asking questions. I think I was starting to irritate them with all the questions that I asked.
But anyway, it's a family-owned business, so I immediately start thinking about that sort of thing. Like "who are their auditors? Could I ever work there?" That kind of stuff. They mentioned that they have a 6,000-acre forest. They won't tell you where other than to say it's on the Pennsylvania-New York line. They harvest all the wood for their bats from that forest. They started talking about their forest management program, and I'm like, wow, I would never have thought that Louisville Slugger would have a forest management program. The typical bat comes from a tree that's around 65 years old. That's how old the wood is when you get a new bat, roughly.
Amato: That wood is ash, correct?
Keefe: Yeah. They do ash, maple. They've broadened it out to more different types of wood. It's very interesting. I spent a lot of time in Maine earlier in my career, and Louisville Slugger felt a lot like L.L. Bean to me. Very family business, you walk in the first place of the tour, it felt like you were in the L.L. Bean store. There's three walls full of video, you're in the forest, and it was the coolest thing. Anybody who goes on these trips I tell them they got to go to Louisville. It is the best.
Amato: Well, we wish you luck in future travels, getting to those places. Obviously, it sounds like you're going to enjoy and when you get there because you've done the research and you tend to be curious. I think it's a good lesson for all of us. Tim, thank you for being on the podcast.
Keefe: Thanks so much. I really appreciated it.
Amato: Again, that was CPA Tim Keefe. We appreciate him joining us on the podcast. We mentioned that Last Word interview, and we will share the link to that interview in the show notes for this episode. In other news, the IRS issued a revenue procedure recently that allows estates to elect portability of a deceased spousal unused exclusion amount as much as five years after the decedent's date of death.
Paul Bonner has the particulars on that topic in a JofA news article, which we will link to also in the show notes. Also, Bonner has written about the AICPA's new recommendations to the IRS about its backlog. A letter from Jan Lewis, CPA, chair of the AICPA Tax Executive Committee, says that while efforts to contend with the pandemic's effects on taxpayers and tax administration are appreciated, the IRS should do more now to ensure that taxpayers, practitioners, and the agency itself aren't facing the now-chronic delays in processing tax returns and answering taxpayer correspondence in 2023.
We appreciate you listening. We invite you again to share, subscribe, rate, and review the Journal of Accountancy podcast. Hope you're enjoying summer, and we'll talk to you again next week.