Walter Koziol, 66, is a 30-year resident of Highland Township who has just been appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on the Michigan Humanities Council Board of Directors. Koziol is a certified public accountant (CPA) who is the president of his own consulting firm, WJK Ltd., in Highland after previously serving as an audit partner with BDO Seidman. He is no stranger to public service as he also currently serves on the finance, audit and legislative advisory committees of the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants, of which he is the former chairman. Koziol is also the chairman of the Southeastern Regional Advisory Board of Hospice of Michigan, and is on the Advisory Board for Sweet Dreamzzz. In addition, he has also previously served as the treasurer for the Chamber Music Society of Detroit and as chairman for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Detroit. He has been married to his wife, Jeannie, for over 30 years. Now, Koziol looks to bring his wealth of experience to the Humanities Council, which awards grants for public humanities and cultural programs, in addition to conducting projects, collaborations and partnerships to build stronger communities. For more information, visit michiganhumanities.org.
You were recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Michigan Humanities Council. Tell us how you became involved with the council and what do you look to contribute to it?
WK: Well, I got involved primarily through my other activities. I’ve previously served on the executive committee of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. I’m currently involved with the Hospice of Michigan. I chair the Southeast Regional Advisory Board of (Hospice of Michigan) and I’m on the advisory board there. My position (with the council) is a governor-appointed position. I believe there are five or six appointees to this board. It’s a 25-person board, (and) the rest of the board (is) appointed through the organization itself.
My background has kind of been in this area of working with the humanities and the public, so that’s what I want to continue doing with this group. I’m not sure how the (selection) process worked, if it was an applicant process or not, but it meant a lot to me because it was a recognition of the work I’ve done there. I’m also a CPA (and) I know (Gov. Rick Snyder) is a CPA and our organization, the Michigan Association of CPAs, has been very involved with the turnaround and working with the governor and his staff and helping with that, so that’s how I got involved with that.
In addition, you’ve also served on the advisory boards for organizations including Hospice of Michigan and Sweet Dreamzzz. Where does your passion for serving come from and how do you find the time to fit these duties in your schedule?
WK: Well, I retired early about 10 years ago from BDO Seidman thinking that I was just going to do something different. I didn’t really think I was retiring, which I wasn’t.
I just always thought that I’ve been treated very well throughout my life. I’ve received a lot of good things. My family came not being very wealthy at all. Both of my parents worked on the line in the automotive and the computer industry, and I was able to go to college and I did fine. And so I just felt that it was up to me to give back a little bit.
My mother right now is in hospice care, so I’m really appreciative of what they do and I really have a full recognition of all the work they do. They’re pretty incredible people that work in hospice, so when you see that, you just say, “I have to be able to give back something.” My financial background has come in handy, working on finance committees and audit committees with these organizations
Tell us about your company, WJK Ltd., and how it provides assistance to growing and/or troubled companies? How has the struggling economy impacted your company, both in its own business and how it advises other companies how to do business?
WK: Basically, it’s just a consulting firm. Typically my clients would be smaller, closely-held businesses that are looking to either expand or have difficulties continuing to sustain themselves. So what I’ll do is come and just analyze what’s going on and make recommendations and work with them, as well.
The other aspect of it, especially with closely-held businesses, is the issue of succession planning. We get involved with working with different generations that are working in a business. A father and a mother will found a business and as they continue on, children get involved and there’s a natural progression to transition that business over to the children in some way and some time and it’s not always easy. Parents don’t always want to let go or allow kids to make mistakes, which they have to do to grow, but that’s pretty much what I’m involved with.
In terms of the economy, the economy is just very, very tough. Business is just tight and everybody’s got to look and see what they’re doing. They monitor how they’re doing it, how they can grow their business, if they can grow. Many of them are just trying to maintain, and so we just try to help them realize that and understand that because very often, especially if you have a family-run business, it’s not always run as a business. You’re making sure everybody’s fully employed, but sometimes a business can’t sustain itself doing that, so that is a recognition that we have and help them understand. I’ve been in business for 10 years since I’ve retired, it’s definitely (tougher now than it was 10 years ago).
After you graduated from the University of Detroit with your bachelor’s degree, what were your ultimate goals and what did you ultimately want to achieve? Did you always aspire to be an accountant growing up? If not, at what point did you decide to shift gears to that field?
WK: I graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Detroit. I wanted to become a CPA, which I did and I also aspired to become a partner in a CPA firm, which I ultimately did as well with an international firm, BDO Seidman.
So I achieved that and I felt good about it. I loved going to work every day and I never really considered it (work). I guess it’s just part of when you know you’ve found your niche. That kind of is an example of that, so I achieved that and I decided after a while it was time to move on and do something else.
Actually, at that particular time when I retired that year, I became chair of the Michigan Association of CPAs. It’s a one-year term, which for the association covers all CPAs of Michigan throughout the entire state. And that experience kind of helped me with the Michigan Humanities Council as well, because the Humanities Council has programs that go throughout the entire state, Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula, etc.
Also when I was about to retire, I became the chairman of the Board of the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit. So that was also a wonderful experience and again, you want to situations that can either break your heart or make your heart sink. You need to spend some time at a Ronald McDonald House and see the families there. It deals with families of sick children, not necessarily the children themselves, but the families. So, when you’re around it, after a while it just kind of sinks in.
Actually, I was going to become a dentist. I made it through half of the first semester in college realizing that it was not for me, and so I proceeded to get an extremely low grade point average that first semester. I was always interested in numbers and I kind of thought erroneously that numbers would be the key to accounting, so I talked to the dean of the business school and he agreed to give me a shot. So I went into the accounting program and I loved it and it’s much more than numbers — it’s analytics, it’s logic, it’s projections. It’s a lot more information than just doing numbers.
Another interesting fact that we learned is that you previously served as the treasurer of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. Tell us how you became involved with that organization and how you first discovered chamber music?
WK: I first discovered it through becoming treasurer. A client of mine was very involved with that and the organization was struggling. The client said to the incoming president, “You know, I think you need a treasurer who is a CPA. Let me talk to Walt, he’s my CPA.”
And so I spoke to the president and I indicated to the president that I’d be willing to help out with the financial end, the budgeting and projections, etc. that they needed to have done, but I warned them that I felt like I don’t know that much about chamber music.
As a matter of fact, I grew up working my way through high school and college in a rock ‘n’ roll band at weddings and parties, so for me, the (Chamber Music Society) was a wonderful learning experience. That’s the way I looked at it. Every single piece that I heard and every single concert was pretty much new to me. So whereas I would talk other people on the board, they’d say they were looking forward to this concert and I’d just say that’s new to me. So it was always a new experience, every concert I went to. I guess I brought a little different perspective to it than they had in the past.
I shouldn’t say (I played in a) rock band. I guess it was a wedding band. We just played for weddings and parties on weekends, that’s all. But I was with the same group of guys for about 10 years, so we got pretty good, but we weren’t going to make a living out of it.
I play keyboard. I still fool around with a couple of bands. We just get together and jam in somebody’s basement. We do old time rock ‘n’ roll: Bob Seger, Tom Petty, The Doors and some more modern tunes like Green Day, but that’s just stuff on the side. (I’m) trying to keep busy, trying to keep active. It’s not a problem keeping active. The band that I used to play with a long time ago was called The Escorts.
What do you enjoy the most about being a resident of Highland Township and how important is it to operate your business in the same township where you live?
WK: Well, it’s certainly convenient because I operate out of my home. In Highland, it’s just a wonderful place to live. When we moved out here, it was really not anywhere near as developed as it is now. M-59 was just a two-lane road when we were out here. There was no boulevard and most of this development that’s gone on subsequent was not there.
We live on a lake and the lake living part is wonderful. My wife and I keep talking about it. Even if we’re not out on the water, we get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and just look out at the lake. You see a few ducks floating by and birds flying by and it’s pretty incredible.
What goals do you have professionally for the future?
WK: My goals would be to help the organizations that I’m with. The Michigan Humanities Council and Hospice of Michigan are my two areas that I’m spending quite a bit of time with right now. As far as the Michigan Humanities Council goes, their mission is to connect people in the communities and foster and support cultural programs throughout the entire state. They’re a grant-awarding agency, so they’re available to give grants to communities for humanities and cultural programs. They give a series of different types of grants based on the dollars requested.
But, for the most part, (for) any organization that wants to make a grant request, there’s a requirement that the community has to match some funds. So in addition to the funds that we are able to grant to the communities, they are also raising funds locally and getting people and their organizations or their communities engaged in whatever they’re doing. So those are the things. My goals right are to see these organizations succeed and sustain themselves.