Tony Kenon knows what it’s like to have nothing.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Tony came to the U.S. as a young child. His experience growing up in extreme poverty shaped his life — and continues to do so today.
“Poverty drives you,” he says. “Poor kids know what it’s like to not have enough of anything. That’s compelling and stays with you.”
That drive, born out of a literal and figurative hunger to improve his station, combined with his passion for people, guided him to become a renowned accountant and business consultant in the renewable energy field — and our latest Driven Spotlight.
Thoughtful and introspective, Tony possesses a keen ability to assess people’s strengths and help hone those strengths with abundant amounts of empathy. He applies this skill with both his team and clients as the founder and managing partner of Kenon Group Consultants in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“It comes from my life experiences,” he says. “I learned over the years it starts with being an active listener. That’s helped me to hone my empathy and relate to others.”
Tony acknowledges accounting services are much like a commodity. There is no shortage of accountants who can crunch numbers and prepare balance sheets. But his emphasis on empathy is the differentiator that truly helps add value to his team and clients.
“Having a professional with patience and empathy to explain a situation that is unfavorable to the outcome the client was hoping for — that takes a lot of patience and time,” Tony says. “The empathy is the education for the client, to give them context into the situation and help them understand why their desired outcome is or isn’t possible.”
Becoming an accountant likely isn’t the dream of most kids. But one fateful visit to the office of a certified public accountant (CPA) when he was younger proved life-altering for Tony.
His dad was doing some work for a CPA and young Tony accompanied his father to the accountant’s office one day.
“I was so impressed by this guy,” Tony says. “I saw his degrees on the wall, his office, his suit. When you’re a child, that type of stuff is very impressionable. It stuck with me.”
Aware of his son’s reaction to visiting the CPA’s office, Tony’s dad also contributed to planting the seed that helped guide his son toward his future profession.
“My dad looked at me and said, ‘You need to be like that guy,’” Tony says.
Looking back, Tony says that office visit and paternal encouragement proved a defining moment in his life.
“I’m very fortunate to be where I am in my life,” Tony says. “I’m where I need to be. I love my career and getting to help people find their own success.”
Growing up in poverty, Tony faced countless challenges to get to where he is today. Even so, just because he has achieved an enviable level of success doesn’t mean obstacles have disappeared completely. But after a lifetime of overcoming adversity, Tony understands the importance of one’s mindset when tackling obstacles.
“I try to turn it around and think of the challenge as more of an opportunity,” he says. “How can I grow from it? How can I profit from it? When you approach it that way, the obstacle becomes easier to tackle.”
Fundamentally, though, Tony says his biggest challenge remains himself.
“I am my life’s biggest challenge,” he says. “I always try to look inward first rather than outward.”
Accounting may have a reputation as a buttoned-up profession in many ways, but it sure has guided Tony down some unique roads.
For instance, he used to co-own two nightclubs in downtown Tucson, Arizona.
“I met someone who was in that scene,” Tony says, “and it sounded cool.”
He became a silent partner and helped with revamping operations at the two clubs. Eventually, though, he sold his interest because of the seedy nature of the industry. One of the other owners wanted to cheat on the financials, but Tony wasn’t having it.
“We were probably the only honest nightclubs in the world,” he says.
Another surprising experience partly attributable to Tony’s career in accounting was his opportunity to meet with a Mayan shaman in Yucatan, Mexico.
His interest in the Mayan civilization partly stems from their obsession on time. “As an accounting professional, time is always critical to us,” Tony says. “It’s not an obsession for us, but we’re always watching the clock.”
Mayan shamans normally do not speak with non-Mayans. But Tony convinced a tour company he previously traveled with to set up a meeting. The tour company pulled some strings, and, in the summer of 2012, Tony journeyed to a remote village in central Mexico with a bodyguard and translator to meet with the shaman.
“The Mayans believe we are headed for tough times in the future because of our lack of respect for one another and Mother Nature,” Tony says of his conversation with the shaman.
Despite that dire prediction, the shaman expressed hope that humanity will find its way again.
“The whole experience just reaffirmed for me that we truly are all connected,” Tony says.
From poverty to money and praise to self-improvement, Tony admits that what drives him has changed over the years. But having reached a level of financial, professional and personal success, what drives him now is helping people.
“That, of course, includes my clients and team members, but also the greater community and others I know and meet,” he says. “That sense of satisfaction you get from helping other people is truly compelling.”
Like his approach to other aspects of his life, Tony takes a thoughtful tack toward his health and fitness.
He works out five times a week, checking in with a trainer a handful of times during the year to adjust his workouts as needed. He also meditates every day to maintain his mental focus and calm.
In terms of diet, he drinks little alcohol and eats meat sparingly, though he doesn’t eat any red meat.
“Mostly, I eat for energy,” he says. “That’s hard for me, being a Mexican.”
Driven by passion. Driven by purpose. Driven to perform at your best — every day. That’s the Driven lifestyle. How do you live driven? We want to share your story with our community. Nominate yourself or someone else you know to be a future Driven Spotlight.
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