James Thomasson with Accelerated Accounting

James Thomasson with Accelerated Accounting

This week on The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with James Thomasson with Accelerated Accounting. Listen in as we discuss his love for Mobile, how he ended up owning a laundromat, and how he got started in the world of accounting!

Produced by Blue Fish.


James Thomasson: My name is James Thomasson and I'm the owner of Accelerated Accounting.

Marcus Neto: Nice. Well, welcome to the podcast, James.

James Thomasson: Thank you.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. We've been talking about doing this for a while, so I am glad that you're here. To get started, why don't you tell us the story of James? Where are you from? Where did you go to high school? Did you go to college? I know you did because of your job, but where did you go to college? Are you married? Just give us some backstory.

James Thomasson: Yeah. Okay. I was born here in Mobile. I'm the sixth of seven children to a single mother, and I guess that was a different time back then. Anyway, so she married my stepdad and so we had a nice, happy family. Didn't know we were poor until we got to high school.

Marcus Neto: Funny how that works, right?

James Thomasson: Yeah, exactly. It's like, "What do you mean we're poor?" Anyway, but I went to Murphy High School. I'm the sixth of the seven and my older brothers are all entrepreneurs, so I don't know if it was just ingrained in us or what happened. None of my parents were entrepreneurs.

Marcus Neto: I was going to say, was your stepfather an [inaudible 00:01:14].

James Thomasson: Not my father, Not my stepfather. Not anyone that we know of in our family.

Marcus Neto: That is really interesting because you don't normally see that, but I'll also say we're in Mobile and a lot of people start businesses down here.

James Thomasson: Some people start businesses and it's not really business, it's kind of more of a hobby or a side gig. Yeah. I guess we had to figure a way to survive. We decided that we... My oldest brother had a McDonald's franchise. My next oldest brother had a automotive wiring and repair business. The third brother had a carpet cleaning business in Houston, Texas. Now he's a motivational speaker and coach.

Marcus Neto: He made his exit really well.

James Thomasson: Absolutely. I'm going to one of his conferences this week, as a matter of fact, in [inaudible 00:02:01] and then me.

Marcus Neto: Nice.

James Thomasson: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Very cool. College. Where did you go?

James Thomasson: South Alabama. Finished in '87.

Marcus Neto: Business?

James Thomasson: Business, yeah, accounting and finance.

Marcus Neto: Okay. I was going to say. And you are married?

James Thomasson: I am [inaudible 00:02:17] the former [inaudible 00:02:19] married actually 35 years couple of weeks ago.

Marcus Neto: Very cool. Well, congratulations.

James Thomasson: Well, thank you. Yeah. I did marry up too, by the way, if she's listening to this.

Marcus Neto: We all did. Trust me, we all did. Yeah, no. We've talked a number of times because I know you have a real passion for Mobile and I want to get there. Why don't you go back in time and tell us about your very first job? This isn't your very first accounting job, this is like flipping burgers.

James Thomasson: Oh, perfect. I worked at Dairy Queen. It was a local franchise owner and I was hired at, gosh, in 1980 I guess was my first job. I worked the back and they needed someone because the rest of the evening, afternoon crew quit. It was like, "Okay, what do I have?" I had to learn on my own. At that time, the guys would work in the back and the females would work up front, draw the ice cream and take orders and whatnot. I did-

Marcus Neto: Dairy Queen was your first job?

James Thomasson: Dairy Queen, yeah.

Marcus Neto: Are there any lessons that you still remember from that time at Dairy Queen?

James Thomasson: Hard work will get you somewhere. Working, making $3 and 10 cents an hour and working after school and, again, one of seven children. I had to buy my own car at 16, wanted to put gas in it, tires and things of that nature, so hard work would get me a paycheck that would pay for those things.

Marcus Neto: Pay for those things that you want. Now how did you get started with your business though? I mean was that something that you always knew that you were going to do? Or was it like you kind of found yourself there one day or ...

James Thomasson: Kind of a little bit of a hybrid. In other words, I always loved business, stocks, things of that nature. In high school, had a park down the street from our house, Laun Park, and the director had lost her maintenance guy. I went to Laun Park and she hired me to do maintenance before high school every morning. I was working in the evening at Dairy Queen. At the end of the year, the City of Mobile sent me a 1099. I didn't know how to handle that.

I'd done my tax returns before, W-2, easy, no problem. I got this 1099, I had no idea how to handle it in high school. I went to one of the local franchises and sat down with their preparer and the girl started taking care of my tax return. She says, "Well, how much did you get on your refund from Alabama last year?" I told her, I said, and she wrote it on there. I said, "Hold on, that's not taxable." She said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I didn't itemize it last year so you don't have to..." "Oh, that's right," so she crossed that off.

Marcus Neto: How old?

James Thomasson: I was 17 years old.

Marcus Neto: At 17 you're having discussions and correcting ...

James Thomasson: The preparers at a professional franchise. Yeah. Started working on my... And so she did know how to put the 1099 in the proper place. I did find that out later on, and so I learned something there. When she started working on my Alabama tax return, of course, everything was by hand back then, and so she was working on that and she was messing that up too.

I said, "Nevermind, I've got it from here." I just needed to learn that one thing. I started doing tax returns in high school for my friends, my family, my coworkers, and so it kind of started from there. I decided I would go into business at South Alabama, go into finance and accounting, and had the opportunity to work for a local CPA firm to begin with and worked there for eight years mainly doing tax returns. I was their tax return specialist and had the opportunity in 1995 to buy Accelerated Accounting. It was available.

Marcus Neto: Oh, very cool. That was where you, when you said you were working for a firm, that was the firm that you were working for and then you just ended up buying it or ...

James Thomasson: It was Olson and Week's CPA firm that I worked for, and I bought Accelerated Accounting.

Marcus Neto: Okay, I misunderstood there.

James Thomasson: No problem. Yeah. Can I add something there?

Marcus Neto: Yeah, please.

James Thomasson: It was kind of interesting. All my brothers before me were entrepreneurs. I was working for the accounting firm and I went to a business broker and said, "Hey, I want to buy a business." They said, "Do you want a business you have to work in or one that you don't have to work in?" At first, I said, "Oh, hold on, wait, business I don't have to work in, I'll take that one." I ended up buying a laundromat.

Marcus Neto: Do you still own the laundromat or [inaudible 00:07:09].

James Thomasson: I don't launder money anymore, and that is a joke.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, exactly. That's accountant humor there for you.

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: No, I mean everybody thinks that when it comes to accounting, just go to school and then come out. Really accountants, if they're good, are business consultants of sorts, right? They're there to help you understand how to form a business, whether it's an [inaudible 00:07:38] an S Corp or whatever, and then keep you out of trouble.

James Thomasson: Right.

Marcus Neto: Right?

James Thomasson: That's right. A lot of accountants, tax preparers, bookkeepers, payroll processors, everyone in our field typically are reactive. They'll be working on last year's tax information, they'll be working on last month's bookkeeping, last week's payroll. As a proactive accountant, we like to consult with our clients to help them this year to save this year's tax money when we file the tax return next year. Because once the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, it's very, very difficult. Only a few things you can do to go back to the previous year to save money on tax liability. Again, we help business owners increase their wealth by decreasing their tax liability.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's interesting because most people don't think about those kinds of things. The truth is once you start making some money, you need to either be investing that money into other assets that will generate more money and are tax shelters or figuring something out, because I mean you can spend an enormous amount of money in taxes, which not a big deal. We all need to pay them. I don't like them anymore than anybody else does, but ...

James Thomasson: I don't mind paying my fair share, but I don't want to pay more.

Marcus Neto: Don't want to pay extra, yeah.

James Thomasson: Right, that's right.

Marcus Neto: Especially the way that they manage the money up there.

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: Now do you remember, I guess you do because you actually told that story because I normally ask, do you remember the first time that you prepared somebody's taxes? Well, you had that experience on your own taxes, so there's no sense in that. Now if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's one bit of wisdom that you would impart with them?

James Thomasson: Well, I'd get them to first figure out what their goal is. Once they get their goal established, then they need a plan to get to that goal. My brother says that, and it may have come from somewhere else, a goal without a plan is just a dream. I'd highly recommend a book, E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, unbelievable book for someone who is a technician in a business that thinks that they can do the business better than the previous owner that they worked for.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. We talk about that on almost every episode. I love that you're mentioning it because I think I mentioned it even earlier today with one of the other guests. I give copies of that away to folks.

James Thomasson: Perfect. Awesome. Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, because I actually really do like that book.

James Thomasson: My staff, I have 11 members on my full-time team, and they read it or listen to it on audio from time to time.

Marcus Neto: Any books or podcasts, people or organizations besides E-Myth that have been helpful in moving you forward?

James Thomasson: Well, in high school and before, I was definitely an introvert. I like to stay to myself. I didn't like to talk to other people, but owning a business, that'll take you out of your comfort zone. Getting involved with a chamber or getting involved with a networking group, getting involved with the community is very helpful. Sometimes we learn by mistakes. We do it, we make a mistake, we regroup and do it better the next time. Certainly my philosophy is to be a student of your game. Whatever your game is, be a student of that game, learn everything you can about that game.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, for sure. Be the expert.

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: The professional.

James Thomasson: By far, yeah.

Marcus Neto: Just switching gears real quick because I know we both have this love of Mobile. I mean you've mentioned that a couple of times to me, and I know that you're involved in the business community and stuff like that. What do you see happening in Mobile right now as far as from a business standpoint goes? Is there anything that you have identified as, hey, we're heading in this direction or we're going in that direction or, I don't know, just open forum for you to ...

James Thomasson: Growing up in Mobile, kind of a small town, the small big town or the big small town, whichever way you'd like to look at it, we have had a... And I don't know if it's a stigma or whatever the case may be, but we're searching for our identity here in Mobile. We're kind of like New Orleans, we're kind of like Jacksonville, we're kind of like a lot of different places. To me, we're struggling to have our own identity.

Now [inaudible 00:12:07] is kind of our identity and several things. We have a nice port, but I see the City of Mobile growing outside of that small town feel a little bit to where there are more opportunities here in Mobile and where we can make things happen. I mean Airbus is a prime example. I think the mayor is in London right now at the air show. Airbus took a position where Boeing failed. Boeing chose Mobile to build the Dreamliner. Because whether you're in favor of unions or not, it's not subject here, but the union kind of nixed that because Alabama was such a non-union state and they pulled it and put it back up in Seattle.

Airbus took their research basically and said, "Okay, we want to locate in Mobile, Alabama." Airbus came in and they've been very successful. They've worked on, I think, their second line, maybe even working on the third line now. I see Airbus being a big transition force, but one of the things that took place too is the steel mill up in Calvert really helped as well. We're kind of growing out of that small town mentality, blue blood [inaudible 00:13:25].

Marcus Neto: The city of perpetual potential.

James Thomasson: Right, exactly. Old timers talk about the Brookley Field complex closing down and things of that nature. I'm not familiar with all that, was before my time, but Mobile has a lot of potential. We've got the port, we've got interstate system, got the potential with an airport, international airport.

Marcus Neto: I'm not disagreeing with you at all with all those things. I would add one thing to it. I think the thing that Mobile has going for it is the attitude of the people that live here.

James Thomasson: I agree.

Marcus Neto: One of the things that we talk about on a regular basis on the podcast is this number that the chamber throws around of 27 or 30,000 micro businesses in Mobile. Chances are that if you went to other towns of similar size, you wouldn't find near that number of micro businesses. I think there's something mentally in the people here that they like starting business, there's an entrepreneurial spirit here. I don't know.

I have for the longest time felt like there was this kind of undercurrent, this bubbling undercurrent of people that were starting businesses and doing really cool things and that it's just a matter of time before the people that have had all the business in Mobile, before they release all of us to whatever is next as far as the business community goes. Right? I don't know what that looks like, but I feel like very strongly that we're on the precipice of something.

James Thomasson: Well, I do agree with you as far as the mentality. In between when I first started my tax practice, it was tax practice to begin with and that's very seasonal, of course, I started, I don't know why I did, but I started a communications company. I grew it from zero one pager, if you guys remember pagers, to a $4 million company. Now I'd bought a couple of locations in Pensacola. I can tell you in that industry I learned that Mobile was the 100th largest market in America.

A lot of larger companies would do testing in Mobile of their products because of the mentality of the people here. If you could make it in Mobile, Alabama, you could make it anywhere in the country. Having a location in Mobile, having a location in Pensacola, I saw it firsthand the difference between how much money was spent in Pensacola versus Mobile. Again, I just think it's a mentality issue. My brother lives in Houston, Texas. If you want to go get a good breakfast, you drive 45 minutes and spend $50 for a breakfast. Mobile, if you have to drive more than two miles and spend more than $12, they have a problem with it. I don't know what that mentality, how to fix that mentality.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, I get that. Well, what's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?

James Thomasson: People. My employees are really the most important thing in my business. I have this philosophy that I'm not really an accounting practice. I'm not really an accounting business. I want an accounting enterprise. In order to have an accounting enterprise, and I'll tell you the difference in just a moment, I have to have good people in the right places. I believe as, I can't remember who said it, but have the right people on my bus in the right seats.

An accounting practice is me having a practice, me doing the work, me maybe having someone answer the phone and everything passes by my desk before it goes out the door. Accounting business is where you have other accountants, other preparers working on things and they can put out work as well, but I still have the one location. I have four locations and I consider that an enterprise to where I can't be in four locations at one time.

I have to rely on my staff. I have to have the right staff in the right places to make things happen for me and my company, not just for me, but for our clients and our employees. Having the right people in the right places, being trustworthy, they don't have to be the smartest, they have to be the most willing. If I hire someone to prepare taxes, I want the person that's willing to learn how to prepare taxes and keep learning how to do the next tax strategy, the next deduction.

Marcus Neto: Somebody that's hungry for that knowledge too. Right? You were saying never stop learning, be the best that you can. It sounds like you're very much like me, in that I want to hire people that are just as hungry for that knowledge as I am.

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: Right?

James Thomasson: Right now in our current economy, it's difficult to hire and keep good people. I don't have that issue because my average employee has been with me for 10 and a half years. I have 11 employees, and two over 20 years, one right at 30 years. They were with the companies when I bought them, and one was with the previous company for eight years. Another one was with the previous company for five years and have stayed with me from '95 and another from 2007. Giving them the environment to succeed and do more, and this is the plaque that they gave me one year, is to inspire them to do more than they ever thought they could do on their own.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, for sure. Good leadership does that, makes people rise up to their greatest potential. Well, here's the hardest question I'm going to ask you all day. How do you like to unwind?

James Thomasson: I enjoy traveling. I enjoy nice glass of red wine, Merlot, and just relaxing, spending time with family, traveling to [inaudible 00:19:38] or out of the country. I really enjoy traveling.

Marcus Neto: Where is your favorite place that you've been in maybe last year or so?

James Thomasson: In the last year?

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

James Thomasson: In the past year I guess we went to Yellowstone. Yeah. That was before the flooding and things of that nature, and so we got to see more the ...

Marcus Neto: Old Faithful?

James Thomasson: Yeah. Old Faithful [inaudible 00:20:07].

Marcus Neto: The geysers and stuff like that.

James Thomasson: I'm sorry. The geysers.

Marcus Neto: It's late in the afternoon, folks, we're searching for words.

James Thomasson: Saw more geysers in Wyoming and Yellowstone than I've [inaudible 00:20:17].

Marcus Neto: [inaudible 00:20:17] yeah.

James Thomasson: Yeah. After a while, it's like, "Oh there's another geyser. Oh there's another geyser."

Marcus Neto: That was like a few years ago, went to St. Thomas and we stayed on a boat for five days or something like that. The second day we were there, it was the first full day, we pulled into this cove and there were sea turtles everywhere. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I can't believe this. It's like a dream come true." By the fourth day it was like, "Oh yeah, another sea turtle."

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: It's like because they are everywhere.

James Thomasson: The point of diminished return.

Marcus Neto: Exactly. Well, listen, it has been great having you on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

James Thomasson: Yeah, let's see. I appreciate you inviting me on and you guys will have a little bump in your ratings.

Marcus Neto: In the ratings.

James Thomasson: It's always good to have an accountant with a little bit of sense of humor. Right [inaudible 00:21:10].

Marcus Neto: There you go. The Accelerated Accounting bump in ratings.

James Thomasson: That's right.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

James Thomasson: Yeah, when I first met you and I think the first time I ever met you was at a business expo, and we have some common friends and business associates and, okay, that guy right there loves Mobile and he has the passion that I have. It really works out.

Marcus Neto: No, I appreciate you saying that. I mean it's one of the things that's been difficult is not being from here, but I have a real appreciation for this area, for the culture, for the people. I don't know, I mean it's home now. If I'm going to live here, I want it to be the best place that I can possibly be and I want to be a positive force for that change.

James Thomasson: Well, we can either be part of the problem or solve the problems. I mean one of the two.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, I'd like to be part of the solutions, and that's what this podcast is. It's really just kind of a way for me to share positive stories about business owners. We've had stories about people moving back to Mobile because of things that they've learned on this podcast. We've had a number of people say that they left their jobs and started businesses because things that they thought were never possible before were shown to them to be possible through this podcast. I make kind of light of this at times, but the truth is that the reason why I keep doing this is because I know that it's making a difference in this area.

James Thomasson: That's awesome.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. I appreciate you saying that. James, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you, man.

James Thomasson: Thank you.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

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