The Inside Story of Gable Tax with Dena Oberst
Hosts & Guests
Judy Vorndran, Lead Partner, SALT
Meredith Smith, Senior Tax Manager, SALT
Dena Oberst, President and CEO, Gable Tax Consulting Group Inc.
The Inside Story of Gable Tax with Dena Oberst
Meredith Smith [00:00:04] Welcome to SALTovation. The SALTovation Show as a podcast series featuring the leading voices in SALT 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 the SALTovation podcast. Today, we are joined by Dena Oberst, president and CEO of Gabal Tax Gamble. Tax is a FULL-SERVICE sales and use tax consulting group with over twenty five years experience in sales and use tax compliance and consulting services. We're going to talk with Dena about how her career evolved, where she ended up starting Gabal tax and decided to fill a need in the market. Dena, thank you so much for being here today.
Dena Oberst [00:00:48] Thank you for having me.
Meredith Smith [00:00:50] And as always, Judy, averageness observation. Hello, Dena. You have a lot of experience throughout a variety of industries. Can you walk us through your career that ultimately led you to Gable's acts?
Dena Oberst [00:01:03] Well, I actually didn't start the traditional way. I went to school to be an accountant, thought I'd be a CPA. And in those 90s, I ended up in the industry, in the sales tax department, not where I wanted to be and wanted to be an income tax like every college grad. And I was doing sales tax and property tax for National Uniform Company, I was determined to get out of that department. I called headhunters. I was looking to get out. I was like, how do I get out of sales and property tax? I need to get an income tax. But I actually was told by the headhunter that if I stayed two years in sales tax that I would be highly marketable. So at that point, literally two years after I had that conversation, that recruiter called me and placed me at a biotech company in the sales tax department. And that's kind of the beginning of everything, I still dabbled in property tax from industry perspective, but in my later years I just settled with sales tax. But after spending about four years in private industry, I actually finally made it to public accounting. And I went to Arthur Andersen as an experienced consultant. And that was kind of different because most people grew up in the firm right out of college and I kind of came from the outside. So I came from a client's perspective. It's a blessing and a curse. At the same time, my managers are younger than me. You know, I'm not trained with, you know, what color pencil to use because I didn't go to a new hire orientation right now. I got sold and I got scolded many times. I used the wrong color pencil. And I also got scolded because I would reconcile everything to the penny because I'm an accountant. And that's what you do in industry, right? Well, you don't do that in consulting because I wasn't in the scope of services. I got sort
Meredith Smith [00:02:54] of threshold is one hundred thousand dollars on one account because we're doing like giant multinationals. Like, we don't care
Dena Oberst [00:03:00] exactly like Dean over there doing. I can't find these three cents. It's driving me crazy.
Meredith Smith [00:03:06] I have to find it. So, yeah, it's rounding, it's taking too long. You're too expensive to tie out to the penny.
Dena Oberst [00:03:12] Yes. I had to learn all of those things in my Arthur Andersen days for sure. So those were the painful moments. The blessing was I did have experience being on the client side. So I had a little more understanding of their needs. So when we would go in and ask for information, I knew how to kind of. Well, let's see, for Nagle and Finance, I wasn't the big consultant coming in to say I need this, I'd be like, Oh well, you're on this system. OK, well, let's go talk to that person. So I think that helped me tremendously relate to clients. And I was therefore getting picked up by more managers to work on their projects because they knew I knew the inner workings of companies. But it wasn't just the college grad that had never worked anywhere else. I had another experience. And then with that, you know, I was assigned a mentor and he said, you need to specialize. If you're going to fit in a big firm, you need to be the one and only. And I had already had experience using the Vertex software. I had implemented that in my industry days at my biotech company. And so I went and got certified to be a trainer and implementer. And so therefore that kind of launched everything because nobody at the time at Andersen even knew how to use Vertex. Right. And this is the 90s. This is the early 90s. And so really, that's when I became the vertex expert for the firm and started doing software implementations and training on how to use the tax return software. I was a super user. So we all know what happened to Andersen. You know, the Enron scandal of 2002, we all kind of folded. I went to Ernst and Young. To be honest, I was only there for 90 days. It was during the whole Enron scandal. I wasn't going to march down to city hall another time, you know, saying we've done nothing and all of that. I said, you know, I can't really serve clients in public accounting. There were way too many restrictions with the Sarbanes-Oxley.
Judy Vorndran [00:05:06] Yes.
Dena Oberst [00:05:07] Especially doing what I did. Right. I'm doing compliance. What do you do when trees do payment processing? Well, now you can do anything. So what's left? What's the client going to do? They give you the good stuff and they keep the credit stuff? No. So that's that was that time I exited the public accounting space and went to a Jefferson Wells at the time, which was
Judy Vorndran [00:05:29] attacked Jefferson Wells. By the way, I experienced that just for some wells it's back to the same name. So I just saw that I just saw, too. I'm like, OK, all right. Well, there we go.
Dena Oberst [00:05:39] Yeah, yeah. I just did see that. So yeah, I know
Judy Vorndran [00:05:42] the why yet, but I will find out.
Dena Oberst [00:05:45] Yeah. And that was a great experience because again they didn't have a sales and use tax team and so I kind of led nationwide creating a sales tax compliance and automation practice for the firm. I did that for several years and really the only reason why I ended up changing is I got breast cancer, I had breast cancer. And during that time, my husband, who also had worked with me at Arthur Andersen, he was a partner at a new firm called True Partners Consulting had encouraged me that maybe it was time to join back with him and lead the sales tax department for Jefferson, I mean, for true partners consulting. And so that's when I left. It's kind of a pivotal, pivotal time in my life right now. I'm in my thirties. I have cancer. I was traveling all over the world trying to do software implementations. And it was kind of time to reel it back in and get back, get back home. So anyway, I ended up landing after that. My husband, my both left there and went to Ryan Ryan, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Again, a great opportunity for me to leave their compliance practice. They had a huge sales tax practice. Yeah, I had built in clients. I'm like, wow, this would be the marketing mega. I wouldn't have the cold call anymore. Cold calling stinks. All I have to do is network with my fellow partners. And while they open the door and I go in client signs, in a way it went. So being that Ryan, with the plethora of sales tax clients that they had, sales tax compliance was a no brainer. So why was the practice leader at Ryan and started their sales tax compliance practice? And so that's where I spent my last nine years. Well, when Anderson collapsed, you know, a lot of us, I think, thought about going on our own and I think I was just too scared. Oh, yeah, what am I going to do? I hope we're both out of work right at the time. I mean, you're not really out of work when you're out, Anderson, but you know what I mean. The firm collapsed. We both lost our jobs. So it was really kind of like, well, I never did it. People ask me all the time, why don't you do this on your own? And I was like, too scared or what? Well, seriously, it takes some of you to understand this. It takes another pivotal, pivotal moment. And that was when I turned 50. So when I turned 15. Right. I mean, I had a great job at Ryan. I mean, it was really good to me. I had people from all over the country. We went offshore to India. I had developed sales tax technology tools. I mean, I had people all over. It was great. I mean, I did the best I ever did, sold the most work I ever sold when I was at Ryan. It was great, I loved working with Brant, but I turned 50. So then you have that moment like, OK, am I going to spend the next ten years continuing to build a business for another firm, or is this the time I take the leap before I'm not employable anymore? Right. Because I've had plenty of friends that have taken the leap and then they end up going back to public accounting. Some like how when do you take the leap and go back? Who's going to hire fifty five or six year olds? I mean, that's what I was thinking, right? So I was like
Meredith Smith [00:09:00] there's like in large firms and we see this whether or not a partner wants to retire or not, like you're forced into retirement, I think at 60 to 62, it doesn't matter. Like you can maybe get an extension, but you're not a partner. You're a director. You're so. Yeah, there's
Judy Vorndran [00:09:15] yeah. No pressure. And that's our mentality. Plus you're making money for somebody else. You don't even Arien, you're getting told what you get paid. Not to say you wouldn't get paid well, but it's like still lining somebody else's coffers so well and
Dena Oberst [00:09:29] it was the same thing. You know, the more you change jobs, the harder it is. You have conflicts of interest with clients and all of that. Right. It's starting over. Starting over is hard. Yes. So I thought, well, I had saved up some money. I did really well. Ryan, I will not lie. It's a good model. And so I took the savings that I had and put myself, OK, if I hit fifty one, I'm staying. If I don't, I have to decide now. So between 50- 50 one, I told myself, if I don't, if I don't take the leap that time with 51, I'm just going to stay and that's it. I'm just going to retire here at some point. So at 50 and a half, literally on Halloween or whatever of four years ago, I took the leap and decided it was time. I'm going to take a chance. I'm going to spend my life savings and launch my own compliance firm. And it was really at that point that some people around me thought I was crazy, they thought I was having like a midlife crisis must be going through menopause and all the stuff you get a sense of, like, you know, what if you're not and can't deny you're out of the camp. And so I really had this major cleansing in my life at that moment. And really that was kind of the launch I. I started Gabal tax in March of twenty seventeen and it was just me and I decided LinkedIn was going to be my best friend because I had lost all my contacts. Right. You lose your contacts when you change jobs. So I had a lifelong database of names and colors and kids and all my stuff that I've had since my Anderson days. I had none of it. So I quickly learned how to use LinkedIn to reconnect, to build a network. Wow. And so that's kind of how it started. And LinkedIn really was the feeder for me, because I hate to say it, but it's really awesome being X. Arthur Andersen carries a lot of weight. Yeah. I mean, there's people that reach out to you just because you're Andersen never met them, you know, didn't work at the same office. And actually it was my very first alliance with a former Arthur Andersen colleague. He owned another firm. They were doing income tax. They want to do a sales tax. They became our first client and we ended up doing 20 of their clients sales tax returns. Wow. So that really kind of was pivotal for us. I mean, literally within a year we had six employees and more than 20 clients. But it was just kind of just that. The thing that turned the page right, that the Anderson connection,
Judy Vorndran [00:12:14] but it's also interesting that you could do that, a disparity with Ryan. And I mean, there's a lot of people that do this work out there. Dana and I helped sell it at Deloitte and then Vertex spun off. And that was my group that went to Vertex and Thomson. Reuters bought the Deloitte practice because of Sarbanes-Oxley. So I was like, do I want to set this up? Because there's all these other people that do it and do it well enough. We all know that's a push pull, too. It's not apples to apples, as I've come to appreciate, which is why you and I are connected. But like, how do you say I'm better than these guys or or there's a need for what I do compared to what they do. Right. The mentality?
Dena Oberst [00:12:54] Well, it is scary because, you know, there are so many other providers out there that have, you know, deep pockets for technology and all of that. So it was scary. But the one thing I knew for sure is if it didn't work, I could get a job. You know, I could get another job. I had plenty of solicitation. I mean, I had offers to buy my company within six months of starting it. So people I felt like I believed in what I've done. So it was kind of like, OK, if push comes to shove, I know get another job and be on salary instead of living off my savings. But I think the biggest difference is that I actually had people come apply. I had clients call me the day I started my business. They're like, you know, we've been with you for years. Where are you? We didn't know. And so I thought, well, I can do this. I'm a people person. And the level of service that I've always provided has always been very focused on being super helpful, you know, being available. And I think that that's kind of maybe my secret sauce, I will just say, is that, you know, people can pick up the phone and talk to me. I understand what's going on with them. I understand their world. And then I give them practical advice. I'm not a CPA that's going to say, you know, this is what the state says and you have to do it and say, well, that's what the state says, but here are some options and then you pick your own risk. Here is risk A, B and C, it's kind of, you know, I like to give clients options. So I just thought, well. And I reconciled with the penny. Let's not forget that that's one thing I still could have a say. And so it is one of my things that I've carried with me forever. If you look at my website, it will literally say that. And I think the reason why we're different is we're not just technology. Right. A lot of the systems that are out there, outsourcing companies are software driven. And we all know being a software implementer, it's only as good as it's implemented. So absolutely, I hear horror stories every day. I have clients, all these platforms on the calculation side. But on the remittance, it's all manual. They can't make adjustments and they can't reconcile the girl. So, Judy, one of the things that we always pride ourselves on is we actually reconcile and we reconcile at the beginning of the month. You know, when you're in industry, you do reconciliations at the end of the month before you close your books. We do it at the beginning. So we get the clients information and all their data and we reconcile it before we prepare the tax return so that we uncover anything. So we uncover what's wrong with the data before the tax return goes out. So we're not filing amended returns and trying to get refunds and all of that. Yes. And we do tie to the penny. We want to know, you know, is there a local jurisdiction that's not due to a quarterly will? That dollar amount that's due to that jurisdiction is sitting on the reconciliation. And that's just kind of how we operate and I've been doing it long enough, I've been doing this for twenty nine years, that I've pretty much perfected the process. We use technology, of course, but we do use human common sense. You know, you got to that.
Judy Vorndran [00:16:12] And I think it's not, it can't be completely automated. And I'm coming to realize that I feel like there's been all these software vendors that are push, push, push this and people buy into it. Right. But there is nuance to sales cycles, to data, to how things get that into how the client service process works. And that means data is not exactly software driven and needs to be human driven. So you need that element of data and software and human interaction in order to have a good feeling. I mean, we don't file income tax returns based on putting a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then uploading them into software. No, we have to think about this and that adjustment and this that the other I mean, there is human interaction to create a final return, whether it be sales tax or income tax or even payroll tax. But bottom line sales tax for you. And I think there's something lacking in some of the things that people are saying out there that is problematic to the industry and pushing it to a thought and a software as opposed to humans. And I think that's where you start out.
Meredith Smith [00:17:13] Well, and I think and I think now that sales taxes, sales taxes kind of come to the forefront to see CEOs, CFOs, attention. And you're like, well, you are signing these things under penalty of perjury. You are an agent of the government and you are collecting money on behalf of the government. And it's a big deal to not do it correctly. It's not just some, you know, administrative thing that can be pushed off. And it's not a big deal. Right. Like we have. You know, I was doing a reconciliation for a client who's in the U.K. who, you know, used a software company's kind of tax return remittance. And we're looking at it like a shot. We think there is an entire month that didn't get remitted properly, but then going back and reconciling. But we also think because of the way that their system works, that we may have not taken an opportunity for seventy five thousand dollars worth of credits. So it's just this huge discrepancy and they don't know how they are. One person who's managing sales tax from England. Right. Like who isn't familiar with the system, that she's just like, well, the transactions are in and I hope it's done right. And it's like you can't as much as technology is great. And we couldn't do the Reconciliation without technology. Like, it just cannot remove that human element of it. And it sounds like that's where your firm and your underlying model is, just like that human piece to keep it going and to keep it done correctly.
Judy Vorndran [00:18:48] And that's why we're aligning with you because we want to offer that to our clients.
Dena Oberst [00:18:54] Well, I always say this measurement drives behavior. And if you have changeability goals from the public accounting firms, which is what we were, then that's the behavior. I don't have those same measurements. I don't have those same KPIs. So what, how do we stand out? Hey, that thing better be accurate. You've got to reconcile it. And by reconciling you're also picking up, like Meredith was saying, some tax only credit. So. Right. Sometimes tax adjustments don't sit in the sales invoice because it didn't reverse. It's written off and there is, you know, someone providing an event certificate and it's sitting in the jail. So if you're just taking the sales report, you're not looking at the girl. You have all this money that the business had already given to the state and they don't get it back because nobody thought to take the credit. And so that's the reconciliation and that's why it's super important. Now, that's the traditional businesses, right? It's not that e-commerce businesses don't have those same exact things because they don't have the but, you know, traditional businesses, medical device companies and all those, their GL is really important to reconcile every month. It's really hard when you have one sale. And you know this, Judy, you have a client, the bond of three million dollar piece of equipment and you charge them tax. You paid it within 30 days. They say, oh, no, this was a resale. Here's the resale certificate and they short pay the tax. How do you get that money back from the state? You got to file them in return. And oh, my gosh, it's just it's a painful process because remember. Right, this is an accrual based reporting, not cash. Yep. Yep. So as a business, as a taxpayer, you need to front the money. You have payment terms with your customers. So it's a huge outlay of cash. And we just want to be very respectful of that and make sure that they're not overreporting and married. When you were talking about reconciling, I actually see more times than not I don't see clients charging tax and not remitting. I see just the opposite, I see where they're over pain. Yes, because the automation that's out there that they're using to prepare tax returns consolidates data. Right. And may be coming from Amazon and may be coming from Shopify. Right. This is before a marketplace facilitator, but data would come in from multiple sources and they push it through this one platform thinking it's whatever tax was collected, right? No, it was recalculated. And so we had a client that was going to overpay. So let's say their tax was like fourteen thousand dollars. Traditionally that month it was seventy thousand. And the client is going to pay. And I'm like, you know, that stuff is not right.
Meredith Smith [00:21:29] Your tax is an outlier here. That doesn't seem.
Dena Oberst [00:21:32] And sure enough, we found out the software we calculate in tax from all these other systems, which are pretty sophisticated. Right. They already had Amazon already had a vertex plug in. They already have an avalanche plug in our tax web plug in right there. So whatever it's called now, they all had their own tax engine. So it should have been fairly correct. But as you know, Judy, they don't all set up the same. Right. They map different tax codes, maybe that products are exempt on the Amazon platform, but it's taxable on the Avalere platform, you know, so I just I just caution when I hear people say, oh, we're using this particular thing, I'm just being careful. Please be reconciled to your G.L. Don't be out of pocket.
Judy Vorndran [00:22:11] But there's a lack of value in the sales tax process. And it's funny, you know, listening to you, I'm thinking I started an income tax and I moved to sales tax because I didn't like income tax.
Dena Oberst [00:22:22] Oh, that is funny.
Meredith Smith [00:22:25] I guess you like skiing better than you like doing, Jack.
Judy Vorndran [00:22:31] Yeah, like, oh, my God. I didn't realize January through April frickin 15th I'd be out of ski season. Absolutely. I'm like, I gotta get out of this world. Plus the deadline driven not to say sales taxes and deadline driven. It totally is. And I like to struggle with compliance for that reason. I like the consultative aspect of the work because it's a soft deadline versus a hard deadline. But it's just funny you say that. And then I was like, gosh, there's so many things with sales tax that are created that are interesting, that are thoughtful and they're going on all the time. I don't know. I just found it fascinating. So I'm kind of the opposite of you. Started in income and got the heck out. Still do income by the way, I understand it enough, but I like the sales tax world better. And I also thought it was very devalued. I would remember talking to a CFO and he said, oh, that's really clerical. And I'm like, I don't think it's clerical. And I and it's true. It's not. It's like the devil's in the details of how you set yourself up, where you tax, who you tax, why you tax. I mean, all that's really important is to get to the number at the end. And even that is not so simple as for a site hosting a sale. So there's a lot of complexity to get to your answer and the inputs of the tax. You're exactly right. And then the accrual and making sure that you don't overcommit and people think the clerical, but in the end is real money, real money every month. So I think it's nice that it's been more important because of it. That's all of us all pay attention to it. Now, like when is the New York Times, The Washington Post, you name it, any media talking about how they're like when a sales tax has ever been printed? And I've been coming to appreciate, like, why do people not get this? And when sales taxes, receipts, nineteen twenty two, you know, it's older, the income taxes, but people are anticlerical like. And now you see all the media say it's the primary driver of state tax coffers. It is not income taxes, it's whatever. And so now we're getting some credibility. Honestly, it's only the big companies that have gone. This is important. This matters. It's the small companies that are getting chewed up now because they have not made it imported or valued it or got the right resources to help them, you know, spearhead it.
Meredith Smith [00:24:40] And that kind of ties. And I want to go back to something that you said at the very beginning right out of college after a year or two years. Why do you think that recruiter was saying that, you know, two years in, you're going to be incredibly marketable? Like, what do you think? Because obviously it's pre Wayfair, you know what not. So why do you think that is?
Dena Oberst [00:25:03] Well, back in those days in the nineties, you know, if you had any state and local tax knowledge, you were still in the federal practice. These are public accounting firms that have just started practices. Right. So there was always a Fed guy that came over to run the salt practice. And so they were recruiting for salt. You had a lot of attorneys, right? They don't want to do compliance again to the clerk. You know, let's hire a she'll like it, you know, give it to her. It's the credit work, you know, little did they know. Twenty nine years later, you know, I didn't know either. I wanted to get out of it, too. I was like, I didn't want to be in that childhood. Yeah, I couldn't. I couldn't. I had that ball tied around the ankle my whole life to my ball and chain. Haven't been able to shake it. But, you know, so I really think, Meredith, that that's really what happened. It just happened to be a perfect storm, right? Salt became a marketable business for the public accounting firms. They had to split it from the Fed, they had to get dedicated resources and add talent in those areas. You know, your property tax is cheap, which isn't even a tax. Write your own claim then. Delaware was going after.
Meredith Smith [00:26:09] Delaware is still
Dena Oberst [00:26:10] hot. So, yeah. So I think that was kind of the reason for the recruiter making that decision and it was the right decision, looking back for sure. But I've been the stepchild for a long, long time. I know I
Judy Vorndran [00:26:27] has four people who are kind of resentful of me now. Like I hadn't taken a beating for my entire career. And now I get to say, hey, I know this stuff really well and I haven't done it for a long time and I can build on that knowledge. Right. Every single client is a new experience and a new opportunity to learn. And I've been writing up that I did scaling up the top of Mount Everest without a Sherpa. And I want to get on my back and ride the sled down because I stuck it out and climbed. Right. But we've certainly paid our dues in terms of credibility, value, understanding in the space and not been very valued by our peers over the years.
Dena Oberst [00:27:07] But think about the value, but think about the value we now have for those clients that are underserved. And this was kind of another perfect storm for me, right? I created the firm, created global tax with the sales tax gurus, focused on compliance, the old traditional method, and then Wayfair out of all of all things like when did we ever have a big tax law change like that ever? I don't even have to tell people like, what do you do? I'm a sales tax accountant. Oh, do you do income tax? I'm like, no. Now I said, Oh, Wayfair. Oh, that's the way fair. So common people know it is on regular news, you know, so we're finally at the forefront. But the beauty of it, right, is that you and I focused on this for so long that what does a client get? They get an instant answer. I know. Twenty nine years of experience and they get an answer in two minutes. I'm not going back to a book or whatever, some online research researching it. I've had enough experience that this stuff is just here. I don't incontact. Don't ask me. I have a CPA for that. I am just multistate sales and use tax and we are very compliance driven. It's not that we don't do research and visas and all of that, but everything has a compliance component to it.
Judy Vorndran [00:28:23] Yeah, right. Right. And that's what we're trying to do, the visas and the thought process. But get the compliance off our backs because the ability to do it well and do it efficiently, you're better at that than we are because we are big enough to do that. And I don't know that I want to grow it like you have, even though obviously there's an opportunity. But I want to align with peers that are really good at that part of that ongoing duty. Once we are like, oh, you need to follow twenty places. You need someone to help you do that. Well, because you're not you can't do it very well. And even with the software, you can't do it really well. You've got to have somebody manage the farm. So obviously that's why I'm interested in working and aligning with you, because I want my clients to be well served.
Dena Oberst [00:29:04] Yeah, well, we aligned, like you said, we align with other accountants and other people like yourself. We have several sales tax firms that we partner with. Again, I don't want to comply. Yeah, no, we don't. We're not really focused on videos, actually. Haven't even done a visa since we started because our alliance partners, like someone like yourself, would do the visa. And then when the state says you can't give me a spreadsheet to file the visa, we need tax returns right now.
Meredith Smith [00:29:30] Oaks, California. Yes, Massachusetts.
Dena Oberst [00:29:34] So then I like we'll do a multimedia Judy. We'll do it for you. You know, we'll take whatever data you did and negotiate with the state. We'll put it through our software and our process, and then we'll give you a perfectly timed out balance to the penny tax return so you can submit it with your visa. So.
Meredith Smith [00:29:48] So then how do you build to scale? Like, how did you get to the point where, like, all right, we're already set up, we've got the infrastructure. We can handle Wayfair right from June. Twenty second after people have had twenty four out twelve hours to take over and digest that, that decision.
Dena Oberst [00:30:10] Well it was kind of pivotal for us because, you know, we, I was told, traditionally go after clients that had multistate presence. Again, medical device software is not software. The service wasn't a big deal until Wayfair, but I was still doing those traditional solicitations. So when Wayfair hit, I quickly pivoted and actually bailed out on a couple of PS. I pulled away from some big retailer, our PS, because I realized the CPA community was now going to be suffering. So you think about outside of the big four, the middle tier firms, there's no sales tax department. At a regional accounting firm, when you have Wayfair first thing, if you're a business, especially an online business, who do you call you keep your content. Yeah, you always call your CPA. Now, if they're a California CPA, they may know California sales tax, but they don't know Arizona, Nevada, Texas. I mean, Aurora, Colorado. We have lovely Colorado. So I quickly, Joz, my VP and I were like, OK, we are going to just start calling all our CPA colleagues and asking if they need help. And so that's what we did and we really totally changed all of my marketing to help the CPAs. We provide free guidance and free nexxus studies to them to kind of help them gain the trust of their clients as to where they should be filing to help educate. So that's what we're doing. We're helping to educate. So, yeah, that's not scalable per say, right. There's technology out there. Looma Tax is a great platform to do that kind of stuff. Right, from CPA firms that want to keep that Nexxus study stuff in-house. That's not scalable, but it's kind of building goodwill. Right. We want to get back to the community and give back by helping to educate. And of course, if they decide to outsource, we hope that we get the registrations and we get the tax returns. But so that's kind of how Wayfair pivoted us. But that doesn't get back to your scaling. Scaling is all about process. You always hear that people process and technology and hearing it since my Anderson days. But boy, it's the truth. You know, you don't just have clerical people, right? We talked about that. You said it's a clerical role. Well, clerical people are like robots and they do exactly what you tell them in the method. You tell them and then you add a wrench in it. And then it's like a mouse in a maze. Where do they go? Yeah. So, yes, you can save money on payroll, but you don't save time and you're not efficient at all. So I hire college educated accountants because if you hire an accountant, they're going to still look at it from an accounting perspective, debits and credits. And I hire accountants that love technology, know how to write formulas in Excel. And the reason why I say Excel and not anything else more than that is because when we give the data back to the client, you can't give an access database. They don't know why. So yeah, yeah, you can use all these great automation tools and then you give it back to them and they can't open it. So you want to operate in what they have because they're going to get audited. They're going to want their work papers. They're going to want to be able to read them. So because I've done this so long, Meridith, I've been able to kind of perfect the process. And you know how that is. It's no different than saying you're doing chores at your house. Right. You can either, like, go to the kitchen and grab something and then go over here. And then you're like, oh, I missed the path. I don't think that way. I think, OK, if I'm headed from here to the kitchen, I have all these things I need to do. So I only have to walk once. That's the way I'm wired. I'm kind of with. So I will gather this stuff and show that the same way I'm wired is how I treat sales tax compliance. There's a specific process that you have to go through to be the most efficient, because if I just tell you. Yeah. You're going to reconcile. Yeah. You got to do this. Yeah. You got to get the data and you just handed it to a staff person. They all do it differently. You've got one person that's a superstar and you've got another one that's floundering. Right. So, yeah, it's really about the people, the talent, the process. And of course, you have to use technology because no one's going to do a sales tax return plan. Well, some people do, but we don't, as you know, use our tax returns. And I have been using that product my whole career.
Judy Vorndran [00:34:28] Yeah, no, it's funny. I'm the same way. That's why I hire people who are interested in it, motivated by it, usually educated in it, especially choosing tax just as a CPA chooses tax. Right. That's not common. So it's definitely that extra effort of like I really like this area. I don't want to be, say, an orderly financial accounting auditor. I'm going to be a tax geek. So you've got to have a tax accountant, I think to really succeed in this field.
Dena Oberst [00:34:51] Kind of been the challenge, though, right? Because you're a tax geek, everyone wants to do income tax just like I did. So when we're hiring, we have to ask what their long term goals are because of the CPA. We don't want them to be honest. I don't want to spend two years getting them, you know, like super efficient. And then they want their CPA because we're not a CPA firm. We really want somebody that wants a really good career, that loves clients, loves helping others, and is willing to reconcile the penny the way Dean asks and
Meredith Smith [00:35:23] and your truth. I want to speak to a teach to it
Dena Oberst [00:35:26] and likes deadlines. Right. Right now, he likes the deadline because unlike income tax, sales tax cannot happen. There's never I can't say that anymore. Thank you, Governor.
Judy Vorndran [00:35:36] I don't write.
Dena Oberst [00:35:37] Never had an extension. Ever write. Twenty nine years. Never you, you don't file an extension. You declined. Says I didn't file. It was due on the 20th. Big deal. Mike, are you crazy if I need to pay a penalty? So you have to be very driven on deadlines. Right. There's a certain time of the month where that also could go haywire. If we're not done by the tenth of the month, then, you know, it gets a little hairy because you have to file online. So really, the scaling is all about people process technology and training, constant training. We are training our people every month and the downtime. We're looking at different technology all the time to change the processes, to see if we can make it more efficient, to reconcile. It's not to make it faster. It's just to perfect it. Yeah, I'm a perfectionist. To me. I'm a perfectionist.
Meredith Smith [00:36:29] I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. Like I said in your truth, get it and figure out how to make the best of it right. Like and here. So Judy made fun of not making fun of me, but we were doing a site tour. We were talking about manufacturing and cutting, you know, making the most out of a shape, out of metal and like getting the templates. So I asked the guy if he was really good at loading a dishwasher because he was able to piece in part all of those kinds of things to get the most out of the sheet metal. Are you good at loading the dishwasher?
Dena Oberst [00:36:59] Oh, yes, actually, it's funny you say that you just like a flash with my mind. So it seemed like I was just a young girl. It was one of the jobs that I had. I've been working since I was eleven. So one of the jobs I had was that my parents owned a beauty salon and they had like a little boutique in the front and one of their designers was looking for a seamstress. And so I would go to her house, my mom would drop me off and I bought my sewing machine and I would sit, lay all the fabric on her table, in her dining room and all the patterns. And I wanted to make sure I got, like, as much as I could right on that one piece. And I sat there and I cut them and then I stitched them together. But it was the same thing. It's like, no, I didn't want to waste any of that fabric. Of course, it had stripes and stuff. That's a whole other thing. But it was like I had every little piece, made sure I was very efficient and used the pattern on it.
Meredith Smith [00:37:49] It's inefficient when my husband is a giant ball and just that's right in the middle of the top rack and I'll blow it up like he didn't have a dishwasher growing up. Like maybe that's why he just never learned how to load a dishwasher. But like, you know, but also that's kind of where my brain goes , spatially where can all these things get the best outcome for what I have? You know, I have constraints and I have things that need to fit in within my constraints. So how can I best utilize that?
Dena Oberst [00:38:15] Now, if I'm definitely my wife going to be like, oh, I'll do the dishes where I'm like, no, no, no, no, you can go.
Meredith Smith [00:38:23] You and I are like, going to
Dena Oberst [00:38:26] was the catalyst for Close-mouthed. Maybe I don't want to foreclose either, because it's funny how I pull my towels.
Meredith Smith [00:38:32] I am so kind of on that. As we wrap up, is there anything that you feel we need to know that we didn't already talk about?
Judy Vorndran [00:38:43] What about starting in a business? What about the fact that you did this? Like, are you glad you did it now?
Dena Oberst [00:38:49] I am so glad I did this. And we're not quite in our fourth year, but I am so glad the first two years I will not lie were scary, scary, scary, you know, burning through how much money I said I was going to spend on the firm because I hired right away. You know, you have to be credible. You have checks and balances and compliance. You know, we do bank Reconciliation, we do journal entries where payment processing. Right. There's lots of division of responsibilities. So I had to have a big team. So I had a lot of payroll. People were getting paid. And I wasn't that first eleven months. Yes. It was really hard to not see it deposited in my checking account. I think that was the hardest thing I ever worked for. Someone my whole twenty five years and that first two weeks I was like, wait, just the money coming in.
Meredith Smith [00:39:34] There's lots going on.
Dena Oberst [00:39:36] Yeah but it worked out, you know, I was, I'm very I'm just very lucky. I stayed very focused. I'm very driven and goal oriented. I set goals every day. I had coaches during that first year. I had colleagues I was masterminding. So I had a group of other female entrepreneurs that were all pushing each other to reach our goals. And I think that really made a difference because you can go to a dark place when you're all by yourself. I mean, I was in a cold place at a private office, but I was outside the home. But it's still, you know, trying to figure it out, make calls how many calls you make in the day. But, you know, by eleven months we were profitable. So it really only took eleven months of investment into the business. And of course, Wayfair, that was just, you know, cute.
Judy Vorndran [00:40:27] Yeah, it's funny because I joined this firm, I didn't make any money for six months, same thing. But I went to a firm so I had some, you know, websites. It's a process. Right. But I still had to build it up for my own way and it was my service line. So it was, it was a lift. And then, you know, all these things that happen every year, covid being the next. What does this mean for us? Right. I mean, there's just always something going on in life that you're like, OK, what does this mean? Right. I mean, you could have said I could have taken that money. Just retired.
Dena Oberst [00:40:57] Yeah, I could. Well, and I even said I'm only going to spend this. And then I ended up like, OK, maybe I could get comfortable, more comfortable with not spending that and sell my house and take the money. So I put the house on the market and went into escrow like super quick and then. I don't know the buyer. Something happened in the back, a buyer was all cash and whatever happened and then he wanted all my furniture and my paintings and all that for free to buy the house like, you know. And I'm like, you know what? I'm not doing it. And so I quickly took it off the market, like, so weird. I think I put it on the market at the beginning of March. And by the end of March, I was in this office where I am here in Pasadena. And one of my colleagues here, he was asking me at the end of the month, he's like, why are you selling your house? I said, Well, because it just takes the strain off. You know, it's extra money you put in the savings in this big house. Right. He goes, well, how many jobs did you close this month? And I'm like, you know, I don't normally think about that. And I'm like, Oh, yeah, 19. He goes, Did you do a projection of cash after you closed these, like what your rent is going to be for the year? And I'm like, no, I'm just so busy. So, um,
Judy Vorndran [00:42:08] what
Dena Oberst [00:42:09] do you project? And I'm like, oh, I don't need to sell my house. I call my real estate. How do I get out of this deal with this guy? I don't want to sell my house. So, you know, sometimes it's nice to have friends that, you know, other business colleagues to kind of get you back focused. You know, I was just like sell, sell, sell. But really that 19 new accounts in March of the prior year was pivotal for us, too, because they were big accounts, their big social media, e-commerce based. They actually came from a colleague of mine. There was a guy that used to work for me at Arthur Andersen, and he's a partner at Greenhouse and Jenckes. And he made the introduction to this management company. And boom, you know, magic. This happened, right? We got all these so.
Judy Vorndran [00:42:56] Well, there's a need. Clearly there's a need that you're even in a competitive space shows there's a need for you compared to them. So there are a lot of opportunities out there. I think it's how we see the world. Don't you think I have to see it differently, trying to seek abundance as opposed to negative thinking, which is to say it's safe, you know, but, you know, that's a constant thing. I think you have as an entrepreneur and a business owner like, am I good? Do I want to be here? I have to keep doing this. I'm in the game and I'm helping people.
Dena Oberst [00:43:25] That's me. I think that's the best part of this. Her name is Lindsey, so she's been with me for many years. She worked with me for ten years before. We just have this thing about helping people. So it's really yeah. You got to make money and we're making money. The firm's making money. We're really profitable revenue growth. But it's not even that. It's about the joy at this stage of my life. It's the joy. It's the joy of helping people, you know. Yes, I had gotten this call from a guy and it was like, please call Dessaix. My CPA referred me to you. He goes, I created this product and I can't say anything, but I'm going to be on Shark Tank in a couple of days and I need to set up sales tax. And so I was like, OK, this is cool, right? A founder and entrepreneur. And he gave up his big job to go movil with his parents to get this product on the market. It's going to be on Shark Tank. This stuff's going to fly off the shelves. So it was like we jumped on it. We did a Nexis review, figured out where that inventory thottam registered setup's set up his systems. Right, his online shopping cart d'états, the products where he needed a tax and then boom, his episode aired five days later, literally as though he was a Tuesday. He called me at the episode aired on Sunday. So that was the kind of stuff that Lindsay and I got super excited about, because where else could he go? He's not going to call one of the big Fords for half and ask a CPA. The CPA is going to be like, oh, no sales tax. You know, you totally are. Are you going to charge him an arm, a leg to figure it out? Whereas we were like boom, boom in a day he was done, set up, ready to go. So we're having a lot of fun doing duty serving.
Judy Vorndran [00:44:59] And then you have that knowledge. Like, actually, it's funny, I had a call like that yesterday of somebody and thought I could tell them in an hour what he needed. I mean, I knew what to do. I mean, how invaluable is that? And do I want to get out of the game and go fishing and hang out, do yoga all day when I can really provide all this knowledge and substance that I gathered over my career that really can help people. And that gives you a lot of heart, doesn't it? Yeah, I love it. I say that like how rewarding that is. Yes. You have to make money, like you said, but to be able to share what you know and to help people like that is valuable. Like we're not doctors, but we do provide value in society as taxes are not going away.
Dena Oberst [00:45:39] They're not. And we don't want people to lose their life savings. I mean, I had this other client who I talked to probably back in January. He was also referred from a CPA. And I told him, you know, this is what your exposure is, is what you need to do. He did nothing. He literally called Lindsay and I last week, actually, right before Thanksgiving. He's like, well, you know, I'm just kind of following up. This is what happened. Or like you have eleven more ten more months of sales. And we did an exposure analysis where this is the one guy, right? It's like three point three million dollars in potential exposure. You think I'll be bankrupt? And it's like there was a part of me that was so mad because I was like I tried to tell you. Yeah.
Judy Vorndran [00:46:20] Like, I
Dena Oberst [00:46:22] you know, you those are the hard parts because those are the hard conversations you have to have with people because they didn't take it seriously. They're like, my mom knows. And I'm like, I'm sorry, but this is your responsibility. We tried to tell you. So if you look at those kinds of situations and I feel really bad for him because, you know, people are just trying to make a buck and it's, you know, it's covid and, you know, what do you know? You don't know. So I feel good that I can give this advice for free, because if they knew that they would have to spend two or three thousand dollars to have this conversation on economic nexus, at least for me, I know other firms do this. It's great. But for me, I would just feel really horrible to tell them this is what you do, this is what's wrong. And you just had to now pay me to tell you that. Yep. Because I'm hoping he knows now and he wants to come forward, you know, help them get registered or I turn them over to you and say he needs a visa Judaica.
Judy Vorndran [00:47:15] And so many people just think I'm just going to keep letting it go. And I'm like, it's millions of dollars now.
Dena Oberst [00:47:20] Like, well, you know what happened, right? Judy, he got letters from two states. So now, you know, no visa now. But anyway, that's the bad side of the story. But there's plenty of people out there that are still doing well during covid. E-commerce is still hot, hot, hot. I'm trying to get more education in the south community, I'm sure, as you know, because it's
Meredith Smith [00:47:43] not a service sorry. It's a service in the eyes of the states
Dena Oberst [00:47:47] and especially the economic nexus. Right. So we have a lot of California based sales companies like that, but it's not taxable. Exactly a threshold.
Judy Vorndran [00:47:55] There are 19 other states to tax it, by the way.
Dena Oberst [00:47:58] And so that's kind of really been where we're kind of pivoting is helping the CPA community understand that Sade's is taxable in nineteen other states. And so please reach out to your sales clients and let them know, because, you know, we are two years into this Wayfair thing and, you know, come next year, I mean, the audits are going to probably start showing up. I mean, you probably know better than I, but
Judy Vorndran [00:48:21] Well that's my prediction because that's what happened in 07. I was like, whoa, nonresident audits for a crazy California. Me, one of them money from out of state taxpayers. So I predict that's what's going to happen. Everybody sort of lay low. It's covid. We don't want to die. We're not going to make tax and extraverted death and taxes will go with the death rate. But I predict next year we will have to fill those coffers. We're giving all these people money. Where is the money going to come from? It's been lawfully owed and not been paid. I mean, you just can't skirt the laws forever. So I don't know why people think that they should have to get away with that when the large companies of our nations are kind of bearing the brunt of the tax obligations because they're getting caught, it's material to them. And the three million dollar guy is not doing what he should have done. So why it's it expensive, but not outrageously expensive. Not three million dollars worth of expensive to fix it. I will fix it. Yeah. One hundred thousand to fix it.
Dena Oberst [00:49:14] Well I think they forget too. And I tell people this like, well what, how much. All you have to charge. How much are you going to charge me to file a tax return and what am I going to pay? And I'm like, yeah, but there's usually a vendor discount. There's a timely filing discount on most tax returns, which is supposed to help subsidize the cost of compliance. Right about that piece of it.
Judy Vorndran [00:49:33] That's a really good thing for me to remind people of. I hadn't thought of that. That's because that's what the other thing I've been telling people is if you owe money and you have to keep out of your pocket, it is a one hundred percent tax deductible charitable contribution. It's not maybe where you wanted the money to go, but it's not a 50 percent haircut, a normal charitable contribution. It'll be a hundred percent deductible if you pay someone else's and you
Meredith Smith [00:49:56] still gets it at a loss because it's direct and it's a charitable deduction. Certainly count your
Judy Vorndran [00:50:00] novelties are not deductible. So pay the tax, pay the interest, but don't pay the penalty
Dena Oberst [00:50:07] tax at
Meredith Smith [00:50:08] all. Right. Dana, thank you so much for being here today. We really appreciate you. We really look forward to building our strategic partnership with global tax. And so thank you just for the work that you're doing, the education you're providing.
Dena Oberst [00:50:23] And thank you for being here. Well, thank you so much for having me on, Judy. It's always a pleasure.
Judy Vorndran [00:50:28] Yeah, it's great. Thank you, sir, for taking the time to be with us.
Dena Oberst [00:50:31] Absolutely.
Meredith Smith [00:50:32] Well, this has been another episode of SALvation. I'm married to 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.
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Questions asked and answered in this Episode:
- What brought Dena to start Gable Tax Group?
- Why did a recruiter foresee that Dena would be incredibly marketable in a two year time?
- How did she build to scale after the Wayfair case?
- Is Dena glad that she started her own business?
What You Will Discover:
- [1:04] How an education to become an accountant was met with the reality of working in the sales tax department
- [2:06] How did she divert from private industry to public accounting as an experienced consultant
- [5:24] How she became a sales tax compliance and automation practice leader at Jefferson Wells
- [6:01] How getting breast cancer prompted her to leave the sales tax department for True Partners Consulting
- [8:02] How she took the leap to start Gable Tax Group
- [13:31] How being a people person was integral to the success of her business
- [14:46] How Gable Tax Group is different from other consulting service providers
- [22:12] The complexity of sales and income tax
- [28:26] How Dena’s work aligns with SALT
- [30:10] How the Wayfair case was pivotal to Gable Tax Group
- [32:07] How to adopt a work methodology that focuses on people, process and technology
- [38:43] How starting a business has been for Dena
“We use technology of course, but we do use human common sense.” – Dena Oberst [16:05]
“Measurement drives behavior.” – Dena Oberst [18:54]
“It’s really about the people, the talent, the process, and of course, you have to use technology.” – Dena Oberst [34:12]
“People, process, and technology.” – Dena Oberst [32:10]
“Try to seek abundance instead of negative thinking.” Judy Vorndran [34:10]
Gable Tax Group: https://www.gabletaxgroup.com/