Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

RSM Pursue Your Passion: Have a Seat!

RSM’s Matt Dollard was one of nine employees to win the firm’s Pursue Your Passion program this year. As a result, Matt was awarded nine days of paid time off, along with $10,000 to pursue a personal goal. Matt’s dream? Work under the direction of a master craftsman to create a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture by hand. Read Matt’s story: 

Matt Dollard
I feel fortunate to work at a place with a program that encourages employees to pursue their passions outside of their everyday careers. My passion (or “healthy obsession”) is building hand-crafted furniture. The majority of my work to date could be considered cabinet-making – mainly a lot of right angles, which is relatively “easy” once you practice at it. I was ready to take on a new challenge and, with the support of RSM, decided to learn chair-building. Specifically, I wanted to construct a chair that had no right angles, with lines skewing and curving all over the place. With this challenge in mind and the firm’s support, I chose to take woodworking classes from one of the best chair makers in the country.
My near complete Continuous Arm Windsor

In March, I spent one week in North Carolina studying with Elia Bizzarri. I encourage you to look at Elia’s work; it’s of the highest quality and done by hand. There were three other students studying with me - all of them retired. Being the youngest participant and far from retirement, I felt lucky to be there. Were it not for RSM’s Pursue your Passion program, I too would have waited until I retired!

Elia Bizzarri demonstrating how to split
logs with steel wedges and a sledge
hammer to harvestchair spindles. 

The project was to construct a continuous arm Windsor chair. This chair design is several hundred years old and very much in use today, however, its contemporary examples are mass produced in different forms. There is a growing revival of hand tool craftsmen who have begun writing about and documenting their methods and taking on students. I’ve been inspired by these craftsmen and have coveted what they do.

We began with a red oak log, and a wide plank of pine for the seat, and transformed them into a finished chair.

Elia demonstrating how to use a
shaving horse and a draw knife
to rough out the chair spindles
We split the logs with steel wedges and sledge hammers into rough sections for chair spindles. We shaped them with hand tools on a shaving horse, basically a foot-operated vise that holds the work while you sit in it.

We then made the chair back by splitting it from a white oak log, as white oak bends nicely and is perfect for the chair back. We shaped it with similar methods as the spindles. Then we put the chair back in a steam box for over an hour at 220 degrees, bent it over a form, clamped it down, and placed it in a kiln to dry for a few days. 

The chair seat is made from Northern White Pine, a softer wood good for carving and shaping by hand. If you look, most wood chair seats you find today are a series of wood pieces laminated (glued) together. Original American Windsor chairs more often used a single section of pine for the seat. This requires a wide section of knot-free pine, which isn’t easy to find. Lucky for us, Elia has a connection that supplies him.
Bending a steamed chair bow (or
back) over a form to make the
distinctive continuous arm
chair back

The seat took several days and multiple steps to complete. After cutting the basic profile, we determined the leg and arm stump angles then bored holes by hand.  We then temporarily inserted the legs and used their resulting angles as a guide to take measurements to drill holes for the cross stretchers for the undercarriage. With that complete, we carved both the top, parts of the bottom and the sides of the seat to give it a curvy shape.  

We then began gluing and hammering wedges into the tops of the legs to firmly set the leg joints into the seat.

The next step was to drill holes in the seat deck for the spindles and begin orienting them in the chair by eye.  The spindles by nature weren’t totally straight. We followed the wood fibers, which makes the spindles strong but leads to some natural variability. The trick is to align them by turning them so they appear as straight as possible. This works surprisingly well. The eye naturally seeks symmetry and finds it even if the spindles are a little less than perfectly straight. The final steps involved sighting the angles, then drilling holes in the chair back, then inserting the spindles and arm stumps for a dry test fit. We aligned them, then gently tapped the chair back over the spindles, drove wedges into the tops and sawed them off.   
Carving the seat with an in shave

My completed chair, after shipping it home and spending about eight hours applying 8-9 coats of various finishes is pictured here.

I could not have taken a week off of work to study with a master chair builder and complete a project like this without the support of RSM. Getting time away and funding would have been a challenge with all the priorities in my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the time and resources that were provided to me by RSM’s Pursue your Passion program. I learned so much. Elia is a brilliant and humble instructor, and an entertaining storyteller while he teaches. 

Organizing the spindles in the most aesthetically pleasing way -
each spindle has natural variations due to following
the direction of wood fibers
Overall, the experience exceeded my expectations. I feel confident that I could adequately tackle this project on my own now. In fact, I enjoyed the project so much, and the firm has provided me with enough funding and time to circle back and take a second course where I’ll be constructing a comb-back Windsor rocking chair pictured here. Wish me luck!
Test fitting the bow on the spindles

To finish the chair I applied 4 coats of barn
red milk paint, two coats of black "wash coat,"
four coats of Tung oil and one coat of wax. The
next project I will tackle under Elia's
instruction in May 2018 - a back comb windsor
rocking chair.
Hand drilling the holes in the seat deck
to insert the spindles - using the bow
 as a reference point to determine
the proper angles

Monday, April 9, 2018

Beto’s passion: Helping nonprofits achieve their mission

Beto Arellano | Senior Audit Associate | San Francisco
We recently sat down with Beto Arellano, a Senior Associate in our San Francisco office, to talk about one of his favorite type of clients – nonprofit organizations.

Beto, a CPA and University of California, Davis grad with a master’s in accounting, primarily works with clients in financial services, with emphasis on private equity funds, venture capital funds and small business investment companies. However, Beto’s passion to help the community has also translated into a passion for helping nonprofit clients.

He said working with nonprofit clients has been quite rewarding and can be some of his most interesting work, such as when he did an audit for an interactive science museum. “Breaks consisted of playing pinball, walking through a fog bridge or playing snake with other museum goers. Not much can beat that in the audit world! It a very unique experience as not only do we get to interact with fun exhibits, but we get to work closely with management and understand how a museum operates. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that makes this such a special place for visitors and we got a front row seat on the whole production!”

It’s not just the unique and different clients Beto enjoys, but also seeing how his work helps the organization make a positive impact. “Another client I have the opportunity to work with has a mission to support conservation issues, education and community foundations. As part of our audit procedures, we examine grants and get to see firsthand how these funds are being used to help with all sorts of social issues, from water conservation to providing medical assistance. It has been quite intriguing to learn how they have grown over the years and see how they continue to raise funds in order to continue making a global impact. Due to our relationship with these clients, working on nonprofits has been quite rewarding. We see how our work is supporting their mission and vision.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trevor Wong reaches new heights with Ascend

Here at RSM, we place a heavy emphasis on year-round development to help our people build their skills and grow their careers. One way our people receive training is through our 11 employee network groups, part of our Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion program. Trevor Wong, an audit and transaction advisory services associate from our San Francisco office, recently had the opportunity to attend the Ascend conference in Houston, Texas, along with 50 other RSM colleagues and fellow InspirAsian employee network group members. Ascend is a non-profit organization that cultivates and trains Pan-Asian members and supporters as they navigate through related accounting and business fields.
We sat down with Trevor for a brief chat to discuss his experience at the conference and how it has helped him beyond his time there.

RSM: Prior to the conference, what were some of your expectations?

Trevor: I figured I would meet students and other professionals, and get to know what Ascend was truly about as my alma mater did not have a local chapter.

What sessions did you think were the most informative?

One of the sessions I found most empowering was a session hosted by Alfred Ko, an RSM risk advisory services director. It delved into how to ask for recognition and credit, which was a good way of understanding how one could approach that sensitive issue. Another was hosted by guest speakers Christine Ha and So-yeon Yi, and I got an understanding of what tribulations they went through in their careers, and how they used their experience to their benefit and always believed themselves. That was something as an Asian-American, I found to be helpful and informative.

Is there anything you learned or experienced at the conference that you have now incorporated into your everyday work life?

Networking for sure. Now I can talk to students and professionals, which translates into talking to your client professionally and being more outgoing. Now, I reach out to people in other lines of business in New York, Irvine, Los Angeles, Houston, etc. I’ve broken barriers and spoken with other people outside my group. I’m also now more adept at asking for feedback, to reach out and be proactive, and be more accepting of self-recognition.

What kind of fun things did you do at Ascend?

One night, we broke up into three groups and went to Indian, Korean BBQ, and Hot Pot for dinner, then met up for Karaoke after. We had a lot of fun!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Meet Jenna Wiessner: Two-time RSM Intern

Jenna Wiessner | Future Tax Associate | Baltimore
We sat down with Jenna Wiessner, a two-time intern in our Baltimore office, to learn more about her, including her experience at RSM and what makes her unique.

Tell us about yourself!
  • Hometown: Fallston, Maryland
  • College: Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland
  • Graduation: December 2017 
  • RSM Office: Baltimore
  • Favorite place in the world: the beach 
What are three things that no one at RSM knows about you?
  • I am a HUGE Dave Matthews Band fan. I have seen them in concert 10 times and have even traveled the world to see them perform!
  • I played rugby for Salisbury University for two years, and after too many concussions, I decided to enter into early retirement from my rugby career.
  • I was initially a finance major, and one of my accounting professors spent an entire year trying to persuade me to switch my major to accounting. I ultimately caved, which was the best decision that I ever made, but I have maintained a double major in both accounting and finance. 
You initially were an audit intern in the summer of 2016, and you then returned as a tax intern this past summer. How did you go about making that change and why?

Making the change was incredibly easy. After completing my audit internship in 2016, RSM gave me an offer to return for a second internship in audit in 2017. That said, when I later realized that I wanted to shift from audit to tax, I simply spoke with my campus recruiter to see if it was even a possibility. Within a week, I was re-extended an offer as a tax intern!

Deciding to make the change from audit to tax was a natural decision. After wrapping up my audit internship at RSM, I went back to Salisbury and took my first tax class. That same semester, I also completed an elective tax internship through Salisbury University. Through both my first tax class and the elective tax internship, I came to the realization that tax was a natural fit for me. My experience this past summer as a tax intern definitely reaffirmed my decision.

What did you enjoy the most about your audit internship? What did you enjoy the most about your tax internship?

My favorite aspect of my audit internship was the valuable experience that I gained while on site at the client and having direct interaction with the client. I had the opportunity to tour some really cool clients with state-of-the-art facilities and sit in on some interesting meetings.

My favorite aspect of my tax internship was the natural challenge I faced on a day-to-day basis. The tax work really required me to problem solve and be creative by leveraging a variety of resources, which I so enjoyed. Even a tax senior associate on my team was pleasantly surprised when she saw how quickly I was able to grasp some challenging concepts!

Although both internships were quite different, they each gave me really unique experiences, which helped to better understand what path I wanted to take following graduation.

What drew you back to RSM for a second internship?

At the end of last summer, I really felt that RSM was a good fit for me. Everyone in the office truly embraces the culture and the firm’s brand promise “The Power of Being Understood,” and that really resonated with me. On top of that, I felt that RSM would be a great long-term fit given the size of the firm, the middle market focus, and the long-term opportunities that I would be provided when starting full-time.

Tell us your favorite memory from the last two summers. What stands out in your mind?

I can’t exactly pick one specific memory, but in general, the people definitely standout. Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet so many great people all in different positions and lines of business. Returning this past summer, it was amazing to see so many familiar faces, while continuing to forge new relationships. It really is who you work with that matters the most.

What advice would you give to future RSM interns?

Have fun! To be the best version of yourself, you must be confident AND have fun. The whole point of an internship with RSM is to see if you are a good fit for RSM, and if RSM is a good fit for you, and the best way to do that is to be yourself, work hard, and enjoy yourself all at the same time.

Consumer Products: Audits for everyday items

Alison Cannon | Assurance Manager | Baltimore
We caught up with Alison Cannon audit manager in the Baltimore office, to learn more about what it’s like to work in RSM’s consumer products practice. Consumer products, including food and beverage, restaurants, retail, and fashion and home furnishings, is one of many industries in which RSM focuses.

RSM: What types of companies are considered consumer products clients?

Alison: Consumer products encompasses anything the end-user consumes. Think about things you buy everyday—food in grocery stores, clothes online, furniture in a store. All of the companies that sell those products to you are considered consumer products.

What challenges do you face working in the consumer products space?
The products consumers want and how they want to get those products is always changing. Think about how you shop today versus how we shopped 10 years ago. We want companies to be “omnichannel”—meaning we want different ways to buy things—online, in the store, on an app, etc. Companies really have to innovate to be able to keep up with today’s consumer. As auditors, we have to keep up with how companies are changing their business and making sure we know how to audit and account for any changes.

What’s the make-up of a typical client team?

This all depends on the size of the client. Our small to mid-sized companies will typically have 4-5 core team members consisting of 1-2 associates, 1 senior associate (the “in-charge”), 1 manager, and 1 partner. This team is usually on site for about 2-3 weeks. Larger clients could have more team members and will be on site for a longer period of time. Depending on the client, there could also be a RSM tax team or IT team that helps that audit team.

Can you describe a typical consumer product client engagement?

Typically the team will go to a client a few months before the client’s year-end. During this time, the team is focused on planning the audit. They will calculate materiality, determine what accounts need to be tested, identify any risks (including fraud risks) at the client, and may even start some testing. They will also obtain an understanding of all of the key processes at the business. For consumer products, this usually consists of cash, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory, fixed assets, sales, and payroll. After an understanding has been obtained from those in the accounting department, the associate or senior associate will sit down with all of the process owners (accounts payable clerk, assistant controller, controller, CFO, etc.) and will perform a “walkthrough” of the process. This is where we pick an example and have the client show us exactly how the transaction works from beginning to end. This is a great way for us to interact with the client and to make sure we really understand the business. It can also help us identify any other risks that may exist in the business, especially around internal controls.

Right around year-end the team usually performs inventory observations. Most consumer products clients have inventory on their balance sheet since this is what they sell to the end user. To make sure that inventory exists as stated, we will go out and count a sample of the inventory. Sometimes this is the most interesting part of the audit—imagine going to count clothes at your favorite clothing store, or counting frozen food in a huge freezer!

After year-end, the team will go back out to the client to begin testing. During this time we get schedules from the client, select samples, and have the client pull information for us. We spend a lot of time testing the samples, performing analytics, talking to the client, and obtaining additional documents to support what the client is saying.

What experience do you need to work on consumer product engagements?

Ensuring the team has experience in the consumer products industry is very important. Normally, that industry expertise come from the manager and partner on the client team. But new associates can jump right in to this type of audit with appropriate guidance from the manager and partner and begin to develop their own industry knowledge All of our employees, including new associates, take continuing professional education classes throughout the year, including industry-specific courses, so everyone gets the training they need to work on these audits.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard | Senior Director | Great Lakes Region

Janjira Prompinit. Hellen Aromo Omuka. Veerada Sarapat. Yanam Saewue. Purity Salama Julius. These are the names of the underprivileged girls I have supported or am currently supporting in developing countries. Children across many portions of the globe do not have access to everyday necessities that we take for granted such as schooling, medical care, nourishing food, clean water and a safe environment. The international statistics on poverty and child abuse are staggering. Young girls are particularly vulnerable which is why over the last 20 years I have chosen to sponsor and support females throughout a majority of their childhood and teen years.

A peer-reviewed study of the organization through which I provide my support, Compassion International, appeared in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy and the results indicated that those children like mine who are sponsored through the program are 14 to 18 percent more likely to have salaried employment and 35 percent more likely to secure white-collar employment as adults. As a proud employee of the RSM organization my dream is that the children I support can also obtain meaningful employment that provides the same values and opportunity for advancement through the workforce.

This study also concluded that those children sponsored are 30 to 75 percent more likely to be leaders in their communities and 40 to 70 percent more likely to act as leaders in their church upon reaching adulthood. The core value of stewardship and development is further evidenced by the study’s findings that sponsorship increases the likelihood of a child becoming a teacher by 63 percent.

Lasty, in regards to education the study has found that the program extends the average length of time that a child will stay in school and increases the likelihood that they will complete a secondary education program by 27 to 40 percent and the completion of a university education by 50 to 80 percent. In fact, two of my own sponsored children have completed their high school equivalency education within their home countries. The ability to impact a child’s life by not only assisting in their physical well-being but also by advancing their education and employment opportunities is well aligned with the RSM core calues of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence and stewardship.

Although my sponsorship over the past 20 years has resulted in the exchange of what likely amounts to hundreds of letters, pictures, artwork and other correspondence I have never been blessed with the opportunity to speak to any of my sponsored children, let alone meet them face to face. My Pursue Your Passion dream is for myself and my significant other to get the chance to visit one of my girls and interact with them on a personal basis.

I cannot express in words what I envision it would feel like to meet one of my sponsored girls with a visit also allowing me to experience the culture as well as the challenges that they face. It would be gratifying to also observe the child development center and see the organization in action as it improves the lives of these children. Additionally, my goal would be to utilize the trip to not only meet my child but to also provide additional support to the underprivileged in the area.

Depending upon the logistics of a pre-organized trip planned by the organization, I hope to participate in a “CauseTrek” which adds an additional aspect to the trip. In addition to the normal visit, these trips also incorporate a further fundraising component, requiring each traveler to committing to raising funds for a specific charitable purpose. Ideally, there is a trip to Tanzania which can be customized such that I can meet my child from Kenya as well as participate in the CauseTrek for this trip, which entails raising funds to implement water wells, rainwater-harvesting systems, the building of new latrines and in-home water filters benefiting children in Tanzania.

Although pre-planned trips are offered on specific dates and have a limited number of travelers allowed, Compassion International also assists in personalized trips which can be customized if a planned trip is unavailable. My plan is to work with the organization to raise funds for my local visit, even if a CauseTrek is unavailable.

RSM takes pride in focusing on communities and operating in a socially responsible manner. I cannot think of a more socially responsible action than supporting those in the greatest need in our world and often literally clutching them from the grasps of poverty and providing them with a safer and healthier life and greatly increasing the likelihood of an education and gainful employment. It will be a dream come true for me to see my sponsorship in action with my own eyes and hopefully provide not only one of my sponsored children but their entire family and others in their community with some love and inspiration as we meet in person.

Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Megan Reishus

Megan Reishus | Associate | Central Region

I’ve been playing handbells for 21 years, over two thirds of my life. It’s my passion and it’s what I spend basically all of my free time doing. I love the music, the people and perhaps most of all the teamwork that is fundamental to success in the handbell world. I’ve often heard handbell ensemble ringing called “the ultimate team sport” because the music is written like a piano score but is played by multiple people. Each person has their own notes for which they’re responsible, and each note has to be played consistently – both visually and aurally – with the other ringers’ notes to create a smooth musical line and visually pleasing performance. This type of music truly encompasses many of RSM’s core values – particularly teamwork as mentioned above, excellence considering the level at which we strive to perform and stewardship considering that we also teach other musicians.

When I was a student at St. Olaf college, I joined a handbell ensemble that changed my perception of this instrument from a hobby that I enjoyed but to which I didn’t dedicate much effort, to a true passion into which I’ve poured myself completely ever since, striving for excellence in my own personal skills as well as working tirelessly to be a strong member of consistently excellent performing ensembles. In 2011, I moved cross-country and joined two world-class handbell groups right away – a 15-member advanced community handbell ensemble called the Pikes Peak Ringers and the elite Forté Handbell Quartet. This latter group gets to the root of my passion for the instrument. The four of us are great friends and we push each other to new heights every single week. We strive for excellence and never settle for less than our best, and we keep raising that bar when we succeed at short-term goals. In 2016 we were featured performers at the national seminar for the Handbell Musicians of America, our national organization, and the experience of touring across the country and then back home (and playing for that signature event in the middle) was something I’ll never forget.

Because we’re passionate for always getting better and dreaming bigger, we have goals and hopes for continuing to build our skills and share the music of this wonderful instrument that we love with the world. We want to continue to tour to different locations in the U.S. and maybe even internationally, eventually. We also take great pride in our first CD that we produced in 2016, as well as our DVD of music videos produced in the same timeframe, and hope to release more discs in the coming years. Our goal in producing videos of our music was to break away from the standard (for handbells) static camera recording of a concert venue and do something different, so we’ve been working with videographers and creating music videos, recording in locations varying from the top of a mountain to a snowy castle, from train tracks to open fields. We have all sorts of ideas to grow and bring our instrument to the world and challenge (and ultimately overturn) the stereotype of handbells as a novelty instrument only used at Christmas.

However, we have one main obstacle holding us back from the freedom to pursue these ideas without constraint: we don’t own all of the equipment that we use. We borrow a significant portion of our instruments from local churches and community ensembles, and our ability to use them depends on the schedules of the actual owners of the instruments. The equipment that we would need to purchase in order to gain our independence and flexibility, however, is fairly expensive. Even with each of us giving our time, energy and often monetary investment to the group, we know that we will need additional financial support to be able to be free to pursue our shared passion in the near future without limitations. This contest will have such a lasting impact on me and my quartet, since once we purchase the remaining equipment that we don't yet own, we gain the independence to freely pursue this passion for years to come, and the funds from this contest would go a long way toward getting us there.

I think this Pursue Your Passion contest is so incredible. Reading the winning entries from the past two years was so enjoyable and inspiring, and I just hope my passion and proposal for how this contest could help me pursue it will stack up with current year submissions. I also think it would be really rewarding, if I am blessed enough to be selected, for my group to be able to come perform at one of the large RSM conferences held throughout the year, and show off our shiny new instruments in a “thank you” performance. Short of that, it would be my honor to share videos and blog entries of our spring tour from Colorado to Georgia and back – for which the nine additional days off to pursue this passion would be so helpful – as part of the contest follow-up.

In terms of the budget, my immediate goal is to purchase a three octave set of bronze handbells and their protective cases. This would leave my group able to focus our future cash flow toward CD/DVD/music video production and the final octave of bells to complete our primary set.