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Rising Stars: Mild-mannered Accountant Skis Everest

By Lucas Laursen

Mike is a self-employed accountant who takes off for a few months every year to make ski descents of some of the world's biggest mountain faces. He runs his own accounting firm in Aspen, which has enabled him to make impressive ski descents--and films--around the world.

Name: Mike Marolt
School: St. Mary's College, California
Major: Accounting
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Owner
Company: Michael S. Marolt, CPA, PC
First Steps

Mike may be only a few years out of school , but he's the owner of his own accounting company and looking to expand. How? Well, he had a bit of a head start on most college graduates: he worked for several years with KPMG, a major network of accounting firms, before going to college.

His time with KPMG was "great. Since it was a big eight firm, it was like going to grad school for your master's. The experience gained there was invaluable. It gave me tremendous confidence and skill."

From Then to Now

Mike's background in the Aspen skiing community has also been a major influence on his life. Aside from preparing him for extreme ski descents, which he does with his brothers, his hometown helped inspire him to start his own accounting business. "I actually got mugged while living in Washington, DC; I immediately realized I needed to get back home to Aspen and away from the city. At the same time I realized I needed to create my own opportunity. It set the gears in motion for creating my own company."

Starting his own company forced Mike to get certified as a public accountant. "The credential happened a bit late in my career, but having a CPA is a must in accounting."

Back in Aspen, it was possible for Mike to return to skiing recreationally, and once his accounting company took off, he was able to think about ambitious ski trips abroad.

Challenges Faced

Running your own company has a whole new set of challenges. Mike says "managing staff is the most difficult task I can think of. The human spirit is really free, and to get people to do what you want them to takes an incredible amount of time and effort. Having gone into practice at age 28, I wasn't managed that much and have had to learn by doing it rather than learning from supervisors along the way." Aspiring accountants might take note and seek mentors to help them make a smoother transition to management down the road.

My Experience

Some of Mike's schedule is dictated by the calendar , like dealing with loans and rent, or reviewing annual contracts like leases. But he points out that "the bulk of the work comes in the form of taking new client 'shoe boxes' and getting them on the calendar organizational chart. I only have 6 people in my firm, so much of the scheduling, and all the billing, administration, and compliance falls on my shoulders."

Some people might balk at the nitty-gritty details of legal compliance, but Mike takes a pretty upbeat view.

"Accountants serve an incredibly rewarding purpose. We deal with people and their money. Outside of sex, it is pretty high on most people's agenda. They come to us as the experts and if we deal with them with a compassionate and human attitude, the compliance issues solve themselves. When you bring financial stability into people's lives, it frees them up to succeed with their own lives and businesses."

Mike may be his own best client success-story, since the stability and flexibility of running his own firm allows him to pursue innovative ski descents of massive volcanos in South America to Himalayan giants. In fact, by blending his accounting skills and his skiing adventures, he's developed a second career.

"I worked as a controller for a major film production company. That led to a second business as a film producer of skiing films. I learned that industry from the numbers up, which has helped me create something I am passionate about."

Next Steps

This might be enough for some people , but Mike says that "the next step is to create a regional firm. It will involve merging with my brothers who are both CPA's."

Mike will rely on his several years experience running his own company, but also on his experience working at KPMG. "Like I said, at the time, working for 2 years for a big eight firm was said to be the equivalent of getting your master's degree. It involved tons and tons of training and classroom work. It really is a young person's career to start, in that you don't need grad school to become a professional."

Someone at Mike's level could move away from accounting by networking with clients who then hire them for other business projects. Even though he has opted to stay in the profession, it has led to other avenues and deals that have "kept it interesting," including his sideline of producing extreme ski films.

Advice for Others

Mike emphasizes the importance of "putting pencil to paper and gaining experience. That is key. A mentor told me that every calculation, work paper, reconciliation and tax return you do adds value to your skill set. That leads to experience. Experience leads to expertise. There are no substitutes."

He also values good business ethics. "The profession went from the top of the list of respected professions to very low thanks to AA- and Enron-type accounting. I believe that was due to the profession being very young and inexperienced. There is no substitute for paying your dues."

Starting accountants shouldn't be discouraged, either. Mike warns that "if you push too hard too young, you will burn out. Enjoy the fruits of your labor along the way. Go on trips, see the world, follow your passions outside of work. True passions need resources, and that will drive you to be the best at whatever you end up doing. If your work becomes your passion, you will eliminate the need for escapes to fuel your fire to be successful. But above all, make your goal in life to leave the planet a little bit better than when you got here."

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