Tax Matters Specialty Group Podcast with Gary Weiss—Susana Barajas

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Tax Matters Specialty Group Podcast with Gary Weiss

Gary Weiss, CPA and host, interviews Susana Barajas, CPA | Partner of Allegent Group, LLP.



About Susana Barajas
About Gary Weiss
About Echelon Business Development Network    


Click here to read the transcript

Announcer 0:00
The Echelon Radio Network presents the Tax Matters radio podcast, a conversation about money for everyone with your host Gary Weiss.

Gary Weiss 0:19
Welcome to the Echelon Tax Matters Specialty Group podcast. I’m your host Gary Weiss. This podcast is written and developed for those of us impacted by the complex, lengthy and confusing tax laws. Taxes of all kinds are part of our everyday life. And this podcast is a way to bring you the relevant, easy to understand, and very relatable topics to help you make informed sound financial decisions. Besides all that, I have interesting and wonderful guests with amazing stories. I am a licensed CPA in California I have a practice in Woodland Hills with my partner, Quentin Staples. I also do Tax Resolutions, services, so I’m always fighting the IRS and the FTB. Speaking of amazing guests sitting across the table from me today is a lovely, highly intelligent, multitalented Susana Barajas of the Allegent Group. Susanna, welcome to the podcast.

Susana Barajas 1:19
Thank you, Gary for having me.

Gary Weiss 1:21
Okay, so begin, tell our tell our listeners that want to know definitely now that I built you up, tell us a little bit about you, your background, how you got where you are. And what what makes Susana tick.

Susana Barajas 1:34
Well, I am the number seventh child in a family of eight. I was born last with my twin brother. And my family is originally from Mexico, most of my brothers and sisters immigrated over to the United States. And my myself and my twin brother are born here. Growing up, my mom instilled in me, you know, hard working values. And, and we’ve always been really close. And they’ve always been supportive of me. One of the things she instilled in me was to get an education. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to go to school because my grandfather had her working in the field. So she always wanted to go to school. And since she didn’t have the opportunity, she always wanted all of her children’s to have a quality education. So I’m growing up in a Mexican family, you just see, you know, women get married. You know, settle down, be housewives and growing up that’s what I thought I was going to do. That’s what I saw growing up. But you know, when I was in high school, my mom, you know, just said to me, you know, you’re either gonna go to school, you’re gonna go to college, or you’re gonna get a job. And I was like, Oh, I thought I was just gonna, you know, get married and have children and take care of my husband. And she’s like, No, I don’t want you here in the house doing nothing. So I was like, Well, I don’t feel like going out and look for a job. But you know, so I had really good grades. And I got a really nice scholarship and Pell grants to go to Woodbury University. And the way I chose my profession, I always knew I was good with numbers was one of my easiest class is algebra geometry. So I decided to just get into accounting. So that’s how I decided to become a CPA.

Gary Weiss 3:27
So what was your favorite accounting course?

Susana Barajas 3:29
Oh, algebra. And calculus. Those were the easiest classes for us.

Gary Weiss 3:35
But, what was your favorite accounting course? Which What did you what? Because that first course, when I took accounting was the first course that nailed me. I was interested in. I was hooked at that point. So what what what was your course? That said, this is what I want to do

Susana Barajas 3:48
Introduction to Accounting, my that my first intro class, I was like, I can do this.

Gary Weiss 3:53
would you learn in that class, that made you…

Susana Barajas 3:55
Debits and credits, that everything needs to balance?

Gary Weiss 4:00
So you like balance?

Susana Barajas 4:00
I love balancing.

Gary Weiss 4:02
You want to tell our listener what debit and credit means

Susana Barajas 4:05
Accounting terms, you know, a debit me I know, that’s usually an expense or, you know, deposit into your bank account or credit. It’s is either an income or a liability. And your balance sheet account,

Gary Weiss 4:19
In the ancient terms, debit means left credit means right. That’s all it is. You know, I did not know that. That’s, that’s all that means. So everybody says use this term they have they think it’s a big deal. Nothing is a big deal. So, so tell me, you’re from Mexico. That’s great. So what’s your favorite food?

Susana Barajas 4:36
I love my mom’s enchiladas, homemade enchiladas.

Gary Weiss 4:39
And when you go out what type where’s your what’s your favorite Mexican restaurant?

Susana Barajas 4:46
Fritas greatest Mexican cuisine in Glendale?

Gary Weiss 4:50
In Glendale? Great place for a Mexican restaurant.

Susana Barajas 4:53
My mama my mom approves of their who there’s like this is authentic.

Gary Weiss 4:57
I think it is more important If mom gave her blessing then it is good food.


That’s really interesting. So, I know a secret about you, which I’m going to talk about right now has nothing to do with accounting has nothing to do with anything. The one of your passions is salsa dancing. So tell us about that.

Susana Barajas 5:15
Well, that was a complete surprise. I, it was shocking that I even got into that because I grew up introverted. And, you know, since I was a youngest girl, I was highly, you know, were protected by the whole family and I was really shy and really quiet. And my sister was dating a Central American from Nicaragua who snuck me into a nightclub Riviera. It was one of the hottest salsa spots at the time. And I just saw this couple dancing together to salsa, and I loved the way they danced. And I just kept going back and learning how to dance. And it just, I just got hooked. I dragged my sisters because they will allow me to go in, as long as I was accompanied by by a grown up who was over 21. And I would drag my sister every Saturday to take me dancing so I can learn more. And…

Gary Weiss 6:15
so for those who don’t know, not that not everybody knows what that is, please describe salsa dancing to someone who has no clue what it is.

Susana Barajas 6:23
It’s tropical music, it’s, you know, couple dancing, and it’s highly technical. And, you know, there’s many combinations you can do and it’s music usually, that comes from Central America. It’s, it’s not really well known in Mexico where I’m from, so I really didn’t like the music. So I love the dancing first before I even grew to liking the music. The music just grew on me, but it was just the dancing the way This couple was dancing together. So smoothly in harmony with so much rhythm and you know, passion, they were just feeling the music. And I was just in awe of this couple. I remember them to this day,

Gary Weiss 7:08
You know, what I know of salsa dancing, I am not a dancer, trust me. But what I know of salsa dancing: passion is, is probably the main ingredient to it. When you see true salsa dancers, there is tremendous connection between them. The passion is strong, it’s it makes the dance.

Susana Barajas 7:26
It really does.

Gary Weiss 7:27
So when you dance, you dance the same way with that level of passion and strength and power.

Susana Barajas 7:32
I like to think so. I was going after I graduated from Woodbury, I was going six nights a week, I there was no place open on Tuesdays. So that was my day off for going salsa dancing. You know, my mom was really upset at me because I was out every night. But that’s all I was doing. I was just, like, hooked. And the thing about is every, I mean, a man is the one that’s to lead you. And so every man has their own own steps, their own style, and that was what made it fun. And I was just answering all these different people and it was never the same thing. They had their own style moves, dips. So I was just really hooked on it, I was just getting better and better. And then I got asked to be in a dance group. And then I tried that it it was more learning routines and you know, building a presence and, and learning how to perform in front of people, which was a totally nerve wracking. Nerve racking, because I was like, let me do this and and so um, you know, little by little with practice after practice, you know, it got better. And then I met my two best friends who had been performing for years. And so they took me under their wing and they showed me how to do makeup. Because the first time I showed up with the amount of performance or like where’s your makeup I’m like so ready on and she’s like, No, you look like a ghost on stage and so they had their makeup artists do my makeup and in my hair and they advised me on you know, I have to build this, this persona on stage that you want to convey. And you know when I saw myself on video I’m like no, I don’t look so sharp. I’m looking down to my time not making good audience contact and that brought me out of my shell. I had to to if I wanted to be a good salsa dancer.

Gary Weiss 9:29
That’s interesting. So what kind of costumes are in salsa dancing?

Susana Barajas 9:33
Oh my god. Really skimpyones. Things that I was not used to wearing.

Gary Weiss 9:40
And so your mother used to see you in wearing?

Susana Barajas 9:43
Oh yeah, there was an arguing because she she does alterations and I would have her alter my costumes. And that was an argument in itself. She thought they were too short or too tight. But yeah, they’re usually they were dresses, you know, a lot of sequins and shinier, they were the better, that sort of thing.

Gary Weiss 10:03
Okay, great. So let’s go back a little bit further. So you’re from Mexico.

Susana Barajas 10:07

Gary Weiss 10:07
Okay. And when when, what age did you come here?

Susana Barajas 10:11
I was born here. My twin brother myself are the last ones born here. Yeah, all my other six siblings were born in Mexico.

Gary Weiss 10:17
Where did you grow up?

Susana Barajas 10:18
In LA, in Highland Park.

Gary Weiss 10:20
Nice. So Where Where did you go to school?

Susana Barajas 10:23
I went to Franklin High School, Benjamin Franklin High School. And then I went to Woodbury University in Burbank.

Gary Weiss 10:30
Nice. So you’re so you’re you’ve sort of have both cultures, and you have American culture, well grounded in their well grounded in Mexican culture. So for you, it’s easy to go back and forth.

Susana Barajas 10:41

Gary Weiss 10:42
No, that’s nice. That’s good. So let’s talk a little bit but after Woodbury, so you decided I’m going to become an accountant. Very exciting. So you just took the CPA exam passed it, decide to get a job.

Susana Barajas 10:54
It didn’t really work out that way. When I graduated, I was sick and tired of being in school. I was a good student, I studied and, and worked my butt off, you know, through high school, got good grades and in college. And then I was hooked in salsa dancing, so I did that for the next 12 years. Yes, I got into the dance group. And then I was competing. I started off as an amateur. And then I, you know, I my dance partner was a professional. So I was classified as a professional. And that was harder competition. So I did that for

Gary Weiss 11:31
Nice. A professional salsa dancer, who is also a CPA, a partner in an accounting firm, boy does not get more well rounded than that. So it’s, that’s great. All right. So with all the accolades, so how did you make that transition to finally be passed the CPA exam and start working in the accounting field?

Susana Barajas 11:48
Yes, so I decided that, you know, dancing professionally wasn’t gonna, you know, support me in California, so that I decided to sit down for the exam, I got a job in my first CPA firm. And it was one of the hardest things ever having to study after being out of school for a long time. And, and that took me a while to you know, commit to it. And I had to stop dancing. I couldn’t stop communicating with my friends I just worked in and study for the CPA exam that took me I don’t even know if I want to admit how long it took me. But I finally passed it and it was more about learning the profession and gain experience in a CPA firm.

Gary Weiss 12:37
So So now that you in so you passed the CPA exam, you got you started in accounting. And, you know, when I did it, by the way, I did something very similar to that left school. You know, what took the CPA exam way after I finished school. So I definitely understand all you do is study just give you one quick story. I was working at Hughes Aircraft at the time, and I was studying for the exam. And I was I was taking Dauberman and I had at that time, it was the first time they had come out with floppy disk. If anybody remembers what a floppy disk is, it’s a little piece of plastic that goes into a computer. So it I was sitting late at night in the building everything everybody had gone home and I was going over the you know the questions on the screen. At one point the all the lights went off, guys kept going didn’t make a difference. You have to study right. At one point I realized I was going like this A, B. C literally that fast. Because I had memorized this outline of the of the question. I didn’t even have to read it anymore. I went home I figured I’d I studied enough. But yeah, that’s it’s a major accomplishment to pass the CPA exam. It’s a lot of work.

Susana Barajas 13:43
It is

Gary Weiss 13:43
okay, so now you pass the exam, you start working, what did you find in accounting that that kept you there? Because that love it, you know, you know that being in the position you’re at as you get a lot of people who start and say this is just not for me, and they’ll leave. So what kept you

Susana Barajas 13:58
I was really good at it. Um, my first my first CPA firm, it was with three partner women, they took me in and trained me in auditing. And really, they started me off and really complicated audits like HUD Yellowbook. And yeah, they threw me in there, and I didn’t think I would be able to do it. But you know, it was my job. And it was just surprising how I would accomplish them everything they threw at me, I would accomplished and they gave me high praises and, and I was getting things done that I didn’t think I would be able to the level and and I just saw my that they experienced that technique, the ability to do things just growing and that’s why now I knew I was in the right place.

Gary Weiss 14:48
For those who are listening a yellow book audit is?

Susana Barajas 14:53
Governmental requirements of that the government wants businesses or whoever gets funding to do audits. And it’s highly technical and the government is, you know, has their, their extensive requirements that need to be done.

Gary Weiss 15:11
Yes. So then you did that. But where do you go from there?

Susana Barajas 15:16
Well, I moved into another better paying CPA firm. Where I was was not working for me, I wasn’t able to pay my bills. And being a small firm, they claim they couldn’t really pay me more. So I need to get a better paying job. And so I moved to the firm where I was at for almost eight years. And they were willing to accommodate me and pay me more and I grew even further. In this in this accounting firm,

What did you do there?

More of the same thing. And I did more audits over there and more tax work, just more complicated and dealt with more clients and, you know, just continued growing as a CPA.

Gary Weiss 16:04
Okay, so now you’re a partner, at the Allegent group. That’s, that’s an incredible accomplishment, figuring you started out as a salsa dancer. So what tell us about what Allegent group does, what do they specialize in? What do you specialize in? What are your clients look like?

Susana Barajas 16:21
At Allegent group, we do a little bit of everything, we have an attestation side. And that’s where we do formal financial statements that are compilations reviews and audits. And then we have a tax accounting side, tax work side. And I work on both sides. And what I really like about Allegent group is that we do really work as a team, and we work closely with our clients, which are, you know, closely held companies, medium sized entities, the highest, the biggest client we have is about 35 million in gross. And so we just don’t hear from them, you know, every year we, we get to know them, we build a relationship with them, and we, you know, help them in every asset, facet of their business, and then their personnel. And they know they can reach out to us for any questions they may have. And during COVID, bad side of our business, the consulting side really grew and took off, because with everything that was going on with the pandemic, and all these, you know, government funds that were being dished out, and clients needed help getting information on how to get the PPP loans or their stimulus or, you know, so that we paved the way for that side of our business. And we have a lot more interactions with our clients, they know that, you know, we can help them out with much more than just their tax return every year.

Gary Weiss 17:48
So you try to make your connection to your clients personal.

Susana Barajas 17:51

Gary Weiss 17:52
Helps them and they feel when they walk into your office, they feel comfortable.

Susana Barajas 17:56

Gary Weiss 17:57
Like the client we were just discussing before we started, though, when they came in, they hasn’t filed since 2017. Always an interesting thing when people are panicking, right?


That’s really part of our job is to stop them from panicking. Make them feel comfortable that tax returns are a secondary thing. But maybe that’s what we try to do is make our clients feel comfortable,

Susana Barajas 18:20
Well not only feel comfortable, but actually think of us when they’re going through a life change. You know, they want to retire, if their kids going to take over their business, what that’s going to look like, what needs to be done to do the transitioning. And if they’re ready to, you know, retire in, you know, how much are they going to need to distribute from their retirement in order to, to live and how that’s going to look on the tax side of things. Or if they want to build their estate, what, what are the tax consequences when that kicks in? That’s the important thing, reaching out to us before any of that happens, and be prepared for things like that.

Gary Weiss 18:59
To do that, you have to know your client, not just not a person coming in, you have to really know a lot about their personal life, who they are, what type of person they are, what their goals are.

Susana Barajas 19:08
Well, not only that, but have them feel comfortable enough to talk to us about personal things like that. Because not everybody will want to tell us, you know, you know about their children or you know, our plan for things in the future. That’s it, sometimes it’s an uncomfortable conversation for them. And if they can trust us and be comfortable opening up to us on they really will it does really help that relationship and it helps them know and grow and be aware of what the consequences are tax wise.

Gary Weiss 19:39
Great. So tell us a little bit this point. Tell us about what you see in the future for you individually and what you see where do you see the tax profession going and what those type of things?

Susana Barajas 19:51
Well, I just became partner the start of this year, so I’m really working on getting acclimated with that side of the business. It’s a different mindset and and still being able to serve as my clients and, you know, transitioning into that role more of as a partner, we are looking to grow and we are looking to get more, hire more talent. And that’s been a challenge. We’re looking into see how we can retain and, and bring in employees and help them grow and be happy with, you know, in their profession working with us. So that’s a goal done in the future, whether it’s remotely getting more used to being remote or hybrid and getting used to those changes.

Gary Weiss 20:38
We have a question, if somebody is listening to this and goes, Wow, this sounds like a great place to work. What kind of what kind of talent are you looking for at the moment?

Susana Barajas 20:48
Well, we are looking to somebody to come in and willing to learn and grow and expand our firm is, is diverse in what we do. It’s not just plain audits. It’s not just, you know, taxation, it’s a combination of everything. And they’ll really we’ll learn a little bit of everything at our firm because we always we deal with so many facets of the profession from you know, basic bookkeeping to payroll sales tax up to you know, more complicated accounting, financial statements up to audits, complicated tax returns a little bit of everything projections, tax planning, so they really will get the full experience of what our profession is in

Gary Weiss 21:31
for you personally, any more salsa dancing in the future?

Susana Barajas 21:33
you know, I do. After COVID Everything was shut down and, you know, some of the places I used to go to have disappeared and now I you know, have to see where the happening places is, but I do miss it a lot. And I do plan on you know, putting on the shoes and getting back on the dance floor at some point I need to get back into shape.

Gary Weiss 21:53
Your shape looks pretty good. I don’t think it’ll be a whole lot. A whole lot more. You know, work. You know, dancing is one of those things. It’s like riding a bike. All you got to do is just the muscles are there. So you can do it. So that’s great. So is there so tell us how do we get a hold of you? What’s your website, your telephone number anything? Those you know, so if somebody wants to get ahold you how do they find you?

Susana Barajas 22:17
It’s Allegent Group. We’re located in Woodland Hills right at the corner of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard, the address is 5959 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, suite 370, Woodland Hills. We do have our website. It’s www.Allegentgroup.com. We have a lot of tools on there that are useful and we get to know our staff a little bit about us on there. Many information you need about this you can give us a call at 8188065 don’t even remember my phone number. I just blanked out.

Gary Weiss 22:50
That’s okay. Don’t worry about it if you don’t remember thank you but you gave the website and the number is on the websites. All right. Well then intrepid listeners that is all the time we have for today. I would like to thank my guests who’s Anna bras. Amazing, me amazing salsa dancer. Thank you very much.

Susana Barajas 23:07
Thank you.

Gary Weiss 23:08
Please look forward to future podcast right here same bat time, same bat channel. I guarantee you you will be entertained enlightened at the same time. I’m your host Gary Weiss. I look forward to spending time with you on our next podcast, which will be next week for me. Y’all come back now you hear.

Announcer 23:32
The Tax Matters Radio podcast presented by the Echelon Radio Network and Echelon Business Development. More than just networking, way more.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Gary is a graduate of the Marshall School of the University of Southern California. He founded and operates a boutique accounting firm dedicated to bringing high - quality tax preparation, tax planning and tax resolution services to individuals, small businesses, small nonprofits, family owned businesses and start-ups, at an extremely affordable price. Visit Gary Weiss CPA.

Susana received her bachelor’s degree from Woodbury University and is an active member of the California Society of Certified Public Accounts. She is a very dedicated and hard working woman and is especially proud of the quality and timely service she provides to her clients. Susana resides in the Glendale area. She is an avid dancer who also enjoys sporting events and spending quality time with her family and friends.