Intern to CEO: Lessons Learned Along the Way – Be Flexible

At BerganKDV, we call our CEO, Dave Hinnenkamp, the Accidental Accountant. Way back in the 8th grade, Dave procrastinated on a homework assignment about careers. So, he grabbed the first job at the top of the assignment list—accountant— and got the paper turned in. As the story goes, this assignment set Dave on a path that led to him earning an accounting degree and an internship at BerganKDV. In fact, he was the first intern BerganKDV ever had.

Throughout his career, Dave has learned a lot of lessons along the way. This is the first in a series of five blog posts where Dave shares tips that helped him during his journey from Intern to CEO at BerganKDV.

#1: Be flexible.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my first day on the job at what was then KDV and I was the firm’s first intern. I wake up to a blizzard on the Monday after Thanksgiving. I mean a good old Minnesota blizzard. I quickly shovel my way out of what seemed like a football length driveway and hit the road, worried that I will be late on my very first day. I roll up at the office in St. Cloud and there was one other guy who braved the elements to show up. On his snowmobile. He handed me a shovel, and my first task was to clear off the sidewalk in front of our office.

Fast forward three years, I am now a young staff accountant, still willing to do whatever needs to be done to not only help the firm, but let’s be honest, to help my chances of getting promoted. One of the primary partners approaches me and says, “Well, how about moving to Princeton to work in our office there?” I say, “Well, sure, when?” “Today,” was the reply. Not exactly the location or timing I had in mind, but I jumped in my really nice white Camaro and took off.

Next thing I know, I find myself in rural Minnesota in my three-piece suit confidently introducing myself to the guy who was running the Princeton office, Keith Julson, who was wearing a casual flannel and a friendly smirk across his face.

Keith, who would soon become a dear friend and mentor, gave me a second look and politely shared that we were heading on assignment to a long-standing manufacturing client to count inventory.

Count inventory?? Yes, suit and all, I found myself crawling around a warehouse of boxes, wondering what I had gotten myself into. And yes, Keith still teases me about it to this day.

Shoveling snow and counting inventory in a three-piece suit was just the first of many, many times when I would find myself outside my comfort zone and questioning my relativity.  And each time – I found myself thankful for the experience and the growth that ensued because of it.

Lesson learned: BE FLEXIBLE. Sometimes you will be asked to do stuff that is out of your comfort zone or outside what you pictured your career to look like. That’s OK. Seize the opportunity and make the best of it. You might find out years later that it is just what needed to happen to launch your career.

In this situation, I was afforded the opportunity on my first day to work alongside a successful partner that I could learn so much from. In hindsight, without this experience, the mentor relationship that was formed where skills like critical thinking, efficiency, and the importance of mastering the fundamentals may not have happened. Together, we grew our client bases, career paths and our relationship; a relationship rooted in support and honesty that would allow us to count on each other when we needed help.

Keith has since retired after a successful career at the firm and I am now the CEO. We are still personal friends who share a love for sports, especially baseball.

Want to learn more? Watch for my next blog post about embracing new technology.

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