Balancing football, family and filing deadlines

Andrea Johnson - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

It meant hours in a car, some of them spent doing tax returns, but accountant Andrea Johnson wasn’t going to miss a second of her son’s college football career.

Even when ESPN dictated a few weekday games for his team, the Bowling Green Falcons of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“That became the real challenge,” said Johnson, a partner in the Dauphin County-based accounting firm of Martin M. Sacks & Associates CPA.

Luckily, she had plenty of practice balancing work and kids.

Johnson has been a working parent since she first entered accounting.

When she joined the Baltimore office of Coopers & Lybrand after graduating from college in 1995, her professional peers were largely single and childless. She was newly married and a new mother.

“I was definitely an oddity in that setting,” Johnson said.

Even though Coopers was trying to fashion a family-friendly environment, Johnson had to ask for the flexibility she needed to balance the demands of home and office, Johnson said. An older colleague, also a working mother, told Johnson it was OK to push back, to make managers hold to their promises.

And ask Johnson did. “I was pretty comfortable with it,” she said, noting that she worked hard and never asked for anything she considered unreasonable.

Now a leader at Martin M. Sacks & Associates, Johnson, 45, has been the one setting an example for younger workers in a field still known for long hours and longer weeks. She joined the firm in 2000.

She actively discourages employees from working on Sundays. “They usually get an earful from me if they don’t have a good excuse,” Johnson said.

Working the sidelines

For the last four years, Johnson had a pretty good reason to avoid the office on weekends, at least in the fall. Her son, Matthew, 23, played quarterback for Bowling Green, a Division I team in the Mid-American Conference.

Johnson didn’t miss a single game of her son’s college career, which ended last season. Not even bowl games. “All my clients loved following Bowling Green for four years, too,” she said.

Johnson, her husband, Michael, and their daughter, Kylie, 14, had the drill down pat. They would leave the Harrisburg area around 3 p.m. on Fridays, head to wherever the game was going to be played, spend an hour with Matthew that night, watch the game on Saturday, see him again afterward, eat breakfast on Sunday and then make the trip in reverse.

While it meant hours on the road, the time was not spent looking out the windows.

“I’ve reviewed jobs, I’ve done tax returns, I’ve done client calls, all while driving in the car,” Johnson said, adding that her daughter did homework.

The logistics were more complicated for weekday games. Kylie stayed with grandparents so as not to miss school.

But Johnson said she herself never once thought about not being there for her son, who began playing football when he was 8.

Today, she strives to make sure her firm’s employees can make similar commitments.

To accommodate employees, Martin M. Sacks offers flexible start times and managers are willing to customize schedules. Technology, meanwhile, allows more work to be done at home, usually after children go to sleep or before they wake up in the morning

It’s something she knows younger workers expect even if they don’t have small children waiting for them at the end of the workday.

“Work is not the first priority for their lives, so you have to show them they can still achieve professionally,” Johnson said.

Joel Berg
Joel Berg is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Northern Virginia and now living in York, he's a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and the University of Maryland. Have a question or story idea? Email him at jberg@cpbj.com.

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