Podcast Episode 8: What to Expect - Leadership Conference

DHG is excited to host its 5th Annual Leadership Conference for college students in Charleston, SC. This invitation only event is a great way to jump start your career with leadership lessons, networking events and lots of fun. In this podcast, Courtney Thomas, Director of Campus Recruiting Strategies, shares insider info on exciting things planned for 2016! 


AGH: Hello, I'm Alice Grey Harrison, your host. And today I am here with Courtney Thomas, our Director of Campus Recruiting Strategies and my very good friend. Courtney, today I wanna talk about our leadership conference. Can you tell me a little bit about what the leadership conference is?

CT: Thank you Alice Grey. We always appreciate the opportunity to come speak with you about our very exciting leadership conference. Five years ago we hosted our first leadership conference. We were lucky enough to be able to work with our executive committee to set up a very spectacular agenda, which would include having paid professional speakers, and we felt like that was a very important aspect of actually hosting a leadership conference. It was and is our goal to NOT have a three day advertisement about DHG. Although, what would be more exciting than hearing about DHG for three days straight?! But we felt like it was really important to give students additional exposures and time to network, as well as learn more about leadership skills that will be important to them as they develop their careers within public accounting.

AGH: Right, absolutely. So how many people apply and how many attend?

CT: Okay, well this year we've had more than 650 applications.

AGH: Woah!

CT: A lot! We narrow those 650 down to around 90 students, between 90 and 95 will attend this year's conference. It's coming up in May — May 10th through the 12th in Charleston, South Carolina and we are really excited about hosting our fifth annual leadership conference in just a few weeks.

AGH: Wow. Well I can't believe it's already been five years. It feels like just yesterday we hosted our first one. I know that a lot of firms do leadership conferences all over the country. What makes ours different?

CT: I think one of the main things, Alice Grey, that makes ours different is the location in Charleston. Charleston for many, many years has been voted the most hospitable city in the US, and we stay at the Mills House Hotel, which is a great location in the peninsula of Charleston - near the market, the Battery; we have great restaurant space; we have great shopping. We try to give the leadership conference participants some free time to explore, and there are countless things that they can do within a couple of minutes of the hotel. And, even better, we don't have to worry because Charleston is a really safe environment.

AGH: That's terrific. And so I've heard that one of the other things that makes the conference very different is our speakers. We do a lot of research to bring in national speakers to help us develop our students. Talk to me a little bit about our speakers.

CT: We spend a lot of time researching paid professional speakers. It's not about who I want to hear, it's really about who these college students want to hear. And so we spend a lot of time in focus groups trying to figure out who would motivate them to learn about leadership skills. And so we're lucky enough to have with us again Scott Greenberg who will talk about elevating performance with an optimal mindset. He is a really positive speaker. He kicks us off, he does some ice breaker activities and he really helps set the tone for the rest of the conference. We're on the verge of signing a contract with the Boston Marathon survivor. She's actually a physician that lost limbs in the Boston Marathon massacre and is very motivational about the things in life that you can go through and how to come out being okay and being successful and being a leader and still being who you are a-not letting a tragedy define your life. And so we're really excited about her.

AGH: Yeah.

CT: And then we also have a guy out of Charlotte, North Carolina named Daryl Bellamy and he's going to speak about living life fearlessly and not being afraid of making mistakes. And we all make them, we all can't hide from our mistakes. Just put them in a closet, shut the door, and then open yourself up to more positive outcomes when you're not letting your life be ruled by fear.

AGH: Awesome. Well I can't wait to hear all of those speakers. I know every year that I'm fortunate enough to attend, I always walk away feeling really inspired. And our CEO will speak- I'm always inspired no matter how often I hear him speak, as well as some of our other partners. It sounds like it's going to be a really great year. So we have a lot of Dixon Hughes Goodman partners, managers, associates come to the conference to get to know the students and give them a glimpse of life at DHG. And I know that we usually do a really special dinner somewhere. Can you give me a hint as to where that dinner's going to be this year?

CT: You are exactly right Alice Grey. We keep a really tight ratio. We will end up probably with around 40 or so Dixon Hughes Goodman partners through associates there. So we basically have a two to one ratio of participants to DHG employees and that is really important because that's probably higher than any other firm. And so that gives them a chance to get to know people at all levels within our firm and gives them a really good glimpse as to what DHG is all about. But, the evening of a very exciting dinner this year is the first time ever we are hosting it on the USS Yorktown. So we'll be out, weather permitting, on the flight deck enjoying some cool tunes with a DJ and we're going to have some dance teachers there, some professional dance teachers to help people that may be are not comfortable shaking their booty!

AGH: Like me!

CT: You’ll get a chance to learn some new moves!!! And so we're very excited about an evening of great fun— it's always catered by one of our clients in Charleston and they do an awesome job with the food. We're really excited becuase a lot of us have never been on the USS Yorktown. Dinner on the flight deck, in the Charleston harbor, how can you even beat that?

AGH: I know, seriously. I can't wait to tweet some pictures and share with others -what a cool evening. I hope I get invited. Okay, so another great thing about the conference is community service. I always, always look forward to this. Are we going do that again this year?

CT: We sure are. Community service is so important to this age group and it's very important to Dixon Hughes Goodman as well. We will go to the Lowcountry Food Bank, which serves about 10 counties along the coastal region of the Carolinas. And our event always follows the US Postal Service food drive. So on Saturdays when you get the plastic bag on your doorstep, well probably on Friday, and it says to leave food for the postal workers on Saturday, that food ends up at a local food bank. And so all the food for Charleston ends up at the Lowcountry Food Bank and they are in desperate need to have really big groups come in and help sort their food. And so it is a really good bonding experience because people can still talk while they are sorting food. And so they get to network but also it really does help the food bank to have a group of our size come in for multiple hours and help really push around a lot of cans of food and get it organized for them.

AGH: Oh fantastic. I always look forward to that. It's so much fun and it's hard to believe how much food we actually do move every year. Alright, so before we wrap up, I have to ask you this question: you've done this now, this'll be five years, what are you most excited about?

CT: I think the most exciting part for me is to actually watch all the groups start getting together on the very first evening. We set up different groups based on the cities where students think they want to intern. And we set them up in these group dinners to go to various restaurants around Charleston and within walking distance from the hotel. And so they can laugh, and have fine food, and have a wonderful dining experience but also learn a lot about Dixon Hughes Goodman in a very small intimate setting so that they can get their feet wet so that they'll be much more comfortable the rest of the conference. Over the years we've found that this is one of our favorite events, and it's one of the students’ favorite events by the end of the conference too. It truly helps set the tone for what to expect for the next couple of days.

AGH: Oh good. I always look forward to those fun dinners as well and always look forward to trying new Charleston restaurants. Well it sounds like there's some great planning that's been done for the conference, and I absolutely will put you on the spot, please can I come?

CT: Yes, we would not imagine having an event without fun Alice Grey Harrison on the list, so yeah you are invited!!!!

AGH: Oh good. Okay well you heard it here folks, I'm going to the leadership conference and I look forward to seeing many of you there, students who are invited, and thanks for listening to our podcast. We'll be back another day.

CT: Alright, thank you Alice Grey for the opportunity. We appreciate it.

AGH: Thanks Courtney.

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