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As Tax Manager at Cray Kaiser, Eric Challenger takes his role beyond reviewing and preparing tax returns. He’s not your typical tax expert. Yes, he’s a numbers guy, as you’d guess, but he also possesses a creative side and an emotional intelligence rare to the tax field. Eric translates complicated tax terminology into relatable and understandable language. He tailors communications to each client, giving depth and detail or keeping it fast and sweet.
To help people better understand technical tax issues, Eric relates them to topics the person is passionate about, whether it’s motorcycles, sailing or chess. If a client is into the nitty gritty, he’ll make the tax lingo make sense. If he/she is not a detail person, he’ll cover the need-to-know and let the client get to what he/she does best–running a successful business. Eric’s reward is seeing the light go on in people’s eyes; he knows they got it, and it inspires him.
In addition to working with family-owned businesses, Eric has a passion for and a unique understanding of tax laws for not-for-profit organizations. He streamlines the process and ensures his clients are achieving proper compliance. Eric’s experience with these groups helped a recent client recover and regain their not-for-profit status after a revocation.
Eric has a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Finance from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.
Community: Eric is a certified public accountant in the state of Illinois and belongs to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Illinois CPA Society, and a proud member of Vistage.
Athletic hobbies: Golf, biking, and running.
Musical hobby: Guitar.
Listening choices: Depends on the day. He might be in a John Mayer mood, or you might find him rocking out to old school Metallica.
Accounting motto: Let’s talk about tax implications today to prevent surprises on tax day.
First job: Cart boy at the local golf course.
Favorite show: All time favorites: Game of Thrones, Lost, Newsroom. Current addictions: Stranger Things, The Peripheral, The Witcher.
Facts. Figures. Calculators. People. People? For Jason Hofferica, accounting has always been about more than finances and bottom lines. From the start, Jason chose accounting to help make a difference in people’s lives. He double majored in accounting and finance at Millikin University because he believed that knowledge of both would provide him with a more global view of his clients’ financial worlds.
Jason balances the dive into the details with a big picture view of his clients’ businesses, which makes Cray Kaiser a perfect match for him. At Cray Kaiser, Jason has the opportunity to work with his clients on a wide variety of accounting areas including audit, tax and finance. And if Jason doesn’t know the answer to a question, you better believe he will find out. One of his favorite things about Cray Kaiser is that all he has to do is walk down the hall to find just the expert he’s looking for.
Jason sees the hard work his clients put into their businesses, which is why his goal is to help take the pressure off of them. He strives to be so well versed on his clients’ financial pictures that his clients depend on him as their trusted advisor. He’s there for his clients not just during specific engagements but also throughout the year for any needs, including tax planning and understanding the impact of various business decisions on accounting. Because for Jason, it’s about more than facts and figures. It’s about people.
Jason belongs to both the AICPA (the American Institute of CPAs), the ICPAS (Illinois CPA Society) and NACVA (the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts). He also serves on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.
The home front: Jason and his wife Jennefer have three daughters: Samantha, Reychel and Olivia. He also has a grandson, Parker and a granddaughter, Leah.
Hobby: Jason’s golfing time went by the wayside when Olivia was born, but he is excited about taking her to the golf course with him when she’s ready to swing the nine iron.
Favorite getaway: Jason and his wife have friends that love to travel and invite them along on getaways to amazing places (seriously – they should have a travel blog!). He’s also no stranger to Wisconsin Dells, a family favorite.
Guilty pleasure: Coffee. The darker the better.
Favorite exercise: Jason has discovered the ultimate exercise program: being a dad and grandfather. Between various activities, park visits and general running around, Jason has little need for a gym membership these days.
Eva Koziel joined Cray Kaiser in 2016. As part of CK’s Accounting Services team, Eva has played an integral role in helping develop this department for the firm. Eva’s consulting and advising offer businesses a range of support – from acting as an outsourced controller, taking the lead on creating and implementing templates for PPP that were ranked #1 nationally, advising and assisting clients with ERC eligibility, and claiming ERC credits which total close to $20 million to date, to implementing accounting, bookkeeping, and training services for clients with the support of a growing accounting services staff.
Eva works closely with clients to review, advise and implement processes to help them manage their accounting needs. Her goal is to provide them with the financial information they need to succeed. To support the operations of the firm, Eva specializes in business development and client onboarding.
Prior to joining the CK team, Eva worked for three years in public accounting with a focus on tax accounting. She then spent 15 years in the private sector as a controller and business owner for her family-owned business. Her hands-on experience working in a business that is core to CK’s competency gives her incredible insight into what her clients experience day-to-day. This is what fuels Eva’s passion for her job. She loves the daily interactions with clients and working with them as a partner and advisor to solve problems and foster growth. She hopes to empower them with the tools and information they need to succeed not just in accounting, but with their businesses overall.
Eva earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from DePaul University.
Natalie McHugh brings over 20 years of experience to her role of Tax Manager. Working directly with CK’s diverse client roster on full-service tax planning, compliance, and consulting, Natalie enjoys nothing more than defusing the “scary” moments–most often involving the IRS–when she knows her expertise can help resolve matters and take clients’ fear out of the equation.
Natalie found accounting a bit by accident when needing to declare a major prior to her freshman year at DePaul University. She soon found accounting to be her passion during her first internship when her love of numbers and people meshed in those very first assignments. Realizing accounting is not about figures but about individuals is something Natalie carries with her to this day, and can be felt in every interaction she has with a colleague or client.
Ask Natalie about her best days at Cray Kaiser and a common trend emerges: Education. Whether she is tackling a new tax legislation and challenging herself in the process, or she is explaining complex tax options to a client, Natalie excels as both student and teacher. She’d better–as a mother of two, learning is as important at home as it is at work.
Natalie earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Accountancy from DePaul University where she graduated with honors.
Community: Member, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and Illinois CPA Society; DuPage Estate Planning Council; Volunteer, Saint Symphorosa School Chicago
Free-time hobby: Free time?? Did we mention Natalie is the mom of a teenager and a preschooler?
Accounting motto: This is our clients’ lives. I am not helping them with their accounting. I am helping them with their lives.
Road warrior: Natalie actually relishes her commute to the office from the Midway area of Chicago.
Superhero Skill: Balancing it all.
Near & dear: Husband Matt, daughters, Anisa and Eleanor.
Dan Swanson, Manager at Cray Kaiser, has accounting in his blood. In the Swanson family, you’re either a teacher or an accountant. And lucky for us, he chose accounting. Growing up surrounded by CPAs, he learned that accounting is about more than numbers and money. It’s about listening. Dan values listening closely to his clients so he can absorb as much as possible about their needs, goals and history. He combines this with detailed research to create a universal view of his clients’ businesses, making him the go-to guy for questions.
After graduating from Carroll University with a degree in accounting, Dan started his career as a staff accountant at K-Five Construction. There, he learned to understand and appreciate the challenges the construction industry brings to financials. At Cray Kaiser, Dan continues to work with many clients in the construction industry in addition to serving clients in the manufacturing, waste collection, technology and wholesale industries. He appreciates the variety and challenge that public accounting offers because you never know what your day will bring or where your next conversation will take you.
After 10 years at Cray Kaiser, Dan still believes he found a firm whose mission, vision, and core values are perfectly aligned with his own. Beyond building close relationships with the owners of many family-owned and closely-held businesses, Dan is a leader in the assurance department. He frequently presents training sessions for staff on accounting and auditing standards, arming his teammates with the knowledge and confidence they need to better serve their clients. Having the accounting and assurance experience provides the foundation to the consulting and tax services he brings to each engagement. Overall, Dan appreciates the ability to see the whole picture and provide unique insights into how to best educate and empower clients with the financial know-how to lead their businesses into the future.
Community: Dan is a member of the Illinois CPA Society and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Near & dear: Dan and his wife, Mary Catherine, have two sons, Benjamin and Zachariah.
Out of the office: If the sun is up, Dan is outside with his boys shooting hoops in the driveway, kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard or playing an extremely competitive game of whiffle ball.
Movie night: Dan’s favorite movies run the gamut from The Sandlot to The Shawshank Redemption.
Accounting advice: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show up every day with a positive attitude. If you can do those two things, you will be alright.