Sahand studies the past for better connections in the present
Sahand Kargosha really likes history. Especially United States history. In an effort to learn as much as he can, he’s read many books about the Civil War and both World Wars. He’s been doing this ever since he was little, learning how important reading was from his Mom.
In this episode, Sahand and I talk about how being a bit of a history buff has allowed him to develop some great relationships in the office – especially with a Tax Partner. This helped even before he started with EY, since his interview with a Senior Manager turned to discussing the Civil War. He likes to talk about this and finds it’s a good way to connect with others. He says he has yet to find anyone that absolutely hates history and that “…there are so many ways to bond with people – the work itself is just one of those ways.”
Sahand Kargosha is a Tax Associate with EY in Washington DC and an adjunct professor at George Mason University.
He received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Accounting from George Mason University.
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Welcome to Episode 112 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. To put it another way, it’s helping people find their “and”, as in my guest Sahand Kargosha is an accountant and a crazy history buff.
As you’ll hear, his interest in history, especially the civil war, has allowed him to connect with so many people in his office, especially partners. There’s a lot of science behind why this is, because there’s chemicals in your brain that are released when you meet interesting people, one of them being norepinephrine, which creates engagement, and another one called oxytocin, which creates trust and bonding. Both of these are really crucial to developing a positive corporate culture.
But before we get into this week’s guest, a quick favor to ask you: if you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, don’t forget to hit “Subscribe” so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing everyone’s interesting stories each week, and this week is absolutely no different with my guest, Sahand Kargosha. I know you’re a very busy guy as a tax associate with EY in Washington, D.C. and an adjunct professor at George Mason University, so thanks so much for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Sahand: It is my pleasure.
John: Yeah, man. It’s so exciting. Elijah Watt Sells Award winner, which is fantastic, which for everybody listening, I guess – what’s the best way to explain that to people?
Sahand: Well, according to AICPA, it’s an award that is given to those who take the four sanctions, pass all the four sanctions on the first try, and then average above 95.5 across all four sanctions. Last year, out of I think more than 103,000 people who took the exam, 58 people received the award. That’s me and 57 other people.
John: Nice. That’s fantastic, man. I mean, congratulations.
Sahand: Thank you.
John: Get it in with a bunch of – in the 70s. It all counts the same, I guess. But congratulation, to you, man. That’s for sure. I’m sure there’s some of your friends that would like to borrow a couple of your points so they could get over the hump, but you know what? They’re all yours. You earned them.
I guess maybe before we get into it, a little bit of where you’re at now and kind of how you ended up there.
Sahand: Right now, I am employed at Ernst & Young at their Tysons office doing tax. I’m part of the DSG practice – diversified staff group that they have, but most of my clients are real estate clients. That’s an interesting path, I would say, because we do a little bit of everything for our clients in real estate, so I’ve been enjoying the experience so far.
I’ll be teaching accounting 361, which is Accounting Systems, at George Mason University, a required course. I’m looking forward to that, as well.
John: Yeah, man. Look at you. You just can’t get enough, right? That’s where you graduated as well, correct?
Sahand: That is true. I graduated from there last year. Last August. Good turnaround, I guess.
John: Yeah. I know. At least you know where you’re going. That’s always cool. What is it that made you want to get into accounting?
Sahand: I’m the fourth generation of accountants in my family. People have different takes on that. That covers a wide spectrum, I guess, as to what it tells about me, but I think the reason I chose this career path was that I really enjoyed the analytical skills that my dad and my grandfather – what I remember from him – had.
Let me give you an example. I’ll give you an example that happens quite often. Whenever we went to a theater or to a grocery store or to – you name it, any kind of place that you would go as a day-to-day thing. My dad would always ask me about “How many rows did you see in that theater? How many shelves there were in that grocery store?” So on and so forth. Always paying attention to numbers. Always paying attention to details.
It always seemed interesting to me that, hey, this is a piece if knowledge that I would not have had had I not paid attention. That was one thing that was always in my mind moving forward in my high school years, and then after that when I had to pick out my major. This attention to details and so on and so forth was something that I wanted to pick up.
I thought I had enough of it that I could start a career in it. When I talked to my dad about it, and when I talked to other people about it, they said “Yeah, if you think that’s something that you’re interested in, accounting is definitely a great career path.” I believe they were right.
John: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s hard for them to argue that. Fourth generation. At least they didn’t tell you “Sahand, don’t break the chain. We’ve got three. We need a fourth.” At least they didn’t put the pressure on, so that’s very cool.
Sahand: Nobody was really pressuring me to do it. It’s just that I knew enough about the career path, what it entailed, and all of that that I’d made a decision. I made the decision with my eyes open.
John: That’s great, man. Did you grow up in the US? When did you come here?
Sahand: I’m originally from Iran, or the way they say it here, “I ran”, which I always – whenever somebody says that, I ask them “Why did you run?”, and they look confused, and they say “What do you mean?”
I said “You just said you ran. You said ‘I ran’. Why did you?” I’m from that part of the world. I came here in 2010 not knowing pretty much a word of English. Let me be perfectly honest, maybe like five words in English, “Okay” being one of them. Then it all started from there.
John: That’s great, man. Very cool.
Sahand: Learned English, went to college, and now I’m here.
John: Now, you’re on the Green Apple Podcast. Look at you, man. You’re on a rocket ship.
Sahand: Yeah. Exactly.
John: So cool. Very cool. Does the stereotypical accountant definition apply over there as well?
Sahand: Absolutely. It’s even worse in some aspects. Let me give you an example. When they think about accountants, we have accountants here and bookkeepers. Two different words. We don’t really have that in Farsi. It gets even worse when you think about it. Unless you explain what you actually do, there is no way to differentiate the two in Farsi just by the name. At the very least, we’ve got that going for us in English.
John: Right. Exactly. Right.
Sahand: There’s that. People have the same misconceptions about accounting and what it is and thinking that we just sit somewhere and just run numbers every day and all day. I feel like at this point, it’s a global thing, the stereotypes. But it’s even worse because of language differences.
John: I can imagine.
Sahand: The example that I gave you. It’s tough, kind of.
John: Yeah, because I mean, when you’re talking to your relatives over there, it’s – the same words mean different things.
Sahand: Exactly. Another example that I can give you about this – another story, maybe, is when I was communicating with my dad about the concepts that I had learned, let’s say I took Intermediate Accounting 1, and I was talking to him about revenue recognition for long-term projects, construction projects. We very quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to understand each other unless we actually took the time and tried to translate every single – not every single word, but it’s just every single concept. I had learned those concepts in English, and he had learned those concepts in Farsi.
John: Oh, that’s hilarious.
Sahand: Yeah. We would be talking about the same thing for hours, not knowing that we were talking about the same thing, because if you literally translate those things, it wouldn’t equate to anything meaningful in either language, because there are technical phrases that aren’t really translatable. You have to know what it means in the other language.
It was a couple of interesting conversations that we had before we actually established common ground and we were able to actually communicate.
John: Yeah. Counting is tricky enough in English, let alone trying to translate to another language like that. That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. Well, congratulations, man. You’re doing it and you’re going back to teach the kids how to do it. That’s fantastic. That’s really cool. That’s going to take up some time, but when you do have some free time, what sort of passion do you love doing? What are the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?
Sahand: Reading is a big passion of mine, and it has been ever since I pretty much remember. Ever since I learned how to read. I owe much of it to my mom. She has been an avid reader, as well. But the specific topics that I read – I would say that history is the biggest one.
Different lines in history, different topics in history – I would say the Civil War is one of them. The two World Wars. When you go back, the Seven-year War and then the French Revolution. So many different things. It’s just that I pick up projects, small projects for myself, maybe read two or three books about specific topics and then move on to a similar but different in some ways topic, and then after a while, you start accumulating knowledge, and things just start making even more sense, because you know the context.
John: Yeah. Exactly. I would imagine that the US Civil War is kind of a new topic to you. I would think.
Sahand: Well, when I was younger – that kind of sounds funny –
John: Right, you’re already feeling old now. You’ve only been in a year.
Sahand: Only a year in public accounting, and I already feel old. When I was maybe 18, 19, I really loved the topic of the second World War. Then you read about that, and you come across these names like John Pershing or other names, and then you want to go deeper into those topics that would get you to the first World War. Then from there, you go back a little bit further, and then a little bit further, and then you end up at Civil War.
That has been a topic that I have been reading on for a while and I’ve been really enjoying that. It’s funny how it comes up to be very helpful in your career, these little things. I was never reading about Civil War because I anticipated that it would be useful in my career.
John: Right, yeah, no one teaches you that at George Mason University, right? “Read up about the Civil War.”
Sahand: That is very true. That is very true. “Learn about the Civil War, and you’ll be able to do a better job as a tax accountant.” That’s just not the case. But it just so happens that a lot of accountants, that is, around me, are also interested in history. That’s a common ground. That’s a really good common ground.
I remember during my interview process with EY, one of the senior managers that was interviewing me – she also had a deep interest in Civil War and specific topics within that context. We were able to talk, able to have a stimulating conversation for maybe 10-15 minutes, and she felt really good about that. I’m pretty sure that played a big role in her forming her opinion about me and basically moving forward, giving the okay to hire me.
It kind of goes back to what the purpose of this talk is all about that there are so many things at play in the professional world. The job itself it just one part of it. The way you bond with people it a much bigger thing, a much bigger part of the entire process, I think. My experience has been just that.
Whenever I’ve been able to have this communication with people, establish this common ground with people over so many different topics but history in particular, things have been working out much better compared to whenever I just did something for somebody and just moved on.
John: Right. That’s fascinating. I guess you create more of a relationship, it’s a little stickier, if you will.
Sahand: Exactly. It’s a human being on the other side of that tax work paper or that report or that memo. It’s a human being that likes things that whoever it is reviewing that project likes. If it makes it that much easier for them to give more productive feedback and maybe call you back for a different project or things of that nature –
John: Yeah. I need to back up and clarify – you’re telling me there are humans in tax?
Sahand: As amazing as it sounds, there are humans. Robots haven’t replaced us all. It hasn’t happened yet.
John: That’s so true, though. Exactly what you said. Just that the bond is the bigger part, and doing the work is not the biggest part. It’s fascinating to me why there isn’t a charge code for the bigger part, you know?
Sahand: It is. I mean, it’s called “business development”. It doesn’t help you in utilization, I guess. I believe that it should have been included into a utilization, because we joke about that and laugh about it, but I think it’s the most important thing. We serve clients. The clients should feel good about communicating with us, otherwise, they’re just going to go find somebody else who they can communicate with well.
I completely agree with you. Just create the charge code for this, and everything is going to be okay.
John: Once they push back, then just call me as reinforcement. “Actually, let me just pass you on to John Garrett.”
John: You’re dead on. I think a lot of people know that. There’s a lot of great people there in your D.C. office of EY. I had Megan Varani was on. She’s on the audit side, but she was a green apple with her barbecue restaurant that she has there. Kevin Virostek, of course, your managing partner. Really good guy. Hung out with him several times.
Sahand: That’s awesome.
John: I think it’s fantastic what you guys are going there. I think it’s really great. Would you say that reading up on history outside of the relationships with other people – is there another skill maybe from diligently reading and things like that that translates to being better at tax?
Sahand: Well, the more you read, the easier is becomes for you to find common ground. Also, on top of that, the more you read, the easier it becomes to just read. In tax, a lot of what we do involves reading. If it’s a dull thing for you, it’s going to be hard.
I just think this is a good hobby to have. It just so happens that it helps my career, as well. I’ll give you an example in terms of outside of just day-to-day work. A few weeks ago, maybe a few months ago at this point, I had an opportunity to go to lunch with a group of people. It was a small group of people, four or five people. Then one of those individuals was Paul Anthony Brown.
He is pretty much a legend in the real estate world. He’s been in this business for a long time. He was a global partner at Arthur Anderson, as far as I understand. He still is a partner. Very well-known individual, very insightful, knowledgeable, but also, he’s a very nice human being on top of everything else. If he ends up listening to this, great, but I’m not saying this because he’s my boss. Honestly —
John: Guess who just became a manager? Sahand Kargosha.
Sahand: Whoever has ever met this guy, they can attest to this. Somehow, some way, the topic was revolving around – I think it was the specific cities in the south that one of the individuals was there. I don’t exactly remember, but I think it was related to some city in the south that somebody traveled to for a vacation.
I made a comment “Oh, this so-and-so city is where this battle took place.” I don’t remember exactly the tone. But what happened afterwards was that we had a good conversation about the Civil War, and then it just showed Tony and every other person that, hey, I know something outside of tax, too, that they were also interested in.
It basically attached a face to my name in everybody’s mind. Whenever my name comes up, “Hey, this is the person we had that conversation, that stimulating conversation about the Civil War with.” Then once you have those conversations, once you have a nice conversation about specific things, that opens the door to have conversations about different things. Work-related, non-work-related, basically, it starts to create that bond. You start from there, and you start going forward, and you develop those bands, and they become very handy.
Maybe next time I’d like to have experience in a specific area of tax, I’ll just reach out to these people, and I’ll have that much more chance of success in getting into those specific assignments, because they know me.
John: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. They want to hang around you. The next time you see Paul Anthony Brown, you have a common thing to bring up other than “Hey, I did another return.” It’s like, yeah, so did everyone else on the floor. That’s fantastic, man. That’s really cool.
Sahand: Obviously doesn’t replace that need to have technical knowledge, technical tax knowledge, because if you do a lousy job, no amount of bonding with people is going to replace that. But it’s basically we are assuming that if hey, you have the satisfactory level of technical knowledge, now, what do you do to go further? Go above and beyond? I believe that’s what you should do, develop that kind of relationship based on the common ground.
John: Absolutely. You’re at EY. Let’s just look around. Everyone’s got that level of technical skill. More technical skills isn’t going to get you anywhere, but your personality and a little bit of sharing your passion when the time’s right, and it just exponentially head and shoulders above that. Is there anything that EY does specifically to encourage that, or is it more of just kind of a tone at the top that it’s okay to have something outside of work?
Sahand: It’s definitely that tone at the top that comes into play. It definitely is that. All of the individuals that I get to work with are – they have their own passions. They’re passionate about something. They are not afraid of showing that passion. That “Hey, I do this.” It could be golfing. It could be different sports that they have. When you see one of the partners showing off a patriot’s jersey – I’m not a very big sports fan, but when you see people in different jerseys, when that specific team is having an important game on that day, you know that it’s okay to show your passions as long as it’s within reason.
In terms of what EY as an organization does, well, they try to create leeway for us. It’s common practice across all of our offices, as far as I understand, that if you bring up a specific passion that’s a positive thing, they encourage that, but there isn’t much they can do, if that makes any sense, because the point of it all is that you are free to bring up any kind of passion or any kind of thing that you are passionate about, so there’s not much they can do as an organization to codify that within the organization, but definitely, the tone at the top is a big thing. We see that every day.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That’s so great. I’ve been around your office for a couple of all-staff meetings and what have you, and yeah, a really cool group, that’s for sure. Huge, huge office, but you can definitely get a good vibe from it. I guess you kind of answered this question, but I’m just curious. How much is it on that organization to create that culture, or how much is it on the individual to open up and share when it’s appropriate?
Sahand: It’s a two-way street. Obviously, as I said, once the higher ups show that it’s okay to develop a passion and be part of whatever activity that is related to that passion, it’s okay to do that, it’s actually encouraged, the higher ups do that, that’s one thing, but then also, it’s on you to show that, “Hey, I have my own thing. I like history. I can talk about history.” Then that helps others who are interested in that same topic to step forward and say “Hey, I’m interested in that, too.”
It could be a manager. It could be a senior manager. It could be a partner. Or it could be another staff who is also interested in that topic. Then you start forming those bonds through the conversations that you have with them. Maybe you want to go grab lunch with that person. Maybe you want to plan some sort of event. Put those individuals – “Hey, you want to go watch this documentary? Do you want to go get to this museum?” or stuff like that.
But even at that conversational level, it feels pretty good I would say to have some people, especially in the higher ups, that you can just walk up to and say “Hey, I read this book that I think you would be interested in. It talks about this and that topic that we talked about a few weeks back.” Or even better, that has happened to me, when some of those higher ups come to you and say “Hey, I came across this and remembered our conversation about this topic. I think you would enjoy this.” When these things happen, you know that you have done it right in terms of showing your passions.
John: That’s fantastic, man, and so encouraging to hear, because for most associates, when they come in, they’re just nervous, they want to do a good job. What is it that you think makes people want to fall into line with what the stereotype is?
Sahand: It’s just so easy to just do your job and go home. It’s well within people’s comfort zone. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It certainly doesn’t create any extra risk, if that makes any sense. It’s just so easy to do that. Accountants are sort of conservative people in terms of being risk-averse. That is just bad. I think you would agree with me.
John: Totally. I’m super risk-averse. Absolutely. Still. Yeah. Totally.
Sahand: That results in people associates not being willing to take that first step forward.
John: That’s fascinating. You might realize that there’s an upside, but the problem is that there’s a downside. If I just ride it down the middle, then there’s no downside, so I’d rather just do that, and that’s the status quo. That’s really fascinating. That’s really interesting. It’s also easier. It takes less work. It takes less energy. That’s a really great insight, man. Really, really good. Do you have any words of encouragement that anyone might be listening that’s on the fence that maybe is also a huge history buff and they’re like “No one else cares about history, so I’m never going to share that in the office.”?
Sahand: It’s what has been said so many times. You miss all the shots that you don’t take. It’s just that I have yet to come across one person who hates history, who not just is indifferent towards history, but hates history. “Hey, you talk about history with me, I’m going to see to it that you get a terrible review” or something.
Chances of this thing going wrong are pretty low. It’s not limited to history or any other “common” topic like that. I have friends and colleagues who are passionate about things such as cars. I have a friend who has managed to buy a Dodge Charger Daytona – a pretty cool car – on an associate 1 level. I don’t know how he’s done it, but he’s done it. He’s the biggest car guy I have ever met. He has regular conversations with partners, executive directors, managers about cars. He’s known as the car guy at the office. He’s been doing pretty well with that. Everybody refers to him. “Hey, so-and-so does an amazing job. He’s also a car guy.” He’s got that going for him.
I don’t think there is any downside to having a nice and interesting passion and sharing that with anybody. I have yet to meet anybody go wrong with it.
John: Yeah. I would argue that more people hate the Patriots jersey than history. That’s where it’s risky. But otherwise, you’re dead on, man. You’re exactly right. For some reason, in our own heads, we build it up to be a bigger issue, and then until it comes out and you realize actually, it’s a cool thing. That’s great. Your career benefits; your buddy’s career benefits. I’m sure people are talking about you in the same way. You’re just not around to hear it.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so cool. This has been so great, Sahand, but until I get on the train and come down to D.C. from New York and we go do some museums, I do have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I need to run you through. Here we go. Let me fire this thing up. Here we go. All right. I’ll start you out easy. Are you more cats or dogs?
Sahand: Dogs, I would say. Yeah.
John: Dogs. All right. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Sahand: That would be Tom Hanks.
John: Tom Hanks. Yes. Solid answer. How about when it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: PC. And when it comes to your mouse, are you a left click or a right click?
Sahand: Oh, that’s a good one. Left-click.
John: Left click. Making decisions. There you go. How about for movies, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Sahand: Would you believe me if I told you I have never seen either of those?
John: Wow. Okay. I believe you. How about do you have a favorite history movie?
Sahand: This is going to sound odd, but I love The Godfathers.
John: Okay. There you go. Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Sahand: That would be Bugs Bunny.
John: Bugs Bunny. Yes. He’s hilarious. How about do you have a favorite number?
Sahand: Yup. Seven.
John: Seven. Why is that?
Sahand: I don’t know. It’s just I like the way it looks bost in Farsi and in English.
John: Sure. How about do you have a favorite band or musician?
Sahand: It’s kind of hard to choose, but that would be Mozart.
John: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. How about are you more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Sure. I figured that. Pens or pencils?
Sahand: That would be pens.
John: Pens. Yeah. All right. Here’s some easy ones. Favorit color?
Sahand: Blue. Light blue.
John: Blue. Light blue. All right. Least favorite color?
Sahand: That would be yellow.
John: Yellow. Okay. All right. Here’s one. As a tax guy, are you more 10-99 EZ or 10-99 long form?
Sahand: I hate both.
John: Me, too. All right. I can work in tax at EY as well. How about are you more jeans or khakis?
John: Khakis. All right. Fancy. Two more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Sahand: It depends on what I have to do.
John: Okay. All right. So both. Last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Sahand: The favorite thing – it’s a collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s – all of his works that goes back I think 1905. I believe that’s the date.
John: Wow. That’s very cool, man. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, man. This has been so, so good, so thanks so much, Sahand, for being with me on the Green Apple podcast.
Sahand: That has been my pleasure.
John: Wow, that was so great. I loved how Sahand said there are so many ways to bond with people. The work itself is just one of those ways. If anything, I’d say even the work is the smallest and probably most shallow way that you can actually form a connection with others. It’s great to hear that Sahand recognizes that so early on in his career.
It also made me laugh really hard when he said that sharing his passion isn’t really a bad thing, because he has yet to come across anyone that absolutely hates history. That’s so funny.
If you’d like to see some pictures of Sahand and some of his favorite history books or connect with him on social media, please go to greenapplepodcast.com, and while you’re on the page, please click on the big green button there and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.
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