Passion for the Work With Judy Vorndran

Hosts & Guests

Meredith Smith

Alexander Korzhen

Judy Vorndran


Passion for the Work With Judy Vorndran

Meredith Smith [00:00:02] Welcome to SALTovation. This SALTovation show is a podcast series featuring the leading voices, Insult, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of this SALTovation podcast. Today, we're wrapping up our Meet the Team series with a program focused on duty, border and SALTovations partner and practice leader. Joining me in the discussion is Alex Korzhen, whom you all met in our initial Meet the Team chat. So, Alex, thanks for joining me today and helping me out. Nice to be here. And then, Judy, you're always with us, but thank you for letting us in and helping us get to know you a little more. So hello. Hello.

Alex Korzhen [00:00:40] Otherwise, boss lady.

Meredith Smith [00:00:42] Boss lady, I like that. I don't know. My creativity is a little over these days and is good because the boss lady. What's wrong with that?

Judy Vorndran [00:00:53] B.L. is better than B.M..

Meredith Smith [00:00:58] Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we're going today so

Alex Korzhen [00:01:02] we can wrap it up now.

Meredith Smith [00:01:06] All right. Well, diving in and it looks like we're already in. So, Judy, throughout these episodes, you've heard a lot about your career. So we're going to go a little different and focus on what drives you and the elements that have built your passions. So just starting out, what was your first job besides babysitting?

Judy Vorndran [00:01:25] Like a real job where I was being paid by someone other than a parent or McDonald's,

Alex Korzhen [00:01:31] I scooped ice cream. So where did

Judy Vorndran [00:01:33] you get McDonald's? I mean, I was fast. I would work that window and my girlfriend and I both worked there and we would have like hundred dollar hours. And the manager was so excited for us because we were like for those hours of getting all day in the service.

Meredith Smith [00:01:48] So you worked the drive in beds?

Judy Vorndran [00:01:50] I never cooked. And that's what I was like, I can't manage like that many buns and that many hamburgers and like, fried stuff all over the place. And for breakfast like Forgety got eggs, you got pancakes and sausage. It was like there's a lot of stuff going on at breakfast. Like I did the dishes at the end of the night.

Meredith Smith [00:02:10] When did you start at McDonald's? Like, how old were you?

Judy Vorndran [00:02:13] I'm sure I was 16. Yeah, I worked there and at a doctor's office. So it's kind of a weird little thing to make money. So I worked for one of the biggest orthopedic surgeons in San Diego where I grew up. And he did this woman's hands. Her name was Barry, something I can remember now,

Meredith Smith [00:02:27] but don't share her last name if you remember it, just in case.

Judy Vorndran [00:02:29] Just I don't know, she may not even be around anymore, but she had these club hands and feet and he did these things to her to open her arms up. He was a match for the magician. He was amazing. So I was like the file clerk for the office. I would file all the files and the x-rays and keep the appointments ready. And I was just like, you know, high school or doing that. So I would do McDonald's and this orthopedic surgeon office. It was fun, too. I wanted money. I love

Meredith Smith [00:02:56] LA. So then what? What did you want to be when you were younger? An actress. OK, did that, how long did that carry you through until you decided to like shift again.

Judy Vorndran [00:03:05] My mother said she wouldn't pay for college if I studied acting pretty much so I was going to get a business degree come hell or high water, if that's what she wanted me to do. And I capitulated because she threatened me that she wouldn't pay for my insurance or my tuition. And I didn't know how to go alone, to be honest. So that was a, you know, strong parenting moment on my mother's part. Well, and all in my mom's defense, my mother studied music. So she was a valedictorian, got a full ride scholarship to college. And I can help her get a master's degree. I get a degree, get married. So my mother never really pursued her passion. She's a pianist and organist. She's amazing. She could play those giant organs and oh my gosh, choir director. She's just a magician, but she just never really had a career when she had a family. And she just encouraged me to have a career and pursue an education that would allow me to have a good job. So I'll go to school, get a job.

Meredith Smith [00:04:01] Was it your grandmother? Similar to my

Judy Vorndran [00:04:04] grandmother was one of the first women to get into Berklee Medical School. I'm not my grandma smart. And then she got pregnant and or married. We don't know. She's been very well. She's passed now, but she was very circumspect about that. My mother added it up and said, I don't know. Doesn't seem like they were married before she got pregnant. But as I say, she was married for a very long time. My great grandma, my grandfather died when my mom was fourteen. So it's a tragedy that they impacted their family. And my grandmother stayed home and did not finish college and had her two daughters and had no money and no insurance. My grandfather was a painter, so he was sort of a cash basis worker. Good, good, good man. Amazing man. So then my grandmother went alone until my mother was in her twenties and actually married my dad. So my grandmother married again before my mother got married and had another family, another set of two kids. So my mother living through that life experience was very difficult. I'm in La Hoya, San Diego, which is a very affluent community and going to have like five dresses and no economic means and Mom's got to go back to work and she's not very employable, was a real life awakening moment for her in a time when women didn't have as many options. And so my mother just really wanted me to be able to fend for myself, even though my mom stayed married to my father until he passed 17 years ago early due to cancer. So those are the shapes of what experiences happen in my family and my parents and my mother and matriarchs of my family that really led me to be something different and seek something different from my professional career. Although I am married and my husband works, it's not like I couldn't choose to not work, but he doesn't provide for me in the lifestyle to which I would like to be accustomed. So I'm happy to provide for myself as well. And I just

Alex Korzhen [00:05:52] I cannot I cannot imagine you not

Judy Vorndran [00:05:54] working. That's kind of what he says. That's he says

Alex Korzhen [00:05:57] you wish you would fill your day with some sort of volunteering activity.

Judy Vorndran [00:05:59] Yeah, I think that's part of it. And then I didn't have a lot of biological kids, to be honest, so I didn't have my first biological child at forty one, so I had a long time to go. What am I going to do all the time? Right. I mean going to work. I could go on vacation. We don't have the means and I know, you find intention and what you do and what you learn to love. And that was sort of my pivot. I went to college and then I had a really good job where I had two weeks off at Christmas and New Year's. I worked for United Launch Alliance there, General Dynamics Space Division. Then they became United Launch Alliance, which is what they are now. It's not a really good job of two weeks off over Christmas and years. I didn't work more than eight hours a day. What is wrong with me is that I didn't want to do that, but I just felt like everyone around me wasn't that motivated. And I just thought, OK, once I figure this out, like, what's next? I just think my mind is always kind of looking for the next thing. I'm interested in participating. I want to be jazzed about staff and client service is a natural Segway. And that's actually when I went to law school, which is when my mother discouraged me from doing. She said, you see how many lawyers are in the Yellow Pages, do not go to law school, quit anyway, because at that point I was an adult and I went when I was twenty five thousand non-traditional law students. I'd already worked for several years. I took what is called a reduction in force, completely changed my life, traveled for three months to New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and the Cook Islands. Not in that order. Found out in Queenstown, New Zealand that I got into law school and knew I was moving from San Diego, California to Boulder, Colorado, and it completely changed my life and moved to Colorado, where I still live.

Meredith Smith [00:07:31] So then kind of going back to like that drive and your mom wanting something better for you or taking advantage of opportunities that she chose not to. How do you think Zoe interprets that? How do you think Zoe sees that?

Judy Vorndran [00:07:44] My daughter. My youngest daughter. Well, you'd have to ask her. I'm not sure. She does say to me, Mom, you've never met a stranger. Like whenever we go somewhere, she's like, of course, you talk to everybody in the elevator. Of course, you know that the person in line in front of us is like you're such a social mom, like you're just always talking to people and making new friends. So I know she sees that in me. I do think it's interesting with my youngest daughter how creative she is. She is allowed to learn what I learned after raising two other children, which we adopted, my cousin passed away. We raised her kids who are now thirty five and thirty three. So we took them when they were eight and 10 when their mom died, who was my cousin who didn't go to college. So I'm in college while she's getting married, having kids. Very different life decisions. You end up being a waitress. So she didn't really have not a terrible job, but just not the same educational opportunities I had as a person who went to college. And then when she passed at thirty two, it was a pivotal point for me. And that's when my husband, I decided to raise her kids and we basically adopted them and brought them into our home, moved them from California to here and I mean journey through raising them. And so that was an interesting life experience. And I suppose just parenting them and then making them get to adulthood. They're thirty five and thirty three. They made it with their parents themselves. And then having Zoe. I think what I felt I learned as a parent, I suppose you have a child that is not my own right. And getting them with a big loss. And there were other family dynamics that were very challenging for the children as they grew up. They went to twenty three schools. There was drug addiction. There was a lot of instability in their lives before they moved in with us and their parents. They love their parents. So of course it's difficult. And that's my cousin. I love my cousin. So, you know, there's just all those dynamics that go on in a family and parenting and life and then losing someone so young. It was just a very pivotal thing for me. I had probably only experienced one death, and that was actually somebody on the road side. And I was driving home from my house after college. And there was a girl who was laying in the street and she looked like she was sleeping. But nobody lays in the sleep straight out. You come to find out she had passed. She had been hit by a car and died and she was this young twenty something. So that was the only death I'd had. My grandparents are still alive, I mean, I did lose my grandparents till much later. So anyway, when we took Josh, Nicole and my glass, my cousin suddenly at thirty two, it just really changes the structure of how you feel that life is short and you need to make it count. However, that is for you. And so I just had a sense of urgency about that, about the meaning of purpose in my life and what I want it to mean and what I want it to be and who I want to be surrounded with. And so I think Zoe sees that. And as a parent, I would say one thing I learned: I did all these different parenting classes over the years, raising my adopted children. You try to look at them and see their strengths, see them right now what you think they should be, which is kind of what my mother did with me. Unfortunately, I wanted to be an actress. I had this talent. I have this vibrancy. I have this hutzpah, whatever it is I can project. And I was sort of stifled from doing that because my mother did see a life of ease. Right. And so I went to college and then got a good job, but it wasn't enough. Right. And then I went from that to going to grad school and I liked Panner where I got married right away. So for various reasons, I actually had a boyfriend that I love very much. But we just just didn't work out. So, you know, 20 something where all my girlfriends are getting married, I'm still single. I have found my partner and I'm going to go to law school. I'm gonna find something for me. So that's what made me change my life, move here and begin that trajectory. And then my cousin passed. I was thirty when I got married, so my cousin passed away when I was twenty nine and it took a little while to kind of sort through getting the kids. And then we adopted the kids the next year. So we were all married a year before we took these teenagers in. Basically Nicole turned thirteen a little bit after we took them in and tried to build a family and I think we did pretty successfully. But my point at all that as I segway around everywhere is you have to look at what children are and who they are, what their passions are when they're very young. And I learned that it's really developed when you're seven. So if you look at a child or children, they're exploring the world. They're looking at things. But then you start to see what they take an extra initiative in. And they do that because they have time, right time. They don't have time. You know, the luxury of time. Right. We're trying to juggle laundry and bills and jobs and family and making dinner and all the responsibilities, life and keeping up a house. But children don't have that same constraint. And so when I watched Zoe with time and when she was very young, she had this real interest and aptitude in singing and music and writing and acting. And she's just that way. And now she's in the Denver School of the Arts for high school because apparently she can sing, which I could honestly identify, even though I love music. We've always had music on in our house, but I don't sing right now. I don't really have aptitude. Even though both my parents were musical, my mother being a choir director and being very involved in music, she played French horn. That's how she met my dad. They were in bands and my dad had a Glenn Miller style orchestra as a young man and he wanted to be a bandleader and that he gave that up because that's not what you do as a man. And he was a salesperson. I mean, he didn't fulfill his life purpose either, right? He got married, had kids, and then he died after he just retired. It was really sad. And he was ill for a year. And it was heartbreaking to have him be ill. So sad to watch him slowly but surely. It was heartbreaking for me. I have never been so sad in my life to lose my father, who was such a fun loving, interesting human, and my parents were so fun. And it's a loss that we still feel 17 years later. So I guess, in fact, Zoe, so those are the attributes we saw in her and we supported them. And like she did this musical theater camp every summer and she's done great things and things like that. So we would always point her in these directions that we thought she loved because and then we would just see where they went. Right. She didn't seem to have an interest in sports, but we'd say, do you want to play basketball? Do you want to do this? And she did a little bit of basketball but didn't really get into it. She's coming in here shaking her head at me right now, actually. What are you talking about me for anyway? So did I just try to just want people to be their best selves. Certainly. I want that of my children. I want them to have a decent life. I want them to be happy. I wanted to give back. I want them to be good parents, good providers. I want them to be good citizens. And I hope that I give them the tools and the framework and also maybe the feedback that they don't like to hear sometimes because I'm the parent.

Meredith Smith [00:14:25] Well, that's interesting that all of those things that you just shared have kind of how you approach your kids is also something that I see and that you might be knowing where I'm going with this. But that's kind of some of the things that I see you lead your team with is wanting us to do the things that we're passionate about, supporting us outside of the office, within the office, within our career. Alex misses writing memos. He wants to write a memo. I go deep into a spreadsheet that I see you. Exactly what you just said is those are the exact words that you have shared with us and our team meetings as to how you want. US to kind of progress in our career, to do the things that path, that impassion us, that drive us, that really fit with kind of where we are and our skill sets.

Alex Korzhen [00:15:10] Yes, yeah. It's super interesting because hearing you talk about some of those early life experiences, one might conclude that that would create a sort of a selfishness in an individual, but not with you at all. It's actually quite the opposite. It's this immense sense of generosity with both your family, your clearly your family and the way that one of Texas is as well.

Judy Vorndran [00:15:36] And thank you. I found that being unselfish didn't really work for me. And also as a woman in business, we're just not allowed to ever get too arrogant about this. Like, if you get to that top, like someone just takes it doesn't matter no matter what success you have. Like, I would have the numbers financially, I'd bring in tons more money than my beers. And I was still relegated to second fiddle. I didn't get promoted as fast as my male peers. And I'm more educated, more experienced, and have a wider breadth. Have a bigger book of business, but I don't get to roll out that male white card that a lot of my husband quite honestly has as he's a lawyer as well. And he just walks in and they think he can succeed. He even has to prove it. He just gets it. Me, they look at me. I first want purple hair now, but before I just colored my hair blond. So I just like who she is. Right. And if I sit silently, what do they think about me? Well, they'd all probably think I'm going to be successful or capable. And quite honestly, even at the big four, we weren't allowed to tell our titles or have them on our cards. And I remember thinking about boloney. I always tell people like there's a difference in my educational background, which makes me exceptionally good at what I do because I have the yin and the yang of the law degree in the CPA. And I think that's why we are successful as a team, because there's this thing about who we are in our nature that makes us really effective at this work. And looking at those qualities and our team is why we are together as a team, because we each have these things that cross pollinate. But there is this common passion around the work and an interest in it. I mean, I think you got to like what you're doing, for goodness sakes. Like if you don't love it, if you're waiting tables and you're not automatic, which my cousin was, by the way, amazing waitress. I mean, she was phenomenal, loved by her guests, loved by the places she worked. And she did pretty well at it. And so you could be good at anything you do, but you gotta love it. Right, because it is still work every day. So I've just really come to the conclusion as I've done different things in my career and worked different places about what it is I want. And I'm going to keep pushing for that until I die, I suppose, or retire. And even in retirement, I'm like, why do I want to sit on the beach and fish all day? Like, I wouldn't feel meaningful. I've got to say, there's not a value in that. But I like to be engaged, especially in our area. There's so much politics and legislation and understanding our country and the rule of law and also just the fact that different businesses came up and we had to support that. I have very interesting leanings about tax. I was more anti-tax in the beginning, but now I'm like there is a role in government and society with the pandemic. Hello. Could we have all agreed? No, but we should have done more to protect one another to be informed. Are you going to let the CDC know who's paying for those people to study stuff that means nothing and makes no money? The government, because you don't support something in a capitalistic society unless it's going to make money. So if you got things that don't make money, that's what the government does. So anyway, I've just always kind of studied that mentality. That's why we have all these crazy tax laws to pay for a better society. And we have a frickin amazing society in America. Like I've been to twenty nine countries, believe me, we had a pretty damn good year and we don't even appreciate it because most Americans don't have passports. They have no idea if they've ever even left our nation. And if they have, they never immerse themselves in another culture other than visiting the sites. Have they talked to a visitor? Have they been there? They live there, too. They know what it's like to live there day in and day out. Like if I travel, I go for three weeks, usually because it's the first week I'm decompressing, the second week I'm there. By the third week, I'm really checking it out. And I often go and see the people who live there so I can live in their home and their day in, day out and see how they use the washing machine. I remember studying abroad in law school. I went to Cambridge, which was so awesome, and I stayed with this person I had met in Australia because that's what I did on my first big trip and found out that I got into law school in Queenstown, New Zealand. And I'm backpacking through these different countries. And I go visit this one gentleman. I think his name is Mike. I can remember it's been so many years now and he has this little washing machine in his London condo like, oh, how is this washing machine this small?

Alex Korzhen [00:19:44] How's that working for you? And where the dryer

Judy Vorndran [00:19:47] like a dryer is there, it's like racks. And they didn't have a shower. It was a cloth, a tub with a thing. I'm like, OK, how am I going to bathe in here? Like that's their standard of living. And they had a high. Standard of living, by the way, and their refrigerator was this big, too. They don't have crap in their refrigerator like we do. They don't have freezers. They go to the market every day. They go to the pub. They have a very different culture than we have in America. They don't have supermarkets in Italy, just in Rome. It's not common for them. And in other areas people own the lettuce vegetable shop, the cheese and meat shop. You cannot get all your groceries in one place in those small towns. It's just not as convenient. But it's a part of your life and you can adjust to that difference in life. How amazing is that? In America, we make everything so perfunctory. We don't even know our neighbors. We're very isolated. We go into our home, we shut the door. I live in a house with a porch and you betcha I sit out on my porch in the winter, sometimes with a blanket and a glass of wine and maybe and in the summer I sit out all the time and wave to my neighbors and say hello. I am adamant about having a porch and that I did not grow up in San Diego, though I did grow up in a cul de sac and I was best friends with all my neighbors. Oh my God, we played so many fun games in our cul de sac and all these fun games growing up as kids were very close. And so I grew up with a community and I think that's really important. And you get that with sex as well.

Meredith Smith [00:21:11] Well, I want to kind of pick on not pick on something, but kind of like selfless nature. You are on the board of the Family Resource Center. And so that has kind of evolved into kind of like one of your passion projects and something that you care deeply about. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you got involved, the involvement? Because then I also know about tax sponsors, some events and whatnot. So kind of talk to us about the Family Resource Center,

Judy Vorndran [00:21:39] one of my great gal pals, she ran this thing called Coloradans for Leadership Training. And I remember joking with her for years. Why are you doing this? You make no money. What is the point of this? So finally I signed up and did the class. So it was very inexpensive. It was a leadership training class over a six month period of time, did all kinds of amazing things, learned about our amazing state. We learned about demography. We learned about water. We learned about our prison system. Really, I think the seeds of it were to teach people to become politicians. But I really did it just to see what Laura was doing, to be frank. And then I was like, wow, this is amazing. And as I was a participant in it, and I had been previously a professional of the telecom organization, I was in the joint venture startup organization. I did all kinds of business stuff, but I'd not done anything philanthropic because maybe the zoo, like I just hadn't found something that had meaning for me. I did Junior Achievement where we went in and taught kids lessons. I really love that because it was sponsored by the Big Four. And so I was always actively involved in doing all kinds of things for the firm. I took on the firm picnic. I did the firm parties with the committees. So I was always very involved in those philanthropic and or social things within the construct of being of the big four extracurriculars. I thought that was so amazing that we got to be a part of that. So I was like, I want to be awesome. I'm going to set up the picnic and I and a team will make the picnic. But as to say I went to this program and I did over a period a month, and I remember going to a class in Pueblo, Colorado, where we had a person come and talk to us about how kids and if they are never read too, by the time they are three, they never catch up. Never. That's a problem. And parents are having children and can't read to them because they're juggling two or three jobs, trying to make ends meet, but still have their babies. They're not getting the substance they need. My oldest daughter, I did everything I could to help her read. I would get her magazines. I didn't care. I just wanted her to read. She did not read. She did not read. She did not go to college. And I was just heartbroken that she didn't make that life choice for herself. And she sort of replicated her mom in terms of being an underpaid sort of servant person. She's a certified nursing assistant, but she sort of lost her way and had a child very young. And he's awesome, by the way, but just didn't do the things I had hoped that she could do, given she was surrounded by me, a very educated businesswoman. I wanted to bring her up and give her that opportunity. I believed in her strongly, but I think she felt she just couldn't do it. She didn't read. She didn't absorb. My son, by contrast, is a lawyer now. He's just to sit out of the park as to how his brain is. And so I think there's a lot of trauma between the two kids growing up in the family. Twenty three schools before she was ten. That's tough. And she's the oldest. Right. So there's just a lot of dynamics there that just didn't get her to be her best self. And so I learned that Mark is our executive director and he was with me. We were really combative during the things I was asking questions. And we just came out very aligned during the six months of this program. And I remember thinking I need to do something to help kids and help families and keep them connected. And I recognize now my children, Josh, Nicole, that our family stepping in and keeping them together was instrumental, I hope, and their ability to launch themselves into a life. And they're both doing great. They're great parents. They're great humans. They've done a great job with themselves. And so I just. I believe in that, and that's what the FCC and the FCC across the state of Colorado in particular, helping families rise from poverty, success, giving them tools, because just because you make a bad choice when you're young doesn't mean you can't change that with support. And we support people who support people, food deficits, electricity, getting a GED, Zumba classes, health and wellness, nutrition. We do just so many. We do have thrift stores in some of our centers. I mean, just anything we could do to help the communities. And of course, with covid, oh, my gosh, we serve so many people because there are a lot of people really on the edges that just couldn't sustain. They are doing waitress jobs. They were there. There were restaurants that were closed. They couldn't make any money. They're not sitting there with substantial savings. They don't have anything of substance. So that really helps with that. And I believe strongly in the organization and our mission and we help out the whole state of Colorado, which really resonates with me, too. So it impacts more than just the one metro area and then the culmination of all our centers. And the FRC is sort of an overseer of data and management. And what are all the things we can do to lobby together to benefit all the littles? Because some of our centers are smaller. They're smaller communities in the metro area. Right. But that doesn't mean they're not needed to provide that essential service to bring people up, to bring the whole community up. So that's why I've been really involved in and I'm really passionate about the organization. And I love our executive director. He's a man who was a lawyer, did very well, chose to become a not for profit executive director. Who does that? He took a giant pay cut to do something altruistic and towards the end of his career. And he's really made a huge difference in our organization. And I really respect him for that because it's a lot of women centric. A lot of times women are and helped her organizations. But he's a phenomenal leader. He listens to everybody. And so I've been on the board ever since, partly because of him, partly because of the mission. And I will continue to be so because our mission really resonates to this state and I live here. So it's important to be connected.

Meredith Smith [00:26:59] There's two sides, right? You've got personal and you've got work life, and that passion carries between the two of them, because one thing that you would not be able to say about Judy Vorderman is your lack of passion. Like you can hear that your conviction to how you speak for the people you care about, the things you care about, the things that you commit your time to. So then how do you carry that passion into your work? And like that creates the vision for where you want the industry to go, the vision for where you want our firm and our team to go. Just how does that all interconnect?

Judy Vorndran [00:27:32] Well, you know, I've worked a lot of places now in my career and I've really taken a little something from all of them. I actually did a study of people doing different tasks like I've done the Enneagram. Now, that's my newest thanks. I have a coach and that's her tool. Before I did Myers Briggs, I did this thing called strengthsfinder with different professional leadership classes I've done over my career. And I remember learning that I should be a career counselor. That's one of the careers I could have done. So I was just. Yeah, right. I think I have a natural aptitude towards understanding and listening, even though I do talk a lot. But I do listen and hear and connect, and I really want to connect to people. That's my whoo! Winning others over. I just want to connect with everybody. I want to get inside everybody. And I want everybody to be my best friend. And I'm a little killing myself with covid because a pandemic doesn't produce as much connection. But I'm very people centric. I mean, you asked me to go anywhere now and I'm like, yeah, I'm happy to meet people, love to meet people. How can I look? I mean, what can I learn about? And then I ask a lot of questions. And I guess that's part of how I have evolved in my career, because there's lots of different firms that do what we do right or say they do. But I don't think they do it like we do it. And that's because I listen to the whole thing and I don't try to slice and dice the parts up. I think a lot of people really struggle with the complexity I relish. I physically feel so excited to listen to a client's problem and I can figure out how to help them. So somehow, somehow, I'm really good at that. I can see the forest from the trees. So what I did, the LSAT, I've aced this one section called the logical game section. And my brain, you know, everybody thinks differently. Like some people are really good at Rubik's Cube. And so they go to cryptograms like my mom is a huge cryptogram or I don't really get that. I like word searches, but whatever that is about the law, it's logical. As much as you don't like it, it really is. But as you apply it to business, it's logical. Business isn't logical, and yet it is. Right. And so I think I just really enjoy the logistics of what are you trying to do here? Where are you trying to do it? How do you make money? And then how is the tax impact, in effect, going to be an issue for you? What are the things we need to think about? And so I'm just really interested in that. So I read about it all the time. I mean, I read in my spare time all the time. I read lots of entrepreneurial things. I read lots of legal cases. I'm just interested in it. And I remember thinking years ago, like one thing, I would go to different things. Over the years. I understand myself and leadership and culture because I chose a very introverted field with a lot of people who contribute and stay or it's good enough. And then here I'm a consultant, which means I'm project driven, which is more like a law firm because law firms don't do really recurring work. They do recurring clients, but they always have a different issue to solve. And CPA firms do tax returns and audits. And so, you know, you get a little bit of ahli because you're doing something similar and you build on that base of knowledge and then you do the same thing just a little bit differently the next year. We never do the same thing the next year, right? We always have a new project we try to solve and then execute and then go on and solve another project. And so I think a lot of people don't like that, especially CPAs. So I think it's the yin and yang. And then I try to figure out because unfortunately the CPA world has grown with audit. That's a regulatory requirement. And then a natural byproduct of the audit practice is the tax practice. Oh, we'll do your federal taxes. We'll do your income taxes at the state level. Sales tax. What is that? I mean, even when I started, it was new. Twenty six years ago it was really not well serviced. There were so many companies in our nation that were noncompliant from a state local perspective. And so it was sort of a beginning in its infancy of trying to understand, like the tax laws or the tax rules at PricewaterhouseCoopers. We had a taxability matrix that we maintained. Now we buy that matrix. Right. We don't even look at it. I used to do it. And you two, I think you've said to me, Meredith, you've done full state studies. I read every code in this country to figure out how one of my software clients should tax themselves across the nation because they were selling this maintenance telephone support newsletters, blah, blah, blah, this and that. And then it's like slice and dice it out. What's taxable? What integration services, training configuration that's different from installation. I mean, all that. And so, yeah, unpackaged that because that's how the sales tax law works. And then you have to apply the tax to each line item that could be invoiced. And so that's when I realized, wow, this is really complicated and it's really time consuming. So nobody wants to do it. And then over time you're like, OK, don't do that anymore because. You don't need to do taxability analysis, they're slow, they're onerous, they take too damn long, they're expensive, and they're expensive and they do and they can be bought. Now you can create that by synergizing data. Knowing the difference is not that you have an exact answer usually. Sometimes you don't, especially software companies. But you can get enough of a sense to say North Dakota's going to tax you like. That's just going to be the answer or South Dakota is going to be.

Meredith Smith [00:32:19] So what I feel like even more because like my very first project in 2005 when I was on the Internet, KPMG was to do a 50 state taxability study. I downloaded movies. No one downloaded a movie in two thousand five. It's also deliverable came in memo format because you had to like Akina downloaded movie to downloaded software, which was kind of new and like the Internet wasn't like super out there. Facebook wasn't a thing that was commonly available. So yeah, but so I wrote this like Jinnah's memo that, like, we would just pull a chart now and provide like the I support it and use that to apply it to the facts and then provide a what do you. OK, cool. Here's my fax now. Right. But now and now what.

Judy Vorndran [00:33:05] That's correct. And I think what I learned being at the big four, where we have these big budgets and we have these big projects, you learn. And then I went to a regional forum where I had to turn a fifty thousand dollar nexus study into a ten thousand dollar Nexus study. And even that was a problem for taxpayers because they didn't think that 50 states at ten thousand dollars was some kind of expensive thing. When I'm like, hello, that's like two hundred a state, what's wrong with you? But you because they just the value proposition and the thinking of it will now flavanol that everything just gets everything's just everywhere. So people are starting to get that, thank God. But we really struggled. And the more and the forty six thousand CPA communities that are not the big four, they're just small practitioners that do a couple of tax returns. Maybe they do audits and taxes. How could they possibly know state and local? How could they possibly not audit tax? I have a huge issue with that where tax CPA communities slice and dice their work incorrectly or they try to be generalists and they're really not. And if you're a lawyer, you realize like you learn, you cannot be a generalist, you cannot be an employment lawyer, a securities lawyer and a tax lawyer like very different areas of law, condemnation, law. I mean, there's so many areas of tax law. And when you learn as a lawyer it's unethical to breach that and you just don't you know, you know, and you don't try to pretend to be something that you're not. But introverted accounting types may feel a little bit like that. I feel bad about saying I know. Plus I want to make sure I get answers. And that's one thing over my years, being at the big four, we have this giant help desk, so to speak, about different offices. And I went to the regional firm. It was just me. I know I did it without the Gotha and I never cared because I was at the big forum. You hardly did anything in South Dakota compared to Texas and California, so forth. Well, guess what? I learned South Dakota law. I learned North Dakota law because we were based there and I learned about a lot of the smaller states because they're important to our clients. And so that just changed my trajectory of how to deliver, how to help people, how to be a wider swath and not just look at things in isolation. So what would happen was I would get a notice from a partner or somebody working on a client. They say, hey, someone from some state just notified my client that we have an issue. And I say, OK, why? That I'd ask questions. Why are you doing business? Why are you? Why do you have a notice from that state? Why do they even know you? Oh, you know, we do engineering all across the nation and we get licensed for engineering purposes and they go and we bid on the job and then we go and build a building or we design some infrastructure and we go outside and we do this like, well, that's Nexus and you're out there. And then you

Alex Korzhen [00:35:25] ask him where you registered in

Judy Vorndran [00:35:27] our home state, where and where are you filing? Nowhere. And that was so stressful for me because that was not the culture we had at the big four. The big four federal allies were Newdegate. Salt, above all, was new to international. It was a culture of collaboration. And that was not the case in some of these other firms, especially because they gobble up little firms that went on their own. They had the hotspot to be entrepreneurial. And they really didn't know. They didn't know. They didn't have the tools or the training. They didn't have a widespread like if you think about Arthur Andersen, their whole thing was their, what was it, Chicago? They had some kind of center where everybody went by train. And so I assume they all got their chips and they got indoctrinated. But there was some common training that was put out to the firm so that people knew certain things. I mean, some of these firms don't have any training. Like even in my photography and we had a budget for training, people were allowed to do what they wanted. There was never a thing that said you have to go get trained in this, you got to choose it. And so what do you have to choose? I mean, they could choose things that would be substantively better for them or not. And then in our field, bad training, as you all know, very little in our space. I mean, that's why I got involved in this to professional taxation, because they are a national organization that cares about sales taxes, property taxes, not just income taxes. In fact, those were an afterthought, added much later. So that was a nationwide organization of people who cared about transaction taxes. And so I've been very involved in that for almost my whole career because that is the network of people who get it.

Alex Korzhen [00:36:54] It's so interesting that you're saying. Because as you're as you're talking, this distinct memory from a number of years ago from another firm popped into my head when I was doing complex partnership compliance in New York. And one of my clients had a sales tax question. And I'm a senior associate at a very large firm. And the sales tax question came up and I didn't know who to call. Right. And I'm almost certain our firm did sales tax somewhere by somebody, but I had no idea who to contact. And I don't think I was ever successful in reaching somebody. Now, this is many years ago. I'm sure it's different now. But that really stuck with me.

Judy Vorndran [00:37:33] Well, as a P.W. And when I was there and I've grown the salt team, they had a nationwide web of people. So we were housed in Denver. But we work collaboratively and we had national meetings and we had local meetings based on certain jurisdictions. We were taught to be collaborative with the culture. Then when I went to Deloitte, I actually brought that to the firm because they wanted to piggyback on how successful PricewaterhouseCoopers had been. So I was able to be part of that initiative at Deloitte. So they hired me to say, how was BW doing? So kind of kick in our butt in the market? We want to be like them. And I got involved nationally at Deloitte to say we need to build this out. We need to create this network. We integrate this information. We need to create this like portal of information so people don't know where to go because there are people here who do it. So we created that at Deloitte, too. So then I was part of our national group. So I was local because I'm in Denver and unfortunately the body for partners was like three million a year, not one partner in Denver as it's remained on our book of business, I'm sure the market just doesn't allow for it. So you got to go national to get that experience or you got to go to the East Coast. And I didn't really want to relocate, so I went national and worked for our coast sourcing practice. So I traveled all around the country for five years, met with clients from Texas to New York to California to Oregon, Florida, you name it. I went everywhere. I got to see all kinds of business and I got to see how the firm worked at this higher level. And I was able to learn that and understand those businesses and their needs. And the more you listen, the more you're like, OK, well, how can I help? Because you're always trying to figure out how to help you efficiently, quickly and get you the right answer without putting a lot of liability on the firm. And then I go to that regional firm and I'm like, whoa, whoa. I mean, they don't even have an engagement letter that was for consulting. They'd never really written a memo to me. I mean, if anyone did, I never saw many of them. So it's more of a compliance job. So I had to educate them about Nexxus and this and sort of build that platform out. And as you know, Alex, you were part of my team there. I mean, I had 14 people when I left. So in six years, I grew from one to 14 people and even should have been bigger than that. And I was getting pushed back because I think people were upset that I was telling them the law is not what they need to read the law, which they want.

Meredith Smith [00:39:45] So then kind of on that token, kind of as kind of we we wrap and this is something that's incredible about you, is that your ability to pick up, move and start again and have that nonrecurring business and whatnot and really kind of you're a business owner, right? Like you are the sole partner of the tax outsole. So for people and maybe even women in particular, starting their own business or wanting to. What advice would you give them to someone who's done it and has done kind of it multiple times?

Judy Vorndran [00:40:22] Well, it's not easy. So you definitely have to have a little heart or you're not going to get to know your wife for sure. Like, why are you doing it? It's got to be mission driven, not just monetary or whatever, and then hire the right people. I mean, the bottom line is get the right team and look for it. And I was blessed to be able to build a practice several times with other people's money. So what I did was build up on my own, I knew what I wanted and I took that very seriously. And I hired people who I knew had a passion for the work and were really good at it. And that's you guys. So I adopted you, Meredith, but you would still be here if we weren't doing good. So, you know, I really look for, like her, you know what I mean? And skills and knowledge and and a question. So I think that's it. And then, of course, if you're running a business, you've got her some cash, you've got some receivables, you know, especially in my consulting kind of business. So you win the work. You have no money. You got to do the work. You still have no money. Then you finally get billed for the work. So you're always in arrears. So it takes time to build that momentum from a cash perspective before you could be successful.

Alex Korzhen [00:41:21] You don't even know when you build the work, then you still have to wait 30, six days.

Judy Vorndran [00:41:25] Exactly. So it's really different than like you sell a widget, right? I got the cash. I ran your credit card. And then maybe I said your widget. I mean, a lot of times I take the money before they even give you the product and they'll refund it to you if they don't send it to you. Sure. But they take their money, your money up front. We kind of finance our clients. So it's knowing that you're not going to get screwed. Sometimes you gotta get a retainer. We don't always do that if we know a client, but we don't all try to make sure we don't have receivables. Right. We try to honor them and over deliver. I believe so I. That's really important, but you got to deliver because you want to deliver. I don't think you ever deliver because that's a concept, right? You got to give a rip, like you got to like what you do. So I think those things hurt and I also did that over my career, because I did a lot in software and high tech and there was such a passion in those CEOs that I remember going to these things, these entrepreneur awards. And I listen to them and I think, what is that? And how can I turn that into myself and be that person for my business? Because I was an employee, right? I was even a partner at my former firm and a director before that. But I wasn't an owner right in the same way I am here, because I was part of a bigger hole of like two Hunter partners. So I only like the small little cog in the wheel. And I'm my own little cog because I'm a separate service line, very distinct from my peers. And so you have to figure out how you let your light shine. Right, and go after what you believe in. But I think it also comes from just my personality and my stick to wittedness. I think I have grit. I certainly have resilience. But more importantly, I mean, I made my husband and I made a lot of money, more than we'd ever made a couple of years ago when I was a partner and he was a partner or he was an in-house counsel for a company. And we were working all the time and we were not happy. And so it is not money that drives happiness for sure. And if you don't have your health and you are sick, like my dad, they had money and my dad died. So if you don't have that, there's no happiness, there's no life, there's no nothing. So you got to look around and think, what is it that makes me happy? And if you look within yourself like me, I told you I get joy. When I talk to a new client, I get giddy. I mean, I do. I just do. It's visceral. It's just happening to me. So it's manifesting. But it's not, I'm not lying about it. I'm real. It's for real for me. I'm super passionate. I'm always thinking about them. How do we help them? What should we think about this? I'm into it. That's and if they pay me to do it, great. And so please pay me to do it and I'll kick ass for you and I will do a great job and I will save you money. We always give people money, but people don't get it. So we have to continue to educate them. But I just think that if you have that in your heart and you follow your truth, you're never going to be unhappy. You may be frustrated with little bits and pieces. That certainly happens for me. And then that's just part of the process. Running a business is really hard because you have to sell the work, do the work, manage work, build work, do the accounting, do the networking, do the marketing. And I mean, you're wearing a lot of hats. You're not just a tactical practitioner, even as a lawyer. And so I think service professionals have it the hardest because like, if you look at it like a hotel, they advertise it as being a really cool building. They clean it really nice. Have a nice front desk team. The rest of it hopefully sells itself. Right. We sell us our skills, our talent, our knowledge, our collaborative-ness, our deep depth of expertise, our different skill sets and that whole and makes us so powerful like we are the best team in the world. I know it because I look at my peers and I'm like, your only sales tax is you're only this or you're this state. You're not thinking holistically. You're thinking this way. You got to think like this, like that question. You have an issue in South Dakota. Why? When you're in North Dakota, why are we worried about South Dakota? What about Texas? What about Wyoming? What about this? Oh, you're selling there, too. It's just that South Dakota got there first with the rest. The state didn't come. So I think anybody who works nationally has to deal with taxes. I'm sorry. Like you want to make money off citizens of the United States, you're going to have to deal with your tax consequences. And it doesn't just be you get to ship it instead an evite and send an invoice and it doesn't have a consequence. And I think there is some kind of disconnect with that. And I and unfortunately, we do have a very complicated set of laws. But does everybody employ complicated laws? The Internet is complicated. I mean, getting a mortgage is complicated. Get over it. Just figure it out.

Alex Korzhen [00:45:44] Well, and on

Meredith Smith [00:45:44] that, we're going to go kind of into the way that we like to wrap kind of our episodes when we maybe leave enough time. But so here's our little here's our little rapid fires. Let's see if we can learn some more about boss lady. All right. Who dead or alive would you like to have lunch with?

Judy Vorndran [00:46:04] Oh, my God. Was I supposed to be prepared for that question? I don't really like Madonna or Cher. I think they're kind of amazing pioneering women and they really turned it upside down. So probably them, even though they're entertainment, I still think they've resonated and stood the test of time in their 60s and 70s.

Meredith Smith [00:46:21] Maybe their favorite movie.

Judy Vorndran [00:46:24] Oh, golly, favorite movie. I really like Guardians of the Galaxy. I've seen it multiple times. So that may be one of my favorites.

Meredith Smith [00:46:34] OK, favorite date night.

Judy Vorndran [00:46:36] Oh, play and dinner. Didn't really know him. Hands down. Yeah. We have subscribed to Denver Center Theater Company for 20 years. We subscribe. We love the theater. It's our thing. I'm always enriched by it. I never know what they're playing. It's transformative. Love it.

Meredith Smith [00:46:53] What do you listen to in the car,

Judy Vorndran [00:46:55] NPR usually

Meredith Smith [00:46:57] or as always, show tunes when she's in Hamilton?

Judy Vorndran [00:46:59] Yes, pretty much always insists on something other than NPR. Yes. She doesn't want to learn about current events. She wants to listen and sing.

Meredith Smith [00:47:09] What are you reading right now?

Judy Vorndran [00:47:11] Well, my next book, which is right here, which I haven't read yet, it's called Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt. And I think it's a story about taking a step back with your family and just paying attention to the little things. So I'm looking forward to reading it, because that's not your book for that. Yeah, that's what I picked because I'm in charge this time and we just read machines like us, which is really good. I love reading, but I don't always read it intentionally in books except because I'm in a book club, because I get really sucked into books. And so I can't I can't stop reading that. I stay up till 3:00 in the morning and I'm exhausted. I'm obsessive about if I love a book, I can't put it down

Meredith Smith [00:47:47] better a book than my episodes of whatever show it is.

Judy Vorndran [00:47:50] Oh, that too. I mean. Oh, my God. We're I guess we're watching one division now, which

Meredith Smith [00:47:56] I was going to say that'll be my.

Judy Vorndran [00:47:58] And we're loving that. I like 20 minutes. Like it's super. That's like oh oh oh yeah. Yeah, super. It's bad for us.

Meredith Smith [00:48:07] Now I know the first part of this, but I don't know how you evolve your taste. Coffee or tea

Judy Vorndran [00:48:11] or coffee for sure. So I'm actually a smoker.

Meredith Smith [00:48:14] How do you take it? So what's your Starbucks order and sort of

Judy Vorndran [00:48:19] what you wait for is a granted event. So I'm venti two one half caf nonfat, no whip. If I do have to have nonfat, no whip. Almond milk, maybe coconut, half and half, so that my Starbucks, which used to be four bucks, is seven bucks because they charge me extra for like the different kinds of milk, which is kind of baloney because I'm not having the regular milk. So why should you charge me extra for the almond? A coconut. But what I just

Meredith Smith [00:48:45] buys because it takes a lot of work to milk an almond. So what are three words or phrases that you think Zoe would use to describe you?

Judy Vorndran [00:48:55] Oh, golly, Zoe, can I ask her surely Zoe in three words? What three words would you use to describe me? Three words, random words. So crazy. Really fun. That's not a word. That's something extraordinary.

Meredith Smith [00:49:16] That's a good one. That's good.

Judy Vorndran [00:49:18] Oh, that would not be crazy.

Meredith Smith [00:49:21] Definitely extraordinary. And

Judy Vorndran [00:49:24] Authentic, authentic, he says, I'm taking Funland, I'm going authentic, crazy, extraordinary, authentic.

Meredith Smith [00:49:33] I think I think we would definitely agree with those as your team, as you know, half of your team. Thank you for your time. Thank you for being our leader. And we've learned a lot, you know, and it's and it's really good. You know, sometimes at the end of the day, we get stuck into getting the work done and whatnot. And so it's really good to have that refresh and step back and to really hear because it is inspiring the reason we do what we do and what drives you. And that trickles down to the team. I don't know. You know, I don't want to speak for Alex, but thank you for kind of all that you do for us. This has been another episode of the SALTovation podcast with guest host Alex Korzhen. You can listen to his episode again, because it's a fun one to thank you for being here. And 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:

  • What was her first job? What did she want to be when she was younger?
  • What led her to pursue a business degree?
  • How does her daughter interpret Judy’s upbringing and college career?
  • How did she involved with the Family Resource Center Association (FRCA)?
  • How does she carry that passion into her work?
  • What advice would she give to women who are wanting to start or are starting their own business?

What You Will Discover:

  • [01:08] What was Judy’s first job?
  • [02:57] Why she pursued a business degree
  • [07:31] What she felt she learned as a parent
  • [14:25] How she leads her team
  • [21:12] Her involvement with FRCA
  • [26:59] How she carries her passion into work
  • [29:42] Some things she’s seen in accounting
  • [39:46] Judy’s advice for women starting a business
  • [45:43] Some fun facts about Judy


  • “When we took Josh and Nicole and I lost my cousin suddenly at 32, it just really changes the trajectory of how you feel. That life is short and you need to make it count. However that is for you.”– Judy Vorndran [10:11]
  • “I think that’s why we’re successful as a team because there’s this thing about who we are in our nature that makes us really effective at this work. And looking at those qualities in our team is why we’re together as a team, ‘cause we each have these things that cross pollinate but there’s this common passion around the work.” – Judy Vorndran [16:49]
  • “I think a lot of people really struggle with the complexity. I relish on the complexity. I physically feel so excited to listen to a client’s problem, and I can figure out how to help them. So somehow someway, I’m really good at that. I can see the forest through the trees.” – Judy Vorndran [28:41]
  • “You got to figure out how you let your light shine, right? And go after what you believe in.” – Judy Vorndran [42:40]
  • “You got to look around and think, ‘What is it that makes me happy?’” – Judy Vorndran [43:23]