From Accounting to Data Science: Meet Steve Anderson, Owner, RankSmarts
Steve Anderson started his career in accounting, building the type of solid foundation that enables one to succeed in a wide variety of business situations. He spent the early part of his career working in forensic accounting, at some of the most well known and largest employers in the world, while also (very impressively) traveling the world with his growing family. Despite the misperception that accountants are only data-driven, Steve is very in touch with his softer-skills and even got certified as an executive coach. More recently, he made a pivot and spends his time in the realm of entrepreneurship, SEO, and data science. Steve is a powerhouse of information and connecting with others to share his wealth of knowledge and advice. Learn more about Steve and his story below.
JF: You started your education and career in accounting. Why accounting?
Steve Anderson: I started college as an engineering student but decided to switch to business after my first year. One of my first business classes was an intro to accounting, taught by Norm Nemrow. He made accounting accessible, fascinating, and easy to understand. Accounting is the language of business, and I was able to see how essential it was for understanding business and making good decisions. Norm also has a fascinating backstory - he retired at the age of 30 after negotiating the sale of a business for a third of a billion dollars. After retiring, he decided to teach without compensation because he likes teaching. He inspired a lot of people to apply for the accounting program, which is consistently ranked as a top program in the country. It was a great foundation for a career in business.
"Accounting is the language of business, and I was able to see how essential it was for understanding business and making good decisions."
JF: I read on your LI profile that you were rejected from a sales job due to a personality assessment, and then you persuaded the manager to hire you anyways. How did you have the confidence to do such a thing?
SA: The summer sales job I was applying for came highly recommended by a trusted friend. I was really excited to take the job and willing to put in the work to be successful, but the company told me they didn’t think it was a good idea because I scored low on assertiveness in their assessment. I saw that as an opportunity to demonstrate the quality they claimed I was lacking, and persuaded them that I could be assertive when needed. They gave me the job and even called me after my first month to congratulate me for a solid month and admit that the assessment wasn’t a great predictor of success in my case.
"I witnessed firsthand how powerful the coaching model is at leading and engaging people, and a few years later I decided to get a coaching certification to help me continue to develop my skills in this area."
JF: You spent a decade working in forensic accounting in one of the big four accounting firms. In today’s age, that’s a long time, what kept you interested in the work and company?
SA: I love tackling new challenges, and working in forensics at PwC meant that I was always working on something new. I revel in the feeling of diving into a problem and industry that I know nothing about and then becoming an expert within a short time. I also had the opportunity to work in a few different offices with PwC (Washington, DC; San Francisco; London; and Bogota, Colombia), so even though it was ten years at one company, my experiences were pretty diverse.
JF: What is forensic accounting for people who may not know, and what kind of person is good at it?
SA: Forensic means connected with the courts of law. Forensic accounting relates to work that is part of current or anticipated litigation. The two main categories of work are commercial disputes and fraud investigations. For a commercial dispute, a forensic accounting partner would act as an expert witness, and I’d write an expert report setting out what we believed to be the most reasonable accounting treatment and calculations. I’d also help identify weaknesses in the opposing expert’s analysis. For a fraud investigation, I was a detective, using all available sources of information to find out who was involved in the fraud and how much money was stolen. With my team, I’d conduct interviews and comb through financial records, hard drives, emails, and desk files. All the analyses would be summarized in a written report. There are lots of skills that make a good forensic accountant, but attention to detail, critical thinking, and written and verbal communication skills are essential.
JF: In 2017, you also got certified as an executive coach. Why did you want to become a coach?
SA: When I was with PwC, I volunteered for a pilot program where we learned coaching skills and taught them to everyone else, to help coaching become integrated into the way we worked. I witnessed firsthand how powerful the coaching model is at leading and engaging people, and a few years later I decided to get a coaching certification to help me continue to develop my skills in this area. I do some coaching part-time now, and it’s some of the most rewarding work that I do.
JF: Do you think there’s a misperception that accounting requires mostly hard-skills vs. soft skills?
SA: Yes, and I think that’s true of any technical field. Technical skills are required as a baseline, but leaders in any field have a combination of hard and soft skills.
JF: Most recently in your career you started two companies in the SEO space, how does this work fit with your background?
SA: I find that my comfort with data analysis is one of my strongest competitive advantages. I built those skills in my career as a forensic accountant, and I’ve been able to use and develop them further as I’ve applied them to an entirely new domain, specifically SEO.
JF: Who are your favorite clients to work with?
SA: I like working with companies that I feel are making the world a better place. I also enjoy connecting with clients on a personal level. I’ve worked with some really high-profile clients, but at the end of the day we’re all just people, and connecting with other people feels good.
"I love building things and helping people, and data science is a way to build virtual things that help people make sense of the world and make better decisions."
JF: What have you been spending the majority of your time on during all this time at home during COVID?
SA: I’ve been taking my data analysis skills to the next level and learning more about data science. I’ve been brushing up on some statistics and learning programming. Specifically, I’ve been learning how to program in Python and many associated tools that help with machine learning analysis.
JF: What most excites you about the field of data science?
SA: I love building things and helping people, and data science is a way to build virtual things that help people make sense of the world and make better decisions. I’m also a geek at heart, and I can spend hours lost in programming and building models.
JF: Who are you most interested in connecting with right now?
SA: I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people understand the world of SEO. I’ve had discussions with a wide variety of people, from Chief Marketing Officers at large companies to brand new entrepreneurs. I don’t really care if I get any paid work out of it or not. It just feels good to provide value to others. You can book a free 20 minute SEO session on my website (https://ranksmarts.com).
Steve Anderson is a data geek, digital marketing guru, and executive coach. He spent 13 years working in forensic accounting at PwC and Walmart before founding two digital marketing companies focused on SEO. He currently lives in Bella Vista, Arkansas with his wife and four children. His personal interests include hiking, mountain biking, traveling, camping, signing, and finding board games that can maintain the interest of an adult and 5-year-old at the same time.