Life at DHG Podcast Series

Podcast Episode 32: Celebrating My Mom – A Pioneer for Women in Accounting

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Tim York is the managing partner of DHG’s Dealerships Group. He is a great advocate for women at DHG and in the profession. He learned a lot from his mom who was a pioneer for women in the accounting industry. In this podcast, Tim reflects on the path his mom blazed and the influence that she had on his perception of women in the industry.


Episode 32 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series and our final installment for Women’s History Month. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear from our people about the things that matter the most to them: flexibility, careers, and of course, people.

We’re celebrating Women’s History Month. Today Tim York, our Dealer Services Group managing partner, is joining us to share a special reflection about a woman who played a major role in Tim’s life – his mom.

She must be an amazing woman because you, Tim, are truly a terrific leader for us and such an inspiring mentor, sponsor and advocate for women at DHG and beyond. Thank you for joining us today.

TY: I appreciate it.

AGH: You and I had a chance to talk a bit before the podcast and I learned about your mom’s incredible career in accounting. As a single mom, she really did it all, which is a question that comes up a lot when we talk about women’s progress.

She raised you and your sister, she ran your home, and she was the office managing partner in an Alabama-based accounting firm, when there were very few accountants, let alone managing partners, who were female. Can you tell us a little bit about her career?

TY: You know, Alice Grey, I’ll be happy to and I appreciate the opportunity. I really don’t even know how you found out about my mom to ask me to participate, but I am grateful and I am very proud of my mother. So plenty of things I can brag upon.

Some of my first memories were when mom decided to take us to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and she was going back to get her Master’s degree in accounting at the University of Alabama. During that time, she would go to class, my sister would go to kindergarten and I would go to preschool. She would then teach some courses and that sort of thing, and some of my greatest memories are going to the quad, if you’ve ever been to Tuscaloosa, and chase the soft ball that some of her students were hitting. It was just a crazy time in our lives but it seemed so normal at the time.

My mom was a really busy, hard-working woman and you were right about some of the roles that she played. I remember things like the care she took to bury my parrot along the riverside during those days. After school she was hired in Albertville, Alabama, a relatively small town and when she showed up to that accounting firm, she was the first woman accountant.

The very first woman accountant and she became a CPA very soon thereafter, and she was the first woman CPA in their accounting firm and I think that firm today has a couple of hundred employees with multiple offices and such. Several years later they asked her to move to Oneonta, Alabama which is where I spent third grade until I graduated high school.

They asked her to move there to take over the office and help grow the office. She managed that office for many years and that’s where we grew up. At night, sometimes, I’m sure to supplement income and those kind of things, she would drive to Gadsden, Alabama, to teach accounting because she loved it.

It was some really interesting times – fun times and hard times because she was a woman accountant in a business that was predominantly male. There were similar expectations with respect to time at work and performance and traveling and those kinds of things.

After many years, my mom even started her own firm which she ran for many years. After we finished school we thought she might relax a little bit, but she didn’t. She finally retired last year. So, neat story, I could tell you these stories all day. It’s really fun for me to brag on her for a little bit.

AGH: I mean, she really was a trailblazer in terms of females in accounting. How did this shape your own career path and becoming a CPA?

TY: Well it didn’t. Because, Alice Grey, I was absolutely positively against being an accountant. I went to Birmingham Southern College where my sister had gone a few years before me and I was going to study business and go into business management or economics or something like that and it came down to, I had to take accounting for my business degree.

So it was on my first semester at college, I will tell you, my future wife was sitting in that class as well, and I, despite being in a fraternity and playing hard and studying a little bit, I made an A and then I had to take a second one and so forth. What ultimately happened, I’ll tell you. You know, for some reason it clicked with me.

She really encouraged me a lot and after that first year, she said Tim, “You can do anything in the world with an accounting degree, but if you’re in business management, you’re primarily preparing yourself to manage.” What’s funny is now, part of my job is to manage parts of our business, if you will, or it manages me I guess. But it’s right, I’ve done auditing and I’ve done tax, I’ve done a lot of consulting work and I’ve done business valuations since 1994 and I’ve done a million different things because I had so many mentors who pushed me into a lot of different areas.

The background of being an accountant was helpful for me to see a very wide spectrum of opportunity. That’s kind of how — I didn’t want to do busy seasons but I got busy seasons anyway. That was kind of the story there.

AGH: Yeah, so clearly you are genetically inclined to think like an accountant. I’m going to switch subjects here because when you and I talked, you told me about some of these crazy vacations that you all went on and just to add some color to this conversation, I cannot help but ask, tell us about your summer vacations with your mom.

TY: Yeah, so one of the things, I mean, as I mentioned, she was just a crazy hard worker, had to be and never complained about it. But she absolutely, positively was convinced that she wanted my sister and me to see the world to the extent we could.

At Thanksgiving, we would always take a week and as soon as school was out, we would take a shorter trip. We would load up in a car and drive somewhere. But in the summer, she would save up for a vacation and we would always go on a two-week vacation. Most of the time we had her parents, my grandparents, with us and it was in a little Ford Granada, a little sports sedan, and we would travel the country.

So we drove to Canada, by Niagara Falls and we went to the Grand Canyon and went over the plains and went to a ton of parks. We saw over 40 states in the back of that car and over 30 state capitals. So what’s really interesting about it is Allison (my sister) and I didn’t have technology like iPods. The highlight was searching for a Holiday Inn that had a pool!

I learned so much about our country, geography and more. We would mix in fun and just a ton of education because my mother believed in education and reading and such so much. Just tremendous memories with mom, my family and particularly my grandmother. She would always sit in the back with me and we would ride for eight or ten hours a day to the next spot and see everything in between. It was a lot of fun.

AGH: That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t help but ask you about it. I’m going to get back to the topic at hand. At DHG and beyond, men play a really important role in the advancement of women, and oftentimes, we talk about women’s progress but we don’t necessarily talk about the men who were and are great advocates, sponsors and mentors.

What role has your mom’s influence played in your outlook towards other women? Because as I mentioned earlier you are a great advocate, and sponsor or mentor to many here in the firm.

TY: Well Alice Grey, that’s a wide ranging and deep question but I will just say, and I mentioned it a minute ago, back in her day, and just as a quick aside, she has told me on many occasions, back in the old days she would go to CPE courses and she might be the only one in the women’s restroom at the break, and recently this last year, we held a CPE event and there was a huge line to the women’s restroom and the men’s was wide open.

So she just talks about how interesting it is to see how women have really come to be such a large force. I mean 55% of accountants are females –  I think this was the last number I saw.  It was a really interesting time for her, but as I mentioned, back in those days in the mid to late 70’s, she was in a position to where the men there were compassionate and kind and fair but it was expected that everybody would be equal, again with respect to travel and with respect to schedule and hours and all of those sorts of things.

And I don’t look at that as being unfair, it’s just the way it was and it still may be unfair. It’s just a question of timing and how people did things and that sort of thing and so as I look back –  a quick little example is I remember, Alice Grey, many days to where my mom would have to take home work and come pick us up from school, after school. We didn’t have a bus system in our town and so the only way to get to school was to be carried to school and picked up in the car. And so often we would be the last ones and I remember I always felt some disappointment, minor disappointments of being the last ones and you’re kind of even embarrassed like, “Oh my gosh I am the last one,” and all of that sort of stuff. I’ll tell you that perspective, I think about that a lot because what it does is it really drives you to think about the needed flexibility that our people have. You know many of our people have children and other lives and health issues and needs outside of this place.

I think about our ability as a firm to keep the lights on, to provide great opportunities for our people and yet provide people the flexibility to go to the doctor and to pick up their children and to work from home on a day when someone is sick and so forth. You know those memories stick with me and I hope I provide good examples and the right encouragements, to tell people to relax and take care of what they need to. That’s always been my style here in Birmingham and beyond.

We must work hard to get the things done, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be real people and real people have real lives outside of this place and there ought to be in most days a way for those two things to coexist.

AGH: Yeah, well I think that we today are so lucky that we have the technology that enables us to be flexible. Whereas your mom, today, she could have been more flexible.

TY: Yes- she had to work at the office – no other choice.

AGH: Yeah, she had to work at the office. So if it were today, she would go pick you all up, get you started on homework or outside playing or whatever and she could pick back up and continue working. Whereas then, when she left the office she was done. She had to be done. So we’re so fortunate to have that flexibility today.

TY: No doubt.

AGH: So before we wrap up I can’t help but ask you, what is one piece of career advice that you think anyone joining the profession should hear?

TY: Well, Alice Grey, I will stick with my normal — yeah I’m sure some of you who might know me are going to go, “Here we go.” So I want to talk with college students or our people or Sunday School class or whatever about two words that come to my mind, and I’m sure it relates back to my upbringing at home, but really the two words are “attitude” and “initiative”. Interestingly my wife shared with me a LinkedIn article yesterday that is entitled “Why attitude is more important than IQ” by a psychologist named Carol Dweck. (Click here to view article.)

I’ve got it right here because I printed it yesterday. There’s a study — everybody’s got a study for something — but a study about a person’s attitude often times is way more indicative than IQ, and I laughed because in today’s realm with our firm, Alice Grey, I would have to ask you all to recruit me. Now I did pretty well in school but I didn’t have a 3.9 or whatever. I went to a great school but I did a lot of extracurricular and all that sort of stuff.

But I will tell you, my GPA was not one of the 3.8, 3.9’s that people cherish so much in the recruiting process and so I’ve tried to get by. I owe much of my success today to my upbringing which instilled that a positive mental attitude and forward-thinking about what comes next, ahead of when someone expects you to do it is critical in life.

That initiative word is just a powerful word and if you put the two together with a smile and thinking ahead about how to get ahead and about how to serve quicker, better, faster and how to impress customers and how to help your neighbor and those kinds of things, if you put attitude and initiative together, it creates a force that is really almost unbeatable. So while grades are important and passing the CPA exam is crucial, there’s a lot of musts, but to me, the thing that differentiates people are those two words (attitude and initiative) and you put them together and it’s magical.

AGH: Thank you so much for joining us today, sharing with us stories about your mom and sharing with us the inspiration that she’s been on your own career.

TY: Well, you know what? I’m proud of her and I am proud to be her son. So it’s easy to talk about that stuff. So hopefully it’s a decent story for someone to listen to and I appreciate you asking me.

AGH: Awesome. Well thank you all for listening to our special edition of the Life at DHG podcast series, celebrating Women’s History Month. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our Life at DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.