Tuesdays with Corey interview with Yelena Epova

Yelena Epova is the partner-in-charge of the international tax services at Aprio. She specializes in advising domestic and international companies on international tax issues and tax planning strategies regarding inbound and outbound operations. She also assists clients with domestic tax issues by providing tax planning and compliance services.

As a Russian speaking CPA in the state of Georgia, Yelena is an active participant in both the local and international business community. She is an active member in many professional organizations, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Georgia Society of Certified Public Accountants, where she participated in the Leadership Development Program. She also sits on the board of the Danish American Chamber of Commerce. Yelena is former chair of the board of the Georgia Council for International Visitors and chair of the 2013 Consular Ball. She is a graduate of the 2011 Leadership Atlanta program and received the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s 2011 Global Impact Award for Service Providers on behalf of Aprio. She is currently a member of Morison KSi’s North American board. Previously, she was an active member of Baker Tilly International, where she chaired the North American International Tax Committee for six consecutive years.

Yelena has written for numerous publications on various international tax issues. She is also a frequent speaker at many international and domestic seminars including those pertaining to businesses entering the U.S. market.

Prior to moving to Atlanta, Yelena received her Master’s Degree in Engineering from the Technological College of Leningrad. Upon her arrival in the United States, she continued her education in Accountancy at Georgia State University. Yelena has received the Golden Key Award for the highest score on the CPA exam in Georgia and the Elijah Watt Sells Award for being in the top 100 scores on the CPA exam in the nation.

Yelena was selected by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as one of the city’s “up and comers” for 2006. Each year, the paper selects and presents awards to 40 business professionals under the age of 40 who have made significant contributions to their communities and are leaders in their companies. Most recently, Yelena was recognized by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as one of 15 “Women Who Mean Business” in Atlanta and served as a judge for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Export Challenge. Yelena has also been recognized by Atlanta Magazine as one of the 55 most influential foreign-born Atlantans. Learn more about Yelena Epova at https://www.aprio.com/people/yelena-epova/

tuesdayswithcorey010819.mp3 Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it's time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city's best businesses and the people who lead them.

Stone Payton: Stone Payton here with Business RadioX. This is my favorite Tuesday of the month. Please join me in welcoming back to the studio, but for the first time in 2019 for our signature show, Tuesdays with Corey, Mr. Corey Rieck. How are you, man?

Corey Rieck: Stone, I'm doing great. How are you?

Stone Payton: I am doing well. Did you have a good holiday? Did you get a chance to just back off a little bit, and chill out, and get prepared for the new year?

Corey Rieck: I did. I'm glad you didn't ask me if I behaved. But yes, I did chill out and relax a little bit. But I appreciate you asking.

Stone Payton: Oh, I know. We have so many fantastic shows to look forward to with Tuesdays with Corey in 2019. Can't think of a better way to kick it off than with what you’ve got planned for today. Tell us about your guest today.

Corey Rieck: Well, we have a great guest today. Her name is Yelena Epova. And she is the Partner in Charge of International Services at Aprio. Yelena, welcome.

Yelena Epova: Thank you so much for having me, Corey.

Corey Rieck: On Tuesdays with Corey, we have exemplary women that are successful female executives, and we've got a great show today. Yelena, you've successfully built this part of Aprio, but you haven't always lived in the United States.

Yelena Epova: No, I haven't. I feel like I've lived here all my life now. I've been here longer than I've been in Russia. I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and I moved here in 1990.

Corey Rieck: 1990.

Yelena Epova: Right before the Soviet Union collapsed.

Corey Rieck: And what brought you over to the United States?

Yelena Epova: Well, I was lucky to be able to leave at the time. A lot of people wanted to leave.

Corey Rieck: Why is that?

Yelena Epova: I mean, you heard a lot about Soviet Union, right? It wasn't the best place to be in necessarily. My mother is Jewish. So, at that point of time, it wasn’t a good time to be Jewish in Russia or in the Soviet Union. So, they opened the border at that time for Jews to leave. That's how I was able to leave. And I already had some family here in Atlanta who left 10 years before. They always played this open the border, close the border and in the Soviet Union. So, they left before me. And then, they closed the border for 10 years. And-

Corey Rieck: Really?

Yelena Epova: ... when they re-opened it, I had just graduated from college. I was already married. So, my husband and I moved at the time. And then, my parents followed, and his parents followed. So, I have a lot of family here.

Corey Rieck: Tell the listenership about growing up in Russia.

Yelena Epova: They only have one hour. I mean, I have good memories. I'm from St. Petersburg, which is very cultural place. it used to be called Leningrad at the time I lived there. It's a beautiful city. It's a very unique place. It's a cultural place. So, from that angle, I was privileged. I was exposed to a lot of art, architecture, music, ballet, opera, classical music, and just beauty of the city. And people are very warm. Maybe despite that common belief, the Russians have very warm people. So, that part was great.

Corey Rieck: That's been my experience with you.

Yelena Epova: Well, thank you. Thank you. I mean, they're Americanized though. But the economic situation was bad. It was, obviously, a very closed country run by communists, and they couldn't travel anywhere. They're not allowed really to know the truth about the rest of the world. So, our opinion was definitely twisted-

Corey Rieck: Sure.

Yelena Epova: ... on people from other countries and didn't have much in stores, didn't have much to buy, didn't have much food or clothes. From that point of view, it was challenging. When I was born. I lived in what was called communion living apartments. So, you had six families living in one apartment and-

Corey Rieck: Hold on a second.

Yelena Epova: Yeah.

Corey Rieck: How many square feet was the apartment that you were living in?

Yelena Epova: I can tell you, me, my grandmother, my mom, and my father, we lived in one room. So, that room, I would say maybe, I don't know, 500 feet, maybe even less. And then, other families had the room per family. We all shared one kitchen. The kitchen was much bigger than your typical kitchen, but we shared that, and we had one bathroom that we shared. So, I think, they probably had 20 plus people living there, sharing one bathroom.

Corey Rieck: I'm not even really sure how to follow that up. You've done so many great things. And how did growing up in Russia prepare you for all the successes and everything that you're experiencing now?

Yelena Epova: [Well, you kind of learn to adapt, first of all, to different circumstances, right?

Corey Rieck: That's certainly a word I would use that you've picked up on very well.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. And you don't feel entitled, which sometimes I do see here. Of course-

Corey Rieck: In the United States, really?

Yelena Epova: Yes. Well, every now and then. Not all the time. I feel like, especially the kids growing, including my children, they were born here. I mean, they have a lot of that entitled feeling, of course, which is hard to change because they live in the great country, right, that can give them everything and anything. And I them a little bit too, but-

Corey Rieck: Is that because of your experience growing up? You've done so well, you wanted to maybe give them a few more things maybe than maybe what you had?

Yelena Epova: No, definitely. I'm glad they don't have to experience the childhood I had. Again, I don't want to say it was bad. It was just-.

Corey Rieck: I understand.

Yelena Epova: ... different. I mean, I think, in some way, they're missing out on some things I had. Like I said, exposure to the culture I had in St. Petersburg. But, yes, I think in some way, I may be overcompensating a little bit for what I had to go through, so they don't have to go through that.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. I think that seems plausible. I mean, it seems that every parent, I think, wants to give their kids a better time than what they had. And it sounds like unquestionably, you've done that.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. I mean, in Russia, the one good thing that I got there was education. Education was super important. My family always had that emphasis on education, even that, technically, you couldn't do much with education. I mean, there were not great job. So, I mean, definitely not great, great paying jobs. And it was a communist country. So, people did not have their own businesses. They worked for government-owned enterprises. So, maybe education was not as important there as it is here. But definitely, there was an emphasis in my family and many other families. And that's one thing I definitely emphasize with my children, education is super important. So, they're good students, and-

Corey Rieck: That doesn't surprise me that they're good students.

Yelena Epova: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Corey Rieck: You've had educational experience in Russia and in the United States. How are the two experiences different?

Yelena Epova: I would say-

Corey Rieck: Are they different?

Yelena Epova: They are different. I have my Master's in Mechanical Engineering from Russia. I never worked as an engineer but I can say-.

Corey Rieck: We're going to come back to that.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, but the college there was much more intense definitely. It was harder.

Corey Rieck: How so? How so?

Yelena Epova: Many more hours, much more homework. College was Monday through Saturday. Five years, intense. I mean, very hard to study there. And here, when I came here, my challenge was, of course, the language. I mean, I did learn some English in school in Russia. I had good foundation grammar, but my vocabulary was very small. And when I moved here, to be honest with you, on the flight from New York to Atlanta, I didn't even realize the pilot was speaking English. My ear could not pick up what he was saying. And we learned British English. And of course, this is American English. Plus, he was from the south. So, he had a southern accent. And it took me a long time.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, we have our own language down here.

Yelena Epova: Yes, you do. And I'm still working on my southern accent. I don't know if I'm going to get there, but the language was a challenge for me. And I went to school here a year after I moved. So, I went to Georgia State.

Corey Rieck: That's an excellent school, I've heard nothing but good things about them.

Yelena Epova: It's a great school. It gave me a very good foundation. I went at night. I didn't have a luxury to be normal sort of day-time, full-time student. I had to work from almost day one when I moved here, but I was very scared that I'm not going to understand anything. And I'll tell you, the first few times I attended classes, it was very, very challenging. But, you train your ear, and I think I probably had to work a little harder than most students just to even understand what the teacher was talking about.

Corey Rieck: How did you get up to speed on English when you came over here?

Yelena Epova: I never took any classes here because, like I said, I had English in school and in college in Russia. But it was more by just interactions. And I read some books myself. I watched a lot of TV just to train my ear.

Corey Rieck: Which TV shows?

Yelena Epova: I don't think we even had cable. I remember, for some reason, we had a lot of horror movies that we watched. Every night, there was another horror movie on, so. But I mean, it was more with just communicating with people, and watching TV, listening to the radio, reading. I mean, reading wasn't an issue. Understanding was an issue. And speaking, in some way, I'm a perfectionist, so-

Corey Rieck: I never would have picked up on that.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, thank you. So, I was afraid to say things when I knew that maybe it wasn't the perfect way to say it.

Corey Rieck: Yeah.

Yelena Epova: So, that was probably the hardest part, just being in the culture where people don't understand you, and you don't understand them. So, it took me, actually, longer than I thought to get fluent.

Corey Rieck: Well, I think given the fact that you changed countries, and you're moving to a country that is a new language, I think that's a lot of adjustments.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. I mean, I was lucky because I was very young. I just turned 22 when I moved here.

Corey Rieck: So, you were you weren't old enough to be scared, is that what you're saying?

Yelena Epova: Well, I had many more years to learn, right? And I was determined to make this my country.

Corey Rieck: That doesn't strike me as a trait of yours either.

Yelena Epova: Yes. But you have to understand, even that I left a country that I would say was screwed up in many different ways, that was my country, they are my people. And I had to justify to myself that the move was the right move. So, I probably tried a little harder. But most immigrants do.

Corey Rieck: [You still think it's the right move, right?

Yelena Epova: Of course, I do, yeah. I love Russia. I do go back every year or every two years, sometimes, for business to Moscow or for pleasure to St. Petersburg. But yeah, I would never move back permanently. And I'm so fortunate to be here. I love this country. And I'm so fortunate to have my kids being born here.

Corey Rieck: Well, I think after knowing you, and knowing how you apply yourself, and how intelligent you are, and how diligent you are, I think you've earned your fortune. I mean, I think you've certainly applied yourself, and you built a great business and a great life over here. So, that doesn't surprise me that you would say that.

Yelena Epova: Well, thank you. And I definitely worked super hard. But I think there is always some element of luck to being in the right place at the right time, working with the right people, having the right mentors, things like that. So, I don't discount that.

Corey Rieck: Who do you think influenced you early on when you came over here? And what did you learn from that mentor or mentors?

Yelena Epova: Really, I would say my biggest mentor is my mother. I mean, she's an electrical engineer. She moved here in her mid-forties. She wasn't as lucky as I was to come here young. So, it was much harder for her, but she was so happy that I was here. I'm the only child, and she always stood behind me, and motivated me to do very well. So, I mean, I did it for myself too-

Corey Rieck: Of course.

Yelena Epova: ... but I did it for her as well.

Corey Rieck: I understand that, I think. Is that why you started school with engineering is because of your mom's influence and pursuing what she did?

Yelena Epova: I would say not really. There are two reasons. One, I was really good with numbers. I loved math.

Corey Rieck: Well, you're probably in the right line of work if you're good with numbers.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, I still love numbers, but I loved math. And I mean, that was one of the reasons. Another reason, being Jewish, my choices were somewhat limited to where I could go. I mean, it was an official policy that you cannot go to this college or that college, but some colleges would never take Jews ever. The reason was ... well, I guess there was this governments supported anti-Semitism in Russia. And also because a lot of Jews tried to leave the country.

Corey Rieck: I see.

Yelena Epova: Education was free, so they didn't want to give free education to people who are going to leave at some point.

Corey Rieck: Sure.

Yelena Epova: So, like, was I growing up thinking, I want to be an engineer or this is my passion? Not really. And once I got into engineering after taking on all my favorite math prerequisites-

Corey Rieck: Did you just say favorite math prerequisites?

Yelena Epova: Yes. I really enjoyed math. The Russians are obsessed with math, you have to understand. It's hard to explain. And all of our children, they always have an emphasis on math. But once I started taking engineering, I was like, "This is probably not for me." But I finished college, and I moved, and this was a good opportunity for me to do something else, (A) because I could not get a job as an engineer. I had no experience (A); my English was very bad, and then technology in Russia at that time was very outdated. So, I had to go back to school no matter what. So, I decided I'll go back and do something else.

Corey Rieck: How do you mean that the technology was outdated in Russia? What do you mean by that?

Yelena Epova: Well, just they didn't have the level of technology that was already here. And probably one of the reasons is there was no free enterprise, very old computers. Whatever they had is very old machine, very old equipment. So, if I want to become an engineer here, I would have to learn almost from scratch.

Corey Rieck: So, you get over to America, you worked, and you decide to explore the field of accounting.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. I wasn't sure what to do here. I knew I didn't want to do engineering. I'll tell you, people ask me, "How did you two decide on becoming an accountant?" And-

Corey Rieck: Well, that was one of the next questions. Thank you for asking it.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. I wish I would tell you something more sexy. It was a very boring way to decide. I bought, at the time, Atlanta Journal Constitution. The classified section was who knows how many pages. I think 50% of those pages were accounting. So, I was like, "Okay. I think this is with numbers, and there are many jobs, and this is gonna be a good way for me to get a job at some point." That how the decision was made. It wasn't a very thoughtful decision. I just needed to get a job.

Corey Rieck: But it seems to me, it looks to me like it was the right one.

Yelena Epova: No, it was definitely the right one. Yeah.

Corey Rieck: How did you know that you didn't really want to ... that you wanted to sort of move away from your background in engineering, in your education, and go into accounting?

Yelena Epova: I just didn't have that passion anymore. And like I said, when I started taking engineering classes, I just could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. So, it was a good time for me to switch.

Corey Rieck: Where did you start your accounting career? What company? And tell us about the kind of work you did.

Yelena Epova: Well, when I was in college at night, I took all kind of jobs. And I worked for Home Depot in the accounts payable department. I worked for a doctor's office as an office manager. I worked for Pearson's Wine and Liquor Store for two years when I was in college. And I did a bookkeeping office manager kind of job. And then, my first real accounting job was with Aprio or Habif, Arogeti & Wynne at the time that it was HA&W and Aprio. So, I've been with the same company my whole accounting career. I'll tell you, I was at Georgia State, and I had two job offers as I was graduating. One was from NY and one was from Aprio. And the reason I took Aprio, not because I put too much thought into it, but because they wanted me right away. And NY, I think they wanted me like in six months. I couldn't wait.

Corey Rieck: Well, in Aprio, formerly Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, I mean they're a huge name certainly in the south and across the United States. They've done a pretty good job with their diversity. Have they not?

Yelena Epova: Yes. But interestingly enough, I was the first foreign born employee hired there. So-.

Corey Rieck: And when was that?

Yelena Epova: I started there at the very end of 1993.

Corey Rieck: Wow! 25 years.

Yelena Epova: Yeah.

Corey Rieck: One place.

Yelena Epova: And actually, I just celebrated my 25th anniversary.

Corey Rieck: Congratulations!

Yelena Epova: Thank you. Thank you. So, it was a much smaller company at the time. The focus was on smaller businesses at the time and wealthy individuals. I don't believe it represented any global companies. And I was the, like I said, first foreign employee there, first one with an accent. And when I got there, I didn't have a vision. I didn't have a vision to build international practice. I had a vision to hold on to a job. That was my vision. And maybe a year or two into it, my partner, Mitchell Kopelman, who is my partner now as well, he actually was the one who had a vision to start doing some international work. And he kind of took me a little bit under his wing, and we started working together more, and he sent me to some conferences to learn a little bit about international tax where I was completely lost. But he-

Corey Rieck: I'm completely lost, just for the record, just hearing about it.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. And it's a good thing. Don't have regrets about that. But that kind of planted a seed in my head about potentially taking this to a different level. And we started getting some companies with international presence as clients, and we learned more and more and more, and started hiring more employees from other countries. I know, some of them came there because of me, because they heard of me being foreign and being successful there. There was a real draw for international people. And right now, we have about 25% of our workforce foreign born.

Corey Rieck: Wow!

Yelena Epova: And we speak 30 languages at the firm.

Corey Rieck: How many people work at your firm?

Yelena Epova: We have a little bit over 500.

Corey Rieck: 500. They've really grown over the years. They've got a tremendous name. I know that the feedback that I get on the organization is that they do tremendous work and a lot of respect in the marketplace, no question.

Yelena Epova: Well, thank you. Thank you. We work hard, but we also have fun. We kind of like each other for the most part. So, we-

Corey Rieck: That helps.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. And it's one of the reasons I stayed with the company because I had options throughout the years to take another job. And I mean like everybody else, you look around, you interview, and I am so glad I stayed. And I felt the main reason I stayed was the people, definitely, that I worked with. And also, I felt like I never had any walls built in front of me. I mean, I had a vision, I had ideas, and the company was very supportive. And I'm just lucky. By pure luck, I went to work there and was able to do what I have done.

Corey Rieck: Well, that's certainly a ringing endorsement for Aprio, the fact that you didn't feel there's any boundaries. And certainly, there haven't been because, obviously, you performed. But you've gone up in the ranks. And to me, that's a tremendous endorsement for the company.

Yelena Epova: It's a great company.

Corey Rieck: And the fact you've been there 25 years.

Yelena Epova: Right, right. And we have quite a few people who've been there all their potential career. And they have been selected an employer of choice for a few years now. And it's a great place. It's a great place if you want to do something with your career.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, yeah. So, you travel a good bit, I would imagine, right?

Yelena Epova: I travel not excessively, but I travel far.

Corey Rieck: What is excessively?

Yelena Epova: Well, some people get on the plane every week. I wouldn't be able to live that lifestyle. I would say go to Europe mostly four or five times a year. And then, here in the US, mostly New York, Miami, LA. Our clients headquartered out of all 50 states. And of course, the biggest concentration of our clients are in southeast, but they have clients all over the US.

Corey Rieck: That probably explains why the company has exploded and grown so much over the years, right? You have clients everywhere, you've got a good name, you do good work.

Yelena Epova: True. And we keep adding different services. So, that's definitely a reason why we have grown so much, but also the fact that we have such an unusual international practice and people with so many backgrounds. The word is out there. So, we get approached by companies from all over.

Corey Rieck: What percentage of your time do you spend traveling domestically versus internationally? Is it split evenly or is-

Yelena Epova: It's more internationally, for sure. When I travel internationally, there are several reasons. Sometimes, it's conferences. Sometimes, it's speaking engagements where I go, and I speak, do presentations for companies who want to start business in the US. And every time when I'm somewhere, I also visit clients.

Corey Rieck: So, if-.

Yelena Epova: A prospect.

Corey Rieck: If a company wants to start a business in the United States, I'll bet you're a tremendous ... you personally are a tremendous resource to guide them. And what kinds of things do you guide them on?

Yelena Epova: Well, we definitely guide them on the structure, and tax structures, on choice of entity, on how to move people here if they need to move people here, how to grow profitably, how to start everything right, minimize risks but also take advantage of all that tax planning opportunities. And we provide a lot of other services besides tax. So, we can help with a lot of different aspects of accounting, and audit, and valuation, and mergers and acquisitions. There are a lot of things to do. So, we like to take clients on that have a future. I mean, obviously, a lot of companies start, and then they have big plans, but some companies that want to remain very small. They don't have bicuspid patience. I think they're perfect for somebody who has plans, who wants to grow, who wants to grow profitably, and entrepreneurial in nature.

Corey Rieck: Well, I think if you're able to sort of provide the blueprint and the boundaries, somebody that has the will and the entrepreneurialship, if you will. I mean, would certainly benefit if they wanted to start a company here by engaging you and your company's services. I mean, that's incredibly helpful to have the coaching behind the scenes to say, "Do this, not that."

Yelena Epova: Yeah, yeah. It's important to start right because it's going to be much more expensive-

Corey Rieck: You got better.

Yelena Epova: ... to fix things down the road. And also, we don't oversell. We don't necessarily. For startups, we don't say, "You need this, and this, and this," when they don't. We know exactly what they need [indiscernible] business out to the lawyers, and bankers, and people like yourself, and they know when they need an outside advisor for something we cannot provide.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, that's consultative. It seems like your approach is very consultative in nature, which, I think, business owners are looking for. They want to be able to talk to somebody that's an independent third party and get sort of an unvarnished opinion about what they should do. And obviously, your organization has built a great enough brand where they've done a great job giving that advice.

Yelena Epova: Thank you, Our goal is to be business partners with our clients. We don't just provide tax, and audit, and debits, and credits. We want to be a trusted advisor. They come to us for everything.

Corey Rieck: You just said something that I think resonates with me personally. Somebody that wants to be a business partner, somebody who's going to not try and sell you something all the time, that's going to actually try to work with you, that's going to work with you on your timeline, be loyal, all those things I think are ... being a business partner is really a crucial thing for anybody in a service type business, I think.

Yelena Epova: I agree. And that's what makes our clients feel more comfortable with us too. I think very early on, they realize that they're not there just to sell, but also help them grow. And I mean, when they grow, it helps us too because we can provide more services, and they can make more money as well.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. What gives you the most gratification when you're working with a client and helping them?

Yelena Epova: Really, the biggest thing is when I feel that they come to me for everything. They come for not just tax advice. I mean, they come for business advice. Sometimes, they come for personal advice. I have no intention to become somebody's therapist, but I am friends with a lot of my clients. And that's probably the the biggest pleasure that I get outside of ... obviously, we have this growing practice making money, but also just being appreciated and being valued, that's really big in my book.

Corey Rieck: I think that aside from the money and the income, I think when a client comes to you, and they start asking things, asking you things that are not related to business, I think it means that they're really a client if they start asking you about things that really aren't related to the business that you're doing. It's really an endorsement to me.

Yelena Epova: I agree. It means that they feel really comfortable.

Corey Rieck: You may not always want to hear what they have to say, but-

Yelena Epova: True, true. Sometimes it's like, "Okay, it's TMI." But-

Corey Rieck: But it's a compliment.

Yelena Epova: It's a compliment.

Corey Rieck: Would you agree?

Yelena Epova: I agree. And it means that they really trust you.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. It means you've done a tremendous job of gathering and gaining their trust. And you've obviously done that through performance and advice and so on. To me, that's a big compliment. Even though it might be awkward or uncomfortable to hear, it's certainly a declaration of their trust in you.

Yelena Epova: Definitely. I agree with that.

Corey Rieck: So, with what you're doing, you're giving domestic and international companies tax advice, but you're also helping them with other tax planning strategies.

Yelena Epova: True. We do help companies when they're coming here, talk to their operations, obviously figure out what type of entity they need, how to do business here in the US. And we do the same for American companies that are going global. We're helping them structure operations outside of the US. We're part of an affiliation called Morison KSi. So, I'm not claiming to be an expert in every country's tax law. There is no way somebody who will claim that. So, when we need somebody in a different country, we get them engaged. But in addition to, obviously, tax planning and tax structure, we provide all kind of traditional services, audit, accounting.

As I mentioned, we do a lot of M&A work. A lot of companies coming here, and they don't want to do everything from scratch when they acquire. So, we help them not with investment banking. We don't help identifying target unless they have a client who wants to sell, and we're happy to partner them, but we're helping them structure the acquisition the right way. We do due diligence services, things like that. Also, we do a lot of tax credits work. So, even with the rates going down, rates went down in 2008 in tax rates, there's still a lot of opportunities to get them down even more.

Corey Rieck: Do you have specific tax credits that you're looking at or I mean, I know there's a number of them, but do you have any that you specialize in or that-

Yelena Epova: They have a really large R&D tax credit practice. I think they're all at 30 people there now that research and development tax credits.

Corey Rieck: Wow!

Yelena Epova: I would say any tech company, any manufacturing distribution company, a lot of service companies qualify for that. It's a huge benefit. Sometimes, when they're getting your client, and they haven't claimed a credit in the past, we'd go back and claim the credit and get refunds for them. It's a huge benefit and a huge way for us to get clients because it's money in your pocket.

Corey Rieck: You're giving away money? Wait, wait. That makes a difference to clients, you giving them money?

Yelena Epova: That's an easy way to sell, yeah. But there are a lot of other credits. R&D is definitely the biggest one. But if you look at Georgia, for example, there's a jobs credit, there's investment credit, there is returning credit. But other states have different types of credits as well. And these are things that we always look at. And obviously, clients love it if they can reduce their tax rate and get a refund. So, just put more money in their pockets.

Corey Rieck: Are there specific clients that you're looking to help them with tax credits? I mean, I know you mentioned the manufacturing technology. But I mean, is this something that you ... I'm assuming you have access to other tax credits for other business owners-

Yelena Epova: Yeah. I mean-

Corey Rieck: ... that might make an impact for them.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, they do. Georgia is very big. If you look at Georgia on the Georgia tax level, it's very big for film and gaming credit. They've done a lot of that work. And I mean, that's one of the reasons a lot of movies are made here now. I want to say it's because Atlanta is so beautiful, but there's another reason for that too. So, they do a lot of that work. And those credits are sellable too. So-

Corey Rieck: How does that work?

Yelena Epova: So, let's say you are a gaming company, you develop online games, right? We help you claim the credit. You cannot monetize the credit yet because you may be not in a taxpaying position yet that you can sell that credit to somebody who wants it. So, normally, they go for about 90 to 91 cents on the dollar now. So, the buyers saves, I don't know, 10%, 9%, 8% on their taxes. And the seller obviously can monetize right away instead of waiting until they become profitable?

Corey Rieck: It seems to me that that's a whole other piece of the accounting and tax pie, that whole tax credit thing. And I have noticed, certainly, a lot of movies are being made here in Atlanta. And I figured it had something to do with the tax law, or credits, or what have you. But it seems to me that more and more movies are being made here.

Yelena Epova: True. And Georgia is very smart about that because there are not many states who have those credits. So, it definitely boosted the economy here.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, I would say so. There's something else, and the other things that you help people with, I mean, obviously, you're involved in a lot of different things, but you help them with inbound and outbound operations. And what is that exactly?

Yelena Epova: So, as I mentioned, we help structure the investment in the US or outside of the US. And then, we guide them through everything that needs to be done as far as compliance, of course, but also any planning opportunities they can capture here or in a foreign country. Like I mentioned, R&D credits, they do those credits now not just here but in the UK. We just throw this out to the United Kingdom. We, now, do this work outside of the US. The next step will be Australia. So, we're going to start doing it there. So, really, we help from all angles, but the main goal is to help them grow profitably and also minimize risks.

Corey Rieck: What a tremendous advantage. Just from the standpoint of structuring, setting up the right company, the right structure, I'm sure getting the right ... managing the risk appropriately, getting the engagement documents drafted and drawn up appropriately, but what a huge advantage to have somebody that kind of does this every day like your organization.

Yelena Epova: Thank you. And what we always have in mind also, even when the company is starting up, when they chose the structure, we think about the exit. Even that exit may be many years from now, we take into consideration tax implications of the exit. So, the structure is very much dependent on, of course, current operations. But also, what's going to happen when the company sells.

Corey Rieck: A bet you're very, very helpful there because you're able to help minimize the taxes, maybe help them apply any gains appropriately and so on.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, yeah. And again, we like to look ahead. We want to understand where the client is going, what their plans are, how soon do they want to exit. Do they ever want to exit? Maybe they want to have succession planning with their family. So, we look at all of that, even when the companies are starting up here, we try to get a good understanding of a long-term plan.

Corey Rieck: Do you find that some business owners are reluctant to consider the exit and the planning that goes with it?

Yelena Epova: Some do. I mean, but in most cases, if you look at the foreign companies coming here, they do want to exit at some point. I mean, if you look at US companies that are owned by family, very often, it's such an emotional decision. And in many cases, they do want kids to take over, and they don't want to exit. They're in denial. But the truth of the story is that kids, sometimes, don't want to take over. They have other plans and aspirations, but they have to look at all the options.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, certainly, you do. Do you ever find with clients that you're advising that the people that they're picking to succeed them are inappropriate or unsuited for the job? And if so, how do you deal with it?

Yelena Epova: Yeah, I mean, definitely. Sometimes, people insert their children in the company when children are not ready or they're not interested, they don't have passion for that. Of course, you look at different generations and everybody is different. I mean, I'm a strong believer in telling the truth even that, sometimes, it can be painful. But I provide advice. So, it's up to the client whether they want to take the advice or not.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. Do you find that your experience in education and engineering helps you with what you're doing now?

Yelena Epova: I think with technology companies, it does. I probably understand a little bit more of what they do than your average CPA just based on my background, my math background also. But just the way of thinking, I guess.

Corey Rieck: Are there similarities with the acumen that is required to be a good engineer, and a good CPA, and a good advisor like you are now?

Yelena Epova: It's hard to tell because I've never been an engineer. I have that background, but I've not worked as such. And I mean, I think no matter what you do, Corey, you have to be passionate. You have to like it because you do spend a lot of time at work. So, you have to like it. That's why I'm glad I got out of engineering. I would be miserable. We always say there is a 80/20 rule. I mean, if it's 90/10, it's great. If you like your job up 90% of the time, and 10% percent of the time, you just have to suck it up, you're good. 80/20 is okay. If it goes below 80, you may want to think about it and make some changes and see how you can make yourself happier. I mean, sometimes, I hear people on Sunday nights saying, "Oh, my God, Monday is coming. I have to go back to work." I mean, I'm not going to say that I jump out of bed every morning ready to go, but-

Corey Rieck: I don't think anybody does, speaking honestly.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, but I do love what I do. and I don't have those thoughts on Sunday nights that the week is going to start and I have to be in this miserable situation because I really enjoy my job. I'm very, very lucky.

Corey Rieck: And maybe the reason that you don't have those thoughts on Sunday night is because of the perspective that you have. You've had the perspective of growing up with a large family in a small apartment. You know kind of what the lifestyle ... this is how I see it. You know kind of where you been in terms of growing up, and I see how you've succeeded, and you've gone over here, and it's different. And you have that perspective. And I think that's helpful.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, definitely. But it's part of it. The big part of it is also the fact that I do enjoy what I do. And I mean, most of my days, they go very fast and very busy. I do a lot of different things. I am very fortunate to be able to do different things throughout the day. It's not the same operation over and over and over. And I like that. And then, my favorite thing is dealing with people, employees and clients, and giving advice, and training, and feeling appreciated for that.

Corey Rieck: How do you unplug? Do you unplug?

Yelena Epova: Yes, I do.

Corey Rieck: What does that mean?

Yelena Epova: You have to unplug, right? I try not to take work home. When I say it, not physically but mentally. I'm not saying that I will ... I will check e-mails at night. And if I have an emergency client, you can always call me. But I have a lot of hobbies. I mean, I have two children. I mean, one is already in college. One is still with me last year in high school. So, I try to be with them as much as I can. I play piano. I like to read. Nothing super exciting about that, but I watch Netflix and Hulu just like everybody else does. I work out. I enjoy it. I don't do as much as I need to, but I think everybody can say that. I travel for pleasure as well. I take my children to a different destination every year. This past summer, they went to Portugal for a week.

Corey Rieck: How was that?

Yelena Epova: That was amazing. We really enjoyed it. We spent time in Lisbon, and then rented a car, took them to the coast. Then, went to little towns and spent time in the resort. And it was just amazing. I am fortunate that they still want to spend time with me. So, it's still us. I'm divorced now and my vacations with them are super special. Of course, I don't take them to bad destinations either, but they are really looking forward to vacations with me. They are really talking about what they going to do this coming summer.

Corey Rieck: It sounds like you've succeeded in your relationship with your kids just like you've succeeded in the business that you're in.

Yelena Epova: Yeah, I'm not perfect. My kids, they're 22 and 17. So, 22-year-olds is sort of a grown up, but in some ways still a teenager in my head. The 17-year-old, that's a boy. He is a senior in high school. He knows everything and anything.

Corey Rieck: Stone, you were never there, were you?

Yelena Epova: I mean, I cannot say that it's all smooth sailing. And I have my own beliefs and demands. But for the most part, they get redefined every now and then.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. So, when you took the CPA exam, you set a pretty high mark there, didn't you?

Yelena Epova: I was in absolute shock how well I did. So, a lot of people say I overstudied. I probably overstudied, but my biggest goal was to take it once and achieved that.

Corey Rieck: So, you won an award for that, right?

Yelena Epova: I got the highest score in Georgia at the time. Again-

Corey Rieck: Okay. What does that mean?

Yelena Epova: There were 2500 people approximately who took it, and I got the highest score.

Corey Rieck: What year was that?

Yelena Epova: 1993, I think.

Corey Rieck: So, out of 2500 people, you got the best score.

Yelena Epova: I did. And then, I got top 100 in the country out of 75,000. So yeah. I mean-.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, those two things don't say anything about you.

Yelena Epova: It's funny that it's been a long time, obviously, since this happened, and people still pick up on that. I'm like, "Guys, I've achieved a lot of other things since then. This probably is not my biggest achievement." But yeah, I mean, I know it sounds impressive. I was impressed myself. I had no clue I was going to do that well. But I mean, that helped. Of course, that helped my career. That helped me to position myself differently at Apiro because people looked at me in a different way.

Corey Rieck: Well, they had to. I mean, you look at somebody that says ... I mean, you're not talking about a general population. You're talking about a certain specific population with subject matter expertise that ... I mean, that to me makes it all the more great because these are all very sharp people that are taking this test. It's not the average bear out there.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. And for me, it was super hard because my English was bad. So, I started with the dictionary.

Corey Rieck: Well, obviously not.

Yelena Epova: Yeah. But listen, I'm glad I only did it once. And of course, I'm glad I did so well. But at least, my biggest thing is wasting time. I would hate to do it over and over and over again.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, I know a lot of people that take it. They have a goal of just taking it once and not having to take any part of it again. And certainly, you've done that. You mentioned a couple of other things. I know that you do a lot of speaking.

Yelena Epova: I do.

Corey Rieck: Do you enjoy that?

Yelena Epova: I do. I do enjoy it.

Corey Rieck: Do you have specific topics that you talk about that you really get charged up about?

Yelena Epova: Well, I mean, of course, I do a lot of technical presentations and doing business in the US or doing business in a different country or some technical tax topics. But I've done some speeches on just development for women and how to make it in the business world, how to become successful. I mean, not just for women, but I've done quite a few for women because there are women's organizations that, sometimes, approach me, and they want me to speak. So-

Corey Rieck: I would think that would be extremely valuable for them to have you come and talk about your experience and give them advice and mentorship through your talks. I would think that would be incredibly valuable.

Yelena Epova: Thank you. And I really enjoy it, and I speak from the heart and from my own experience. I don't have to make anything up. And when I can help, I mean, I'm very happy to help.

Corey Rieck: Well, you've been a leader on many, many things. I'm looking at your bio, and there's not time enough in the week to talk about this. But 2011 Leadership Atlanta Program, receiving the Metro Atlanta Chambers 2011 Global Impact Award for Service Providers on behalf of Aprio. And chair of the 2013 Counselor Ball. I mean, there's a lot of things there. Is there anything that stands out for you more than others out of all the things that you've achieved there?

Yelena Epova: So, as far as experiences, I would say Leadership Atlanta experience was unbelievable.

Corey Rieck: How so?

Yelena Epova: It's an unbelievable program. In a class with 70-80 other executives, people who have achieved a lot already, you're given such a different perspective on life there. It's not about business. It's about what's going on here in Atlanta, and things that I've done there, and the relationships that I built, they're just invaluable. And I'll tell you, when I heard about Leadership Atlanta from different people, they said, "Oh, it's the best thing we did, and this, and that." And I was like, "They must be coached to say that," because everybody was so passionate. And I feel exactly the same way. It's not easy to get into the program.

Corey Rieck: Yeah, you have to be referred and somebody has to sort of vouch you. Is that right?

Yelena Epova: Yeah. You have to be nominated. But even then, it's hard to get in. I was lucky to get in on the first try. I think what helped me, in addition to other things, is being Russian. They never had a Russian classmate. So, I really, really strongly recommended to people who already achieved a certain level in their profession, and they want to learn more about the city, and what's going on here, and also make an impact.

Corey Rieck: And you've also written in a lot of publications. Do you enjoy that?

Yelena Epova: I do. I mean, I can say I definitely enjoy speaking more than writing.

Corey Rieck: Why is that?

Yelena Epova: I mean, I just like to engage with the audience more. When you write something, you don't know your readers. It's different. It's a different vibe. And when you write something, it's already in writing. Whatever is written is written. When you're speaking, you can deviate depending on what people want to hear and what they're interested in.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. So, you can adapt. There's that word again.

Yelena Epova: Right.

Corey Rieck: Excuse me. What sorts of clients are you looking for at this point? I mean, are there certain metrics associated with the clients that you want to work with?

Yelena Epova: Well, really, any company. Since, obviously, I'm in charge of international practice, any company that is going global, already global, any company that is coming into the US, already here, they would be perfect clients for us. And as I mentioned, companies that actually want to do something with their business, grow, introduce new products, introduce new services, new geographies, those are great clients for us. And we're a great fit for them because we can definitely, definitely help them.

Corey Rieck: Do you get a lot of clients as a result of your talks and your speaking or as a result of your writing?

Yelena Epova: I do. I mean, not enough of course, but it's never enough. But I do.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. There's an old saying I just made up Yelena, "I have room for one more client."

Yelena Epova: Yeah, I think we have room for more than just one more client. But yeah, I mean, definitely I get quite a few clients through speaking engagements and writing. And also, I mean, a lot of referrals come from other service providers. So, the best referrals always come from clients.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. That's certainly bodes well. How has your business evolved over the years? I mean, you've been at this for 25 years. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen?

Yelena Epova: Well, it's much more complicated - the law, as you know. I know we always hear about simplification. It's not simplified at all. I mean, this view-

Corey Rieck: Yeah. Who is it simple for?

Yelena Epova: Yeah. The tax reform that took place in 2018, it's super complicated. So, it's good for us, of course, that we can provide more services, but just learning it and understanding the law is very, very hard. So, I'll tell you, the biggest challenge is to stay on top of all the changes that are happening. And, of course, because we serve international, dealing with people from different cultures and understanding even the sales cycle with different cultures. We have Japanese practice, for example. We have Chinese practice. You have to be very patient to secure companies out of those countries. Even dealing with the UK, you may meet someone today, and they become a client tomorrow. With China and Japan, no. It takes a long time.

Corey Rieck: Why is that? Why do you think that is?

Yelena Epova: It's cultural. For Japanese, I would say, also, they're very loyal to their service providers. So, even if maybe they are not getting the best service, they will still doubt making a change. And you really have to earn their trust. And I would say with Japanese and Chinese, in particular, you have to have their native speakers, people who were born there dealing with them. They really, really value that. It's different. And we strategically hired people from different ... sometimes, people come to us because they know we're very international. They come to us. They they want to work for a company that represents so many global clients. But sometimes, we strategically look for employees from particular places like Japan, China, Germany. We build German practice. Russia, of course, you have Russian practice. So, it's definitely much more challenging than it used to be, but it's more fun.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. You've been invited on the show because you've been successful, and you've also been favorably introduced by another Tuesdays with Corey guests. Tell us in a few words what sets you apart from your competitors.

Yelena Epova: Wow. I'm very motivated for sure. And I think my clients who look at me, they know that I've gone basically from ground zero. And especially foreign clients, they appreciate the fact that I'm not from here. I had to adapt myself. I had to learn how to be here, had to acclimate myself. But also, I'm very passionate about what I do. As I mentioned several times already, I love what I do. And I'm a good businessperson. I'm not just a tax advisor. I can give a good business advice. And I mean, I've done this for many years.

Corey Rieck: Yeah. Certainly anybody that has you as an advisor, I think, is in a great, great position given your history and success.

Yelena Epova: Thank you.

Corey Rieck: That's one thing I would say. If there was some advice you could give a younger version of you, what would that be?

Yelena Epova: Even younger? Just kidding. I will tell you, when I got here, I was shy and I was doubting myself because-

Corey Rieck: You were shy?

Yelena Epova: I was shy.

Corey Rieck: You really did say that.

Yelena Epova: Yes.

Corey Rieck: Okay.

Yelena Epova: And part of it is also growing up in a different country and the whole culture.

Corey Rieck: Sure. Oh, sure.

Yelena Epova: Women were not necessarily business leaders in the Soviet Union. There are quite a few now, but not back then. And I was very unsure about my value. The fact that my English wasn't good. The fact that I haven't been here very long. I would say try to put these things behind you. Going back, if I would change something, I would, at least, attempt to be more self-confident and sort of understand my value at the time, because, I mean, I had a lot of value, I had a lot to bring on the table, but because I had those obstacles with the language, culture, coming here from a different country, I think I was just very unsure.

Yelena Epova: And I think another thing is that women, sometimes, they feel like there will be more obstacles for them than for men. I mean, I hear it from different angles and different people. I've personally never felt that way. I think you should believe in yourself. And I think no matter what gender you are, you should be able to achieve the same results. So, just believe in your value and know that if you give your best, sky's the limit. I know it's a cliche, but it's true.

Corey Rieck: I would say it is true. That's one of the reasons we have the show is so we can extol the virtues of successful females and talk about the contributions that they're making to their communities, to their organizations and industries. And certainly, you've done that. If there was a young lady that wanted to take a similar path that you've taken, what would you tell her?

Yelena Epova: First, again, believe in yourself. Don't think that, oh I can do this because of that, or because of this, or because of my upbringing. Maybe I grew up in a poor family or maybe I'm the first person who went to college in my family. Believe in yourself. But also create a vision for yourself. Kind of try to see where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, and try to have fun with that. You have to enjoy it. And if you cannot have fun with what you do, you have to change careers. It's a long life, hopefully, for everybody, and you need to enjoy. You need to enjoy your career. I think it's the only way you can be successful if you enjoy it.

Corey Rieck: I think you're right about that, Yelena. Yelena Epova, you've been a tremendous guest here. And if the listenership wanted to get a hold of you, how would they do that? You have an email address or a phone number to call?

Yelena Epova: Yeah, of course.

Corey Rieck: Or website.

Yelena Epova: We do have a website and everything that you mentioned. So, it's www.apiro.com. And my phone number is 404-898-7431. And email address of course is to yelena.epova@apiro.com, Y-E-L-E-N-A dot E-P-O-V-A @ A-P-I-R-O dot com.

Corey Rieck: Yelena, you've been a tremendous guest. Congratulations on all of your successes and all the obstacles that you've overcome. We wish you continued success. And thank you for being on the show.

Yelena Epova: Thank you very much. And I really, really enjoyed it.

Corey Rieck: Thank you.

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