Doing Better and Being Better: An Interview with Christopher Cowan, Partner
Chris, you’re passionate about giving back to the community. Can you tell us more about that?
We’re not here without the support of our communities. I believe we really have a moral obligation to give back.
It’s an obligation of ours to leverage the voice and respect that we have within the community, to help those who are less fortunate than we are. I’ve always wanted to do better and be better. I give back whenever I can and try to encourage others to do the same.
“I’ve always wanted to do better and be better.”
In what ways do you give back?
I volunteer my time to serving on committees, fund-raising, creating awareness, doing manual labor—anything I can do. Throughout my career, I have been involved with organizations like United Way, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Habitat for Humanity… just this week, I had a meeting with a hospital non-profit board about working together in the community.
I’m also an original board member of a Cancer non-profit called Shred Out Cancer (don’t mind the surfing lingo!).
“I volunteer my time to serving on committees, fund-raising, creating awareness, doing manual labor—anything I can do.”
Reflecting on your career, is there anything you would have done differently?
From a very young age, I always wanted to be involved in business to some degree. As a child, I laid claim to a brief case that belonged to my grandfather. I would fill it up with football cards and Hot Wheel cars and just take it wherever I went, much to my family’s amusement. Whenever there was a time to play, I was all business and ready to go!
Public accounting has provided a great platform for me to be involved at a lot of different levels of business. It’s also allowed me to be creative, innovative and to help provide solutions, education and opportunities to clients, colleagues and the industry. It’s a stage from which I can give back, from a community standpoint, as well as a trusted advisor to clients and a guide and support system to colleagues.
I like to think it’s a platform from which I can help provide opportunities to develop the next generation of leaders. I’m going to define my success at the end of my career as leaving the company, my peers and the community better than how I came into them. I don’t think there would be anything I would have done differently. Everything that has happened during my career thus far has led me to where I am today, and I am grateful for that.
“I’m going to define my success at the end of my career as leaving the company, my peers and the community better than how I came into them.”
What would you say to someone starting out in their career?
I would say to someone starting out their career: Find something that you love and are passionate about and make the most of it. At the end of the day, life is short. Be curious about yourself and your purpose, and realize it’s OK to not have it all figured out at once. Also, to understand that as life happens, what is important to you when starting out may change throughout your career. Because of that, surround yourself with a support system that values you, especially the you when you’re “not on the clock”.
“Be curious about yourself and your purpose, and realize it’s OK to not have it all figured out at once.”
Is there someone whose leadership style you admire?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career, to have had several. Over the years, I’ve had some amazing mentors who really helped guide me and shape into the person and professional I am now. An example is, when I came out of College, my direct senior, Sarah Krom, taught me that if you really want to make a difference within the community, within the industry and in a company, to get involved and be active and engaged. I learned this as an entry level, and I continued my whole career under that premise.
In terms of leadership styles, I started listening to leadership podcasts that provided insight and thoughts on various forms and styles of leadership. On The Game Changer Mentality, they were unpacking the concept of, “a Viking with a mother’s heart”: This defines a “serving leader” who has to maintain accountability but do so in a way that’s compassionate and supportive. This concept really resonated with me. I like to think this is how I lead.
I am full of energy! I hope this contributes to creating a positive and lively environment that’s inclusive and supportive to really bring out the best in people and have fun along the way.
How do you go about motivating someone who seems unmotivated?
What I really enjoy about Public Accounting is the ability to connect with people. That’s where my passion lies: building relationships and connecting with people. It’s so interesting and rewarding to learn about a person’s background, what drives them, and witnessing them achieve their goals. Everyone has a motivating factor. By getting involved with and being curious about the person (beyond the employee sitting at their desk), I can learn about their background, their interests and what drives them. I use that awareness to help identify their motivating force and purpose.
My role models throughout my career have all gotten to know me on a personal level and knew how to motivate me. That’s how you bring the best out in people: showing that you genuinely care and by learning more about the individual. Also: checking your ego at the door!
“That’s how you bring the best out in people: showing that you genuinely care and by learning more about the individual.”
What’s something people may not know about you?
In 2013, I received a silver medal in the US Cycling BMX National Championships.
It was a lot of work and training! I was balancing my sporting goals with a full-time career. But performing well at the National Championships could provide an opportunity to race in the World Championships and competing for Team USA was a goal since I was a kid. The hard work paid off, as I was provided a great opportunity to get to New Zealand and represent Team USA in the BMX World Championships.
While racing there, I actually got tangled up with cyclists from France and Australia, crashed and broke my hand, which cut my competing short. I had an amazing trip, and met some wonderful people, though!
Above: Chris with the silver medal he won in the US Championships in Nashville, and the Team USA jersey he wore in New Zealand.
Chris Cowan, CPA, is Co-Partner-In-Charge of Construction Services at Wiss. You can learn more about Chris here.