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In this video, Nick Ashmore, an in-charge accountant at Cray Kaiser, share his experiences and insights about working at the firm. He discusses the diverse opportunities, the supportive and collaborative work environment and the personalized growth plans that help team members explore different areas of interest.


My name is Nick Ashmore. My current position at Cray Kaiser is an in-charge accountant and I am a hybrid between the accounting services and the tax departments.  First off, there are a lot of opportunities and they want you to work on what you want to work on. So as I mentioned for the first years or people just coming into this firm they have an idea of what they want to work on or even if they don’t have an idea just try everything and Cray Kaiser will make that possible for them so that you can kind of really figure out what you’re good at develop a niche if that’s what you want to focus on and you could grow from there.

Every time I have an annual review or as we call them now growth plans we set goals for the year that you want to meet and you know you have the standard like billable hours and things like that but then you get to throw some oddballs in there and for me I usually try to include something I haven’t done before. So for instance this year is working on a nonprofit. I know that the nonprofit accounting is a little bit different. I have never done it. Maybe I’ll like it, maybe I won’t, but I at least want to try it and have a general understanding of it.

So they do a good job at meeting the things that you want, which in turn helps you grow because they’re doing things that you like to do or are interested in versus things you’re not interested in.

Their expectations of me were very clear but they also made the path to get them very clear. This stuff’s really easy to follow. As I said, I had a lot of different mentors for different challenges I faced. They helped me get over each and every hurdle. It’s very collaborative and I would also say empowering just because everybody wants to help you, you know, you don’t feel beaten up when you don’t know something. You have somebody you can go ask, they’ll sit with you and make time for you to really break it down and learn it. My learning style is not really being told how to do something, but it’s actually doing it with somebody kind of looking over my shoulder, guiding me through it. That’s how I learn. You know, somebody could tell me you just need to do this, this, and this, and I could get that done, obviously, but I wouldn’t fully understand it until I’ve actually taken and start to finish.

In accounting services, we all sit in the same section. That’s like, I guess, my home department, I would say. You know, we’re kind of talking back and forth over the cubicles, running ideas by each other. We all help each other out. We kind of all have our things that we have handled in the past, so when a problem arises with somebody else, you know, we can easily help them. So those are kind of the goals and values we have at Cray Kaiser here and I think it’s very beneficial for everybody.

In Cray Kaiser’s Employee Spotlight series, we highlight a member of the CK team. We couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve grown and we’re excited for you to get to know them. This month we’re shining our spotlight on Carl Thomas.


Carl is an Assurance Manager at Cray Kaiser. His typical engagements include financial statement audits of mid-sized not-for-profit entities and businesses. He has also been involved in many non-audit projects over the years, such as coordinating the budget process, drafting tax levies, ad hoc operational analysis, monthly reporting, ERP systems implementation assistance and more. “You never know what the issue will be when the phone rings,” says Carl.

Carl joined the CK team in April of 2024. He was excited to join CK because of the warm and supportive environment. Carl was most drawn to the growth-mindset shared by the CK team.

Carl received his Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Reflecting back on his time at the university he said, “The experience was tough and it taught me a lot of valuable lessons about how to be autonomous, how to advocate for myself and how the little things you do every day add up to the big things one day.”


As someone motivated by a challenge and the feeling of a job well done once a solution is found, Carl enjoys the variety of projects and clients he assists at CK. “No two projects are ever the same,” he shared. Which is just the way he prefers it.

When asked which of CK’s core values mean the most, Carl answered, “Education resonates the most with me.” He believes each individual owes it to themselves and their clients to never stop learning and always embrace new challenges. Carl explained, “CPA’s owe it to the profession to share their knowledge base with junior employees and new CPA’s so that we can help ensure the quality of the profession for generations to come. When we see potential in someone up and coming, we need to treasure and nurture it.”

For the up-and-coming CPA’s and those new to the industry, Carl suggests the first step to being successful is to find a mentor. Getting to know your mentor, observing how they work and learning from them is an invaluable opportunity. “I have had someone like this at the highest points of my career and I have lacked someone like this at the lowest points of my career. I don’t feel that it can be explained away as a coincidence.” 


Do you have a special/hidden talent or hobby?

My hobby is manual-camera black-and-white film photography. I prefer the subdued aesthetic of black and white film over the sanitized and overly vivid digital and phone shots. These photos feel distant and dreamy to me, which is exactly how I like to remember these moments. I have all the equipment and chemicals to process the film. Owning the process from shot to print really gives you a new mindset when you push the shutter button.

What’s your favorite movie or tv show?

My favorite TV show is The Sopranos. James Gandolfini’s mastery of Tony Soprano is unmatched in the history of television. My favorite film is Saving Private Ryan – and not because it’s an action movie. I love this film because Tom Hanks’ character never lost his hope, he never stopped daydreaming, and he never lost his ability to care about people in the midst of the darkness around him.

What’s on your music playlist?

I have diverse music interests! Armor for Sleep, Bcalm & Dontcry, Chihei Hatakeyama, Deftones, Down, Dustin Kensrue, Every Time I Die, Floor, Hammock, Hank Williams Sr., Hank Williams III, The Hope Conspiracy, Hopesfall, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Apple Music Lo-Fi Chillhop Study Beats Playlist, Magrudergrind, Nasum, New Found Glory, Neil Young, Palms, Paramore, Pinback, Pig Destroyer, The Receiving End of Sirens, The Smashing Pumpkins, Such Gold, Taking Back Sunday, Team Sleep, Terror, Toro Y Moi, 40 Watt Sun, The War on Drugs, Weekend Nachos.

What was your favorite vacation?

My favorite area to go for vacation is the Orange County, California area. From Santa Monica pier to Disneyland, the Getty Museum, Griffith Observatory, the ocean, the mountains, and much more, there is simply an endless amount of iconic activities and beauty to take in. Southern California weather is also near perfect with warm days and cool nights.

Nick Ashmore, an In-Charge Accountant at Cray Kaiser talks about his path to becoming an in-charge accountant. He shares about the culture at CK along with everything he learned during his journey.


My name is Nick Ashmore. My current position at Cray Kaiser is an in-charge accountant and I am a hybrid between the accounting services and the tax departments.

So on the accounting side, I am handling a lot of quarterly payroll, quarterly financial statement compilations. I am assisting with accounting consulting, sporadically as clients need assistance with journal entries or purchases they’re making and how to record things. I assist with a lot of tax returns, mainly during tax season and the tax extension filing deadlines. I do sales tax. I am currently learning depreciation, the ins and outs and becoming the go-to person for the accounting services department. I do a lot of different things.

Cray Kaiser has met every single expectation, want and need that I anticipated when I first started. I was looking for a firm with resources for me and them. I was looking for the collaborative almost tight-knit community vibe from the firm which I did get as well. I’ve made some great friends or great co-workers. You know, you’re here nine to five every single day five days a week for years, you don’t always want to just be work, work, work, got to have a little bit of play involved, a little bit of that relationship aspect on what’s going on with people’s lives, so to say. So like, you know, we have meetings every Monday where we go over what we’re working on, what we need help on, the basics and accounting, but you know, it’s also, what’d you do this weekend? You went shopping, what’d you get?

My first year here, I think I learned more than my previous three years in accounting from two different firms combined and that was exactly what I was looking for in my next position and why I ultimately chose to come on board with Cray Kaiser. They had the resources and the staff to kind of train and tailor my skillset to what was needed.

My first year at Cray Kaiser, I had never done a financial statement compilation, whether it’s an annual, quarterly or monthly. It’s just something I haven’t had experience with. So there was a learning curve there, but eventually I got the basics down, was able to apply my accounting knowledge to it once I learned the processes and the ins and outs of the client. So I’d say that was a big achievement for me and it was something that I’ve used ever since. So it was a good skill to learn and knowledge to have.

They had a great onboarding process. For the first couple months even though I had a couple years of experience, it was essentially a lot of training, learning the ins and outs of the firm, the softwares that you use, the processes they have in place. They were more up-to-date. I was looking for someone up-to-date technology wise, you know, and paper files are going away. We want everything on our computer, digitally, at the tips of our fingers. They have all that, which helps you increase efficiency and productivity. There are challenges out there. I went through trainings, I asked questions, and I learned a lot.

In the following videos, Damian Contreras, an in-charge tax accountant, who was formerly an intern at Cray Kaiser, gives an inside perspective about what it is like to be an intern at CK. If you are an aspiring professional seeking insights into the inner workings of CK, these videos offer a glimpse into the realm of an accounting internship.

What It’s Like to be an Intern at CK

My name is Damian Contreras and I’m an in-charge tax accountant. I was looking around and I already had a job lined up for a big four internship and I wanted to see what smaller firms had to offer as well. And I found Cray Kaiser and after interviewing and meeting with the people I thought it would be a great fit to try out a very hands-on tax season internship.

I noticed that the bigger firms you’re more stuck in, one area versus at Cray Kaiser, you can work in all departments in any given day and that’s one of the factors on why I chose working here. It started out heavy in hands-on training and then we started preparing simple tax forms 1099s. I gravitated more towards business returns my initial year here so I worked heavily in preparing business returns for some of our smaller family-owned businesses that we have. And then like everyone else I moved into the individual 1040 land which is also a very heavy season here. Preparing business returns initially was my favorite because they balance in the end and as an accountant that was very, it was gratifying.

Just how much you can learn if you’re willing to and that small amount of time I remember during my interviews they told me everything I’d learned in three months span and I got off the phone and laughed. I was like there’s no way that’s going to happen and then after the internship I walked away saying wow I’ve learned a lot and you know they invited me back and I was like just think about how much more I can learn in another three month span there. I worked into the summer and through the next fall and tax season and they’re very big on putting you in even on their firm CPE trainings as an intern. While you don’t need it they want you to be there to hear the new standards that are coming out and to partake in all the extra education opportunities beyond just basic intern training.

I’ve found that recently it’s a very energetic culture, especially when we’re here during tax season until ten or eleven o ‘clock at night. We have a lot of fun and we play games or talk over the cubicle walls. You know when we’re working our Saturday weekends we have Saturday games in the cafeteria that turn into competitions audit versus tax.

I’ve always liked the open-door policy that everyone has to ask questions and come in and talk and work on your own development with them.

What You Learn

My name is Damian Contreras and I’m an in-charge tax accountant. Bring a willingness to learn. It’s one of our values as education. And I’ve seen other interns here and I assisted in running the internship program. You need the willingness to learn and try to research on your own. A lot of things you can at least come into the meeting with understanding because if you don’t and they’re explaining it to you, you’re going to be lost. So it’s definitely that education and wanting to learn, especially in our industry, it’s ever changing every year with new regulations.

My second internship, they actually let me assist in running some of the trainings and kind of taking charge of the intern group. And we start out normally on Martin Luther King Day because everyone has the day off and we hit the ground running with 1099 trainings and then, we work into our business trainings and then eventually individuals in certain complex areas will have separate trainings, Then we’re giving you hands -on work. You’re in there preparing the returns, asking questions, you will get some contact with the clients. We’re going to put you out on audit engagements. One of my colleagues and I were talking about that this morning trying to schedule everything out because we want the internship experience to give you well-rounded as a whole. We don’t want you to only see tax. We want you to see audit because that’s the big question you get audit or tax. So without seeing both, how do you know to make that decision?

As we observe International Women’s Day, we want to recognize and celebrate the strong women of Cray Kaiser. These women make invaluable contributions to the accounting profession and are blazing a bold path forward for women’s equality in the world.

At Cray Kaiser, we are proud that 50% of our team is made up of women, with the firm being 66% women-owned. These talented women provide expert accounting, tax and advisory services to our clients.

As we work towards a more equitable future, International Women’s Day reminds us to continue to champion women’s empowerment and equal opportunities across all sectors and roles. Our world is better when diverse perspectives and backgrounds are represented and valued.

Please join us in celebrating the remarkable achievements of women in accounting and financial services this International Women’s Day!

We are proud to share the promotion of Natalie McHugh, CPA from Manager to a Principal/Shareholder at Cray Kaiser.

With an impressive career spanning over 25 years, Natalie has amassed a wealth of experience. She began her career at CK as a Tax Manager, providing comprehensive tax planning, compliance, and consulting services. Her passion for her work shines through, particularly in moments perceived as “scary,” often involving the IRS. Natalie takes pride in leveraging her expertise to assist clients in all aspects, providing holistic tax guidance on the business, individual, trust and estate platforms. Her promotion to Principal reflects her dedication and expertise in navigating the intricacies of taxation for the benefit of CK and its clients.

Natalie’s journey into accounting was serendipitous, discovering her passion during her first year at DePaul University. Through her first internship, she realized that accounting is not merely about numbers but revolves around individuals. This realization has remained a driving force throughout her career, evident in every interaction with colleagues and clients. Natalie’s promotion to Principal reflects her dedication and ability to combine her love for numbers with a genuine connection to people.

Please join us in congratulating Natalie on her new role at CK!


Memberships & Associations


In Cray Kaiser’s Employee Spotlight series, we highlight a member of the CK team. We couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve grown and we’re excited for you to get to know them. This month we’re shining our spotlight on Steve Benzinger.


Steve is an In-Charge Assurance Accountant at Cray Kaiser. His role includes assisting staff in completing their responsibilities while serving as a point of contact for the client. His day-to-day consists of participating in compilation, review, and audit engagements, primarily performing detailed testing of areas such as accounts receivables/payables, expenses, cash – during reviews/audits. During compilations, Steve leads the preparation of the client’s financials and assists in classifying transactions.

Steve joined the CK team in November of 2023. He was most excited about joining a team large enough to serve as trusted advisors to clients while also being small enough to connect personally with clients and identify areas of growth and change. He enjoys working directly with the Principals and Managers on a daily basis and having the opportunity to learn from those around him.

Before joining CK, Steve worked for two years at Grant Thornton. He received a Bachelor of Accountancy from Northern Illinois and holds a CPA in Illinois.


Steve finds the opportunity to work closely and learn from the knowledgeable people who make up the CK team invaluable. So, it’s no surprise that the CK values that resonate the most with him are Education and People. Steve said, “Trying new things can be uncomfortable and challenging, and this is how one develops.”

When asked about advice he would give to someone just starting in the accounting industry, Steve suggests being open to new opportunities. He said, “Find what speaks to you and lean into it. Be willing to ask questions.” He also wants people new to the industry to understand that they won’t know everything immediately and that’s okay.

While there have been many notable moments in his career, Steve revealed that his most impactful moment has been passing the CPA exam. That achievement was a culmination of many late nights and weekends of studying. 


If you could be an expert at anything, what would it be and why?

Cooking! I like to eat and have recently been moving away from pre-prepared/heavily processed foods. Living away from family/parents will do this – My body and wallet thank me!

How do you like to spend your weekends/time off? Bonus question: what do you want to do most when tax season is over?

I like to cook and try new recipes. I recently have been working on a recipe for chicken drumsticks that I can make large batches to have for lunches and dinners. I also like to play trivia.

When tax season is over, other than sleeping, I hope to expand on my cooking capabilities.

What motto do you live by?

No one is perfect – It is okay to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them.

Comparison is the thief of joy – Looking to others and what they have and know does not lead to fulfillment. People learn and develop at their own pace and comparing yourself to what others have done can lead to despair. Be proud of what you have accomplished in your own sense.

Tell us about your family.

My father owns a print shop, my mother is a kindergarten teacher, and my brother is a chemist. My family has a cat named Phoebe, a Nebelung breed. My girlfriend likes to say that I have a stepson, her German Shepard, named Chunga.

Do you have a special/hidden talent or hobby?

I played competitive dodgeball in college. This was a great way to relieve stress and meet people from other areas of the school.

What’s your favorite movie or tv show?

Arrested Development – the absurdity of the situations is hilarious.

Reservoir Dogs (anything from Tarantino), Blade Runner, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Grand Budapest Hotel (anything from Wes Andeson), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

What’s on your music playlist?

Sum 41 – I have seen them live three times, it is always a high energy affair, and you will find me in the mosh pit!

Primus – Never a dull song, unique absurdity around every corner.

Iron Maiden – I appreciate the story telling along with the fast-paced guitar and drums.

What’s the last book you read?

The last few books I’ve read include Valley of the Dolls, The Princess Bride, Fight Club, and Requiem for a Dream.

Dan Swanson

CPA | Manager

Recently, I was approached with a simple question, “How do you feel about giving a presentation to high school students for Career Day?” My initial reaction, in true accountant fashion, was, “What is the date? I hope this doesn’t interfere with the October 15th deadline.” Then, the more I thought about it, the more excited I became at the opportunity to stand in front of students and speak about the exciting world of accounting. Yes, you read that correctly: the EXCITING world of accounting.

How do I reach these kids? How do I make my presentation fun and interactive? What do I wish I knew when I was that age? Why accounting? What if I am not asked to come back next year? I had all these questions that needed answers. The future of the entire accounting profession was relying on my presentation. Okay, maybe I am overexaggerating slightly, however, my goal was to give a fun presentation to get young minds interested in learning more about the accounting profession. 

I began my presentation with a brief introduction and immediately asked the students what they thought of when they heard the word ‘accountant.’ We all laughed at the fun and exciting stereotypes surrounding the accounting profession. These were too great not to share:

Besides laughing with the students and getting them to open up, there was an important takeaway from this exercise. We, as an accounting profession, need to do a better job sharing our experiences and the opportunities that await  students considering going down the accounting path.    

After conveying these experiences and opportunities to the students, I realized my time was running short, so I challenged them with the following:

Next time you meet with your guidance counselor, make sure you sign up for the accounting course offered at your school. But I am warning you, speaking from personal experience, you may fall in love.

In Cray Kaiser’s Employee Spotlight series, we highlight a member of the CK team. We couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve grown and we’re excited for you to get to know them. This month we’re shining our spotlight on Jacob Suchecki.


No day at CK is ever the same for Jacob in his role as Staff Accountant. His day is centered around conducting financial audits and providing assurance to clients. Whether he is audit planning, conducting data analysis or testing to ensure compliance with accounting standards, Jacob’s expertise of attention to detail shines through. 

Jacob started his journey at CK as an intern in February and joined the team full-time in May. He was immediately drawn to the dynamic and collaborative work environment. The CK team’s commitment to professional development, team-oriented culture, and the opportunity to gain valuable experience were all key factors that fueled his excitement to join the company.


When asked which core value means the most, Jacob answered, “Integrity. While all the values are important, integrity aligns with the ethical standards and professional conduct which is important to the accounting and assurance field and remains a fundamental part of my role.” Jacob continued, “In order to keep client connections and guarantee the accuracy and dependability of financial information, it is crucial to value integrity which includes honesty, ethics, and transparency.”

Jacob enjoys his role at CK and remains at the company because of the support he receives for his professional growth and the strong ethical standards CK upholds. He also appreciates the opportunities to work with diverse clients from various industries, which keeps his job interesting.

Before CK, Jacob received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Saint Xavier University. While pursuing his degree, he interned for a small accounting firm that allowed him to experience the accounting field. He plans to continue his education and pursue his CPA.

When asked about a piece of advice he would give to someone just getting started in the accounting industry, Jacob answered, “As someone who is just starting in the industry, I would advise focusing on education, staying up to date on industry changes, and honing the skill of paying attention to detail. Developing strong communication skills to build professional connections by networking and applying to internships is how I was able to land an internship at CK.” He continued, “Finally, setting clear career goals and committing to lifelong learning will help you succeed and thrive in the accounting field.”

Jacob’s favorite CK group outing was when they participated in a golf outing in August. The outing was the perfect opportunity for team building, relaxing, and stress relief. It also provided a great space for networking with colleagues. The outing contributed to a more cohesive and enjoyable work environment, making it a memorable experience.


Tell us about your family.

My parents both came from Poland when they were teenagers. I have two younger brothers who are 19 and 17. My family is a big fan of soccer and golf.

Do you have a special/hidden talent or hobby?

The hobby I love doing is golf. Being outdoors for 4-5 hours with family and friends is what I love most about golf.

What is your favorite vacation? Or what is the #1 place on your vacation list?

The #1 place on my vacation list is to travel to anywhere in Europe. My plan would be to backpack throughout Europe and get to experience every country. Since I am big soccer fan, I would also love to go experience a game in Europe.

What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki. The book provided valuable insights on financial literacy and investments, emphasizing the importance of financial education.

In Cray Kaiser’s Employee Spotlight series, we highlight a member of the CK team. We couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve grown and we’re excited for you to get to know them. This month we’re shining our spotlight on Daniel Jacobson.

Getting to Know Daniel

Daniel is a Senior Accountant in the assurance department. His role includes serving as lead on audits, reviews and compilations. A typical day for Daniel consists of performing audit tests or analytical procedures for engagements.

Daniel joined CK in October of 2022. He was immediately drawn to the amazing group of people who work at the firm, the values of CK, and the great work environment. The mentors he has had the opportunity to work with and learn from and the friendly atmosphere of the firm are two major things that excite him about CK.

Why CK?

When asked which of CK’s core values mean the most, Daniel answered, “Integrity is the most important core value to me because it is important to provide our clients accurate and honest assessments through our work and actions.”

Before CK, Daniel graduated from Northwestern University as a history major. During his time as an undergraduate, he started taking accounting courses which he found enjoyable. After graduation, Daniel began working in a variety of positions in the accounting field. He attended night classes to earn his CPA and passed the final CPA exam in May 2015. He has been working with public accounting firms since January of 2016, including Baker Tilly, Jesser, Ravid, Jason, Basso & Farber, and Picker & Associates.

When asked about an impactful moment in his career, Daniel answered, “I have an unusual path for a public accountant. I did not major in accounting or have an internship with a CPA firm. Studying towards my CPA and spending my own money on classes, review courses, and tests is the greatest accomplishment in my career.”

More About Daniel

What motto do you live by?

Be open to new experiences and perspectives.

How do you like to spend your weekends/time off? Bonus question: what do you want to do most when tax season is over?

I enjoy spending my free time with friends and family. You can usually find me dining out or at the movies. After tax season is over, I like to take a long vacation, usually somewhere overseas.

Do you have a special/hidden talent or hobby?

I’m great at trivia; particularly sports, movies, tv, and music.

What’s the last book you read?

Killers of the Flower Moon.