Janet McHard on Maintaining High-Quality Connections

Hosted By
Alana Muller
Alana Muller

CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee

Podcast Guest
Janet McHard headshot
Janet McHard

Founding Partner
The McHard Firm

Episode Summary

Janet McHard, Founding Partner of The McHard Firm, explains how a small network of high-quality connections can be more valuable than a large network of distant connections, and can even help protect you and your company from fraud. 

“The few dozen people that I know can make a difference in my life, and because they make (the biggest) difference in my life, that's where I'm going to spend most of my energy.”

 
Transcript

Alana Muller:
Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank and Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank and Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.

Hello listeners, welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. So great to have you here. It is also great to have our wonderful guest today, Janet McHard. Janet is the founding partner of the McHard firm. She's also an award-winning speaker and longtime faculty member for Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The McHard firm specializes in forensic accounting, fraud prevention and accounting reconstruction. Together with her partners and staff, Janet conducts forensic and investigative accounting in matters concerning alleged white collar crimes, embezzlements, employee theft, and other disputed accounting issues. Janet, welcome to Enterprise.ing podcast.

Janet McHard:
Well, thank you so much. I'm very happy to be here today. It was very sweet for you guys to invite me to join you.

Alana Muller:
Well, I'm so excited to have you and honestly, I mean, your job just sounds super awesome, interesting, and almost like you're a spy. I just really like it. I'm into those kinds of novels, so I cannot wait to hear more about you and what you do with the McHard firm. In fact, start if you would, by telling our listeners about the company and what was your inspiration for launching?

Janet McHard:
Wow, like so many people who become entrepreneurs, well, and I don't know, maybe it's the other way around, but I find it surprising when people refer to me as an entrepreneur because that's not why I started the company. I had no desire to found anything, that wasn't my goal. My goal was to create for me the best job on the planet and I couldn't find it anywhere. So I made it. I had been working in a traditional accounting firm and I was doing work that I liked, but nobody there really understood how my job was different, how my focus was different than everybody else. And I finally came to the conclusion that the only way I could make it work would be to be my own boss. And so I founded the company in the spring of 2009 off my kitchen table. It was just me. My joke back then was that if the firm got any smaller, I'd have to lose weight.

Alana Muller:
I love that actually.

Janet McHard:
Yeah, it was that little. It's gotten a little bit bigger and depending on the year you ask about, some years it's much bigger, some years it's not much bigger. But even when I took my partner in with me, she and I are both life partners and business partners. We are together all the time.

Alana Muller:
All the time.

Janet McHard:
All the time. And when I brought her into the business, we sat down and tried to figure out what we wanted it to look like for us, both on a professional and personal level. And we realized we didn't want a big business. We didn't want to grow so much that we were no longer doing the work that we loved. Because I'll tell you, I have the best job on the planet for me, now, other people wouldn't think that, but for me, I have the best job on the planet. And we created the firm in a way that we can do the stuff that we love and do less of the stuff we don't love. And the only way to do that was by creating our own business. And so that's exactly what we did.

Alana Muller:
I mean, it makes sense and you clearly saw a market need. I mean it was obvious you were doing the work that you liked already, but finding it difficult to operate within the context, or I would call it the confines, of a traditional accounting firm, right? So-

Janet McHard:
Oh, we completely agree with that, within the confines of a traditional accounting firm.

Alana Muller:
And so the market has obviously responded favorably to what you're offering. And there's a clear need. I mean, when I go back and I read kind of that white collar crimes, embezzlements, employee theft, other disputed accounting issues, it really is sort of the thing that these crazy stories are made of and yet you know how to address it. And so few of us do. So when we find ourselves in the unfortunate circumstance that we're having to address one of those topics, you're there.

Janet McHard:
Well, and the adage is that there's the world's oldest profession, which we all know what that is. And then there's the world's second oldest profession, which is fraud. It is really kind of like the full employment for me anyway, for what I do. There's lots of it out there. And over the years what I've realized, and I think many people have realized, but there's a lot more fraud out there than actually gets investigated.

Alana Muller:
I'm sure that's true.

Janet McHard:
All you have to do is open a newsfeed on the internet. And you see one more example of fraud. We focus on small to midsize businesses. So we're not going to do investigations in SEC companies. There's an ongoing SEC investigation in the news right now having to do with Bed Bath & Beyond. People tend to think of white collar crime as nonviolent, it's just money. But the fact is money is a pretty good motivator for a lot of stuff, which is really unpleasant.

Alana Muller:
Yeah, that's exactly right.

Janet McHard:
And it happens all the time, everywhere.

Alana Muller:
And it's very personal. It's very personal. This is not just business as they say. That's one of the things that drives me crazy is when people say, "Oh, nothing personal, it's just business." And I think, gosh, I spend an awful lot of time on my business. It's pretty personal.

Janet McHard:
Precisely. And as a small business owner, if someone steals from you, it feels like a personal attack.

Alana Muller:
It feels like a violation. It's a violation.

Janet McHard:
Precisely. And so we walk in, so I'm a CPA, also a licensed private investigator. And so if that small business becomes a victim of fraud, we can go in and do the investigation and assist the police department. Because most police departments don't have the skill set that I do and that my partner does. We bring that skillset to the table to follow the money and figure out where it went and figure out if there was in fact a crime.

Alana Muller:
Yeah. So cool. So you know I want to dig more into this, but before we do that, I want to maybe take you back a few years, if I can. So-

Janet McHard:
Back, so I know this is a podcast, not a visual, there's no video to go with this. But for your listeners, my hair is completely white, so she's taking me back to the day when my hair was brown. Just be warned. Okay, go ahead.

Alana Muller:
I love that. Okay, well so my particular topic is relationships and networking. And one of the things that I've observed over the years about networking is that people that I meet are often in career transition. And so I know that you actually did not begin as a CPA. In fact, my understanding is that you began as an artist-

Janet McHard:
That's correct.

Alana Muller:
... and then became a forensic accountant. So I would say on the surface the two seem rather different. But I suspect that some of the skills you mastered as an artist also played a role in you switching careers and going into accounting. So with that, can you talk about that move and how you were able to leverage your previous experience to successfully set yourself on this new path?

Janet McHard:
I can, it's circuitous. I'll just, fair warning, it's circuitous. My undergraduate degree is in dance, so I was a performing artist. So it's not just art-

Alana Muller:
I didn't know that part.

Janet McHard:
Yeah, it's dance. So my bachelor's degree is in dance and I was a performing artist starting at, I don't know, call it 12, 13. Before that I took piano lessons. I kind of sucked at it, but I took piano lessons, and guitar for that matter. Wow. Where did that memory come from? Anyway, so I was a dancer in high school and I performed professionally as a dancer in high school. And I knew I was going to college because that was expected in my family. But I didn't know what else to do. So I went to college as a dancer thinking I would get a degree that I could use to go teach people to dance. What I realized not very far into that was that you didn't actually make a living at dance. Dance was never going to pay a mortgage. It seemed like a pretty terrible idea to pay a lot of money for a degree in dance.

And I'll save your listeners all the personal details, but suffice to say that my parents sort of ran out of money part way through my bachelor's degree and I left school. So I got my bachelor's degree on the 11 year plan. It took me 11 years to finish my bachelor's. By the time I went back to... Because I was out for three and a half, four years, something like that. When I went back to finish my degree, I was going to switch and get a business degree, but I would've started over as a second semester freshman instead of a junior where I'd dropped out. And that struck me as a really terrible business decision. So instead of losing all those credits and working on a business degree, I finished my undergraduate degree, got a bachelor of arts and dance, and then immediately went into the MBA program.

And what had happened in the interim was that I had started working in an office and was doing bookkeeping and really kind of enjoyed it and wanted to learn a little more and took a fundamentals of accounting course from a fabulous woman, local CPA who's still in practice here in Albuquerque. She's just amazing. She was a great teacher and I loved it. I loved accounting. It had all the... And this is your question, this is the answer to your question. The similarity is that dance, you're always playing with balance. As you go across the stage or you work on choreography, you're always slightly off balance moving into the next motion, you're always trying to find where the balance point is. And that's exactly what you do in accounting. Every transaction has to balance.

Alana Muller:
So true.

Janet McHard:
I thought it was fabulous. I would sit and do my accounting homework and just giggle. Okay, I've marked myself as a true geek.

Alana Muller:
Yeah. I mean seriously, right? I mean this is accounting geek 101. I love it.

Janet McHard:
Totally an accounting geek. I loved it. The symmetry of accounting was really attractive to me. And to be clear, I had always fought that battle, maybe it's not a battle, had the gift of using both sides of my mind. When I was a freshman in the dance program I wanted to go take college algebra and they said, "You don't need it to graduate. Why do you want to take it?" And I said, "Because I don't want to take basic math. I know how to add, I know how to balance my checkbook. I want to take college algebra." And I had to get a special exception to go take college algebra as a dance major.

Alana Muller:
Okay, that's nuts. Well I know for me, I was fortunate, I went to a women's college. So I was a math major, and so of course all of the students in the math program were women. So there was no question that women could take and should take math. But I suspect had I not gone to a women's college, that may not have been the case.

Janet McHard:
Well and then let's fast forward to just before I finished my bachelor's degree. So 11 years later I wanted to take another math class, and so I enrolled in advanced college algebra and I'm a senior now and I'm taking it as an elective, a dance major, taking advanced college algebra as an elective. Well what I didn't know was that that was a prep course for pre-med. And my first day in class, the professor called me out in front of 30 people and said, "McHard, you're from the fine arts department. You're going to wash out of this class. You need to drop." And what he didn't know was that when someone says something like that to me, I'm just determined.

Alana Muller:
Exactly.

Janet McHard:
Out of the 32 people who started that class, there were only five of us who finished, all women-

Alana Muller:
Of course.

Janet McHard:
... and I had second best grade in the class, I ended up with a B+.

Alana Muller:
Love it.

Janet McHard:
He was forced to apologize to me.

Alana Muller:
Good.

Janet McHard:
But don't humiliate me like that in public because honey, it is not going to go well. You want to see stubborn? I can do stubborn.

Alana Muller:
I love it. I love that you did that. I mean, the thing that I think is so interesting, I mean you talk about the beauty and the symmetry and kind of the balance, the equilibrium. I remember I once gave a talk called Math is Beautiful. And when you talk about the ability to use both sides of your brain, I really think that's important. I mean, when I learned that about you, that you started as an artist and then did kind of this 180 to get into accounting, to me it doesn't feel so surprising. But I do find that people often, whether they are pigeonholed by others outside of themselves or do it to themselves, people have a sense for, "I studied this one thing, I studied marketing, so all I can do is marketing. I studied fine arts, all I can do is fine arts." I actually think that all of that sort makes us, it gives us more depth and I think it actually makes us better, whatever we choose to do, even if it's not a direct one to one approach to what it is that we're seeking.

Janet McHard:
Well I'm convinced, and I've learned this theory, when I was, I don't know, 12 or 13. I've always been kind of a science geek. I was reading about connections, how this invention became this invention. And had there not been the need to learn how to fire shot put more straight and cannonballs that, you know, trying to figure out how to bore out cannons so cannonballs traveled safely, we wouldn't be able to have cars of the 20th century. Because they had to figure out how to bore it out to get the drive train. And that's kind of been the theme of my life. Even though at the time when I moved from dance to accounting, it even felt jarring to me. The message that I have as somebody who is now white-headed and looking back on her career is, everything you do in your life will contribute to what you later do, even if you can't see at the moment how.

Alana Muller:
Totally agree with that. I love that. I'm actually going to use that as sort of a transition to my next question of you, but I couldn't agree with you more that all the collection of experiences and opportunities and people and things that we've seen and done and heard and tasted and smelled, that all contributes to the next thing. So I just love that. Okay. So with that, one of the things that I always like to talk with my guests about is how we make connections or relationships mutually beneficial. I want to kind of twist my traditional question a little bit for you and I want to ask you about the work that you do. So specifically how can networking play a role in fraud and social engineering attempts? And we can look at this both from the positive and conversely from the negative. If we become too trusting, if we don't trust enough. How do you think about that and how do you think about relationships when it comes to fraud and social engineering?

Janet McHard:
So when you get into this concept of social engineering, essentially what you're getting into is a danger zone where a fraudster can potentially learn enough about you through networking that they can pretend they're you, online for example, and break into accounts. Because we've all had this happen. I did this yesterday. I was setting up some, I don't know, online profile and they wanted three security questions and the answers to those security questions. And they hope to make it close enough to the person that only the person would know the answer to. But far enough away that somebody who is practicing social engineering can't get to the answer. And the funny thing about it is that it's always a bit weird those questions like, well have I released this information publicly? How do you even know the places I used to live?

And I'll be honest with you, I'm kind of a lurker on social media because a lot of that social engineering and the information that potential fraudsters can get about you, they get off your social media accounts, whether it's Facebook or LinkedIn or any of those. I have a profile in Facebook, I think I've posted once in 10 years. I go on periodically and I see what my friends are up to and I don't post much. And I have a LinkedIn account, it's purely professional. I don't put personal stuff up on LinkedIn. It's just not my thing. And maybe that's generational, but I'm a little more careful than a lot of people. Because let's face it, the investigations that we do can put someone in jail and they do occasionally get pissed about that.

Alana Muller:
Yeah, I bet that's right.

Janet McHard:
So I try to be a little more circumspect just because of my own profession. But as you're networking, learning about people is one of the things that I think is cool. Well, what are they excited about? What are their interests? What brings them passion? And that's how you make true connections in a networking setting. And whether that networking is online or in person, that's how you make those connections. And I love doing that, especially in person. Like I said, I'm terrible at it online. That's just not my thing. But it's exactly the same conversation that somebody who has a desire to steal your identity is going to use that information to try to steal your identity. I suggest a little caution around that.

Alana Muller:
What I'm hearing you say is, I hope this is right and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but keep building relationships, of course. I mean the fun of life is having these relationships and getting to know other people and learning about them and their experiences, but-

Janet McHard:
That's also how you get the best jobs.

Alana Muller:
It is how you get the best jobs for sure. For sure.

Janet McHard:
So don't quit it.

Alana Muller:
Right, but be cautious online. When you're putting your information on the cloud, just be mindful of what you're putting out there. And it's one of those things where, back to balance and equilibrium, I mean I think that that's another one of those things you have to think about. So one of the questions I was going to ask you, and we can just go there, is what do people need to do to look out or spot fraud or scams while they're making connections? So along these same lines, it's like, I know for me I've taken the online cyber security courses and I get the phishing tests to make sure I'm doing it right, but what should the everyday person be looking for?

Janet McHard:
Anything that seems intrusive, I think that's the rule of thumb. If it seems intrusive and that part of your brain, which is the protection part of your brain, wants to sit up and say, "Whoa, hang on a second here." I would suggest at that point that you take a step back in that networking connection and maybe ask around, see if everybody knows that person. If this is someone new to the environment, be a little more cautious. Particularly if it's an online connection, I'm really careful about somebody I don't know who's asking information from me through a LinkedIn message or an email. I'm very, very careful about that. I would rather insult somebody. And that's what you have to be able to do. You have to be willing to insult somebody or not be polite to them and say no, or walk away or not reply. If it's an email or some other kind of electronic messaging you have to just be willing to not respond. Because any response sometimes is too much.

Alana Muller:
Is enough, right, enough for something to happen. Well, so for you, how do you actively manage your own network? What do you do to build relationships and to market yourself?

Janet McHard:
Like I've sort of referenced a couple of times, I'm kind of old school. I do have a LinkedIn profile. I post periodically, not very often. And when I post, it's because it's something that means something to me or someone that means something to me. I am a real believer that fewer really quality connections is better than many low quality connections. So I concentrate on the, I mean, the fact is it's more than this, but the few dozen people that I know can make a difference in my life, and they can make a difference in my life, that's where I'm going to spend most of my energy. And frankly, life is too short not to have fun. So yeah, many of my connections are people who are also friends, but who can refer me. In my business, our firm is almost exclusively by referral. I mean, we do something-

Alana Muller:
Not surprised.

Janet McHard:
But it's almost exclusively by referral. And so we spend a lot of time staying in contact with people we have previously done work with or who've previously referred us. And that's my most important networking method.

Alana Muller:
Do you find, okay, based on that answer, that the work that you do is, are your clients often proactive or are they reactive when something has happened, or a combination?

Janet McHard:
Wow. You've just started a new topic, which is a two hour topic, but I'll give you a short answer.

Alana Muller:
Sorry.

Janet McHard:
Nobody believes that they're going to be a victim of fraud, nobody does. So of our entire client population, less than 3% of our work is proactive, and 97%-

Alana Muller:
I had a feeling.

Janet McHard:
... of our work is reactive. Nobody wants to think it's going to happen to them. And I think it's part of the human condition, generally speaking, white collar crime, the person who is stealing is someone who is trusted. It's very hard for us to believe that somebody who is trusted will breach that trust.

Alana Muller:
Yeah, I mean the disappointing thing about that is it's not just in white collar crime. I mean, we hear this about really, all crime.

Janet McHard:
And any ended relationship, certainly there are crimes where there's no relationship between the criminal and the victim. And so there's a violation of safety, but there's maybe not a violation of trust. But any time there is a crime and a victim where they know each other and had a trusting relationship prior to the event, the violation of trust is sometimes the worst part of it. And so we hear business owners all the time, "This person stole $50,000 from me, and it's not the money, it's that I trusted them, it's that I gave-

Alana Muller:
That they're so hurt, right? They're so hurt.

Janet McHard:
... they've been with me for years. I gave them a present on their birthday. They brought me flowers when my mom died," or whatever, "We were friends and they violated that trust." And that's the thing that I think is maybe the hardest for the victim of a white collar crime is the violation of trust that is inherent to it.

Alana Muller:
You have a lot of skills and experience and expertise that people are seeking, but I bet one of the greatest gifts that you give your clients is sort of a restoration of some trust and that you can be trusted. So I really think that's so cool. Along those lines, I'd love to hear from you, what's one interaction or a relationship that you have that has resulted in a breakthrough for you either personally or professionally?

Janet McHard:
Wow, that's not a question I expected, it's my wife.

Alana Muller:
Yeah.

Janet McHard:
Marrying her was the best day of my life.

Alana Muller:
Oh, I love that.

Janet McHard:
We've been married for 11+ years now.

Alana Muller:
Amazing. Did you work together before that?

Janet McHard:
We did. We'd known each other for a few years before that, but we got married in 2011 and it changed my world.

Alana Muller:
Well, I mean to me, I mean can see, I know our listeners can't see, but I can see the look on your face and just sort the genuine heart and soul that you are responding with, which I just think is, I mean, it's kind of choking me up. So it's really so beautiful and sweet. What it hearkens back for me is your comment about the importance of a few really solid, deep connections and how important that is for you. And people are different. There can be benefits to a lot of sort of loose connections, so to speak. A lot of not so deep, but lots of connections in the community, but there's no replacement for those really deep, solid, trusting people in your life. I mean, it's kind of that friend who says, "You're my person." Whether it's a business relationship, a friendship, a romantic relationship. I just think that it's so beautiful to be able to find those. So I love that you shared that. So thank you for getting so personal. I really appreciate that. And just kind of a fun note, if you could meet anybody, and I always ask my guest this question, I love the answers to this question, if you can meet with anyone living, not living, fictional, nonfictional for a cup of coffee, who would it be and why?

Janet McHard:
Okay, this is going to be an answer you didn't expect. In addition to my love of art and my love of music, I'm also a huge sports fan. Dick Enberg, the sportscaster. He died a few years ago and I cried the day he died. I felt like I'd lost a parental figure. I had been listening to him call baseball, tennis, football. I watched him be inducted into the baseball broadcaster's Hall of Fame when he won the Frick Award. He was an amazing human being and he was, in my view, the best sportscaster ever. And watching baseball to me is my balm, it's how I relax, it's how I calm down. I go into depression when the baseball season's over and I always looked forward to Dick is going to be back, spring training coming. And then he retired and I thought, "Okay, well he'll fill in occasionally." And then he suddenly died. And if I had one person I could sit down with a cup of coffee and just have a 30 minute conversation with it would probably be Dick Enberg.

Alana Muller:
Okay. That is one of the best responses ever. I love it. Thank you for that. Thank you for that. It has been just the most sincere pleasure talking with you. I think we could probably go on for another few hours. I have lots more questions.

Janet McHard:
We totally could, so if you want to bring me back, I'd be happy.

Alana Muller:
I love that. I love that. In the meantime, tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about you and more about the McHard firm.

Janet McHard:
Our website is www.themchardfirm.com. And it's Mc like McDonald's, hard like hard as a rock. So just come to the website and if you negotiate around a little bit, you can find my V card that has all my contact information in it.

Alana Muller:
So cool. Janet McHard, thank you so much for being with us on Enterprise.ing podcast.

Janet McHard:
Thank you so much.

Alana Muller:
Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website, enterprisebank.com/podcast to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing, powering business leaders one conversation at a time.

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