Longtime CPE instructor Andy Biebl reflects on his career

The popular educator to trade in tax packets for the tackle box

| October 2017 Footnote

For Andy Biebl, he says he just happened to be the guy with the materials.

photos of Andy at various events

And, so goes the beginning of a storied career of the much-revered educator. Back in the late 1970s, as a 28-year-old, Biebl says he "didn't know much, but I had the materials before everyone else!" Today, Biebl has been highly praised for his ability to break down complex tax information, garnering many repeat attendees at his sessions.

We talked with the beloved CPA and former MNCPA board chair as he winds down his four-decade teaching career with one last MNCPA Tax Conference and a round of Tax Advisers Updates this fall.

What will you miss most about teaching?

I'll miss the challenge and the interaction with practitioners at the Tax Update sessions. I find it energizing to have a large group and the pressure to deliver technical content in a clear manner.

What will you miss least?

Airplanes with 30-inch legroom.

Where's the most unique place you've taught?

I recall a seminar at a small lodge on an island in Lake of the Woods where the electricity came from a generator. I've also presented on a riverboat on the Danube River between Vienna and Budapest.  

Have you noticed any differences in teaching to multiple generations of learners?

I think CPAs from different generations are more alike than different. We are all hardworking, serious about our profession and driven to do the best for our clients. As we move toward electronic delivery for education in many states, I'm seeing all generations making the change.  

If you were to teach a nontax topic, what would it be?

"Largemouth Bass Fishing for Dummies." I'm not that great at it yet, but give me a year or two into retirement.

What's one of your funniest teaching or classroom stories?

One memorable setting was a two-day corporate tax workshop in a Miami Beach hotel with about 300 attendees. The east side of the room was glass overlooking the pool and the beach. All I saw for two days were side profiles of heads turned to the east instead of north toward me.  

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I have had some nice thank yous over the years from seminar participants. But, in terms of lasting difference, I have had my hands on three client cases that turned into major court decision victories. Two of those went through the Eighth Circuit, and hopefully they will have a lasting impact on tax law.  

What's the most valuable travel tip you've learned throughout your career?

I recall being at a Seattle hotel where there was an early morning power outage in that area of town. The hotel's solution was to come around with green Halloween glow sticks to provide lighting. Some guests were trying to shower, shave and dress using glow sticks, with their doors open to get more light from the exit signs. Since then, I always carry a small flashlight in my business bag.  

The biggest change you've seen in your time teaching:

The electronics have changed tremendously. When I began, it was overhead projectors and hand-drafted outlines on those clear plastic transparencies. In those days, we bored everyone with poor overheads. Today, we bore them with more colorful PowerPoints.  

Most memorable moment:

My older son is a CPA and he attended a session I presented in Nebraska. Amazingly, he seemed to stay awake the whole day and, more amazingly, he's still a CPA today.

What are you looking forward to in full-time retirement?

I'll be doing some volunteer work. But more importantly, there will be more time with kids and grandkids. My wife, Anne, and I will catch up on fun travel instead of business travel. I also have some work to do on my hunting and fishing careers.  

One of your last sessions in Minnesota will be as the keynote speaker for the Tax Conference. What are your emotions going into that last session?

That closing session at the Tax Conference on career reflections scares the heck out of me. It's humbling that the committee thought I might actually have something interesting to say. But, beyond the fear factor, it'll be liberating to let loose with an open agenda -- so, for the first time ever, fun in one of my seminars!

Anyone you wish to thank?

Whatever success I have had is certainly attributable to being surrounded by a lot of very capable people. Bob Ranweiler and Cathy Olson had as much or more to do with the seminar and publication success than I did, and others in our New Ulm practice very capably assumed my client work to allow me to devote time to traveling and speaking. Today, I have peers in our firm's national tax office with deep specialty knowledge who are critical to the education we deliver. In many ways, I'm just the talking head who reflects the talents of others.

Most importantly, my wife, Anne, has been very supportive of my career and tolerant of my too-frequent absences (except there was that time I flew out early for a Boston seminar and left her to deal with a major Minnesota blizzard and our three young kids ...).