Leading People to Think Like Owners with Dean Owen at M. Dean Owen CPA

Getting employees to go beyond responsibility is the dream of many leaders. Great companies intentionally encourage employees to think like owners. My research with fast-growth companies has uncovered the concept of leaders inspiring their people to feel like owners. Today’s guest is Dean Owen, President at M Dean Owen CPA. Inc Magazine ranked his company #2841 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. M Dean Owen CPA, is a mid-size regional CPA firm focusing on small businesses and upper-income families, providing full range accounting, tax, and wealth management services. Dean shares why employees must think like owners. When employees look at their role as more than just a job, they are committed to the results and goals. When they think like owners, they can overcome the challenges they encounter.

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Dean Owen: The Transcript

About: Dean Owen is a well-known firm in the region. He is on the local news, which is very dominant in the area, every other Tuesday where he takes questions and answers money-related questions, everything from SSDI, basic to complex tax questions, and commentary on the various investment markets and interest rates. He is the local expert the news station turns to for commentary on any large financial stories going on. Dean Owen are often a community resource for things like PPP Loans, they did several hundred last round, and have already submitted over 90 to a local bank that is a trusted resource.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Dean Owen: Treat them like owners, you give them responsibilities and get out of their way, expect them to perform at a very high level and give them a safe place to run. I mean, a safe place to go when they hit a problem. When they hit a snag when they hit something they need help with that’s okay. Just say, so fix it, figure out what we need. If you make a mistake own it, we’ll fix it. We may do a little bit of training and move on. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a mistake and we’re all gonna make some of them, but that’s kind of culture. I try to maintain.

Intro: This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Getting your company to scale beyond you requires a different type of leadership than probably what your use to. One of the best ways I can describe that is you don’t want people to just take responsibility. You want them to take ownership. And in fact, you want them to think like owners. So today’s episode is all about how to get your employees to think like owners, We look at some of the different aspects. We’re going to be talking with the founder of M Dean Owen CPA. Dean Owen himself is going to be on the show. They were on the Inc 5,000 last year. But what we talk about today will help you because you will be able to understand what quality employees really mean. What ownership really does allows you as a leader, we go through some of the stories and share some of the insights behind how this plays out so that you can learn and discover how to get people to think like owners. I love this conversation because it really allows you to see behind the scenes, of what does it take to create a place where people are driven.

People are really committed to the success of the business and they don’t have to be financial partners. Do you want to compensate them? Well, we do talk about that a little bit, but you want to make sure people think like owners, So check out this episode, if you want to be a better leader, if you ever have thoughts about what does it take to grow to the next level? I want you to consider a fast-growth boardroom. If you’re looking for a community of people that are smart, intelligent, driven, but supportive, but also to challenge you, then a fast-growth boardroom might be just the place for you. What we do is have a unique conversation around what we’re doing and accomplishing what’s getting in the way and we help and support each other.

At fast-growth boardroom. It’s a very unique experience. We do some fun stuff like racing cars and dune, buggies, and other things. But when the real core of this is, is about you becoming an extraordinary leader, creating a team of people that go beyond you, and increasing the value of your company for when you want to sell someday. So if you want to check out the fast-growth boardroom, make sure you go ahead and check that out now. I encourage you to apply if you’re not on the Inc 5,000 that’s okay. We have a special group just for you that really allows you to be the extraordinary leader and learn from others as well. So fastgrowthboardroom.com. Now here’s the interview with Dean.

Hi Dean how are you?

Dean Owen: Excellent. Excellent.

Gene Hammett: Well, excited to have you on the Growth Think to podcasts, we host a lot of founder CEOs of fast-growth companies. So welcome to the show.

Dean Owen: Thank you. Glad to be here. Appreciate the opportunity

Gene Hammett: We want to look at, you know, some of the leadership, things that are going on inside your company that have made it what it is today. But I want you to give us some context around the company itself. So tell us a little bit about M Dean Owen CPA?

Dean Owen: We’re Midwest accounting firm do financial services as well. Pretty much, they won’t call it, start out doing what we call right up and tax work. And at that has grown to where it’s a fairly sizable source of income for us. We, there’s three other CPAs on staff to them, which are quite, had quite a bit more experienced than I do. And then there’s a host of other financial services and accountants and bookkeepers and that sort of thing.

Gene Hammett: Well, you got a full team there and it takes a full team to scale to the level that you’ve gotten to. You were talking about your background in the military as teamwork. You learn teamwork really early being on a submarine. Tell us just a little about what you learn.

Dean Owen: Just the whole experience in the submarine world was just phenomenal for me. I joined at a very young age and there was a moment when the light went on, I’d come from a pretty rough family, a pretty difficult family situation. And the people that slept in the submarine community are some of the most ethical, honest, talented individuals that you’ll ever meet. It’s just, it’s amazing to people and just to have, and it’s not just somebody you work with you’re underwater for a hundred days with them. So you’re immersed in that community, getting that culture just instantaneous. So that was a huge plus for me and I credit an awful lot of my steps to that.

Gene Hammett: Now, before we turn on the recorder, you said something to me, a fact, I didn’t know, but 90% of the people that apply to be on a submarine, don’t quite make it. Is that about right?

Dean Owen: I don’t know what the stats are today, but in the late eighties, early nineties, that was about 90% were washed out. So it’s, you know, you’re getting a cream, cream prop group of individuals on that summary. And you think about it. You have to, you can’t just jump off the ship. If something goes wrong, every system and knows how to keep it. Going down when it’s supposed to and coming up when it’s supposed to

Gene Hammett: Dean, you said something that I think kind of connects the dots here about teamwork, but you said you’ve got some high-quality people specifically. You’ve got some CPAs that have more experience than you. This is a very common trait amongst companies that are growing fast. They hire really high-quality people. And you saw that on the boat. Do you live that now, is that fair to say?

Dean Owen: I think it is, yes it is, very fair.

Gene Hammett: When you think about your style of leadership, how do you lead a person who is got maybe more years of experience than you and has a really strong kind of background area? How do you lead that person well?

Dean Owen: Incentivize them to act like an owner, to think like an owner with the compensation system. Respect and everything else and treats them like their owners and expect them to act like owners. And that’s pretty much what I tried to do. And, I give them that and they give that back to me.

Gene Hammett: You know, you’re probably not familiar with the work I do. And all these interviews of founders, just like yourself, I’m writing a book about this very topic in all the conversations we’ve had. We haven’t gotten to this point yet, but I’m writing a book around how do you inspire someone to feel like an owner so that they think and act like one as well? What are the keys to that?

Dean Owen: Probably the first piece of it is going to be compensation. They, there needs to be, , you know, of course, anytime you have employees, they’ve got to worry about their own compensation and getting paid and they’ve got families to feed and all that kind of stuff. So they need to pour. But then there also has to be some type of production pay or some type of reward for every job they do that they’ve done for a client. They’re getting financially rewarded for. And then at that point in place, in my experience, they will take incredible ownership of that account and that client’s business. And they don’t have a huge personal concern with making sure things go the way they’re supposed to be. Things are done on time on schedule. Yeah. That’s it’s the compensation. Is that the biggest piece of it?

Commentary: Hold on, Dean just talked about compensation, but you might not have on your mind. How do you make people feel like owners when they don’t have compensation or you don’t have stock options or profit-sharing? Well, what I’ve seen is you want to be intentional about some of the core elements that make people feel like owners and help them act like owners. And that is all of the work I’ve done in my next book. Now you don’t have to wait for that. If you are curious about what’s missing inside of what you’re doing, then make sure you reach out to me, [email protected] that’s my email address. I want to help you with very customized, specific advice. I’ll put together a game plan for you to help you understand what’s missing. This is at no cost to you. If you’re the right person for this, and you really are serious about being an extraordinary leader and growing your company, I want to give this gift to you. So if you’re listening at this point in the podcast, maybe you’ve heard many podcasts before. I want to make sure I am here to serve you. So this is no cost to you. It’s a gift. It is real coaching and it will help you understand the gaps and the game plan to move forward. Just check it out, just go to GeneHammett.com. You can go start your journey or just send me an email. Now back to Dean.

Gene Hammett: I can’t disagree with that, but I’ve always tried to think about what can we do as leaders beyond compensation because we can obviously do profit sharing. We can give options, we can do all these financial tools, but what can we do other than compensate them well?

Dean Owen: Well, treat them like owners. You give them responsibilities and get out of their way, expect them to perform at a very high level, and give them a safe place to run. I mean, a safe place to go when they hit a problem. When they hit a snag when they hit something they need help with that’s okay. Just say so we’ll fix it. we figure out what we need. If you make a mistake own it, we’ll fix it. We may do a little bit of training and move on. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a mistake and we’re all gonna make some of them, but that’s kind of culture. I try to maintain here.

Gene Hammett: That’s another trait that happens quite a bit and fast-growth companies. And the reason I’m bringing this up is because my whole job is to interview people just like you, that are on the front lines of growing companies. And to try to connect the dots about what makes companies continue to grow fast. But you just said quite a few things in there. Give them a safe place to go failures. Okay. Mistakes are okay. You are creating a place where people feel safe and that allows them to make those decisions and feel empowered. You, you talk about that quite a bit. Can you go a little bit further into what them feeling empowered?

Dean Owen: There’s several things here in the building, looking at the financial services part of my team, , we want to bring in a new client, which has been fortunate. We’ve had 10 new clients since the first in the month. And I really don’t know how to do any, to pay working at this none. So, when one of the operations team ladies comes in, I’ve already told the client, I do not know this paperwork. And you know, one of my team members does and they’re really good at it. And I don’t have a clue what they do at their desk. And then I make sure that I reinforce that with my employee, my team member in the room so that I’m reiterating that to the client or the prospect is getting ready to become a client. So I really, I don’t, I bet part of my business could not run without my team members, you know, with those team members and they know that and it’s, you could see it that if there’s a pride there, if they know that they’re a critical part of the infrastructure, this business, , there’s job security there they’re paid very well. And they, of course, they earn it so that I’m glad to pay them that. So these hard, good people empower them and get out of their way and expect a whole lot from them.

Gene Hammett: You know, Steve Jobs is famous for talking about hiring people. You know what? We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. They tell us what to do with as leaders. And a lot of people don’t understand that, but you’ve created a place where people have the sense of ownership and in a really coming together to, to do their own things that they’re experts with. To collaborate with each other. And that’s what makes the system of your business grow. When you think about the systems of this, do you do anything special to make sure that all of this kind of works without you?

Dean Owen: My team knows my job is to interview prospective clients and to make command decisions that I have to make. And that’s it, their job is to do everything else and they like that. They want, they don’t want to be the owners with ownership, responsibility, but they like being empowered and everything kind of works from a system. I’m a big fan of Scott Adams, the guy that writes the Dilbert cartoon and he talks consistently about don’t have goals, have system cause goals, get you to an end, and then they stop have a system to continuously improve continuously. We’ve worked with people continuously grow through people, you know, demand. I, my personal requirements are about four times as high for continuing educations as the state licensing bodies. So CPA has to get 80 hours every two years. I require 160 hours a year and I’ll pay for that gladly. , but they’re going to get it or they’re gonna be in trouble. And they know that that’s, that’s a rule.

Don’t break that rule. So as a result, when I go to a conference with my broker-dealer, they will pay my team to come down and teach other people’s teams. Every Wednesday, they get on a Zoom call and they teach 12 other offices how to do their job. That’s all outside of me.

Commentary: Dean just talked about systems. You probably have systems that you run. But let me ask you, are they completely effective or are they ineffective? Meaning are they evolving constantly or they’re really allowing you to free up your time, allowing your team to create predictable results? A lot of the work I do with companies is figuring out what systems are missing. And how they can actually grow. I want to make sure that you understand the systems are not just marketing and sales. There’s hiring systems, there’s leadership development systems, there’s delegation systems, there’s technology and automation. All those things all play together. Your company has to have systems that are evolving consistently over time. If you want predictable growth, those systems allow your employees a sense of ownership. Because when they own the systems, they’re able to evolve them and improve them. And so your job as a leader is to inspire them to own those systems and improve them and make them a little bit better. Everyday. And really that is the backbone of your company creating that predictable growth. I do this all the time with my clients, with the frameworks we have, but you can do this right now without hiring me without doing anything. You can just put a lot of intention on the systems that drive growth, and that will help you create that predictable growth. Back to Dean.

Gene Hammett: You know, what you’re highlighting is another one of my steps inside creating a place where people feel like owners, which is growth. They have to know that they’re growing, their skills are growing. They’re being more valuable. This will increase compensation, but that’s fine because they’re more valuable to the organization and, they come to work to get that. So I appreciate you making that a requirement for your team.

Dean Owen: I do. I expect every one of them to be looking at say, okay, here’s my supervisor’s role. How do I get into that role? How do I take my supervisor’s job? And you know, the supervisor then is there thinking, how do I get into and take some more off of being, it takes some work off of him. So everybody’s looking ahead and trying to get to the point where they can do that. And we have we openly discuss it. How do I help you get to the next level?

Gene Hammett: I want to switch gears here a little bit because we’ve been talking about kind of the high-level principles of leadership, but let’s get down into the details, you know, going through COVID you, you had to make some shifts and you guys came together in a very unique way. Tell us a little bit about what’s going on with that leadership throughout the community and throughout the company.

Dean Owen: Really big stuff happened there. No one, all of that kid. And then we started talking about shutting down businesses and I’ve got a whole bunch of small business owners that paid my family. I’ll be very honest. It scared me. And it scared me to a point. I said I have to do something. And of course, tax income was extended at a point when I’ve got maximum capacity, meaning maximum payroll costs. So I’ve got all these people here, all these skillsets here and the tax season died. And I got all these small business owners and their businesses were being shut down. And, , pretty closely connected with our Senator and our congressmen and start talking with them and start figuring out what was coming with the PPP program and all of that stuff. And I just came in and actually went to my junior employee. The person had been here the least amount of time. And I told her, I said, Jenna, I need you to be an expert on all things PPP yesterday, figure it out. Cause we’re going to own this and I’d get on discussion forums. If other CPAs, other than own farms, we’re running, permits as fast as they could. They were scared to death of it. And I’m thinking to myself, these are the people that are feeding my family. We don’t get them help.

They’re not going to be here tomorrow. We do a lot with the local NBC station. Most of their advertisers died. We didn’t, you know, quit paying on we didn’t. So they ended up opening up and we became the community resource for PPP partner with a bank in Marion, Illinois, Travis Clement, south point. And, he’s an SBA guru. He and I started our careers about the same time and we kind of grew up together. So I contacted him. And said, Can you handle these loans for the ones that don’t have banking relationships in your town? He said, sure. Send me all of them. We did about $70 million for the PPP loans at my conference room table. He would send somebody down. It’s an hour drive down every Tuesday, fill out PPP loan applications, get them all signed, pass out checks. And we did that for weeks and weeks and weeks on top of that, Travis made us, , yeah, I didn’t expect it, but he had some times where he made us an agent or something, but I ended up being paid 1% of that.

So very, a huge revenue stream. The TV station gave us lots of free advertising and we just basically went out to the community and said, if you’re a small business owner, you need to get this call me. I don’t care if you’re a client or not. We’ll take care of it. And we had a flood, so that’s been just amazing. But I went to my team, right. When I, at the very beginning of that, and I just told them, I said, Look, I’m going to get the loans. I’m going to use them to pay you. We’re going to figure out a way to get this community, all the money you can. And we’re going to figure out a way to get through this and in doing so, I ended up being, you know, my, my team ended up being the heroes in the community.

Gene Hammett: Dean, I love this story because everyone has said probably at the beginning of COVID is like there’s opportunity out there. There’s opportunity. And many people couldn’t see the opportunity. And you had people in your profession that we’re shying away from, from whatever’s going on because they were scared or whatever it may be, but you leaned into it and this uncertainty to serve your community in a much deeper way and a new way. And that’s probably what gives you the, where you are today and the foundation for your company. So I appreciate you sharing that story with us.

Dean Owen: Yeah, I’m a man by profession, largely embarrassment during all of this. I don’t understand why it’s a massive opportunity to help, to help clients. It wasn’t that hard once you figured out the system.

Gene Hammett: I don’t disagree with you, but I appreciate you having the strength and the competence to say that in the industry, sorry, it’s actually one of the common questions I asked my clients when I’m talking to them about what do they really want? And they say, I want to be the best company in my firm or my industry. And I will say, well, what do you hate about your industry? So I appreciate you kind of putting a spotlight on that for us a moment.

Dean, I want to wrap up today’s interview with just some wise words from you as a leader, you believe in transparency, you believe in hiring quality people, maybe something we haven’t already talked about yet, but what has made you the leader that you are today?

Dean Owen: Firstly the military experience. That’s by far away, it gives me the competence to do what I want to do. And, delinient by kind of phrase says, you know. What if the guys that run towards gunfire not away from it.

Gene Hammett: I love that.

Dean Owen: That’s what being a leader is.

Gene Hammett: Dean. You have shown us the path of what leadership is in your world. And I really appreciate that. It isn’t really a pleasure to have you on the show.

Dean Owen: Thanks for having glad to be here.

Gene Hammett: I want to kind of wrap up here a little bit. Just give you a recap of what we just experienced here. Dean has shared.  yes, he got some military experience, but he actually takes leadership very seriously. It’s not just him. If you want to scale your company, the next level, you’ve got to be the best leader you can be because those people don’t stay around. They don’t put their heart and soul into things that they aren’t, they don’t have the sense of ownership. And so what we talked about today, we’ll give you a guide to being a better leader.

My whole job is to create a podcast for you to be an extraordinary leader for you to really understand what does it take for you to move to the next level? We have a group of people that are founders of fast-growth companies that really want to be better leaders. And if you think you’re a good fit for that, just go to fastgrowthboardroom.com.

That’s the place where you have a community of people. We have incredible content and there’s coaching specifically for you to grow to the next level.

Just check out fastgrowthboardroom.com as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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