From humble origin to huge impact: Local businesswoman partners with international charityNov 30, 2023 10:07AM ● By Elisa Eames
Alex Mic-Podar has founded multiple companies and fostered various charities. (Kinser Studios)
Is the American dream still alive? For Salt Lake Valley resident Alexandrina Mic-Podar, it certainly is—and then some.
Known as Alex to friends and acquaintances alike, Mic-Podar was born in a small village in Romania. When she was just a little girl in 1989, rioting and violence broke out in many cities as the Romanian Revolution to oust Communism spread across the nation, culminating in the execution of the Romanian leader and his wife on Christmas Day. In 1990, her mother moved the family to Hungary, and her father was able to join them a year later. Finances were tight as they began their new lives.
“I’ve been dabbling in small business since I was a kid, doing odd jobs and trading stuff with my classmates just to be able to buy lunch and school supplies,” Mic-Podar said.
To help make ends meet, she dropped out of high school at age 14 to begin working full time. “That’s where I got my real education,” she said with a knowing smile. To find clients for the massage therapy business she started on her own, she struck up conversations with fellow passengers while riding the bus.
As a young adult, she met her friend and future business partner, American citizen Julie DeLong, while serving as a missionary in Hungary. “Then in 2005, thanks to some incredibly generous friends, I got the chance to move to the USA, where I saw the American dream come alive,” Mic-Podar said. “I brought with me a strong work ethic and the belief that anything is possible if you work for it. That’s when the entrepreneur in me was born.”
The first of her family to earn a college degree, Mic-Podar graduated from LDS Business College in business and accounting, using her hard-won knowledge and education to guide and assist numerous businesses in their efforts to grow.
“I’m absolutely passionate about building businesses and bringing people together in ways that benefit them. I love helping startups and supporting new entrepreneurs in getting their dreams off the ground.” she said.
Fluent in English, Hungarian and Romanian, she has served as a consultant, board member and even investor for various companies in Romania and the U.S. For almost four years, she was the National Director of Public Affairs in Romania for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She and DeLong eventually both settled near the Herriman-Daybreak border, and in 2008, she watched DeLong struggle with several small office positions.
“Alex joked that [I] was spending more time in QuickBooks than on Facebook, so why not turn it into a business?” DeLong explained with a smile.
DeLong realized that what she loved most was bookkeeping and accounting, so with virtually no money, the pair launched Salt Lake Valley-based Backyard Bookkeeper and later, Backyard Payroll. With almost 50 employees and clients from multiple states, Backyard Bookkeeper has grown into one of the largest bookkeeping-only companies in the nation. And it’s no wonder why—with Mic-Podar’s and DeLong’s hands-on guidance and careful involvement, both companies continually strive to offer superior service. Partnering with ChamberWest Chamber of Commerce, Backyard Bookkeeper was a 2022 Worldwide Finance Award recipient. The company is also a member of the Forbes Financial Council and has been featured in several Forbes articles. DeLong has penned an article herself for Forbes’ online content.
In 2018, Mic-Podar also co-founded sPc Strategies, which helps businesses create their own in-house accounting departments, and she and DeLong recently launched their online Bookkeeping Academy.
“[I love] helping businesses overcome [financial] obstacles,” Mic-Podar said. She aims to do this by providing skilled bookkeeping professionals, essential training programs and expert consulting.
In fact, Mic-Podar regularly offers her expertise about starting and growing a business as she is often invited to speak at business functions and conferences. She has been featured on numerous webinar and podcast series and earned recommendations from many of her fellow business owners. Recognized by numerous organizations for her achievements, she was also honored last summer by Utah’s 40 Over 40, an organization that distinguishes and celebrates the accomplishments of remarkable and successful women over the age of 40. Mic-Podar concedes that she is somewhat unique in what she has done.
“I’m a… female CEO in a world dominated by male CEOs,” she said good-naturedly.
But those who know Mic-Podar best will readily acknowledge that her good qualities don’t end with her business expertise. She has freely given her time and talents to various charities, serving as a consultant, board member and even chairwoman. For four years, she volunteered as an employment specialist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in 2011, she became a consultant for Bridge of Love, an organization that provides social services and support to abandoned children and their foster families in Romania. Just two years later, Bridge of Love made her their executive director.
Currently, she is helping with a hat and scarf drive for Ukrainian refugee children in Romania through U.S. Friends of AMAR, the American arm of London-based charity AMAR International Charitable Foundation. In 1991, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, U.K., founded AMAR, which loosely means “builder” in Arabic, to provide relief to Iraqis persecuted by Saddam Hussein. In the decades since, the organization has provided healthcare, education and emergency relief to millions of displaced and vulnerable people in the Middle East and the world. AMAR, whose official patron has been none other than Prince Charles himself (now King Charles III), has also maintained a presence in Mic-Podar’s native Romania helping orphans and special needs children to integrate into society.
Later in the 90s, the baroness chose the Salt Lake Valley as headquarters for U.S. Friends of AMAR, which also collaborates with LDS Charities. During her tenure at LDS Business College, Mic-Podar had met D. Louise Brown, a current board member of U.S. Friends of AMAR, and it was during this time together that Brown came to deeply admire Mic-Podar, particularly her courage. During one of Nicholson’s trips to the Salt Lake Valley two years ago, Brown introduced her to Mic-Podar. The two women hit it off immediately as they discussed AMAR’s future, and Mic-Podar offered her thoughts on how to improve the organization.
“Alex has such a big heart!” Brown said. Mic-Podar has been a tremendous supporter of AMAR ever since.
As she saw Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion continue to pour over the Romanian border, Nicholson asked Brown for hand-knit or crocheted scarves and hats to send to child refugees. The goal of the drive is not only to provide warmth but also a personal connection with a handmade gift from someone half a world away. The baroness requested that a handwritten note from its creator accompany every item.
Brown was somewhat overwhelmed by the request, but she knew just who to call for help: Alex Mic-Podar, who was a natural choice not only because of her continued support of U.S. Friends of AMAR but also because some of her family members still live in Romania.
“Alex is a very humanitarian-minded person,” Brown said. “She is the kind of person who gets things done.”
Mic-Podar immediately created a Facebook group for the drive, and in just a few short months, membership in the group has grown to over 120. Members share ideas, tutorials and photos, and other Facebook users have reached out from all over to join the effort, including a resident of England who didn’t realize the group was in the U.S. Mic-Podar and other volunteers continue to work with local religious women’s organizations, church congregations, high school and senior groups, many individuals, and even the Centerville South Stake Humanitarian Center.
The Golden Hours Senior Citizen Center in Ogden is just one group that has diligently worked to do its part, and in November, Mic-Podar drove to collect their donations and made a point of arriving early to spend as much time as she could visiting with the seniors themselves.
The goal for the first batch of scarves and hats was to deliver them to the children on St. Nicholas Day, which falls on Dec. 6. In many European nations, St. Nicholas Day is a significant holiday, where gifts are bestowed on children and those in need. It marks the beginning of the holiday season in general.
“One shipment left at the end of September with 207 hats and 71 scarves, weighing 70 pounds. We were shocked to get so many items! The second shipment left on Oct. 30 with 498 hats and 291 scarves and weighed 205 pounds. A third shipment left Nov. 11 with more than 1,000 items!” Brown said. She has also received donations of yarn, supplies, transportation and even childcare from those who don’t knit or crochet.
Brown credits a small number of key people, including Mic-Podar, with the overwhelming response.
“So many things fell into place for this project,” Brown said. “Alex’s role in this was absolutely essential. This would never have gotten off the ground if she had not been willing to step up and contribute her time and skills… to enable us to reach out to people we don’t even know.”
Baroness Nicholson hopes that the community created by Mic-Podar’s Facebook group and other outreach efforts continues to grow to help with future humanitarian opportunities in the U.S. and U.K. Hundreds of children will be delighted with the handmade, heartfelt accessories on St. Nicholas Day, but because the need is ongoing, the drive will continue through February. Cache Valley-based Juniper Systems, Inc. has graciously assisted with discounted shipping rates.
Numerous charities, organizations, businesses and individuals attribute much of their success to Mic-Podar’s impact.
“My [Romanian] grandparents taught me about love, faith and hard work, and those lessons have stayed with me,” she said. “I learned to never give up and to always dream big, no matter the circumstances.”
Last summer, Mic-Podar was finally able to celebrate becoming a U.S. citizen.
For questions about or to donate to the Ukrainian Children’s Hat and Scarf Drive, contact Alex Mic-Podar at [email protected] or D. Louise Brown at (801) 682-0691, or visit the Facebook group, Hats & Scarves Project for Ukrainian Children by AMAR at www.facebook.com/groups/hatsandscarvesforukraine. For more information about AMAR or U.S. Friends of AMAR, visit amarfoundation.org or usfriendsofamar.org. λ