A 1300 acre expanse of green landscape, lush with vegetation: oats, barley, alfalfa, honey and maple trees. Instead of heavy traffic and busy crosswalks, it’s a place bustling with goats, sheep, pigs and other livestock. Not uncommon for the rural Canadian, but not your typical place of employment for a Chartered Professional Accountant. However, it’s where Jeff Kozak CPA, CMA has taken the role of the CFO out of big city life and into the countryside of Shoreham, Vermont—to WhistlePig Farm, a grain-to-glass whiskey distillery.
Like many young Canadians, Jeff had dreams of becoming a professional hockey player, but ultimately opted for the responsible career choice and decided on accounting. Never did he imagine working on a farm in Vermont, occasionally chasing pigs through the mud. As CFO and COO at WhistlePig LLC, Jeff’s responsibilities include everything from managing the farming operation to building a new distillery to negotiating bank loans. And, when he isn’t busy with those professional tasks, he enjoys exploring the mountains of Vermont with his wife and three children.
“I initially thought that accounting was like math and always black and white,” said Jeff. “I soon realized that there is a tremendous amount of interpretation in the grey area, especially when you include tax law. My biggest revelation is that even in finance, it still will come down to the people and relationships you establish to effectively do your job.”
Jeff is no stranger to working in the liquor industry, having worked for some of the largest companies in the sector for more than a decade, including Alberta Distillers Limited in Calgary. In fact, it was at Alberta Distillers Limited where he first met WhistlePig’s Founder and Chief Steward, Raj Peter Bhakta.
“When I turned 40, I wanted to experience working for a smaller company where I could play a bigger role and give myself the chance to build something,” said Jeff. “Now I am proud to be part of the first true grain-to-glass distillery with national distribution in the US.”
Albertans may be familiar with the rising popularity of craft breweries in the province. It’s a trend that relies on local sourcing and production, providing consumers with greater insight into the products they’re buying and consuming. The same holds true for whiskey. Whiskey, specifically craft whiskey, is in a huge growth phase, which makes capital deployment and forecasting especially difficult, according to Jeff.
“Our whiskies are generally aged 10 to 15 years,” he said. “The decisions we make today regarding our production of whiskies and demand for them and subsequent success in planning will not be known for years out.”
For the team at WhistlePig, that decision-making has led to the commitment to advance their craft as far as possible by producing as many components of the whiskey on the farm as they can. In fact, even the barrels the whiskey is aged in is harvested from oak from surrounding farms. This attention to detail is an integral part of the crafting of the product.
Just as accounting is more than math and numbers, life on the Vermont farm is proving to be about more than one single element or skill set. They both involve creative thinking, innovation and the management of resources—skills that CPAs, like Jeff, can proudly put to use wherever their designation may lead them.