Buddhist ethics underpin a successful accounting firm
Accountant & Bookkeeper Stories
6 min read
After losing her mother at an early age, Cristina Garza struggled to rediscover the joy in life – until she became immersed in Buddhist philosophy. Now she’s living the way she wants and applying what she’s learned to her ethics-based accounting firm.
Cristina Garza, owner and chief number cruncher at Accountingprose
When Cristina got home from middle school, she would settle at the kitchen table and write out the invoices for her father’s landscaping business. But keeping the books wasn’t a chore; it was fun. “It was something I really loved doing – I loved checking boxes and making sure everything matched,” says Cristina.
At just 12 years old, Cristina had to cope with the death of her mother – a loss she says shaped her life. It set her on a path of discovery, looking for answers, trying to figure out how the world was pieced together, and what it meant to be a good person.
The pain stayed with her, but it also created a drive to be self-sufficient and a focus on getting as much as possible out of every day. Now, when you talk to Cristina, she brims with energy. You just have to believe her when she says, “I think I’m living the best life ever, having the most fun I’ve ever had, and it just keeps getting better and better.”
Cristina and a group of friends outdoors at the Above & Beyond music festival
The way becomes clear
It wasn’t like that in her early career. Cristina was raising her son alone and working in mortgage finance in Houston. She soon realised the job wasn’t for her. “I really enjoyed the numbers side, but the ethics of it wasn’t something I wanted to engage in,” she says. Her search for something more worthwhile in life led her to the local Zen center and her first taste of meditation.
Meanwhile, at a party, Cristina met a friend of a friend who was studying at the Diamond Mountain monastery in the Chihuahuan Desert. That resulted in introductions and conversations with monks, nuns and a meditation teacher. Eventually it triggered a move to Tucson, Arizona where Cristina found a job as a manufacturing accountant.
Cristina at the Diamond Mountain monastery
Just about every weekend she drove out to the Diamond Mountain monastery to study Buddhist logic and philosophy. During her time there, she helped build a sustainable retreat, constructing a straw-bale meditation cabin where her teacher, a nun, lived throughout a three-year retreat. Cristina does meditation retreats herself now, including a month in an Oregon cabin in 2010, and a week in August this year at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado.
Founder of Accountingprose
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CFO for The Diamond Cutter Institute
Music festivals, meditation retreats
Until she started studying at Diamond Mountain, Cristina had accepted that life and business were a certain way: you lived in one place and worked in another from eight to five. Then she saw people coming to the monastery from Europe for weeks or months at a time without having to give up work. “I didn’t know until then that one of the biggest things I wanted in life was geographic freedom,” Cristina says.
Opportunities to travel soon opened up. Cristina got a job with a monk managing the finances of his international organisation. He’d written a best-selling book on ethical business and was travelling the world as a speaker. “People wanted to know how to be kind, compassionate, generous and also run a profitable business. We went to almost every country under the sun – although I travelled a bit less than everyone else because I was a single mom for a long time and my son was very young.”
Cristina and a friend at one of the music festivals she loves
Even with her job, studying and looking after her son, Cristina started to take on a few clients and set up her own business, Accountingprose, on the side. But she got so busy that she had to make a choice – and the business won out because of how much she loved it.
As she took on staff, Cristina stuck to the golden rule: treat people as you would want to be treated. Being able to take time off to recharge is something she had always wanted, so that’s what she offered her employees. In addition to a generous five weeks paid vacation, they’re able to take as much unpaid time off as they want.
“When they realise we’re not just about taking, we’re also about giving, they feel really connected and stay”
Cristina makes sure the people she recruits have keen interests that keep them excited about life and happy outside of work – one does judo, one is a powerlifter, another loves to travel. She doesn’t want them to be married to the job, working 80-hour weeks. So she stays energised too, Cristina heads off to music festivals with a bunch of friends and a load of camping gear several times a year.
Keeping staff and clients happy
Although Cristina chose not to complete her degree, she studies all the time – currently it’s for a managerial accounting certificate. The eight accountants she employs have either masters’ or bachelors’ degrees, and they do the day-to-day work, while Cristina focuses on bringing the right clients into the business.
The working relationship between client and staff is really important at Accountingprose. Cristina works hard to match clients with individual staff members. And she intervenes if it’s not working out, to talk through the issues and options. Sometimes that means referring a client on elsewhere.
“There are no hard feelings,” says Cristina. “But if my staff aren’t being respected, that means they’re not going to be happy when they do their work. And happy people do really good work – so I’d rather have great work from happy people.”
It’s an approach that seems to be working. Cristina’s business is growing. She expects the number of clients to increase from 165 to 200 by next year and revenue is healthy. In addition, the staff attrition rate is low. “I work with people on a human level because that’s what I would want,” she says. “And I think when they realise we’re not just about taking, we’re also about giving, they feel really connected and stay.”
Cristina shares her ideas and practice with a group of Denver accountants over drinks at Xero Hour each month. She wants to attract more people into the accounting industry. “There needs to be great accountants to help small business owners – and small businesses really are the drivers of the economy.” She hopes other employers will realise they can run their business their own way, in line with their own values, and still be profitable.
Cristina shares her experience with Denver accountants at Xero Hour
For anyone considering a career in accountancy, Cristina’s advice is to try and find a practice they can work with, that will work with the life they want to build. “You get to decide what kind of life you want to have. If you find a company that respects your personal boundaries and work-life balance, you can have a really great impact and still have a life. A happy one at that.”
Cristina’s sasquatch tattoo
Those are words of wisdom that Cristina is unlikely to forget. For tattooed on her right forearm is a large sasquatch with, above it, her life motto: Live Free or Don’t.