11 Questions with Joan Sue West

joan head shot

Traditionally, I work with entrepreneurs who are well-known subject matter experts (SMEs) in their respective fields. However, not all SMEs are famous. As a matter of fact, my favorite SME, my mentor, is not famous at all, but she has prevailed in her field, nonetheless. Joan Sue West has been a “Jane of all trades” throughout her career. At 70+, she is still going strong as the Account Manager for Mutual Builders, Inc. and continues to hold her own in today’s business market.




You are the account manager for Mutual Builders, Inc. What are your responsibilities in that position?

My beginning responsibilities in 2003 were to set up the general ledger, payroll, plus assist in the setup of the computer system (server/client) and run and maintain the computer system. My ongoing responsibilities consist of maintaining the general ledger (the complete accounting system using The Construction Manager (TCM)), which includes preparing all necessary year-end reports, excel spreadsheets, and any other documentation necessary to be given to the CPA for the yearly tax return. I do and maintain payroll for a 10 to 12 person company using QuickBooks and Excel spreadsheets, including all quarterly and year-end government reporting. As my responsibilities have grown and expanded over time, I now just oversee the computer system with the aid of an outside computer service company.

What did you do prior to working for Mutual Builders, Inc, and how did that prepare you to take on the job of account manager?

I have had many different positions in my career. Data processing:  clerical, key punch operator; finish cloth inspector in manufacturing; worked with my appraiser husband (clerical, key reports, payroll, various general office work), who did ad valorem tax counseling. We would gather a random sample from the register of deeds, collect the corresponding tax data from the tax assessor office, and have the level of assessment statistically proven for that particular county, so our system client(s) (who were assessed at 100% every year) would have recourse to have their level of assessment lowered accordingly. Administrative assistant to the Director of Internal Audit for Golden Corral (home office), learned so much regarding auditing, how systems work and fit together and much, much more. Executive Secretary to the President of Regency Development, learned a lot about people and being in the right place, at the right time!

Mutual Builders, Inc. is a privately owned construction company. Many people would be surprised to know that the company recently owned a restaurant—Bistro on 3rd. How did crunching the numbers for the restaurant differ from crunching the numbers for the parent company?

Crunching the numbers were far easier for our construction company than for the restaurant. The restaurant, because of the type of business, had many more hands “in the till” than the construction business. Which made it more prone to error, harder to control/run and impossible to be profitable. And I am not addressing any thievery; that was not in the picture. It is a much harder business to run that needs daily on-hands expertise. First, the restaurant was bought on a whim! It was bought by owners that being restaurateurs was not their main focus. They just hoped to break even. But the owners were out a certain amount of monies on the personal taxes anyway. They were either going to give the monies to the taxing entities or they could spend the corresponding monies in a restaurant that would never be profitable but would be a really nice place to eat, do all nature of community-oriented activities and community good-will. Which would be good for them and good for their community. So, we had the restaurant business for 6 years. And, just like it was bought, it was sold on a whim, too! Someone approached the owners, and so it was sold. In shutting the restaurant, I called the NC Employment Security to close our unemployment account. The person asked long we had been in business. I said 6 years. She said wonderful. The average restaurant is only 2 years. Interesting tidbit!

Let’s talk spreadsheets. Some would say you are a wiz at creating them. How does using spreadsheets benefit the business?

Spreadsheets help to display the data in a different manner, parse the data so a new perspective can be shown, and a large amount of data can be viewed in a concise usable format. It can also be used as a control measure to make sure that the numbers being used are accurate.

In the current course I am enrolled in, Entrepreneurial Feasibility Analysis, we are learning about income statements, charts of accounts, balance sheets, etc. Do you use these in your current position, and, if so, how do you use them?

Charts of accounts form the backbone of our account system. Each account captures the necessary data that is needed to supply the various individual reports, these accounts roll up to the balance sheet and income statement. The balance sheet and income statement, along with other needed documentation, are used to send to our bonding company, other entities that need to know our financial strengths and the CPA for the year-end tax returns, year-end insurance audit that I do and our mid-term audit that our CPA does for our bonding company. When it is time for the appropriate reporting, I make sure that all the necessary, corresponding documents are sent to the CPA for his review and reporting. As the owners do not believe in borrowing and are extremely savvy in how their business model is run financially, I do not have to do certain in-depth accounting that is necessary in other businesses. I am blessed!

Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about mentors. You have been my go-to person for business advice for many years now. You have a very broad knowledge base about how a business should and should not be run. Can you tell me about your mentor(s) and how working with others helped shape you into the business savvy woman you are today?

I have had many people, both male and female, that have crossed my path and enriched my life and business knowledge base. I have listened to my mentors and taken their pearls of wisdom to heart and applied their knowledge to mine. From this process, you will collect a portfolio of experiences, knowledge and stories that you, in turn, will be able to pass onto others.

What do you view as your greatest setback and what did you learn from that experience?

I view my greatest setbacks were my own ignorance and inexperience. I set about learning and growing from each experience. From each experience, I developed a better, happier more complete life.

What motivates you to keep going when things get tough?

God and those I love! I try to lead by example!

What is non-negotiable for you?

Giving up! Letting go is different from giving up!

If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently as far as your career is concerned?

Nothing! Not everyone can say that they have keyed on a Remington Rand with stops and latches, punch card machine. Hint: It was before IBM key punch machines.

What is the best piece of advice to you have to offer the entrepreneurs of the future?

If you want to be successful, be able to manage your time, self and employees wisely! It is a learned skill. Know, use and apply business accounting practices correctly. When you are developing your skill/specialty, learn and apply standard business practices and rules and accounting.


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