Controlling your narrative with Joni Johnson-Powe

Hosts & Guests

Judy Vorndran

Meredith Smith

Joni Johnson-Powe, DuCharme, McMillen & Associates


Controlling your narrative with Joni Johnson-Powe

Meredith Smith [00:00:04] Welcome to SALTovation the SALTovation Show as a podcast series featuring the leading voices, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax. Welcome to SALTovation, where we are joined by Joni Johnson-Power, who is currently with DuCharme, McMillen & Associates as vice president of DMAs Tax Technology Consulting Division, Joni leads a group of 30 plus technology tax technology consultants responsible for delivery of indirect tax engine implementation and consulting services. She also oversees the tax process optimization practice. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:00:49] Oh, thank you. I'm excited to be here today

Meredith Smith [00:00:51] and of course we have SALTovations. Resident Tax Leader Judy Vortigern here today.

Judy Vorndran [00:00:55] Hello, Judy. Hello, everyone.

Meredith Smith [00:01:00] Joni, you are an incredibly accomplished woman in tax, multi degreed lawyer, CPA, I.T. specialist. From our perspective, that means you understand the laws and infrastructure that could or should be in place to comply. How has this educational background influenced your career choices and specialties?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:01:18] Well, I'll be honest. I would have never thought when I graduated from law school that I'd be involved in technology. I just would have never imagined. And it was really just kind of a stroke of who I was. But I have to say that from the day I walked out of law school, I really utilized all of the education that I've completed. So, you know, part of my everyday work is really understanding the law. The rules, how they apply and also, you know, law school taught me something that a degree in accounting is to kind of think outside of the box. It took me a little bit in school to really learn that at first, when your accountant is a plus, people see your

Meredith Smith [00:02:07] lawyer,

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:02:09] The BFG. You know,

Meredith Smith [00:02:12] just, you know, I don't know. I also don't care why ABC's or one plus two equals three. I just know that one plus two equals three and a spreadsheet can help me facilitate that.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:02:21] Yeah. Yeah. So I really think the law school education really has helped me be a great consultant because we always have to think critically. I'll always have to think outside of the box and it really helps me in my everyday job to be creative.

Judy Vorndran [00:02:38] We're both all the leaders from the same law school, even though we didn't know each other that which is kind of funny, isn't it, that we have the same roots in law and I have a finance undergrad, but it's still numbers. I remember just being a wreck about writing memos. I'm like, oh my gosh, I cannot write and not write for a living off and on writing spreadsheets and writing. Yeah, but then the pivot to it. So that's another agenda that is kind of an interesting choice. Like a lot of lawyers that go at attacks do the advocacy, the research, the writing, maybe because of your abilities you could do the spreadsheets, the plant, but that you also have pivoted to say technology can help us be successful in applying the law to the numbers. Yeah.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:03:20] How does that work? Well, it's very interesting because I really started my career on the technology side at KPMG and my boss was also a lawyer. And he was at the I think at the time it was Quest. You know, there's been an evolution. But he was at Quest and he got involved somehow in his career there with dealing with the tax side, but also systems. And so when I was a senior consultant at KPMG, I came into my office like, hey, we just landed this big project with SBC, who's AT&T now? And he's like, so I'm going to give you a one on one on technology and systems and tax. And I'm like, OK, and you start drawing all these tables and things on the whiteboard. And then I got thrown out into a project. I had no idea anything about technology. I knew the taxpayers but got thrown out on a project. And that's really how I really started my career in technology. And I really liked it because, again, it's like a puzzle, you know, where does your data come from? You know, what does it need to look like? How do we get from A to B? At the end of the day, we want to get the right taxes, calculate it so we can remit it on a return. So it was kind of again, it was very creative. And I really enjoyed the fact that it was kind of a puzzle. You really had to think outside the box. And every client is different in how their systems work with their tax policies. Every software is different in terms of how they interpret the law. So how do you deal with that? So it's really unexpectedly been a great area for me to develop then. And it really is supported by my background in my education.

Judy Vorndran [00:05:13] Well, it's kind of interesting to like. I don't know about you if you remember your score on the LSAT, but I aced the section of unlogical games. I did not miss one. And I remember learning what I did, my bar review course or whatever was listed as a prep course. And they talked about how people think. And some people are really good at things like a Rubik's cube, which is like spatial and visual. And then other people are all the cryptograms. If you think about the different games people play and how they work, like shooting games and and game games of chance. Right. And logical games are what the LSAT test is for. And I think there is logic and law tries to be right. There's logic and numbers. There's logic in business. And then you put all that together to get to a solution within the constraints or confines or not even all those boundaries, thinking outside the boundaries to come up with a good solution, to meet everybody's needs in the business, to get the right tax on the forms. So you must have that kind of money, because first of all, I would say to you, why would you bother being a CPA, going to law school? There's a perfectly good career path as a CPA.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:06:21] Well, to be honest, the only reason I majored in accounting, I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was in high school. And so my dad came to me and he was a CPA and he's like, So what are you going, Najran? I'm like, I don't know. And he's like, if you major in accounting, you know, it really can open the doors for you. Even though you want to be a lawyer, he'll have a business background. And of course, I was like, OK. And so, you know, I hadn't really thought about it because I remember back. The day we did law school, you majored in political science.

Judy Vorndran [00:06:53] Oh, yeah, English poli sci. I mean, oh, yeah, people can write history. I mean, there were two people in my class that had business undergrads and one of my classmates went on to the Securities Exchange Commission. He worked there. So we worked in the financial industry. So he was a business undergrad, but that was it. Two out of one hundred sixty five kids. We were all business degrees. I don't know about your class, but that was my class. There was two of us that

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:07:19] there weren't very many at all, I think. And see, it was interesting because it was kind of diverse. A lot of people in my class were interested in the environment. And yes, a lot of people went up there for that reason. So there were just a few of us that were, like you said, having a business background. And I remember there was one professor, Mr. Kaiser, I can't remember

Judy Vorndran [00:07:43] what he said.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:07:44] And he was like he worked because he totally got it. And I was like, he was my hero because I was like, oh, he gets it. And that's why I started off in the big four, probably because of him.

Judy Vorndran [00:07:55] I mean, I love her.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:08:00] Yeah, he was the best ever.

Judy Vorndran [00:08:02] You know, he was at Arthur Andersen when he went to David Stubbs. He was top of his class because I got my Lillemor MSBA, which Zeil gave, which was extraordinary and tax business. But I did a joint program and I took all those classes with him and he was amazing. He really would never even go big for big, whatever it was at the time. If he had instead I would have gone to a law firm. But he said, don't do it, don't do it, go here and there. I am still in public accounting because the law firms don't do the same things we do. You know, they don't think the same way we do. And yeah. Interesting. Yeah.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:08:41] Think the reason why I went that route, I swear it was because he came in the class and he, he talked about, he thought he was more of a consultant. Right. He gave a lot of insight into the whys and less on the kind of law side, but really kind of planning how to plan for your clients and things like that. So I know it's like

Judy Vorndran [00:09:04] top of his class and a lot of those classes, like however he taught I did very well in his classes, which was a bombing. Right. I've made the right path. And how that's such an influence on you like you did.

Meredith Smith [00:09:15] I love that man, too. I was like, I would think so because you're like, you know, repeating a resume,

Judy Vorndran [00:09:22] is kind of like a personal friend, though, as it is just I really use a pivot. He tended to be into the big four

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:09:31] when I got the job with Eli. He's the first person I email. Yeah, because I guess what I got a job with Eli, like, I'm going to be just like you.

Judy Vorndran [00:09:40] Did you take anything with Betty Jackson? She was another one for me, Professor Jackson.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:09:44] I don't think

Judy Vorndran [00:09:46] she was at the business school. So if you did know it was a tremendous resource of mine, the same thing just gave me that thought process when I was getting the master's. So anyway, and,

Meredith Smith [00:10:01] you know, when you were talking about, like, how you got into technology, so was that initial project where they built just like a home grown integration or like a collection thing or like what were what were they doing?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:10:14] Yeah, so the project was to automate using software. So back in the day, what happened with these companies is they built the logic themselves. Yes. Because there was no software out there for Vertex and it was communication tax telecom. Yeah. Because it's so complicated. There's so many tax types. So they were one of the first companies we've been dating. But way back then, to actually utilize software, it is maintaining it internally. And so it was implementing Vertex software, which was actually very interesting back then.

Judy Vorndran [00:10:53] Right. And that's an interesting thing as you look at RIP and replace. And that's an issue for sure about picking the right software product historically because there wasn't that functionality, right? People built it.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:11:04] Yeah.

Judy Vorndran [00:11:05] So then you're like you're going to throw away all those hours of creation of templates and whatever they did to make sure the automation worked, it was a tough even haul then to go to automated software. Right. To go to a SaaS or whatever. And of course, Vertex in the Day wasn't SAS, it was on Prem downloaded, integrated Dell. I mean, I got started in that same space and then we pivoted to the SaaS environment. But even that has its issues about how the APIs integrate with one another and so forth. But you're right. And then you find a lot of the older companies that have been around a long time, had to build their native functionality within their own construct that they're not going to pivot to outsource solutions. Now, you're finding that change right there, like, all right, we've got our benefit out of it, but maybe it's not the best. So let's go ahead and change to someone who's going to keep this up to date, and that's kind of an assumption where you're playing now. You see what was built 20 years ago, 10 years ago to something that's more of an API as based, right?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:12:04] Yeah, and we're seeing a lot of clients, I would say even three or four years ago, they were not going to go to the cloud. They're like, no way. Now everyone is going to the cloud. And now they're even looking for this is one thing we're seeing, too, is going to help manage the software. So it's like, hey, I have clients that will convert. They're moving to the cloud because now they don't have to worry about updates and all that. So it's all managed by the software provider. And then now we're having clients asking us to manage the configuration because they don't have the staff or the budget to do it themselves.

Judy Vorndran [00:12:42] What? They can't do it. I mean, the truth is, as you're well aware, this is not something that somebody could do part time. And yet it is a part time job and in a business. So it is difficult for them to have an accountant, controller, CFO, or type of clerk managing that functionality. They don't have tax knowledge, so they're not going to do a good job on it. Yeah, no. Interesting. And then, like you said, just making sure everything's staying connected. Even I.T. I can't do that.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:13:10] No.

Judy Vorndran [00:13:11] That's right. Very interesting. Yeah. I find that to be an interesting issue with the software companies sort of set it and forget it mentality where it's like that's not true. Business like that, set it and forget it, you

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:13:24] know, and. And I was going to just add to what we're also seeing, too, is that a lot of companies are going back with that, set it and forget it like, hey, we haven't looked at this in 10 years or so and put it up a really long time ago. And we all know, like Vertex or the other vertex or TIAR, their content was limited 10 years ago. They focused on specific areas. So you ended up customizing and making it work. And now we have clients coming to us and saying, hey, looked at this in five, eight, nine years. Right. We probably need to go back and, you know, minimize as much as we can the custom configurations and utilize something that we're paying for that is maintained content that's kept up with the laws.

Judy Vorndran [00:14:12] Yes. Yes. But that's also an interesting thing. How do you find people understand the value of that? Like, that's the thing I feel people think should be easy. Why does it cost money? And I'm thinking, why do you think that there are 50 state laws? Forty six, of course. But why do you think that should be simple? Why do you think that is the culture of our society, especially the small or medium business market and even the large markets? Right. Yeah, that's a move.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:14:37] Yeah, I, I just think it's a lack of understanding, especially in the small to medium. They think that again, you know, once I have the software, all of my issues should be resolved. But one of the things that they don't always understand or think about is that every business is evolving. Right. So you offer new products, new services. You go from offering a widget to something that's in the cloud or service or we have a client here in Colorado that has been focused in the medical devices field. And so it's really easy. OK, it's cheap, right? Well, now they're launching this new e-commerce platform, which is kind of where we're seeing a lot of companies also spend more time and with a little bit of a pandemic that it's they're really looking at the e-commerce side of things. So now it rolled out this new ECan platform and now they're offering data analytics for that. That is technology that's built into the software, the software equipment to tell you whether it's working very well. Right. So that's new. Right. And so they're like, hey, it's not TPP anymore, where we have one tax code set up and that's the key. And now we're providing downloaded software and we're providing, you know, a lot of other services that were not part of our core offering. And so now we've got to think outside the box and now we have to rethink our whole deployment strategy, because it's not just a couple of customers that we sell equipment to in five states. It could be a customer anywhere so those are the things that are causing companies large and small to kind of rethink this whole set and forget it. Or it should be really easy.

Judy Vorndran [00:16:35] It's not really. And then they get in trouble. I mean, the thing to my mind is, does it take enforcement to cost compliance or is they actually proactive. And I think sometimes on the set it and forget it, there's no productivity or just sitting on it like, oh, I just filed and oh, we got in trouble here. Oops. Refresh. Yeah. Interesting.

Meredith Smith [00:16:55] Yeah I agree. Well and I want to kind of go, you know, you started, you know, went to law school, went to Big Four and kind of stayed in industry and then you decided to start your own business. Right. And do this on your own. Like what kind of got you there? And you're just like a skirt on it, you know, I'm.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:17:16] Yeah, well, it was kind of interesting. It was really more personal. Decision of sorts that drove me there, that would be totally unexpected, I thought I was going to be a partner big for that was my that was going to be my mantra is really focused on that. And in a thousand, my dad got sick and he had his own business. He worked for the IRS for 30 years. He retired. He had his own business. So he was sick. He was like, can you help me with my audit? Right. He had some audits. He was sick. So I stepped in, you know, helped on the side while I was working. I was with KPMG at the time, but really helped support his clients. And while I was doing that, I kind of just liked the fact that it is very personal. You know, when I'm working at KPMG, having these big multinational companies, it was more I felt like it's more valuable than what I did. I was kind of a person, a number. So just helping him was really the catalyst for that. And then when he passed away, I was eight months pregnant. And maternity leave is coming up in December. And I had to help his clients get through tax season. They had no one else to go to. So, you know, with the baby on my lap at home on maternity leave, I was doing tax returns, just trying to make sure that I got his clients through that tax season. That was the catalyst. So I will get back to KPMG after maternity leave. And it was right around Enron time, Sarbanes-Oxley. So I don't know if Enron hit right before that or right after that, but that whole thing happened completely changed the ability to provide services. Yeah. Now, as your services audit clients, you look at my client, they were right there to completely change the environment for me at KPMG because now I couldn't do projects for clients that were audit clients. So Project came up. We used to do a lot of work with KPMG Consulting. Actually, that first project I started FBC with KPMG Consulting. I was bit on a project. Couldn't do it. Their audit client. I really and then KPMG consulting is like, well can you do it for us some other way. And I'm like, I really can't. And then I kind of felt like I was on an island at KPMG. I lost my boss. He went somewhere else. You know how it can be. And I think the economy wasn't doing too well at that time. So he got moved out. And I was kind of I didn't have any I didn't have a sponsor. And, you know, in the public account, you have to have a sponsor. I reported to Washington, a great partner now. Good guy. But I never heard or saw him. I was just kind of a lone wolf. And I just decided I was like, hey, I could do it on my own. And I approached KPMG Consulting. I was like, my dad has a company. I put it into an LLC with my lawyer hat while I was doing some of those services with a baby

Meredith Smith [00:20:35] on your lap, delivering

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:20:36] the baby on my lap. And I'm like, I can do that. You know, I was like, I can do this so I could do it on my own. And they were like, OK. And then I went to KPMG and I was like, hey. And they were like, we'd rather have you do it than do it. So we are one hundred percent behind you. Go ahead. Do you know who set up the company or already has the company set up? But come in and go ahead and deliver this project and you'll be delivering it with our partner, KPMG Consulting, because I think they had spun off at that time from KPMG. So that's literally how I got started.

Judy Vorndran [00:21:15] That is so funny because that's the same with me, because I was in state and local and I was part of the outsourcing practice and we got Sarbanes-Oxley and it became this whole audit first. And I have vowed I will never work for a firm that has an audit practice because I never want to be hindered from helping my clients because of independence. And it just shut us down. I mean, it was inhibiting our ability to serve well because of our audit, rather than being the predominant driver of business and the big four. So not going to work somewhere where I'm not as important as they are.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:21:51] Yeah, yeah. So it was just kind of a perfect storm and I just jumped out and did it. I, I don't know that I would still do that now. I don't know. I don't know. I guess I was just super motivated. But I also knew it's just me. Right. So as a consultant it's just me. I don't have overhead. I don't have anything essential. You know, I just that was really how I started my business with one project.

Judy Vorndran [00:22:16] And then you've done a couple of things, though, because you went back in-house, you actually led the practice at Grant Thornton. So you pivoted to a couple of different things. And I. Gone back on your own and that you've ultimately enjoyed doing DMA just a couple of years ago, so you have been all over in terms of like where I'm going to be to make my living and I'm going to assume that has something to do with your family yourself. Yeah. The dynamics of business where your children are at.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:22:44] Yeah. So does it really, really does. When I left KPMG, you know, it was really kind of a career decision and I felt like I didn't have a lot of support. Right. So I did that for a few years. Five to be exact. Was it five? Yeah, I did that for five years. And I was super ambitious. I was 30 years old. I was like, I'm going to take over the world. I'm going to have a law firm, CPA firm, but hire these people. But one of the things I did realize right away, and I was also said, I don't have Wednesdays off of this,

Meredith Smith [00:23:24] is really funny. I picked Wednesday, too, because I was like, can't I just work because I was also at KPMG and I was like I was like, I don't at that point I didn't have kids. I was like, well. I would much rather work on the weekends, no one's bothering me and like, I'll run my errands on Wednesdays, but they will be my Saturday because it's midweek. No one takes Wednesdays off. Right? I picked Wednesday, too. And then my you know, someone I worked with was like, you realize we're in my client service. And that doesn't work that way because your clients work on Wednesday. And so you need to be available every Wednesday for your clients. I was like, well,

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:24:01] yeah, exactly. That was exactly it.

Meredith Smith [00:24:04] So now Wednesday and Saturday. Yeah.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:24:06] So I thought that when this is going to be crazy, I take Wednesdays off. At that point I had two children and what I found was that I work seven days a week. I took the kids to the office every weekend. I did not have Wednesdays off. I hired a lot of you know, I had at one point I had like six people working for me the first time. But what I didn't realize is that law school and undergrad didn't teach you how to motivate people. Didn't teach you about H.R. Did it teach you a lot of the intricacies around running a business? I actually had a law firm at one point in time and its CPA firm is doing some legal services. This gal I hired didn't show up for the first day of work and I was like, OK, well, sorry that she's going to sue me. And I'm like, what? But how could that be? You know, it was just a lot of things that you don't know. You know, you're starry eyed, you're ambitious. You want to go out, but you don't realize all the sacrifices that you really have to make as a business owner. You don't realize that just because you're really passionate about your clients and service that everybody else is going to be passionate about servicing clients, that everybody's going to serve your client the same way that you did. There were just things I had to learn. I think one of the most important things I learned was that in two you may be able to relate to this. But just because, you know, I have the ability to think at a different level. Right. Operate at a high level all the time. And I'm thinking and generating ideas, that doesn't mean that everybody functions that way. It also doesn't mean that your way is the only way. It was just really a learning experience for me as a young 30 year old person running a business that not everybody, your staff, other people that you work with, not everyone has the same experience. Nobody, not everybody, has the same capabilities. But that doesn't mean that they don't have value to your business. And when I was young, I'm like, why can't you do this? Why does it take you so long? You know, why? How did you respond to a client? And I probably didn't. At that time, I don't think I was as sensitive and understanding, I was just very driven and expected everybody to operate exactly like I did. Yeah. And I lost people I know who used to work with me at KPMG. I pulled a couple of people and I lost people because I wasn't easy to work with, because I operated like I was. And I expected everybody to operate on the same playing field and have the same expectations as I did and everything else. I think I've grown a lot from that. I think I've learned that everyone can contribute a different value, even if they're not a player. And there's not there's not always anyone who is not an A player, but you need B players. Sometimes you need C players in order to be an effective and efficient business. And I think that's the biggest lesson I learned from my first company.

Judy Vorndran [00:27:25] And now you can take that now while you're managing 30 people and then some, not to mention all the clients you're managing. Well, it's funny you said that because I use different tools, I use Strengths Finder and I use something called Enneagram. Now, that's a new tool I've learned about and I admire Sprague's. So between all of those, I try to have my people tell me they are inherently and try to maximize who they are and do the work they love that they're really, really good at, not ask them to be. I don't need a salesperson. I don't need you to be a research and writing person. The projects are varied. We can give each person something they'll truly enjoy and be successful at. That'll really enhance the client service without trying to ask everybody to be all things all the time. I'm not all things all the time. Right. Right. I mean, even I sort of can't deal with technology as well as Merideth or yourself, I'm certain.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:28:20] Yeah. Yeah. It was definitely learning. And gee, that's very funny that you say that because I, I have a couple, I have five or six directors that report to me and they're looking to go to the next level. And I had a guy that we kind of position is probably, you know, we're grooming him for the next level. And he had sent out he had a couple of issues in the last couple of months with. You know, the way that he dealt with this stuff and that there's some people that that left because of it and I shared with him, I had to change. You have to reflect on yourself and really think about what your delivery is. And he had written some kind of strongly worded emails to H.R. and I'm like, hey, you can't do that. Those are the folks that report to the CEO. And you burn that bridge, you might have burned your bridge that no matter how much I advocate for you to be promoted to senior director, it might not happen. So, you know, I, I told him I many years ago and even now, sometimes I have to reflect on my delivery, my tone. Who am I talking to? You know, like you said, knowing who my people are so that I can be an effective leader. And, you know, it really is important to kind of think about what we all learn. We all evolve. We all grow no matter how many degrees you have. We all have to kind of learn how to be a good leader.

Judy Vorndran [00:29:53] Well, let's go through the barriers, dear. Like now, as you and I both are women. You are a black woman, right? I think there are just some filters out there that we are not that are just there, we can't because nobody knows we're even doing them. But as a mother, you have four children. Yes, you're insane for it. And you had a fourth one within the last ten. Is insane with a 20 year old and you know. Yeah. I mean, I remember when we connected over the years and then you just had a baby of like, oh my God, I can't believe she did that.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:30:34] Anyway, you got it. I couldn't believe I did that either.

Judy Vorndran [00:30:40] All right. Yes, boy, I met a boy with totally different hearing issues, right? Yeah. So let's talk about that. I mean, I, I feel like we're so aligned in so many ways because of our women. Our educational experience is so similar. We befriended one another. I think we found a lot of common ground. But we all have these challenges like being moms, being business owners, being leaders. How do you feel that that has impacted you? And has that been partly an issue for you going on your own to say, I'm going to control the narrative? I mean, I know you told me one time one of the partners said to you something about your kids and that you weren't supposed to be the pick up or that was the responsibility.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:31:22] You're like, that's exactly it. Exactly. I mean, that was part of the reason I ended up leaving. I was in line to be a partner. I probably would have been a year, but I was struggling and I and I feel like I had a good relationship with a partner. I reported to you. We talked a lot. His office was right next to mine. But he did say a lot of insensitive things to me over that two year period that really encouraged me to start my own business again. And I had gone to him and said, hey, you know, and it's been a couple of times the first time I went to him and I said, hey, you know, I really could use some help on my team, right. Because it was like me as a director. And then I had like a senior and I was like, I really need someone to help me manage the day to day. I'm selling all the projects I'm delivering, I'm reviewing. I have to do all the billing. I have to do all the administrative stuff. I really could use team members. And so his response was, well, you know, if you're having some issues, just balancing everything, maybe you talk to my wife and I was like his wife to stay at home mom. But I'm like, what does she know? Because I was like, I'm here, too. I, I think that particular year I was like, I don't think that I had dinner with my kids. I could count how many times on my hand I had dinner with my kids because I was at the office till six and it was the commute. And I got home and at that time my ex-husband, he was very domestic, which is great. So he did all the cooking. He did the laundry, he did all the man stuff. Right. But that didn't mean I didn't have guilt as a mother that I wasn't spending quality time with my kids. So that was the first year. And I was like, OK, so OK. But I was like, he's like, do you want to talk to my wife? And I'm like, Oh, I don't think so. But, you know, I'll connect with some other folks. And the other thing that I think I was disappointed about when I returned to public accounting was that there are still only eighteen percent women that were directors. And I'm like, I've been gone for a really long time. I can't believe that nothing has changed now.

Judy Vorndran [00:33:35] It's very disheartening. Honestly, I remember starting in college on the GI, we are fifty fifty and now as I look at my career, the leaders are not fifty fifty and there aren't people like us so we have to connect with one another to support each other because we're going through similar things as business owners, as women, as mothers, as wives, as friends and and still want to be awesome at what we do. And those filters are just not the same. I don't think my husband, a lawyer, walks in, becomes a partner. They don't look at his book of business. They don't know what he generates compared to anybody else. They just give him the red carpet treatment. He doesn't even realize that. It's just giving it to him. I would never have that same comparison ever. It's assumed he can do it. It's not assumed I can do it at all. And we have wildly more education, more experience. And yet we have been left to the side for so long and it's still happening. And so as women, I think and leaders, I think it's incumbent on us to kind of build the thing. But then I. I think about this gentleman that you're supportive of. What I see with my male peers is that they ask for it more than people don't ask. They just do it right. They hope it works out. But that's not their goal. They want to serve. They want to deliver. That's what they are. Their caregivers. Yeah. And the men are like. I need the promotion, I need the promotion, I've heard it, I've heard it, I'm like, yeah, if I look at you compared to anybody else, I see different attributes, but all of them have value. And I'm not sure why you should be promoted over the other person. So the advocacy that men give are just naturally inclined to vote for.

Meredith Smith [00:35:20] How much of that is the perception of, oh, look at that strong man going after what he wants versus an assertive woman who is now a bitch because she needs to have this thing?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:35:30] That's right. Like what I agree with I mean, we're trained from the very time we come out the womb to be, you know, submissive and quiet or, you know what I mean? And the boys are taught to just go after it and get what you want. You know, it's just part of the nature of who we are. And as I look at my daughter, I have a daughter right now that's majoring in accounting and she's going to start her first internship with KPMG or not. But, you know, I want her to be successful. But she's also like, you know, it's a confidence thing. I don't know why, you know, why it's there. But with her, too, I'm like, hey, you know, you need to go apply for these internships. Well, do you think I'm really going to get it? And I'm like, well, heck, yeah, you know, you should. But that's all. It's something about the confidence that we've got. I don't know, as moms, we have to do a better job or it's the environment. Right, because boys are so competitive, you know, they're just groomed and matured to be that way. And and women were not supposed to have a voice

Meredith Smith [00:36:47] now, you know?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:36:49] And so I'm like, how can you have any doubt you're my child? You're supposed to want to go out there and get it. You know, you go out there. But it's just I don't. I can't put my finger on it because I know, both of my daughters are a little timid in my perspective.

Judy Vorndran [00:37:07] I'm not walking into the same shoes as you for whatever reason. And that could be societal, the impact of others on self, whether or not they feel inherently just how they move in the world and our direction are impacted in the world. And I'm going to assume, Tony, that you didn't really think that way. You just did it. I mean, I thought I was going to get it. I know I could do it. And I'm going to serve. I can do it. Yeah. Yeah.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:37:34] I don't know where it came from either. To be honest, When I look back at how I looked back at when I left KPMG and I'm just like what I have done today, I kind of feel like I took a lot of balls. I mean, excuse language, but I'm not sure I would still do that today. No, and that's crazy. Like what were you thinking

Judy Vorndran [00:37:57] that you have before I left, I spent 14 years of the big four x. I was very comfortable in the safe and perceived environment there . The hardest thing I ever did was leave Deloitte after nine years. I mean, I wasn't going to go up on that elevator and walk those halls and of those fears. And I felt a little bit alone. I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it. But honestly, to me, having my third child, I have a weird life story, as you well know, about my family, but I just was like, I can't spend my life on the road. I have this and I've not even seen her grow up like this is not the way to make it work. And I value my friends, my relationships, my community, and I want to spend time with my daughter. So that was the pivot for me. The personal pivot is honestly what drove me to make a meaningful career change, right?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:38:49] Yeah. It's all been driven for me personally when I think about my family, my family and where they are has been part of that. So I left G.T. because I felt like I didn't have enough time with my kids and I didn't have control over it. And they're like, you're going to be a partner, are going to be a partner. And my partner was at the office till nine o'clock every day. And I'm like, I don't want it. I don't want to do that. I don't if that's what my partner means, I don't want it, I, I need to be with my family. I need to be more with my children and I want to have control over it. But I do think one thing that makes it difficult to have that control, even on your own, is client service clients. Clients dictate, you know, when you work, when you have meetings, so on and so forth. So even though my goal was to get more autonomy that I get, you know, did I get more balance not running? You know, it's hard to balance running our business. But I did have control and picked up the projects that made sense. Unfortunately, in tech technology, I'll just be honest. You go where the work is and it's all over the United States. So I brought my kids with me. If I worked for a company, I wouldn't be able to do that, so it was my own company. If I had a project, I started that project out in Silicon Valley as my first project for my second business. And I knew it was a sacrifice, but a hired nanny, I took my kids with me. So it was

Judy Vorndran [00:40:20] a sacrifice that you control that I like, well, and that's a fact of the middle class American. I think it's fair for anybody. It's what you get to spend your money on. How are you going to make your time work? You could choose that or not choose that. How do you think that's impacted you? I feel covid the work from home. You're a traveling road warrior, but so that changes the shift of how you're expected to come into an office every day. Do you think that's been a benefit to us? I think as moms to have this I,

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:40:50] I think that covid so funny. I thought about this this morning. I think it is for moms and dads. I think your kids know that you're there and, you know, I make my son's lunch every day. I get him to school every day. I pick him up from the bus stop, come back and keep working. And I kind of could do that before. I mean, I was definitely traveling. But for those people who haven't had a work at home opportunity, I think it might change our society a little bit. I, I, I think it could be a kind of monumental change in the family, you know what I mean?

Judy Vorndran [00:41:30] And you're also the way you're serving your projects where they maybe wanted you to be on site. And for now they're like, you know what, we can make it work and you don't have to be on site. I mean, I think that's a huge reframe. And I do believe we have this whole society of like, you need to come in and punch a clock and show up at your desk by eight or nine and stay till five. And you're like, but I don't need to be here all day. Right. And if I could leave and do my kids games or be a coach and then get back on at eight o'clock at night, who cares? As long as you're delivering and nobody needs to know what hours you delivered, as long as you deliver. And that's certainly our culture in Texas, I assume. I don't know if DFA has that. I know you have that culture.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:42:08] Yeah, we definitely talk about technology as most of our folks at DMA have always been remote. There's always been a sense of trust. You know, if you travel to the client, the travel was pretty much dictated by the client. What I would say compared to when I was in public accounting before, we really would help projects to encourage the client that we didn't need to be on site because it's not economical. It cost money, it cost time. So most of our projects we would approach, we would put into the EAW, we will have four on site. OK, so if you want more than that, then we need to plan accordingly, but we actually in our S.W. would identify how many sites we would have to encourage. And if it's going to be more, the cost is going to be a little more. Right. But, you know, within this fixed fee or within this contract, you have X amount of on site to PLAN around like kickoff, you know, maybe a couple of others during the project and then probably it goes to life. And I think that was really great in setting that expectation that we don't have to be in front of your face in your office 24/7. Now there are still some projects, large projects and large clients that we have folks that do travel every week. But it's the exception, not the rule

Judy Vorndran [00:43:35] yet, which I think is a giant change, honestly, for I just think everybody should see that it can work. And I don't feel that there was a bit of it, I especially felt with a lot of my bosses historically as if I wasn't there, I was working, which is the most I can't tell you how many bosses have said to me, I can't work from home. I like my family will tell you I ignore them.

Meredith Smith [00:43:57] It's like, is that because you don't want to be at home because you have children like there, you've created this where you've got kids and a wife at home that you necessarily might not really like, that you don't spend some time around.

Judy Vorndran [00:44:10] Yeah, I got interrupted. I mean, just restful to be interrupted, there's no question. Yeah. Yeah.

Meredith Smith [00:44:16] But at the same time, I think there's also some things that my husband brought up where he and I. If you were to just look at us, you have no idea what we're doing. Mommies and daddies work looks exactly the same. Yeah. And that's something that's really like and our daughter is five now. And so that's something that she can see. Oh, well, daddy works and mommy works. And I don't. Daddy's a sort of a teacher. Mommy's an accountant. And now like I sit with Mommy and I play work like and I think that's something that's awesome that like our kids can see just any, you know. A man and a woman working and doing the same thing, and there's no difference. And that's something that she wouldn't have been able to see coming to the office with me on the weekends and whatnot, because I like having her around. She's my little buddy. Yeah, but it's cool that, you know, trying to look at this. The horrible situation of like those little bits of lights that are going to have super long term impacts of 20 hours, right, that like finding those little lights.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:45:21] Yes, right. Like, I think Reddit just announced that they're going to do permanent work from home. And my thought today was, that's great, because I do think. It provides some value to families, you know, having that ability. And so I'm excited to kind of see where it goes from here, but I think it is a monumental change to

Judy Vorndran [00:45:46] right now our suicide rate. It is a together, don't get me wrong, you do need to gather, but not every day. You need to go back and get your work done right. If you could do it in whatever way works, what does it matter where you are? Yeah. So, yeah. Interesting. All right. What other questions are there?

Meredith Smith [00:46:04] I, I think we're running close on time, so I really you know, Joanie is there. This has been an awesome discussion and it's just, you know, getting away from, you know, integrating the tax and just the commonality of what we do and who we are. Just like at the end of the day, where people. Yes. Who gives a bleep about our lives and we want to do what's best for us, for our clients and our family. So, I mean, is there anything that we feel that we need to know that we didn't talk about? You know, your kind of last bit of advice or something known as a takeaway for us all?

Judy Vorndran [00:46:42] Well, because you found that quote that you like to remember there that we had pointed out that you said you would notice a quote and you put it out. So it really was a really neat thing about you that we want to talk about.

Meredith Smith [00:46:55] It was Steve Maragoli. And I'm sorry, Steve, if you're listening and I butchered your last name that says, As I look back on my life, I realized that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:47:11] Yeah. And that just resonates to me, you know, personally to me just because, you know, life is a journey and sometimes people take something bad that happens in their life, you know, as a negative. And I really do feel like all of the obstacles that we go through in my bill to be a better person tomorrow. I personally, you know, I went through cancer four years ago and it was a reality check for me because I was so driven and always busy not taking care of myself. Very stressed all the time, those types of things. And even though it presented a hiccup, a down, it really helped me reflect on what's important in life.

Judy Vorndran [00:48:04] And you lost your hair, didn't you?

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:48:06] I was bald as I could be. No eyebrows, no eyelashes, no nothing. So it took away my femininity. It was tough. It was tough. Like, you don't even think about those types of things. Like you go through chemo and then you lose all your hair. And I remember the first day. I remember that the morning that I had to shave my hair off because it was just all falling out and I was trying to, you know, keep it. And I just told my husband, OK, you just need to shake it off. And my daughter came in and she stood in the bathroom. She cried. Because she saw me losing all of my hair and it just hit me here and finally I just had to say, OK, I have to let go of this. But this is you know, I'm going through this so I can survive.

Judy Vorndran [00:48:52] Yeah, well, you look gorgeous in your wigs. I would have never known either. And I got to realize there are so many

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:49:01] different colors, you know, all that type of thing. But, you know, I just have to say that, you know, a lot of times people and and often you kind of feel, well, why am I getting the shortest in the stick? Why is this happening to me? I think it is part of the life cycle. You know, we go through Ultracal through ups and downs and, you know, even through my career with before and and, you know, being in that environment, I think it's made me a stronger person. I think it's made me be reflective and be happy with who I am. And also encouraged me to, you know, tell others what I've learned, you know, whether I'm getting a I love DMA because I'm in an environment where I still can be an entrepreneur. But now I'm really mentoring a whole team of people that are coming up through the ranks of what I did. And I'm sharing with them what I've learned, how I grew, how I've changed, and having an influence on an environment. I'll be honest, GMA was very man heavy. Remember, Judy, we talked about that

Judy Vorndran [00:50:12] before I decided to go

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:50:13] there. You're like, how are you going to do this? But I've really been embraced. Some women's initiatives were just starting. And when I'm bringing you the DMA, is my experience outside of XOMA? Yeah, a lot of people are Aimé lifers. And I bring an experience that, hey, you need to promote women more. We need to be more sensitive. And I've been open with welcome arms that I've also shared that maybe every, you know, minority black woman or black person has a different experience than me. And we need to listen now and listen to that. So I really do feel like, you know, I really do feel like from a spiritual perspective, we're all guided to where we're supposed to be. And there may be some hard and difficult times that you go to get there, but it makes you who you are. And those bad times really, you know, help you persevere. And it has some value to, you know, what you contribute not only to your family, but to society at the end of the day.

Judy Vorndran [00:51:16] Well, that's why we wanted you to be on the show. Obviously, the BLM and all this. And just knowing you for all these years I've known you, gosh, 15 or more years and seeing you and being peers and being each other's back. And obviously, at some point we had hoped that we would be partners. You never know

Joni Johnson-Powe [00:51:33] that. You never know time.

Judy Vorndran [00:51:35] That's right. So but, you know, always respecting and admiring you and I'm just really grateful that you're in my life and that we have this friendship. And I really thank you for taking the time to be on the show and showcase what you have to offer in the state, local community and as a person and a business leader. And so we hope to inspire people to think about what life represents in their career and the path that they can take and all the nuances that your career has taken with the law, with it, with accounting. I mean, good golly. And then there's so much value provided to business, to society, to mentoring the younger workforce and all that so well.

Meredith Smith [00:52:17] And that's where, you know, I wanted to say thank you for being here today and thank you and duty to being because I'm, you know, fifteen years into my career and being a strong woman, role model mentor, you know, to people of me and people with less experience than me, it's it's I've seen that shift and I am grateful. So I am grateful to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for being here. This has been another episode of SALTovation. I'm Meredith Smith. Until next time. This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be relied upon as legal tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult with a competent professional to discuss specifics of your situation and the applicability of the information presented.

Questions asked and answered in this Episode:

  • How did Joni’s educational background influence her career choices and specialties?
  • Why did she pursue a law as a CPA?
  • How does Joni feel about being a mom, a leader and a business owner has impacted her?

What You Will Discover:

  • [00:59] How Joni utilized her education
  • [06:15] Why she went to law school as a CPA
  • [10:01] The evolution of software and technology for tax use
  • [16:58] Why she started her own business
  • [22:16] How her family life helps pivot her career path
  • [29:53] How Joni’s many hats helped her control the narrative and how things haven’t changed much in public accounting
  • [40:32] How Joni thinks working from home due to COVID-19 pandemic has benefitted parents
  • [46:06] Michelle’s last takeaway
  • [52:46] Outro


  • “When you’re an accountant, it’s A+B=C. When you’re a lawyer, it’s like A+B=CDEFG.” – Joni Johnson-Powe [02:04
  • “Business is not set it and forget it.” – Judy Vorndran [13:20]
  • “It was just a lot of things that you don’t know. You’re starry eyed. You’re ambitious. You want to go out, but you don’t realize all the sacrifices that you really have to make as a business owner. – Joni Johnson-Powe [24:59]
  • “There aren’t people like us, so we have to connect with one another to support each other, because we’re going through similar things as business owners, as women, as mothers, as wives, as friends.” – Judy Vorndran [33:44]
  • “And I really do feel like all of the obstacles that we go through in life build us to be a better person tomorrow.”– Joni Johnson-Powe [47:29]

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