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Protea Conversations: Tony Wilson

Protea Conversations: Tony Wilson

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked.  Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In October 2022 we spend time with Tony Wilson of Accquip. Small business and entrepreneurship has been a passion of Tony’s ever since 2010, when his brother and I launched a photography & design business. While helping his brother with the back-end helped Tony discover this passion for supporting visionaries. He loved the electricity that comes with working in a small business. Finishing this to pursue his first career out of college, he knew his dream job would involve him owning his own practice, helping others.

From 2014 through 2021, Tony gained experience in the accounting industry, becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 2015, working for both public and private companies. Tony loved the learning and the practice in Corporate America, but his dream job still awaited.

Tony joined the masses in “The Great Resignation” of 2021 to create this brand. He left an incredible company with amazing benefits, not because he was upset, but because he knew that it’s never the “right time” to quit your job to pursue your dream. So here he is living the dream!

In all he does, Tony brings his passion for teaching and his excitement for life!

Tony’s personal mission is:

Lead others to a more abundant life, illuminating that path through education and inspiring action with creativity and joy. with creativity and joy.

Tell us a little more about your decision to start a career in accounting and how this aligns with your passion for teaching and thus starting Accquip?

My journey into accounting was largely driven by my mom’s encouragement to do so! As a learning & development professional, she was able to see certain skills and propensities in me and my brothers. Funny enough, she said that because I like math, I would be great at accounting…

I firmly believe that anyone can get into accounting. It’s really not as difficult as it’s made out to be. The way I see it, we’re just in the business of writing financial stories.

One thing I loved about my first job out of college was the learning opportunities AND the expectation of ongoing education. As a CPA (and now CMA), I need to keep my credentials active with continuing education. There’s something about needing to stay accountable to having demonstrable learning that really excites me. I never want to go stale in my career!

Along with my love for learning, I love taking what I’ve learned, simplifying it, and helping others to learn as well. All throughout my career, I’ve gravitated towards teaching and learning how to teach in a way where others experience real and lasting change.

My vision in starting Accquip was to bring much-needed education to the most underserved entrepreneurial market: <$1M in annual revenues. The problem they face is that the finance professionals most capable of helping them are priced out of the market. I saw a huge opportunity to build a brand that could connect with those entrepreneurs and empower them to do the work themselves (at least long enough to be able to afford a finance pro).

Protea Financial Tony Wilson Accounting

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

I think the greatest challenge has been in finding my voice (and trusting my own intuition). I was always an “A+” student and was always a great test-taker, but until I entered the workforce, I was never required to think critically or challenge assumptions.

As a professional, I eventually came to realize that it’s not about finding the “right answer.” It’s about standing on your own two feet and thinking deeply and critically about the work you do. When I was early-on in my career, I didn’t know how to take a stand on a topic or an approach.

Eventually, I learned to trust that, while I don’t have all the answers, my opinions and perspectives are valuable. I’ve worked with a lot of very hard-nosed people who believe it’s “my way or the highway.” If you’re not careful, you can assume you have nothing to contribute.

The biggest challenge I’ve overcome is to combat that feeling by acknowledging that some people have a fixed mindset and cannot see things from a different perspective. It doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. It just means that they might not be the right type of people for me to work for.

What are your short-term goals for your career and yourself?

Right now, my biggest short-term goal is to grow my new business to a place where it can be sustainable without having to go back to taking full-time employment elsewhere. I’ve got about 6 months to make this thing fly!

Protea Financial Accounting Career Goals

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Hands-down, the BEST advice I’ve ever received was from one of my managers in audit. He said “Tony, don’t come to me and ask what the answer should be. I want you to come to me with your answers and you ask me for my opinion on the answers you’re providing.”

It changed the trajectory of my career!

Don’t just identify the problem.

Come up with a solution to the problem first, and then ask for feedback on the solution.

It helps you learn and grow so fast in the industry. But it’s also an immense blessing to your manager when you approach problems like this.

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Personally, I wish I would’ve started my business earlier. There is this thought in the back of my head that said “I need XX years in order to be qualified enough to start my own business.” The reality is that there is a lot of experience in large, corporate companies that does not translate to being an entrepreneur or serving smaller businesses as an accountant. The best experience to get in your dream job is just doing the dream work!

What advice would you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Resist the urge to jump in and “save the day.” If you spend all your time doing the work for your staff, you will never be able to get out of the weeds. Empower your team by holding them accountable to delivering a specific end result.

Along the same lines, just because your staff asks you “what do you think?” does not mean you should give a direct answer. 9 times out of 10, that question is often your staff subconsciously asking for permission to share their thoughts. Flip the question on its head and ask your staff “I’m so glad you asked, but I’d really love to hear your thoughts first.”

Get really good at challenging your team to learn and grow and prove to themselves that they are brilliant!

Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?

I’ve got an 18-month old and 2-month old twins at home right now… they’re all girls – it’s absolutely nuts, and also amazing! It’s easily one of the biggest pros about working 100% remote: being able to spend time with them every day!

*****

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network

Connect with others around you and grow your network. Here at Protea Financial, we love working with people from all industries and walks of life. For help finding people that can help you reach your goals, contact us today!

Protea Conversations: Marian Mejia

Protea Conversations: Marian Mejia

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked.  Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In September 2022, we spend time with Marian Mejia, the Operations Coordinator of Positive Images. Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. This LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, a resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station – a free, lightly-used clothing closet. They are proud to offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for people of all ages to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. The vision is a Sonoma County where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Marian (she/they) is a queer Filipino person who grew up in the South and East Bay Area before moving to Sonoma County for school in 2017. Their passions grew in their time in college, primarily focused on intersectionality in the climate and environmental justice space.

In 2019, she began canvassing in Santa Rosa to advocate for immigrants’ rights and justice, housing, and environmental justice. This experience deepened their understanding and perspective on community, access, equity, and the environment in the city.

Guided by their love for earth, community, creativity, and addressing the intersections of the issues that unite us, Marian is excited to offer and expand their skills with Positive Images. Since beginning to work with PI in 2021, they’re hoping to use their passions related to identity and culture to foster more belonging and community for all of Sonoma County’s LGBTQIA+ people. Marian is also on a continuous journey to embody the authenticity and mentorship they wished they had when they were young. Ultimately, their goal is to help uplift Black, Indigenous, and non-white voices while bridging seemingly disparate issues together to cultivate more substantial equity and solidarity.

When not at Positive Images, Marian works as Global Crew Director for Earth Guardians, dancing in heels, spending time outside, making art, or watching anime.

Protea Financial Marian Mejia Conversation

Tell us a little more about your decision to start a career in the nonprofit world.

I think I always knew since I was a kid that a traditional office desk job or corporate setting wasn’t for me. Or I knew it wasn’t the way I wanted to connect with people and change the world. When I was in college at Sonoma State, I was an environmental student and active student leader, and I remember making the conscious decision that I wanted to work in the nonprofit space, and that’s how I would answer whenever asked, “What do you want to do after you graduate?”

It was a mix of my lived experiences, inspired by people who worked in nonprofits and visited my classes. The pull to be a part of forwarding meaningful cultural and social shifts towards collective liberation. And so, the avenue that felt best for me to contribute to that effort was to be on the ground, working with an organization that is trusted and making a genuine impact in the community, by and for the community.

Tell us about your role with Positive Images and how you got involved.

I’m the Operations Coordinator for Positive Images, and I lead our community center operations, maintaining center and program functionality. This includes being the first person to meet and greet people who visit the center, fielding phone calls, emails, and other incoming communications to share appropriate resources and referrals, and maintaining center and program data entry, analysis, and reporting. I also oversee the organization’s communications, designing social media graphics and developing PI’s other public-facing communications.

I’ve known about Positive Images since college, and from 2020-2021 I was out of work because of the pandemic. I saw that PI was hiring on Instagram and felt immediately called to apply. Even though my prior studies and work experience weren’t overtly related to the LGBTQIA+ community, as a queer person who believes in intersectional thinking and approaches, I was excited to gain new experiences and contribute to the mental health space while uplifting Sonoma County’s LGBTQIA+ communities.

Why is Positive Images important to you?

I didn’t grow up going to or knowing of a space like Positive Images, and especially didn’t grow up with a positive (no pun intended) representation of a brown queer Filipino person. Positive Images is healing for me, for the part that wasn’t able to step into my authentic identity as a kid, and for the part of me that wants to become the adult representation or role model I didn’t have. 

I know and see how important Positive Images is–how essential it is–to Sonoma County’s queer and trans community, and how can that not be important to me too? 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

To put it plainly, this work can be hard emotionally and mentally.

Who I am in and outside of work doesn’t change, and in this work, I’m showing up as my whole self just as those seeking services come to us to be their whole selves. It can be heavy supporting the community through trauma while also holding your own, especially when you may be a queer and/or trans person’s last call to find what they need–like housing–and there is nothing you can do to help or meaningfully meet that need.

At times it can be discouraging when I’m reminded of the realities of systemic oppressions that infiltrate our work and cause barriers to serving our community in the ways that we know they need and want. And I’m grateful to be a part of a team who acknowledges that and is dedicated to supporting our community while holding space to process and maintain a healthy relationship in this work.

What are the short-term goals for your career and yourself?

One of my short-term goals for Positive Images is to develop our organization’s communications more by launching a newsletter, redesigning our website, and increasing youth involvement in our social media and communications. My hope is to foster a space where youth and adults in our community can uplift their stories, connect with others, and feel agency in helping shape Positive Images’ own identity and ongoing story. As I look towards this goal, I am simultaneously looking towards refinding my voice after experiencing the peaks of a pandemic and how I want to use it in pursuit for collective liberation.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Rest is productive. When I first heard this phrase from a then advisor to a now dear friend, it blew my mind. Only three words and had never heard or seen them in a sentence together—or even fathomed it a perspective to have. But it was and is such a revolutionary idea to me. It’s a simple three-word sentence that entirely challenges our conditioned ideas of our worth tied to our productivity. It’s a simple three-word sentence that, to this day, is a reminder and affirmation that makes even the hardest days achievable.   

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out on your career?

I wish that someone told me of “red flags” or things to avoid in a nonprofit organization. I’ve learned in my journey so far not every nonprofit environment has a work culture that is healthy and acknowledges the realness of burnout or actively works to prevent burnout amongst its team. I’m grateful to work with an organization like Positive Images, where it feels welcomed and encouraged for staff to prioritize their mental health and allow space to candidly talk about it as well. 

What advice would you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Being a better leader starts with the willingness to look inward to better oneself as a whole person. Do not be afraid to fail or to be held accountable. It’s okay to be imperfect and not know the answers to everything—because you are only human.

Deeply listen; you will grow further as a leader, knowing and being open to the fact that you will always be learning from your community and that you are a steward of knowledge, skill, or experience passed down to you. You are not a leader without your community; remember you are there to support them and their needs, as well as shoulder hardships together. Lead with compassion, gentleness, and radical love for yourself, just as much as with others.

Protea Financial Rockclimbing Conversation Blog 9.29.22B

Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?

Although this part of my life journey didn’t start until I was 14 years old, movement has been a significant part of my life.

I wrestled and was in Cologuard throughout high school, trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was an avid rock climber in college, and now have proudly claimed my identity as a dancer over the last couple of years. My dance experience also started in high school through color guard and marching band, and dancing in our school’s production of “Chicago.” But it was during the pandemic that I found heels dance and have been on a dance team for over a year. I’m grateful for how dance caused me to start to look inward at my gender identity, and how healing it has been to reconnect with my body and lean into my curiosity and wonder in this exploration. I also like to explore and play with art! I’ve punch needled a rug, and I’m currently working on a screen print design with a friend.

*****

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network

Grow your network by connecting with the amazing companies and individuals we speak with in our Protea Conversations. If you need help finding the right fit, contact us here! We will do our best to help.

Protea Conversations: Yuri Kapilovich

Protea Conversations: Yuri Kapilovich

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked.  Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In September 2022, we spent time with Yuri Kapilovich, Kapilovich & Associates LLC (K&A) CPA. Yuri leverages his experience with some of the largest firms in the country (Ernst & Young, Cohn, Reznick, etc.), working with some of the wealthiest individuals in the country to bring high-quality service to his clients.

Yuri’s journey through his life and career has been filled with many moves. Born in Minsk, Belarus, he moved to Israel at the age of 1 and to the US at 12. Moving to the US allowed him to understand the intricacies of culture, language, and the dynamics of people. After graduating college, Yuri began his career with Ernst & Young and then moved around five times before realizing he could not call any of those places home. That is when Kapilovich & Associates was born.

Yuri prides himself in his ability to be a down-to-earth, personable, professional, and fun accountant. He even created a whole movement centered around that on LinkedIn and his webpage The Fun CPA.

Tell us a little more about your decision to start a career in accounting and how you decided to start Kapilovich & Associates LLC.

Interestingly enough growing up I always thought I wanted to be in Finance. When I was going through college, there was a moment when I had to apply to business school and applied as a finance major. One of my pre-requisite classes confused me for another student and gave me a C instead of an A. That messed up my GPA enough to disqualify me from business school altogether. Scrambling around, I reached out to advisors, the teacher, and the business school and rectified the issue, but the finance major was filled. Accounting it was, and I rolled with it.

After college, I had quite a rocky journey in finding a job because my internship between my Junior and Senior year was canceled last minute, and I ended up tutoring instead of working; thus, finding a job was difficult. I finally found a job and got the offer, and two weeks before graduation it was pulled from me and delayed a year. I worked a couple of internships, reapplied, and got into EY Miami; the rest is history. After jumping another five firms, I finally realized it was time to go out on my own and that I was ready; thus, Kapilovich & Associates was born in August 2021.

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

The biggest challenge is overcoming the fear of the safety and security of a W-2 job with benefits. Before going out on my own, I was making $145K with medical, dental, and vision insurance for me, my wife, and my son. When kids are in the picture, leaving that job and hopping into self-employment becomes infinitely scarier. Quitting my job was rocky, too; I had a deal lined up to purchase a book of business for $100K, and it fell through 5 days after I gave notice. The temptation to cancel my resignation was quite heavy, but I continued. Beyond that, once the doors to self-employment opened, it’s been a fun ride of doing what I want, trying out my ideas, and rolling forward without looking back.

Protea Financial Self Employed Accounting

What are the short-term goals for your career and yourself?

My short-term goal at the moment is to grow my monthly revenue to a point where I can hire a bookkeeper full-time, pay them VERY well, and completely relinquish all my bookkeeping work to them. They would work a maximum of 40 hours a week and that’s how I want to structure my firm.

As for my personal goals I want to continue to have a relatively light schedule and always be there for my son. That’s the currency, the goal, and the vision. How much money I make is irrelevant to me (within means haha) as long as I can achieve time and freedom to do whatever I want. This philosophy applies to me, and it also applies to anyone working for me.

What is the best advice you have ever received that has helped you succeed?

I am very blessed to have had the experience I did in my career. Hopping firms has taught me what I do not want out of my firm, and, most importantly, it gave me connections with both the staff/seniors/managers at various firms and the clients who stayed in touch. The best advice I ever got came from a client who has become a friend. His net worth is more than $100M, and having the ability to call him up is priceless. His advice resonated with me: “don’t give up, show up, and add value at every step of the way” and “focus on recurring revenue.”

Protea Financial Keep Showing Up

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting?

The advice I’d give myself a year ago, right before starting, would be “get it in writing, Yuri.” Getting it in writing does not always guarantee anything, but I did not have that buyout contract in writing as it was a handshake deal, and it fell apart. No biggie, though. It’s all good now. A year ago, it was scary.

What advice do you give to others to help them be better leaders?

I frequently chat about this topic in my LinkedIn posts because I am about adding value. My advice to leaders is simple: Staff, not clients, first. Yes, I said it, staff, first. Take care of your people and remember that YOU work for them, not vice versa. When staff sees that you are working for them, taking care of them, and having their best interest in mind will pay you back 100 fold. When I was in the big firm, word would always get out that I take care of my staff and have their back no matter what. The best staff at these firms would want and ask to be with me because they knew they’d learn and they knew they’d be taken care of to the best of my abilities. Yes, even if it meant I was berated by partners for it (and I sure was).

A rude, demeaning, high-paying client has NO space in my business. I do not care if their fee is $30K a year. No one should be treated like this, and the client will be spoken to (that’s right, the client, not the staff), and if it repeats itself, the client is getting fired.

Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside the professional space?

I was born in Belarus, lived in Israel for 11 years, moved to America at the age of 12 then moved around America a bit. This experience of moving around made me appreciate cultures, languages and cherish the differences in people. I love chatting with people and learning about their experiences. I also love aviation, boating, biking, outdoors, and a fun networking event.

*****

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network

Grow your network by connecting with the amazing companies and individuals we speak with in our Protea Conversations. If you need help finding the right fit, contact us here! We will do our best to help.

Protea Conversations: Saja Raoof

Protea Conversations: Saja Raoof

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked.  Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In August 2022 we spend time with Saja Raoof.

Saja is the proud daughter of an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability,” a visa classification which recognized her dad Dr. Ameed Raoof’s distinguished career in Medical Education. Her family background is part of the reason she chose to devote her career to serving talented foreign nationals interested in pursuing the American dream through employment-based visas.

As a Business Immigration Attorney, Saja helps companies and foreign-born nationals navigate the increasingly complex field of Immigration Law. Having focused on business immigration since 2006, Saja’s clients have included engineering companies, architecture firms, startups, overseas companies and nonprofits and their talented foreign-born employees.

Her immigration career started with an internship at the National Immigration Project in Boston during first year of law school. She also advocated for immigrants’ civil rights during my internship at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Saja’s family is from Iraq, home to the first code of law in history. Before moving to the US she grew up in Scotland and Saudi Arabia. When not working you’ll find Saja kayaking, embroidering, or traveling internationally.

Protea Financial Immigration Law

Tell us a little more about your decision to start a career in immigration law and your journey to running your own practice?

As the eldest of four children my dad tasked me with helping him put our immigration application together when I was about 14 years old. My involvement in that process at a young age made a strong impression on me. I’d gone with law school with the goal of defending human rights. Immigration was a natural venue to fulfill that dream. I set up my own practice in 2012 and it’s been a terrific experience over the past decade. Having been through the immigration journey I can put myself in my clients’ shoes and share a personal understanding of what’s at stake.  

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

The limited venues for immigrants and the sometimes heavy-handed application and interpretation of immigration law. It’s frustrating to see politics decide whether companies can grow and foreign-born nationals can pursue their dreams. For example, only 65,000 H-1B visas are granted each year plus 20,000 reserved for foreign-born nationals who have a U.S. Master’s. The number filed every year competing for those visas is sometimes three times the number of visas available, so U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services runs a lottery. Companies should be able to file an H-1B based on need, not luck.

What are your short-term goals of your career and yourself?

I’m working with Mike Doherty (Understanding eCommerce) on updating my marketing. I’m also working on becoming an engaging public speaker.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

It’s hard to narrow it down to a single piece of advice. The first advice that comes to mind is my business coach Alay Yajnik’s “time is life and life is time.” That line is just a starting point. Alay’s time management system is gold.

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Delegate. Because we want everything to be perfect, we sometimes prefer to do a given task ourselves rather than explain and entrust it to somebody else. But learning how to effectively delegate and free up one’s time for other things, is priceless.

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Since early in my career I’ve kept record of notes from my conversations with the lawyers and professionals I’ve admired the most. Out of every 10 people you ask for guidance, maybe only one will respond. But that person’s advice could do wonders for your career. It’s not always comfortable approaching leaders to seek advice but it’s worth it.

Protea Financial Saja Raoof Embroidery

Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?

When my husband and I moved from Michigan to California in 2014 we didn’t know many people here, so I needed a new hobby. My choices came down to either pottery or embroidery. As an introvert I went with the hobby that doesn’t require going to a studio and talking to people. I started out embroidering flowers and birds. And I later realized it could be a meaningful way to connect to people. I embroider personalized gifts for friends and colleagues on their special occasions (weddings, religious occasions, death of loved ones). An embroidered piece makes for a memorable gift and it feels good to create long-lasting beauty.

*****

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network

Learn about professionals you may not otherwise come across by reading through our Protea Conversations. We have the privilege of talking with some fantastic individuals, and appreciate the time they take discussing their lives with us!

Protea Conversations: Karen Alary

Protea Conversations: Karen Alary

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked.  Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In July, we talk to Karen Alary of the Personnel Perspective. Founded in 1987, The Personnel Perspective has an outstanding reputation for quality service in human resources consulting, leadership training and development, recruitment, organizational design, conflict resolution and mediation. The firm works with companies of all sizes in all industries and provides customized solutions based on the client’s individual needs and circumstances.

After completing college, Karen Alary began a career in human resources.  Her experience, not the typical career progression you might expect, was well-rounded and prepared her to eventually become owner and Managing Partner of The Personnel Perspective.  The Personnel Perspective was founded and is still based in Santa Rosa and Napa, and is currently celebrating its 35th year in business.

Karen grew up in Sonoma County and has deep ties to the community.  One of her personal values is to give back to her community through volunteer work and supporting some local non-profits.  She believes that through the work The Personnel Perspective does and the time she gives to non-profits, she is helping make businesses stronger, leading to a stronger community.

Tell us about your decision to start a career in human resources and your journey to Managing Partner of The Personnel Perspective?

The HR profession found me.

The confluence of two important factors brought me to the HR profession and, later, as the Managing Partner of The Personnel Perspective. 

My degree is in business management.  Out of college, I worked in a national labor and employment law firm.  I was fascinated with the myriad issues businesses faced with their employees, the counsel attorneys gave to business owners and leaders, and the resolutions reached.  I was clear I did not want to be a lawyer and so I gravitated toward the HR profession.

Years into my HR career I had the opportunity to do some consulting work.  This work expanded and I realized there was a lot of need in our business community.  The thought of helping many businesses was very appealing to me and as I continued consulting I had the opportunity to buy The Personnel Perspective, a well-established HR consulting firm based in Santa Rosa.  This was a huge attraction because I loved the work I was doing and the idea of becoming a small business owner was kind of full-circle for me as I had grown up in an entrepreneurial environment.  My father was a successful business owner and I witnessed the rewards and challenges he faced. 

Protea Financial Personnel HR

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

As a small business, we face many of the same challenges as our clients in trying to keep up with all of the state’s employment and business regulations.  California regulations are challenging for all small and medium sized businesses and the cost of business and living are so high in this state that the balancing act we all have to perform to continue has to be part of the overall strategy.  As HR professionals, the biggest challenge in the current environment is being pulled in so many different directions given that there continue to be pandemic protocols to account for, we have to be on top of all the potential legislative changes being considered and be ready to help clients continue to be compliant and we need to manage our own internal infrastructure so that we can be efficient and responsive.  The HR profession in itself is a balancing act with many competing priorities and that is what keeps the work interesting and worthwhile. Our main function is to be problem solvers and with the competing needs of small businesses, it can be a perfect storm; sometimes there aren’t perfect solutions and we have to exercise creative thinking and be flexible.

What are your short-term goals of your career and yourself?

In the short-term, my goals are to provide value and excellent service to our clients.  We focus on building long-term relationships and take the time to get to know our clients, their needs, their industry and organization, and prioritize the strategic partnership. 

In the long-run, I would like to become an advocate and voice for small businesses in California at the state level.  According to a report published by the California Governor’s office, California small businesses create two-thirds of all new jobs and employ nearly half of all private sector employees; they are the drivers of economic growth and we must ensure they remain strong and relevant. Legislators can often be a bit out of touch when they write bills that affect businesses in that they may not have awareness of the challenges businesses face in having to follow the new or amended regulations.  They are policy makers and not in tune with the cost to implement and the day-to-day or practical issues that arise during implementation.  While policy and legislation is important to protect employee rights, a balance must be struck between worker protections and for keeping the legal and regulatory quagmire from becoming so cumbersome that businesses can no longer stay afloat particularly given that entrepreneurs play such a vital role in California’s economy and job market.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

A colleague shared the analogy of HR being like a bicycle wheel.  HR is the hub of the wheel with all the spokes coming off of it to make the larger wheel itself.  All the spokes are the various stakeholders and priorities for a business.  HR’s job is to keep everything balanced so the wheel doesn’t become warped.  A warped wheel is hard to peddle on and can cause the bicycle to become unusable.  We want to have balance and fairness, appropriate legal compliance, awareness of risk, solve the problems and keep employee satisfaction high, all while ensuring the business remains strong and can continue to meet its mission and goals. Every aspect, each of the spokes, matter to the wellbeing of the organization—the wheels ability to balance and function.

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Every HR professional struggles with confidence at the beginning because there is so much technical information we have to store in our knowledge banks.  When starting out we all can be hesitant when we don’t have enough experience and exposure yet.  Nonetheless, giving HR practitioners time for the steep learning curve and allowing space to take risks is the best way to learn and grow confidence and professional experience and knowledge.  HR as a profession can lend itself to individual practitioners becoming too risk averse in general because we are always thinking about the risk and potential exposure to lawsuits or other expensive employment claims for the business.  Even with the legal environment as it is today, in order to be innovative, we have to be willing to try new things while thinking through our decisions and the possible consequences.

Protea Financial Protea Conversation with Karen Alary

What advice would you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Leadership is all about building strong, authentic relationships, developing strong listening skills and emotional intelligence, determining what the tone and example is that you want the organization to follow, and being real and consistent.  Trust is the foundation of leadership and it takes humility, reliability, caring, good boundaries, and a structure and value system that establishes the type of culture that will result in retention and performance.

Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?

This is a tough one because my professional self and personal self overlap.  I think one part of me that is not visible though is my spiritual mindset, which, by nature, is a path for continual growth.  Rather than having a limited, negative thought perspective that leads to a belief that we live in a world of lack and scarcity, I believe in operating from an abundance mindset which allows me to shake off the disappointments and keep going.  

*****

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.

Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network

Grow your network by connecting with the amazing companies we speak with in our Protea Conversations. If you need help finding the right fit, contact us here! We will do our best to help.