Leadership in Accounting with Paula Allgood

November 29, 2023

In this episode, we welcome Paula Allgood, CPA and Managing Partner at Beaird Harris, a nationally recognized CPA and Wealth Management firm. Paula shares her journey from intern to managing partner and how her experience as a customer-centric CPA has shaped her leadership style. Tune in for a conversation on leadership, accounting, and the invaluable lessons Paula has learned along the way.

Listen to the full episode using the player below, or by visiting one of the links below. Below is the episode’s transcript which has been edited for readability. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, email us at info@byrdadatto.com.


The transcript below has been edited for readability.

Intro: [00:00:00M] Welcome to Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto, legal issues simplified through real client stories and real-world experiences, creating simplicity in 3, 2, 1.

Brad: Welcome back to Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto. I’m your host Brad Adatto, with my co-host, Michael Byrd.

Michael: Thanks, Brad. As a business and health care law firm, we represent clients in multiple business sectors, especially health care. This season we are finding common ground for our audience. Regardless of your background, our theme is Leadership, Brad, where each episode we will talk about leadership from different perspectives.

Brad: So, Michael, to kind of kick off today’s show, do you have any good eighties movies that we can talk about?

Michael: Oh, I knew your dream to go to the eighties movies? No, Brad, this week I want to talk about an article I read about Bitcoin.

Brad: Okay. We talked about Bitcoin in another show, if I seem to remember, there was a story about a guy in Ireland who accidentally threw [00:01:00m] out a thumb drive that was full of Bitcoin.

Michael: Yes. Good memory, Brad. That’s not what we’re talking about today, but gold star for remembering something we talked about before. This article is about someone who stole 50,000 Bitcoin from an illegal dark web marketplace called Silk Road.

Brad: Okay. Well, I’m not aware of the Dark Web Silk Road. I’m a history major, and therefore I learned about the Silk Road, which is the travel linking China to the West. I guess now Silk Road carries Bitcoin instead of silk. I don’t know.

Michael: Yeah. I’m thinking it’s not the same Silk Road. I mean it’s just an educated guess, but I don’t think that this was some…

Brad: It was not in my history class.

Michael: Yes. No, I don’t think so. This theft took place in 2012, and was one of the great mysteries in the cryptocurrency world. These bitcoins reached a value of $3 billion at one point.

Brad: Wow. That’s crazy. And it’s hard to believe [00:02:00m] that Bitcoin was even an asset back in 2012.

Michael: I know. I know. Yeah, it is crazy. Almost a decade after this 2012 hack, people were still talking about it because it was such a big thing, and still trying to solve it. The thief made a critical mistake, according to this article that helped crack the case.

Brad: Did he actually throw away the thumb drive by accident?

Michael: Wrong story, Brad, you need to keep your focus.

Brad: Okay. So what happened?

Michael: I’ll start with the title of the article because I think it might create a little curiosity, “The Secret Life of Jimmy Zhong who stole and lost more than $3 billion.”

Brad: Okay. Whoa. Who is Jimmy Zhong?

Michael: Jimmy was described in the article as a local party boy in Athens, Georgia, and a University of Georgia alum.

Brad: Okay. Now I’m curious. I would not picture like the dark well, [00:03:00m] whole buildup happening at an SEC school of all places.

Michael: I know, I know. Well, this cold case, it was a cold cyber case started to get solved when Zhong called 911 to report a crime. He was living in Athens, living his life. Someone broke into his house and stole hundreds of thousands of Bitcoin from him.

Brad: Was it you?

Michael: No, it was not. I don’t know what a Bitcoin looks like, so that’s my defense.

Brad: Very good defense.

Michael: And I’ve never been to Athens. But the police, based on the surveillance cameras and all that, really were starting to focus on, they noted that the person seemed familiar with this house. They’re like, this has to be a friend. And he apparently had a lot of friends.

Brad: I guess is or was at the time, a billionaire, so that makes sense.

Michael: I mean, and the article really paints a big picture about Jimmy as this lonely computer nerd who desperately wanted[00:04:00m] friends, and he had this one thing on his side in the friend department, $3 billion. And so, he bought a lake house fully equipped with jet skis and would have people out, remember, he’s in his twenties and like flew on these trips with a group of friends to LA and gave them each $10,000 to spend on clothes. All this stuff to just, he wanted to be accepted and loved, was kind of the theme of how they painted Jimmy. And while he’s living this best life, he had no visible signs of income.

Brad: Well, it doesn’t seem like he was trying to live a secret life here when you’re acting like a guy from I guess the movie Animal House or something like that.

Michael: Yeah, no, I agree. But life I guess, was going well for Jimmy, and if he was the thief foreshadowing. We’ll find out soon, then [00:05:00m] he would’ve had this money for almost 10 years. And Oh, Jimmy made a small mistake. When I’m talking small, Brad, 3 billion was stolen. He transferred $800 worth of crypto that was identified from the stolen Bitcoin – so they have a way to trace it. And when he transferred this money, he transferred it to an exchange that followed traditional banking rules. And so, it was one of the more, well-known exchanges and the traditional banking rules was this kind of know your customer process they would have, so they were able to connect the stolen Bitcoin to Jimmy’s name. And this happened six months after this break-in, I just talked about where someone had broken into Jimmy’s house and he had reported to police that someone stolen it. They’re investigating someone stealing his stolen money.

Brad: That’s so wrong.

Michael: And so, the IRS when this connection [00:06:00m] was made, and they zeroed in on Jimmy, and then they called Athens, found out that, that there was a theft there. The IRS decided to set up a sting operation to try to see if Jimmy was the guy

Brad: All over $800?

Michael: Well, over $3 billion. But yes, the 800 was the giveaway. And so the ruse the IRS used was that they showed up to Jimmy’s door to pretend like they were helping solve the other case, the several hundred thousand dollars case. They befriended him, and he was like showing around saying he was going to throw a party if they solved it. And then they were getting to see him in real time, and they said even when he picked – they had several clues that he was the guy. One small clue that they noted was when he picked up the keyboard, they’ve never seen anyone work a keyboard like that. Like he was truly a computer whiz.

Brad: Michael, do you feel threatened that Jimmy is a better typer than you and would’ve beat you in state typing contests? [00:07:00m]

Michael: Brad, not at all. I mean, fancy keyboard, that’s so new school. I want to see him handle an old school typewriter.

Brad: Okay, you still got them on that.

Michael: Yeah, I still got them on that although it’s been 30 years, but I know I still got it, Brad. Anyway, so they ended up, the cops found all this evidence. They found the Bitcoin because they ended up getting a search warrant. They found Bitcoin computer stuff in the popcorn tin. They found a safe buried in the basement. And ultimately Jimmy pled guilty, and he got one year in prison and one day.

Brad: Okay. Well, that felt like a real quick, dramatic conclusion, but I guess one year in jail feels pretty short for a $3 billion theft.

Michael: I know. Yeah.

Brad: So I have no idea what that has to do with our nice guest who’s sitting next to you, but let’s bring her on before she regrets sitting in this room with us.

Michael: Well, she is a CPA and a wealth manager, so she could have helped [00:08:00m] Jimmy – although she probably wouldn’t have if she knew it was stolen. But anyway, we will bring our guest on. Paula Allgood is joining us today. She is the managing partner of Beaird Harris which is a CPA firm here in Dallas. We’ve worked professionally with Paula for many years. She’s a friend. She started at Beaird Harris as an intern and has worked her way all the way into this managing partner position. She’s also deeply involved with Beaird Harris’s wealth management practice. She is a Texas A&M University undergrad. And we won’t talk about the – well, we’re still accepting her, even though I’m a Longhorn, over here, frog. And Paula has lots of, as our team will say glass for various professional recognition, including “Top Small Company Leader” in Dallas in 2021, and numerous others that are too long to list. But she is excellent at her craft, and we’re so [00:09:00m] glad to have you on. Paula. Welcome.

Paula: Well, thank you for having me. And wow, I mean, I was listening to that story about Jimmy, and that’s a hard act to follow.

Brad: Well, we were trying to figure out, we didn’t know what to ask. Do you know Jimmy? Or do you know anything about Bitcoin?

Paula: Under advice of my attorneys, I’m not going to answer either of those questions.

Brad: Fair enough. Cool.

Michael: Well, let’s jump in. And first, for our audience, we would love for you to introduce Beaird Harris, and talk about what Beaird Harris does.

Paula: Oh, sure. You know, this is absolutely the number one topic that people want to talk about is a CPA firm, but we’re really proud of ours. We’ve got a local CPA firm and wealth management, as you mentioned, in this Dallas area. We specialize in health care and really working with knowledge workers.

Brad: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. Excellent. We can tell our audience members that we’ve been blessed [00:10:00m] to have worked with Paula and her entire gang on many different deals, so we’re excited to have her here with her leadership. And that brings us back to our season’s theme, Paula is really understanding leadership and being focused on that. And as a leader in your industry, coming from being an intern and working your way up, let’s just go back a little bit here and start from the beginning. What was your first leadership position?

Paula: When I was preparing for this, I saw that, and probably my first leadership position is, I was the president of the student council at St. Joseph High School in Victoria, Texas. So what did I learn from that? Absolutely nothing. You know, I think at the time that was really called the resume builder for college acceptance. And quite frankly, I didn’t have cognizance to really think about what that opportunity really meant. It’s like I ran for it. I got it. And that was kind of the end game. So my, my first real leadership experience I think was really when [00:11:00m] I was a sophomore in college and I was a resident advisor. And as I thought back, when you’re in college, so much of it is about you. You’re trying to experience, you’re trying to fit in, you’re trying to figure out, you, you, you, you. And you know, rightly so, when you’re a freshman. When I was a sophomore and I became an RA, it is not about you, it is about others. And you have real staff meetings and you have these university level and you really start to think about things, so much of leadership is perspective. And it’s getting perspective that is different from what you are otherwise entrenched in. And I think that that was really probably the most beginning or transformative leadership experience for me. It was also really fun. For those of you who are sitting there going RAs are Narcs, well, wait a minute. What I really figured out, and you got to give RAs kudos for this, is you get paid for hanging out. So I was like, [00:12:00m] I’m pretty good with that. You know, people are having to go sling pizzas and fast food. And I mean, being a wait staff, my God, that’s hard. I was like, here you get paid to hang out and it can be really fun. That’s just more stories for other days to be able to bust people. You know, you’re deciding. And again, going back to leadership, you’re really trying to decide, here’s rules, but here are real people. How are you going to enforce these rules? And a lot of it was, how are you going to really help and make a difference in these freshmen? Dorms are predominantly filled with freshmen. And it’s, how do you, in your little slice of the world, which is where they live, and go to sleep and make friends for the very first time, how do you help transform their life?

Michael: And it’s crazy too, to think from a leadership perspective, you’re put in a position of authority over someone who’s a year younger than you.

Paula: Oh, totally. And that’s pretty scary, [00:13:00m] but it’s kind of fun, right?

Michael: And it’s kind of indicative of what you face professionally because you will have been in a position of authority throughout your professional career.

Brad: I just, I want to go back in time and see little Paula, audience members, Paula is a tiny little human being, and I could just see her just walking that hall with the authorized on.

Paula: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Don’t mess with me. Taking care of business. That’s right.

Michael: Brad and I would’ve been in so much trouble.

Brad: There’s a reason why…

Paula: Actually, I would’ve really liked you guys. See you guys, well, like I said, some of the others, it was really the ones who were abusive to their poor little roommates. And again, start to fill in the blanks with some of those abusive behaviors.

Michael: Do you have any kind of, and you can go back to the college years during the RA times, or even in your young professional life, mentors or people that kind of showed [00:14:00m] you how to be a leader?

Paula: Yeah. You know, totally. I mean, I will go back and I’ll swing to the professional side. I mean, I’m very, I think all of us are unique, but one of the most unique things about me is the entirety of my professional career has been at Beaird Harris. And I look at that sometimes and I’m like, have I missed out? Have I, whatever? It’s probably like people who met their spouse in junior high or high school and ended up marrying them. And you realize there’s so many incredible things from that. But one of the primary reasons I felt like I hit the lottery in my internship when I landed at Beaird Harris was because of the leadership there with Don Harris and Pat Beaird. And everybody talks about having a mentor; it’s very difficult to be able to find a mentor and then have somebody who is going to invest in you day in and day out, weekend and week out, not just the occasional [00:15:00m] drive by with this wonderful advice. But when you really get to see that modeled in mentoring, that’s one of the biggest reasons I stayed at Beaird Harris in the early days, was the incredible mentorship I had.

Brad: That’s awesome. And going back to the, I guess we have to very careful here. So having spent your entire career at one particular place, was there – and it doesn’t have to be a Beaird Harris, it could be just from experience elsewhere –

Michael: Or a client.

Brad: Or a client. Was there something that was a really bad experience that you saw from a leader’s perspective, or it just felt it was like a bad experience altogether?

Paula: Sure. The screamers.

Brad: That came out fast.

Paula: Absolutely. It’s the screamers. It’s the ones who are quick to blame. You start to see that in clients because we’re working directly with business owners. And so, you’re figuring out who treats your staff like crap, [00:16:00m] and who also treats their own staff that same way. And oftentimes – I will never forget this doctor will remain unnamed, but I was talking to somebody about their taxes and as often happens with our clients it’s after hours. And turns out the guy was in a drive-through with his kids. And he’s like, “Hey, get a minute. You know, I need to order.” Sure, no problem. Whatever. Well, then he just starts, I mean, there was a string of profanities that flew there.

Michael: Oh my.

Paula: You know, do you want chicken nuggets, blank, blank, blank. And these are little kids. And I go back to leadership, this is a guy who’s also running a medical office, and we’re investing in him and care about his wellbeing. I’m having to deal with his office manager and his folks. And I’m like, this is not the kind of client really, that we even want to work with because I don’t have that underlying respect. And if he doesn’t respect his people and his kids and all this, this translates over all of us. Hey, I’ve had my string of profanities [00:17:00m] here and there. But you start to see patterns and it’s like, that makes you grateful for the people who you do work for, who are not the screamers and the blamers, really.

Michael: Yeah. And it seems like my observation a lot of times with the screamers is they’re either don’t have a high emotional kind of EQ or whatever the word is, so they get triggered and they lose themselves, or maybe it’s a control issue sometimes, I don’t know.

Brad: Are you trying to make excuses for yourself again, Michael?

Michael: I’m looking at you worrying.

Paula: There’s a lot of eye contact going back and forth. There’s some uncomfortable eye contact there between these two. Just a little behind the scenes guys.

Brad: Well, as you were talking about that, I started thinking about you being an intern and all the way going towards leadership. What was Beaird Harris like from that perspective of having different roles as you grew?

Paula: Yeah. Well, one of the things that was, you know, I was a nobody. The[00:18:00M] founders of the firm, they had already tremendous success. I mean, Pat Beaird was building clients when he was an intern. He’s got legendary stories where he is in his first internship, I think got 10 or 20 clients as an intern. And Don had worked at Arthur Anderson, which I know pre-Enron, that was the top of the heap worldwide. And I’m this 20 year old nobody from Victoria Podunk. And again, I had a very impressive RA resume. RA and dairy treat, I mean, pretty impressive stuff, and those guys didn’t treat me as if I was all of those things. They treated me as if I was an accounting professional, and just their attitude towards me. I will never forget. I was like, “Mr. Beaird,” and he’s like, “You can call me Pat.” And not like he was “Okay, we’re having beers on the weekend.” But there was a friendliness, an openness. He made it clear that I was [00:19:00m] a professional and I belonged there. And at 20 especially, I didn’t feel like I belonged there.

Michael: Yeah. I’m relating to that too. I’m thinking about early on some of the partners that I would work with that just the first name basis to kind of take away the intimidation factor, and feel accepted for having gone and become a professional. That’s a big thing.

Brad: You can still call me Mr. Adatto.

Paula: Oh no, I do. Again, behind the scenes guys, ask me those questions, this is what’s happening. But no, you go back to an organization that treats people with respect and makes efforts too that you feel like you belong. Then what goes with that is very high expectations, and that’s a group you want to be a part of. So when these people are rocking and rolling and they’re achieving great professional things, it’s like all of that is groundwork where it’s [00:20:00m] like, yeah, I want to be a part of that group. I want to be a part of this culture. I want to be a part of those things. And the high expectations then make sense because you’ve been treated with dignity and respect, and now you’re a part of that group, and that’s what’s expected.

Michael: That’s cool. So, kind of thinking about your journey, what would you say is your leadership style now that you’re in kind of the ultimate position of leadership as the major partner?

Paula: Yeah. I mean, I’ve stolen my leadership style from Pat, or I’ve copied it, right? And that is servant leadership. And at the end of the day, Pat told me early, I mean, you got to remember, and I’ll date myself. I have been at the firm for 30 years. That’s a long time. It’s an amazing Doogie Hauser, you know? You don’t know. And it’s like, what does servant leadership mean? One of the first things that Pat told me is leaders are not appointed by the top. Leaders are basically pushed up [00:21:00m] by the group saying this is the person who is doing things and who we respect and so forth. So that was one of the first things. But again, as servant leadership, it is others focused. And I’m a CPA, so those others for me are my clients and then the people I work with. And so if you look at your clients, I think you’ve all dealt with a professional who’s like forgive my language, I’m the shit, and you’re lucky to be working with me. And that’s Michael and Brad, quite frankly, again, for those of you who…

Michael: Doctor Adatto. Yes, you’re right.

Paula: Exactly. I mean, if you look at that servant leadership from a client and a customer perspective, which we all have, it’s like, yeah, I’ve got these skills, but I’m nothing without them. And what my goal is, has always been, and what I love about this profession, is helping people. And so, it’s how do I help in my little slice of the world, which is accounting tax and [00:22:00m] wealth management, how do I help? And servant leadership is really thinking much more about them and what they need, and then what can I do for them, rather than they’re lucky to be working with our firm, which by the way, I do think they’re lucky to be. I think you’re lucky to make connections with advisors that can help make a difference for you, and so I think all of that’s a part of servant leadership. Servant leadership within the office, again, is it’s listening to others and it is putting their needs. Often, it’s like, what can I do to help make them successful? And I do corner people and start imparting all of my knowledge and wisdom where they’re going, oh God, let me out. So that does happen. But a lot of it is, what can I do with listening and empowering them so that they can be successful sharing [00:23:00m] my experiences and just sharing my insight? You know, that’s one of the things you get with 30 years is you’ve just seen more clients, you’ve seen more situations you’ve experienced, and made a lot of mistakes. And a lot of what I do, I was talking to one of our senior managers yesterday. I was like, “I’ve made these mistakes in this situation, think about that and see how you can then not make those mistakes, and then hopefully learn from that.”

Michael: That’s actually Brad’s leadership style, mistake-based.

Paula: Exactly, mistake-based.

Brad: It’s doing great.

Paula: Exactly. It is. I mean, we’ve got a book coming, guys. It’s coming.

Brad: Let’s go back to mistakes then. What is the biggest lesson learned? I mean, you’re a leader in accounting world here and wealth management, what are some of the areas of concern you think others should be mindful of so that they won’t make those kind of mistakes?

Paula: I was thinking about that and one of the biggest mistakes, you know, it’s like what stands out in [00:24:00m] 30 years? And one of the mistakes I made was in one of my first staff meetings that I was leading. I called somebody out. I was trying to kind of joke, but it didn’t come out as a joke. It came out as a call out kind of a jerk move for that guy. I can tell you his name, it probably happened 20 years ago. And his embarrassment and then him shutting off, and then just everybody kind of looking at me, kind of like, I can’t believe you did that. It sucks all the air out of the room, as they say. Right. Yeah.

Michael: I learned that. Well, one of our good friends has told us, what is it? Praising public and correct and private or something along those lines. But yeah, that’s really interesting.

Paula: And you continue to make mistakes and I can’t say that 20 years ago it’s not the last time I’ve done it, but you remember and you’re like, let’s not do [00:25:00m] that again. Let’s try to get a little self-reflection and try to figure out why did I do that and how can I avoid doing that again?

Brad: Yeah. And I’d say this, knowing your personality I don’t think there was a black spot on your heart to try to call him out. You’re used to kind of probably kidding with people, but when you shift to that next level of being a leader, you have to change your perspective in ways that you weren’t thinking about it.

Paula: You got it. That’s exactly right. One-On-One versus a group dynamic is a completely different thing.

Michael: Interesting. Well, we are already blown through our time together. It’s gone by so fast. Paula, thank you so much for joining us. What we’ll do next is we’ll go into commercial, and then on the other side, Brad and I will wrap up with a few legal insights. Thank you.

Paula: You’re welcome. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Access +: Many business owners use legal counsel as a last resort rather than as a proactive [00:26:00m] tool that can further their success. Why? For most, it’s the fear of unknown legal costs. ByrdAdatto’s Access+ program makes it possible for you to get the ongoing legal assistance you need for one predictable monthly fee that gives you unlimited phone and email access to the legal team so you can receive feedback on legal concerns as they arise. Access+ a smarter, simpler way to access legal services, find out more, visit byrdadatto.com today.

Brad: Welcome back to Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto. I’m your host, Brad Adatto, with my co-host, Michael Byrd. Now Michael, this season, our theme is leadership. And we had a great leader in here. I mean, someone who obviously starting off when she was the president in high school, but really learning her way up the – worked her way up the ranks from being an intern to out now managing a very large wealth management CPA firm here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And she threw a lot of really interesting aspects about [00:27:00m] being a leader and how hard and difficult it can be, but really focus on being a servant leader, which I thought was interesting.

Michael: Yeah. And one of the things that I noticed was an anecdote she talked about – when we’re talking about bad leaders and talking about a client, so all of us have relationships with customers or clients. In her case, it was a client. And the clients that were screamers, as she said, and then how they talked about her team, and as a leader, whether you’re a servant leader or otherwise, there’s a case to be made that your job is to protect the people that you’re leading, right? And so that can be really challenging because this is a client that’s paying their firm money to give them services, is what they’re in business for. And yet, it’s a screamer and someone that’s mistreating the team and [00:28:00m] the credibility of the leader, her point can be impacted by how do you as the leader respond to that? What actions do you take to protect the people that you’re leading?

Brad: Yeah. I mean, that’s a great perspective. And then obviously from a contractual side, you have to think about, well, what agreement did you enter in with these people? You know, if they are being abusive to your staff and you have some type of contract with them, no matter whether you’re a CPA or whatever, what does that contract says that you can do? How can you terminate that contract? Is it at will or is it a notice period? Or do you have to complete the task at hand? Even if they’re abusive to your staff, you have to complete A, B, and C before you can terminate? So even in those situations, you have to be very mindful of whatever your contract says. And some of them are easy to disengage in other ones or not, but Paula’s perspective I think was really good to think about both [00:29:00m] from the team side and just being a servant leader herself. Michael, do you have any final takeaways for the day?

Michael: Yeah, I mean, one of the things Paula talked about was what she learned from Pat Beaird, who you and I both know as well, that you don’t get appointed to be a leader, you are pushed up and you kind of earn your way into it, and so that’s different than Jimmy. Jimmy tried to buy his friends, and that did not work out well for him.

Brad: No, it didn’t. Well, audience members, please join us next Wednesday as we’ll continue on our journey to learn about leadership when we have a state representative from the great state of Louisiana joining us. Her name is Aimee Adatto Freeman. Thanks again for joining us today. And remember, if you like this episode, please subscribe, make sure to give us a five star rating and share with your friends.

Michael: You can also sign up for the ByrdAdatto Newsletter by going to our website at byrdadatto.com.

Outro: ByrdAdatto is providing this podcast as a public [00:30:00m] service. This podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by ByrdAdatto. The views expressed by guests are their own, and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Please consult with an attorney on your legal issues.

ByrdAdatto founding partner Michael Byrd

Michael S. Byrd

ByrdAdatto Founding Partner Bradford E. Adatto

Bradford E. Adatto