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Productivity in Practice: Business Sherpa

To say that John McQuaig has conquered mountains is not just reusing a tired metaphor. When the CPA and certified management consultant (CMC) from Wenatchee, Washington, steps out of his office onto a deck over the Columbia River, the Cascade Mountains and colors of autumn beckon him.

To say that John McQuaig has conquered mountains is not just reusing a tired
metaphor. When the CPA and certified management consultant (CMC) from Wenatchee,
Washington, steps out of his office onto a deck over the Columbia River, the
Cascade Mountains and colors of autumn beckon him. So when he is not advising
his business clients on their finances, taxes and business strategies, you’re
more likely to find him bicycling with his wife and children, or perhaps in
any corner of the world literally climbing a mountain. And we’re talking
about the big ones.

He has scaled Africa’s Kilimanjaro (19,336 ft.) and Kala Pattar in Nepal
(18,200 ft.), from which you can see Mount Everest. A little closer to home,
he has frequently climbed Washington’s Rainier and Baker, two mountains
that as a youth helped instill in him a love of nature and a drive to conquer

John D. McQuaig, CPA, CMC
: McQuaig and Welk, PLLC
Location: Wenatchee, Washington
Productivity Score:
Consulting to “Swashbuckling Entrepreneurs”
Mountains Climbed:
Kilimanjaro (19,336 ft.) & Kala Pattar
(18,200 ft.).
Given Him by The CPA Technology Advisor: Business Sherpa

This personal drive has been obvious to those around him throughout his life:
from when he helped thin apple orchards as a youth to running a successful painting
business as a teenager to working for a “Big 8” firm in Alaska after
college to finally starting a CPA and business consulting practice, McQuaig
and Welk, PLLC ( The six-person
firm is primarily focused on business services for midsize and larger clients,
offering business planning, write-up and tax services to a selected client base
of businesses with revenues that range from $1 million to more than $200 million.
His firm relies heavily upon innovative technologies to help them service their
clients, including multi-screen monitors on all workstations, secure client
portals on their web site and wireless capabilities. The firm earned an exceptional
score of 430 on The CPA Technology Advisor’s Productivity Survey, a free
technology utilization assessment tool located at

A major key to his success in business has been applying the goal-setting
skills he learned through mountaineering to his professional ambitions and helping
his clients utilize the same practices. “Preparing for a mountain climb
and preparing a business for success are similar,” according to John.
“Both require tackling the peaks, chasms, glaciers and slippery slopes
of figurative and literal mountaintops.”

But he says the first step that many businesses fail to perform is setting
achievable and measurable goals. “When climbing mountains, the goals are
very clear and everyone on the team can easily understand the mission of reaching
the summit. It is concrete and tangible, and anything short of reaching that
point is a major disappointment.”

Unfortunately, business goals or “summits” are not usually as
clear and, he says, the lack of clarity often sends the business’ stakeholders
off in many different directions working toward what they assume to be the business’
summit. “If business leaders can learn how to set a clear vision, they
are more apt to take their business where they want it to go.”

The concept of teamwork is another key factor that can benefit from a mountaineering
perspective. “When undertaking a major climb, every person on the team
knows that every other person has a specific role to fill. The failure of any
one of the team members on the rope with you jeopardizes not only the success
of the mission but can also be a life-or-death matter.” While entrepreneurs
do not usually face life-or-death consequences, the effect on the success of
a business can be just as significant.

That’s why having an experienced mountain guide help lead the way is
essential. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to reach the top of Mount
Everest, John notes, but he could not have done so without the experience of
Tenzig Norgay, his Sherpa guide. “Tenzig had lived in the shadow of this
fierce, daunting mountain day after day, learning its intricacies, weather patterns
and trails. He also understood the human body’s capabilities. Without
his knowledge, the summit would not have been reached.”

An experienced guide is just as important to an entrepreneur, according to
John, because the risk of mistakes is very high. “Having someone who has
been up the trail before can be a tremendous asset, helping not only avoid known
pitfalls, but also properly planning and preparing, setting measurable goals,
and executing the plans.”

This essentially makes John a Sherpa for entrepreneurs, and he is in the process
of writing a book about it. In “Parallel Peaks: Business Insights While
Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains,” he will offer advice on
building and managing a successful business or department based on hair-raising,
inspirational and occasionally humorous anecdotes drawn from his mountaineering

As if his practice and writing a book haven’t been enough, John was
also one of the founding partners of North Cascades National Bank, a $250 million
institution with 100 employees in its seven branches. He continues to serve
as chairman of its board and also serves on the boards of several community
organizations including his church and the performing arts center he helped
build. At the time of this article, John was also auditioning for a role in
the community staging of “Beauty and the Beast.” He is involved
in development of residential and commercial properties, and has a 70-acre organic
cherry, apple and nectarine orchard.

He obviously isn’t the type to “veg out” in front of the
television on a Saturday afternoon. And yet, despite his devotion to his family,
community and business clients, he still manages to find time for mountain climbing.
The next summit on his list: 22,381-foot Mount Aconcagua, the tallest mountain
in the Americas.