Spokane is renowned for two world-class sporting events: Bloomsday and Hoopfest.
The first was started by Olympic marathoner Don Kardong.
The other by his accountant.
Rick Betts co-founded what has become the largest three-on-three basketball tournament anywhere, and it has raised $1.6 million for charities.
The inaugural Hoopfest drew 2,000 players. Next weekend, 24,000 players – including Betts – along with 3,000 volunteers and more than 200,000 spectators will converge downtown to see who has game.
When he’s not competing for blacktop bragging rights, Betts manages Seattle-based Moss Adams’ Spokane office, the region’s largest accounting firm. He’s also responsible for the firm’s Yakima office, as well as four others in central states.
During a recent interview, Betts reflected on his career, his hoop dreams, and his favorite Hoopfest memory.
S-R: What were your interests in high school?
Betts: I enjoyed sports. I played tennis. I wasn’t good enough to make the (Lewis and Clark) basketball team, but I was a solid sixth man on a church team that won a city championship. That was pretty much the highlight of my basketball-playing career.
S-R: How about off the court?
Betts: I got into debate, and won some tournaments my senior year. That inspired me academically.
S-R: Where did you go to college?
Betts: The University of Puget Sound. I was good at math and not interested in science, so I decided to get a business degree with a focus on accounting. Later I earned a master’s in tax at Gonzaga.
S-R: What path did your career take?
Betts: I got a job with the global accounting firm Ernst and Young right out of college, and worked there four years, eventually transferring back to Spokane. I joined Moss Adams in 1984.
S-R: How did you end up in management?
Betts: Generally when you start public accounting, you’re not clear about what you’re going to do in the long run. Gradually I realized I was more interested in the business of public accounting, which is different than actually doing the client’s work. I enjoy meeting new clients and determining how we can make a difference for them.
S-R: How has the industry evolved during your career?
Betts: When I started in the ’70s, everything was paper and pencil. I actually worked with a guy whose calculator had a crank. Today, if I needed a pad of paper, I don’t know where I’d find it. The other big changes have been the complexity of tax law, and our clients’ businesses. They’re more global.
S-R: Has the profession’s image evolved?
Betts: CPAs have always scored very high for trustworthiness – and unfairly perceived as lacking personality. Surprisingly, things like the Enron scandal, MCI (WorldCom) and Madoff didn’t really hurt our image much.
S-R: Did the recession impact your business?
Betts: We took a little hit, though not nearly to the degree other industries experienced. Even during a recession, businesses still need audits and have to file tax returns. There isn’t a lot of discretionary spending when it comes to accounting.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Betts: The intellectual challenge of coming up with new entrepreneurial ideas, and implementing them.
S-R: What do you like least?
Betts: The fact that it’s hard to disengage from work. I get emails all the time and feel compelled to respond. When I go on vacation, I work a few hours each day. I don’t have to, but if I don’t, the workload piles up.
S-R: What’s the career outlook for this field?
Betts: Fabulous. If you’re an accounting major and a good student, it’s not a question of whether you will get a job, but rather how many job offers you’ll have.
S-R: What is a typical starting salary?
Betts: Generally $40,000 to $50,000 in the Spokane market.
S-R: Besides intelligence and academic performance, what qualities do you look for when hiring?
Betts: A good fit from a personality standpoint, as well as some work experience and volunteerism.
S-R: Law firms outsource basic work abroad. Do accounting firms?
Betts: Some firms have their own operations in the Far East, where costs are cheaper. Moss Adams doesn’t.
S-R: You handle a lot of proprietary information. Is the threat of hacking a headache?
Betts: It’s a huge issue. Moss Adams has a director of security, and we do a lot to prevent hacking. But professional service firms are vulnerable, just like everybody else.
S-R: Tell me about the inspiration for Hoopfest.
Betts: My very first client was Don Kardong, when he had a running store – The Human Race. I wasn’t involved with starting Bloomsday, but I did organize the first Corporate Cup in 1982. A few years later I was in Washington, D.C., for a business meeting – that was back when it was cheaper to fly on weekends – and I was killing time when I happened upon a three-on-three basketball tournament right on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were probably a couple of hundred teams having a lot of fun. And I thought, Bloomsday is great. Let’s do something like this for basketball. That winter I came across Jerry Schmidt, who’d had the same idea, so we joined up and launched Hoopfest in June of 1990.
S-R: Was there a moment when you thought, “This thing has traction?”
Betts: We felt that the first year. Five hundred teams doesn’t sound like much now, but the downtown streets were packed, just like today – only now we have more streets.
S-R: It makes sense that Don Kardong, a famous runner, could launch a successful road race. But you were a rec league player. How did you pull it off?
Betts: Spokane already had a basketball tradition, just as we had a running tradition. I’m an idea guy – an organizer. I had no basketball credibility, but I got some local basketball names involved. And we had (Washington Redskins quarterback Mark) Rypien and (Chicago Cubs star Ryne) Sandberg on the first poster.
S-R: Have you played every year?
S-R: What’s your best finish?
Betts: I used to have my own team, and I was pretty successful at getting other guys who were actually good to play with me. So we did OK. But then I got tired of tracking down my three sons – they’d have their own teams, and I’d try to watch them and also compete myself. Now we play as a team, and we’ve won our family bracket four times.
S-R: How involved are you with managing the tournament?
Betts: During the first three years, I spent way too much time on Hoopfest. But it was a point in my career when I could get away with it. I didn’t have nearly the client load or the responsibilities I have now, and I was extremely passionate about what was evolving. After a few more years, I was satisfied not being the face of the event. I still serve on the board – I’m currently chairman. And I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can improve the event.
S-R: What’s your favorite Hoopfest memory?
Betts: Not one involving me personally, or even my family. My favorite memories are when I’m walking down the street and I overhear some excited little kid telling his mom what a joy Hoopfest is.