Fascinated by business since she was 10 years old, Asheville-based CPA and financial advisor Carol King describes herself as “an entrepreneur disguised as a CPA.” Past winner of the Asheville’s Chamber of Commerce Athena Award for leadership and also the Small Business of the Year award in 1998, Carol grew up as the only girl in her large Italian family. And in her post-WWII Baltimore neighborhood, people were having mostly boys. “I had to deal with the jellyfish and the snakes playing with boys, so I never noticed it was odd to be around only boys. I never paid attention to the fact that I was a woman working in a male-dominated field. I wasn’t a feminist when I decided to be a CPA, I was an entrepreneur.”
Carol started her own CPA business – Carol L. King & Associates – in 1991. Announcements went out to all the lawyers and CPAs she knew. King recalls, “What was really fabulous, and I think this tells you so much about Asheville, is that I got congratulation cards and flowers from so many other CPA firms, where the guys said, “We hope you do well.” There’s plenty of work for companies like King’s because the economics of our area is dominated by small businesses; 96% of Asheville-area businesses employ less than 50 people according to the Asheville-Buncombe Economic Development Coalition. That means there are lots of companies and entrepreneurs that need tax returns prepared, accounting and bookkeeping done, and payrolls processed.
Carol’s early years
Carol’s first business venture was selling greeting cards to her neighbors when she was 10 years old. “I saw an ad in a comic book from the Junior Sales Club of America for selling greeting cards door-to-door. You could sell a box for $1.25 and they cost $0.75, so you made 50 cents on every box. I would dress up real cute and have my hair all bobbed up and my biggest smile on, and I’d go knock on the doors and ask people if they would like to buy a box of greeting cards. And they did!”
She went on to sell more Girl Scout cookies than anyone else in her troop, partly by convincing her grandmother to sell them at the sewing factory where she worked. “Cookies were only 50 cents a box in those days, and we made 10 or 15 cents for each box we sold,” said Carol, who raised enough money to go on a trip to Savannah and visit the Juliette Gordon Low house with her Girl Scout friends.
Later when Carol was a single mom going back to college, she and a friend started an import business. “It started when 8-track tapes were popular. We drove up to New York City to buy 8-track tapes, put them in boxes on consignment in truck stops and tourist places, and people bought them like crazy. After a while, 8-track tapes went out of style, so we ended up going to Mexico and buying velvet paintings and sold them in the same places. People loved them – they loved Elvis and they loved the deer with the big rack of antlers. They loved scenery. We had a tractor trailer load of paintings coming up from Mexico every two weeks, and we did this for six or seven years.”
Then Carol opened her own retail store. “My mother was a retail salesperson, and she set everything up and taught me you need to either change your customers or you change your inventory.” Carol rearranged the store every 30 days, had more sales, and once she figured out how retail worked, she was ready to try something else. “When I became a CPA I realized it was the perfect job for me, because I would never get bored. I could sit with one client doing one kind of business, and two hours later, I’d be sitting with another client doing another kind of business. And my job was to figure out all of those businesses; my mind is designed to figure out the business, not to run all those businesses.” And there’s no business idea too weird for Carol, an important thing in Asheville.
As Carol passed through her own entrepreneurial stages on the way to being a CPA, she learned a lot of things about business and human nature. She tries to help everyone by understanding their point of view, and listening carefully to what they hope to achieve. Eleven years ago, she added financial planning to her range of skills, so that her firm’s clients could make investment decisions informed by tax impact. And this year, she became a Certified Heritage Professional in order to help clients prepare the next generation to receive their inheritance.
Community Involvement Intertwined with Business Development
“I was on the downtown commission during the era when you could roll a bowling ball down any street on a Tuesday night and never hit a person, recalls King “And was Treasurer of the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation as it was being restored. I was also one of the leaders of the Pack Square redesign – along with Karen Tessier and Jim Samsel – that was a 10-year project and really tough.”
For those who have moved to Asheville since 2002, it’s hard to imagine this glorious, historic landmark shuttered and dark, but that was its condition when King arrived in Asheville. Opened in 1929, the Arcade was the center of commercial and civic life in Western North Carolina for a brief thirteen years before the Federal Government took over the building as part of the effort to win World War II. Officials chose the building because it was large and located in a safe, remote place— and seventy-four shops and 127 offices were evicted.
“I had clients who were in there; Enman’s Furs’ first store was inside the Grove Arcade,” said King. “And when the federal government took that over by eminent domain, she had to move out in 30 days. They had a big fur safe which they pushed down and diagonally across the street when they moved.”
“I’m one of the rare people that got an opportunity to bring Pack Square Park to life, and had an opportunity to sit with people and say, “What do you want the living room of your city to look like?” And to sit there and listen to the community and try to make that dream come true by building that park. It has been an honor to do that work.”
Carol’s community service work includes twenty-six years as a Rotary Club member. She’s travelled the world doing projects in support of causes from growing local economies to fighting disease in countries as diverse as Morocco and Bolivia. Former Asheville Rotary Club President and WNC District Governor, Carol now organizes international conferences and leadership development programs for Rotary International.
“I’ve been blessed with an abundance of opportunities and clients, and when you’re working with money, which is the kind of business I do, you must build trust. People would sooner talk about their sex life than talk about their money. It’s a great honor to do work for people, because they have to be so incredibly transparent, and they have to be vulnerable. And I get to witness all that and be present to them.”
The abiding principle Carol lives by – whether working with a business client, advising, or working on a civic project – is “to always be present to the people that I’m working with.“ King says, “my gift is to bring my complete self to the situation with my heart and my soul and my mind open, and to listen for what it is that you would like from me. And then to bring that, to give that back to you. Most people I work with have everything they need, they’re just confused, and need someone to get it organized and give it back to them.” She’s a really great listener, and when working one on one with people, takes what they are saying, rearranges it and gives it a sprinkling of her own philosophy, adds some technical knowledge, and delivers back a beautifully wrapped package. Brilliant!
Carol L. King, CPA, PFS is available to offer support through every chapter of your financial life. Learn more about her company at clkcpa.com and to make an appointment with her, call 828-407-0678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Judi Jetson is Marketing Director for Carol L King & Associates. She is Chairman of Local Cloth, a nonprofit working to grow the fiber economy in Western North Carolina, Vice-President of international non-profit Weave A Real Peace, and a rural economic development consultant. For fun, Judi loves spinning and dyeing and weaving and can often be found teaching at the Local Cloth studio in downtown Asheville.