It's odd what people recall, but Jeff Westphal, 53, remembers staring at a chopping block in his kitchen when an insight hit him with such force that he changed his entire approach to business.
Westphal, chief executive of his family-owned, 900-employee tax software company, Vertex Inc., had come home on a Friday 18 years ago, enthusiastic about taking his family - including three kids, then all under age 6, on an impromptu family camping weekend.
His wife objected.
Casting her as a stick-in-the-mud, he began his usual approach - a mix of convincing and cajoling.
But, then, "I had this epiphany, over our chopping block, which is still in our kitchen today - this life-changing moment - where I realized that the reason she didn't want to run off to go camping for the weekend on a Friday afternoon with a minute's notice was because she was concerned about [our kids'] safety."
Question: I'm sure wives everywhere are applauding your change of heart, but how did that impact your business?
Answer: From that, I realized, "Oh my goodness, my whole company is operating with nobody really understanding anything about anybody." I changed as a leader in that instant and the company that exists today is an outgrowth of that moment.
Q: How so?
A: On Monday, I came back to work and rather than make the decisions that people were asking for, I started asking questions. "What is your purpose? What are we trying to achieve? What do other people think?" That led to two simple conclusions. One: Wow, think about a business where people did understand each other and how successful it could be. Two: Wouldn't people be happier and wouldn't it be a better place to work if people felt understood?
Q: What's new in taxes?
A: There is a regulation being implemented on a global basis, which will, for the first time, [require multinational companies] to disclose their entire global tax position to all countries in basically the same format. It's an unprecedented demand on these companies' tax departments and it's a thorny information technology problem.
Q: Why is it happening?
A: It's called CBC - country-by-country reporting. The purpose is so countries can feel confident that they are getting their fair share. What that means is corporations will have to be prepared to defend what they file.
Q: Do people's eyes glaze over at parties when you tell them that you are in the tax software business?
A: Socially, people are never interested in tax software, but they are always interested . . . [after a long pause] No, they are never interested in tax software. Let's just leave it at that. Never.
Q: How do you explain what Vertex does?
A: I say, "You know that sales tax at the bottom of your telephone bill? My company calculates that tax on 99 percent of the phone bills in the U.S." They are usually impressed.
Q: And then what?
A: Then, that's that, and they are on to the Eagles or whatever. There is no second question.
Q: Do you do your taxes?
A: Just because I lead a tax technology company doesn't mean I know much about tax or technology. I don't do any of my own taxes and I'm not even very good with my personal computing. My job is the workplace, so great people can do their work. I create the workplace. I don't write the software.
Title: Chief executive, co-owner, Vertex Inc.
Home: Newtown Square.
Family: Wife, Jenifer; children, Annie, 24, Kyle, 21, Jake, 19.
Diplomas: Conestoga High School, University of Richmond, history; George Washington University, one year of law school.
Resume: Started as an advertising agency account rep, joined Vertex at age 27.
Most influential book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
Why: It changed my life because I learned how to listen: Listen to that other person and while listening, imagine you are them. EndText
What: Develops corporate tax software, provides tax services.
History: Founded in 1978 by Ray Westphal.
Owners: Privately held by Ray's children, Jeff Westphal, Amanda Radcliffe, Stefanie Lucas.
Corporate symbol: Goose.
Clients: More than 10,000 firms, including Apple, Starbucks.
Employees: 900, 600 here. Hiring 250 by 2017.
2014 revenues: More than $185 million.
CEO Jeff Westphal on why everybody gets a sabbatical. www.philly.com/jobbing