Interview with Russell Fox, Principal of the Clayton Financial and Tax Firm

Russell Fox took an unusual route towards a profession in accounting. The Fox interview will delight readers who are just entering the field. Today, Russell Fox is the Principal of the Clayton Financial and Tax firm and the well-known author of the popular blog, Taxable Talk. Read the Russell Fox interview and find out how one man’s love for poker led to prosperous and thriving accounting career. Learn how Fox applies the following to his profession today when he states, “Back in elementary school a teacher told my class, “A mistake is a mistake only if you repeat it.”

russell-foxWhat event or series of events led you to pursue accounting or the study of accounting as a professional choice?

I have a chemical engineering undergraduate degree from Cal. When I graduated there were no jobs for chemical engineers (the field is notoriously cyclical in hiring) so I went to graduate school. I was thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. I had done undergraduate research at LBL (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) but found I didn’t enjoy it and hated the smell of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (a chemical used for cleaning in labs). So I pursued an MBA in finance and accounting.

I worked for 17 years in finance in private industry. When I started on my own (in 1999), my goal was to be a ‘CFO to go.’ I found there wasn’t much demand for this. I was playing poker to support myself and was asked by a poker player to prepare his tax returns. I found I enjoyed it. I also saw that poker was about to go through a boom, so I changed focus and emphasized tax.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your business career and the steps you took to meet these challenges.

I was a solo practitioner until late in 2011 (over twelve years). I needed to either add an employee or a partner, but the tax and regulatory climate in California made that unprofitable. So I moved—both myself and my business—to Nevada.

How would you advise an individual entering the accounting professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?

My path into accounting has been unusual, but I wouldn’t change it if I could. My advice to everyone is to do something you enjoy; life is too short to be miserable. Additionally, if you want to practice in tax, consider taking the Special Enrollment Examination and become an Enrolled Agent (EA) rather than a CPA.

Once you are in the industry, identify one or two niches as your market. I have three individuals who are my main competitors in my niche out of the thousands and thousands of tax professionals.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I’ve had some successes in IRS examinations (audits). In dealing with IRS personnel, you have to remember that they are human beings with the same goals and concerns as everyone else. If you treat them well, you are far likelier to have a successful outcome than if you throw acid on a situation.

If you could suggest a role model for a new accountant, starting out, who would it be and why?

There’s no one right way of doing anything, and that includes being an accountant. Find a successful individual in your field near you, and see if he or she will mentor you.

As an accomplished author of a blog related to financial advice, what advice would you offer to the new accountant concerning the role of social media in their profession?

If you put something on the Internet, it’s permanent. Most businesses will conduct an Internet search of any job candidates. If I were hiring for any position and saw the individual had made disparaging remarks about anyone, I’d wonder.

That said, social media is an incredible tool for marketing. You need to identify where your market niche looks within social media (it’s different for every niche).

This is the last question and time for the inner accounting person in you to break free. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new professionals to mine their own strengths to further their careers.

I listen to my clients. Most individuals want empathy with their situation (even if they have caused their own problems).

For new professionals, look at your own strengths and weaknesses and honestly evaluate them. Back in elementary school a teacher told my class, “A mistake is a mistake only if you repeat it.” Well, a weakness only last as long as you avoid addressing it. Work on your weaknesses while using your strengths—wherever they are—to bring in business.

We enjoyed this uncommon view of the profession of accounting and would like to thank Russell Fox for his time and contribution. You can read articles on tax and accounting topics by Russell Fox at Taxable Talk.