On Feb. 26, 2005, Kurt Schmidt went with family members to the Black Otter Supper Club in Milwaukee for his daughter’s 16th birthday dinner.
The restaurant had on its menu a challenge entrée: anyone who could eat the entire “Extreme Cut” steak would get it for free. For some reason, the challenge had been in effect for two years without a payoff. Why not, decided Schmidt, who today is CFO of the San Carlos Apache Tribal Gaming Enterprise. All he had to do was consume a 240-ounce slab of prime rib — a mere 15 pounds. On the plus side, there was no time limit.
He was about halfway through when he decided he’d had enough — until his daughter blew out the candles on her birthday cake then promptly spilled the wish she’d made: that Schmidt would finish off the meat. And so the dutiful dad did, two and a half hours after beginning. (A picture, left, shows him at that 2005 meal, ready to dig in.)
And thus was born a new hobby. Since then, Schmidt has been a frequent participant in eating competitions. He’s also appeared on episodes of the Travel Channel shows “Man Vs. Food” and “Big Beef Paradise,” another cable television channel, TasteTV, and local TV and radio programs. Another Milwaukee restaurant, Ward’s House of Prime, has a 128-ounce prime rib on its menu that’s named after him: “The Holy Schmidt.”
“I just love beef,” Schmidt says — perhaps a bit of an understatement.
Unlike the contestants at the well-known Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, held annually on July 4 at Coney Island, N.Y., Schmidt isn’t a speed eater. He did, though, once eat 48 ounces of meat in five minutes at a Prime Quarter Steak House. “For me, 48 ounces is an appetizer,” he says.
It may be difficult to imagine, but Schmidt is not a large man; he says he feels fine after his extreme-eating exploits; and he’s in good health. Noting that he follows the Atkins diet, he says, “As long as it doesn’t have carbs, you can eat as much as you want.”
Large slabs of meat aside, Schmidt has had an interesting career. He spent 20 years with Dental Associates, a builder of dental hospitals and provider of products and services for dentists. About the time he began feeling he needed a change, he saw an ad seeking a CFO for a tribal casino in Wisconsin Dells. “It sounded interesting, the ad didn’t say you needed gaming industry experience, my wife and I are both gamers, and I got the job and immediately fell in love with it,” he says.
He’s now in Arizona, working for his sixth tribal gaming enterprise. He’s moved with his wife each time, striking a stark contrast with his earlier career in the Milwaukee area. Tribal politics are typically in play, as a new tribal council generally is seated every two years and often the new leaders want to make changes.
But Schmidt says he loves the gaming industry because it’s a dynamic entertainment business, because it’s rewarding to see the economic benefits that casinos drive for tribes, and because each tribe is unique from a cultural standpoint. “It’s just fascinating,” he says.
(Editor’s note: Schmidt, like the other CFOs profiled below, entered a contest on the website of CBIZ, an accounting and professional services firm, for which they submitted a photo and description of their hobby. Site visitors vote for their favorite contestant. See coverage of prior years’ contestants here and here.)
Passion for Speed
Lynn Pace, finance chief at D.L. Withers Construction, a $150 million company that does general contractor work in Arizona, is consumed during her leisure hours with another gritty pursuit: drag racing. And yet she’s never raced a hot rod in her life.
It was back in 1978 that Pace began dating her future husband, Tim, and it wasn’t exactly a typical romance. He’d been consumed by the sport since he was 13. “He spent 90% of his free time drag racing,” Pace recalls. “We didn’t have your typical movie-type date night. We were actually engaged before we went out by ourselves even once. We were always in a group at the track, where we’d spend weekends camping.”
All these years later, Tim remains a competitive racer in mid-level, National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned events. Lynn is basically the pit crew. “That means I help load the car onto the trailer, tie it down, unload it, feed the driver, take pictures, and help out if work needs to be done on the car,” she says.
She also helps with strategy.
In the type of racing the Paces do — called “bracket racing,” in which cars are grouped by their speeds — each racer submits a speed, called the “dial-in time,” which is the fastest time the car can traverse the quarter-mile track. In any particular two-car heat, the car with the slower dial-in gets a head start equal to the difference between the cars’ dial-ins. If either car beats its dial-in, which is called “breaking out,” it’s disqualified.
It’s an interesting system. Racers don’t want to set a dial-in that’s either too fast or two slow. Say a car ran times of 15.6, 15.8, and 16.0 seconds in practice runs. Setting the dial-in at the fastest time, 15.6, is risky because the car may not run that fast in the actual race, and it either gives the car a lesser head start or gives the opposing car a greater head start, whichever the case may be. Setting the dial in at the slowest time, 16.0, is problematic too, as it increases the chance that the car will be disqualified for breaking out.
The winner is the car that gets to the finish line first (unless it breaks out), but the dial-in strategy plays a big part.
“It’s not just about speed,” says Pace. “It’s about knowing your machine and factoring in everything from altitude to temperature to humidity. For example, the speeds we run in Phoenix are very different from those in Las Vegas, because of the altitude change.”
Is Pace tired of supporting her husband’s avocational passion after multiple decades at racetracks? Hardly. It’s just as much her passion.
“Even when we’re not racing, we’re watching it online, and there’s a bunch of [drag racing] blogs,” she says. “There’s a huge degree of involvement. This is basically what we do. And when we get to the point where we can retire, we’re going to get a motor home and travel across the country to all the different tracks. If we can’t participate in some of [the events], we’ll at least be spectators. It’s in our blood. We’re just as passionate now as he was when we first met.”
Part of the appeal, Pace notes, is the homey camaraderie among the drag racing crowd. Lasting relationships are forged. “It’s such a good group of people that care about one another, take care of one another, and have fun,” she says. “But you’re not just sitting around and staring at each other, trying to figure out what to do.”
Pace, meanwhile, is this year’s president of her local chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). She also is a former client of CBIZ, and after she posted to the firm’s contest a picture of herself and Tim with their racecar (a 1967 Dodge Coronet Wagon; see photo above), she got a small blizzard of unexpected communications from other CFMA members that were CBIZ clients or followed its doings.
“I got so many connections from CFMA people that also have racecars that I had no idea about,” she says. At the association’s recent conference, a number of these drag racing lovers got together, bonded, and ultimately leveraged their new relationships toward highly productive conversations about construction finance.
And that opened the door to more connections with people from other chapters and having still more of those conversations, Pace adds. “I was really surprised,” she says.
If you’re a big baseball fan and can afford it, few experiences match the thrill of a fantasy camp featuring extensive interaction with retired players from your favorite team.
Frank Holman, CFO of government contractor Vector CSP, which provides managerial, engineering, logistics, and training support for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, has been to that well of emotion two times at camps hosted by his beloved New York Mets. He also attended a Major League fantasy camp where numerous Hall of Fame players were present.
“It’s an enormously exciting thing to do, because you’re a kid again,” he says. “And you’re playing ball against your childhood idols.”
According to Holman, who has pitched and played third base and catcher in the fantasy camps, his experiences there have improved his work life.
“When you are out there and separated from your day-to-day functions,” he says, “you get a clarity of thought and a bit of serenity around all the other things going on [in your life]. Things that seemed so important the day you got down there, that you were worried and thinking about, weren’t as important. And you all of a sudden you have solutions to them. I came back very energized and focused.”
He also came back with some delicious anecdotes.
The format of the camp is that the campers are divided into several teams, each one coached by a handful of former ballplayers. The teams play against each other — six seven-inning games in three days — before taking on teams of ex-players on the final day (“and the former players always win — it’s almost like a rule,” Holman says). One day, pitching against another camp team, Holman was the target of more than the usual heckling from the other team’s coaches. “The most horrific, vile stuff that you would never publish,” he tells CFO.
That night, at dinner, former Mets catcher John Stearns stopped by Holman’s table and told his wife, “Your husband is one of the worst pitchers I’ve ever seen, but he’s unflappable. He doesn’t get nervous.”
Holman, who at the time was a divisional CFO for Cox Communications, then a large, publicly held telecommunications company (it’s privately held now), had a ready retort.
“I told Stearns, ‘I’ve got people screaming at me all day long. Wall Street people and everyone else, giving me grief. You think a washed-up ballplayer like you could make me flap?’ We all laughed.”
Another time, while playing third base with ex-Met Howard Johnson at the plate, Duffy Dyer, another former Met who was managing Holman’s camp team, waved him closer to the plate again and again. “HoJo,” a switch hitter, was batting left-handed, which should have been a comfort to Holman, as Johnson was known for rarely hitting to the opposite field.
“Duffy was daring HoJo to kill me,” Holman says. “And HoJo looked at me crawling down the grass from third, and he hit a screaming line drive right down the line. Actually, the screaming was coming from me.”
As HoJo pulled into third with a triple, he chastised Holman, saying his antics had been bush league. “He was so upset with me,” Holman says. “So I pointed over to the bench — and there was Duffy Dyer laying there, laughing hysterically.”
Holman says he was never much of an athlete. In his high school years he considered himself a pitcher, but only for “fooling around” — his school didn’t offer sports. But when he joined a senior baseball league in the 1990s, he found he could still throw strikes.
He played through his three fantasy camps while dealing with a balky throwing shoulder, on which he finally had surgery in 2012. Now, the shoulder has recovered to the point where he intends to attend another fantasy camp, despite his 58 years. “You’re never too old,” he says. “In my first camp, a 78-year-old former wrestler who was scheduled for a hip replacement the following week took my fastball and drove it to the outfield wall.”
Holman considers fantasy camp to be an exercise in leadership. For example, few campers have any experience catching, and most others don’t want to give it a try because of the physical demands. Noting that, Holman stepped up and volunteered to catch. Camp also demands that you play with injuries. “It was like a M.A.S.H. episode after every game, lining up at the trainers’ room,” he says.
He adds wistfully, “I wish I could take my [finance and accounting] team there for team building. You don’t get to hide behind your expertise — you have to show leadership skills and get through adversity.”
Balls & Strikes
Do CFOs simply like baseball? Another example is Curt Schubert, who heads up finance for Chicago Children’s Association, a provider of services to low-income families with one or more medical conditions.
Schubert, like Holman, is a lifelong baseball fan, but unlike him, he doesn’t play. He umpires.
He umpires a lot, from adult leagues to those for kids under eight years old. He works games for both boys and girls, and softball as well as baseball. In June, Schubert says, he was booked for a game almost every day, and that’s not atypical during baseball season.
Yes, he concedes, the workload — on top of his full-time job — is “extreme.” He’s fortunate to have a position that allows for flexible hours. “I have to get to work at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. so I can leave at 4:00 to go ump a game,” he says.
Schubert was a volunteer youth baseball coach for 20 years and served as president of two different leagues before switching to umpiring 10 years ago. Now, he gets paid for his labors. But he’s not doing it for the money. “I umpire because I like baseball and like doing it,” he says. If he makes 60 bucks on a game, he’ll give 50 to his wife, keeping a few to buy hot dogs and other refreshments at the concession stand.
Like Holman, Schubert finds that his baseball activities have helped him out from a professional standpoint. “It teaches me how to relate to people,” he says.
As an umpire, if spectators think you made a bad call, you’re going to hear about it. “I let it come in one ear and go out the other,” he says. “If a mom yells at me, ‘You’re blind!’ I don’t worry about it. Or if I do respond I might just say ‘yes, ma’am.’ One mom kept after me: ‘Man, you are REALLY blind!’ I said ‘Yes ma’am, you’re right.’ And she started laughing, and so did the other fans.”
Such sanguinity, learned on a ball field, serves Schubert well at work. For example, he notes that many vendors don’t service companies as well as they used to. He tells how Children’s Place recently bought a new alarm system for its building, and it wasn’t working properly. He wanted a technician to come out and look at it, but a customer service rep tried to send him to a sales rep to trouble-shoot the problem over the phone. After asking politely to speak with the service rep’s supervisor, Schubert got what he wanted.
“Sometimes I can get excited about things like that,” he confesses. “But I’ve realized that you get better service when you’re nice, joke around with people, and realize that they’re probably having a stressful day too, because everybody today is trying to do things with fewer people.”
Schubert has grown better at that since he’s been umpiring. And the mirror image of that concept is true as well. “It’s allowed me to understand where people are coming from when they treat me with disrespect,” he says. “It helps me react to negative situations in a positive way and say something like, “Hey, let’s get it done, kid’ — just like I hear coaches say on a baseball field.”