Posts Tagged ‘blast from the past’

So, it was the letter.

That, at least according to a leaked email from the post-election Clinton campaign, was the reason former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election.

Of course, that’s not the sole reason, and there are as many proposed suggestions and theories as there are pundits proposing the suggestions and theories. And no, I’m not about to stick in my twopennyworth today. Maybe on another occasions, but not today.

I’ve been amused though that the email has been described as a memo. Not because of the description but because it reminded me of my own memo faux-pas from many, many years ago… Not the only thing I did in my career that positively endangered that career, but probably the first.

So, find a seat, and enjoy…

As people say: “picture the scene: London, 1986…”

I’d been working for my first employers for about eight months. Let’s call them Smith Jones. That wasn’t their name, but I’m not about to reveal it here; they’re still around, last time I looked, and they don’t deserve to be tarnished by this story. Me on the other hand? You’re about to discover that for yourself.  Smith Jones were a firm of London accountants, situated in Central London, near Regent Street, not far in fact from where I’ll often grab a coffee these days if I’m in town. Smith Jones had eight partners, including a new partner who’d been promoted from the ranks about three months earlier.

At the time, I spent almost all my time at a major client, not far from where Forbidden Planet is these days. The client was huge with multiple companies and – like painting the legendary bridge – as soon as that year’s audit for the last company was completed, you started with the following year’s audit for the first company… There were a lot of companies.

At this company was a secretary named, oh, let’s call her Cheryl. Again, not her real name. Cheryl was nice, I got on with her fine. I liked her, we shared jokes when I was in the office and… all right, I fancied her, ok? You dragged it out of me.

(My son, if he’s read this far, is shuddering at the thought that I was about his age when this took place, and urgh – my dad fancied someone…)

Thing was, Cheryl didn’t like working late; it wasn’t the work she didn’t like, but the walk home late at night. She didn’t like walking to the tube station late at night, and really didn’t like walking home from the tube station the other end. 

One evening she had to work late – finishing off something or another – and I offered to hang around and walk her to the tube station and thence home. (It wasn’t a huge imposition, she didn’t live far from me.) But whether I’d have stayed late if I didn’t “like” her? Who knows…?

Now, as I say, my work was mainly at the client, and she was working at the main office… where I didn’t have any work to do. This was 1986, remember? No mobile phone, no laptop computer. In fact, as far as I remember, no networked system. She was typing stuff up on an electric typewriter.

So I had a couple of hours to kill.

Yeah, danger signals should be blaring right about now.

For a laugh, I grabbed a typewriter and over the next hour or so, I typed up a document entitled: Working at Smith Jones: an employees’ guide.

I threw every old gag I could think of into the document, including: 

  • Q: How do I stand for getting time off? A: You don’t; you get on your knees and beg like everyone else; and
  • Q: Fastest way of getting news around the organisation? Q: Tell [another secretary’s name] and ask her to keep it quiet.

Three mistakes I made:

  1. Writing the damn thing in the first place
  2. Not destroying it.
  3. Giving a copy the following morning to a friend who also worked there.

He of course gave it to another colleague who gave it to someone else who…

Well, a couple of days later, I got a call from the senior partner’s secretary asking me to come into the office as soon as I could. I didn’t have a clue what it was about but such a request from a partner wasn’t unusual because I worked for several partners on various audits, and I had a decent rep already as someone who was good at jumping in to half-finished work, and completing it.

I walked into the office; before I should see anyone, a friend grabbed me and took to one side…

Someone – and I instantly knew who it was – had got hold of a copy, had photocopied about a hundred versions and the following morning, everyone at the office had come in to find a copy on their desk. My name wasn’t on it, but even back then, my style of writing, and sense of humour, was fairly recognisable.

Long story short – too late, methinks – I got the bollocking of a lifetime and had to deliver hand written letters of apology to each of the partners together with an assurance that such behaviour would never be repeated.

To be fair to the company, it was never referred to again, and if it in any way affected the remainder of my time at the company, I’m entirely unaware of it; I enjoyed working for them enormously. 

Maybe the generally affectionate tone of the piece – on the whole, it wasn’t nasty, just gossipy and gently mocking – led them to treat me leniently.

There’ve been occasions since then where I’ve written something “silly” to get the silliness out of the way before writing something serious. And similarly, times I’ve written something to get the venom out, so I can write something calmly.

Anyway, memos, huh? 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Came across this xkcd cartoon earlier and it reminded me of a favourite tale from my long ago career as a practising accountant:

NB For any Americans reading, all references to ‘flats’ may be read as ‘apartments’, and all references to ‘lifts’ may be read as elevators.

Many, many years ago, when I first started out in accountancy, I was working for a company with a lot of property clients… a lot of them. About 80% of the firm’s business came from auditing property businesses, which included companies with several blocks of flats. Now when you have a company that owns lots of properties, they usually employ third party property agents to look after the property, maintain the lifts, etc.

So with one company, very early on in my career, I’d done the audit, all the invoices looked correct, everything looked fine. I took the file into the audit partner and he held it in his hand, as if weighing it, and simply said “Nope.” When I queried it, he said “Lee, I’ve been doing this job for twenty years. I know when enough work’s been done on an audit file. This isn’t enough. Finish it off and then bring it back.”

I left his office thinking less than charitable thoughts about him and racked my brains wondering what more I could do. To be brutally honest, I was wondering what extra photocopying I could do to increase the file’s weight without actually involving me doing a lot more work.

While looking at the file, I noticed the invoices for lift maintenance and had a brainwave. The contracts for maintenance are always bulky! I quickly checked the previous three files and there was no contract in there, so yeah: it justified inclusion. I called the agents and asked them if they could send me a copy of the lift maintenance contract. The guy at the other end of the phone said he’d bang a copy in the mail to me (this was way, way before scanning, PDFs and email) but probably not for a few days. The block of flats weren’t that far out of the way home for me, so I called the caretaker/manager of the building, thinking I could stop in on the way home, grab it, copy it at the office and return it the following day. I’d spoken to him several times before; he was a nice chap and I’d been told by previous years’ auditors that he’d do small favours for us without a problem.

The following telephone call ensued:

Me: Hi, it’s Lee Barnett from the auditors.
Caretaker: Hello, Lee – what can I do for you?
Me: Quick favour; can I drop by tonight and pick up your copy of the lift maintenance contract? I promise I’ll return it tomorrow night – just need a copy for the file.

= pause =

Caretaker: What lift maintenance contract?
Me: The maintenance contract for the lifts. With [checks name of maintenance people in file and reads it out].

= pause =

Caretaker: We don’t have any lifts.
Me: I beg your pardon?

Yeah, turned out (a) they didn’t have any lifts, (b) the managing agents had been supplying fake invoices, (c) it had never been picked up before, (d) it wouldn’t have been picked up by me, (e) it was picked up solely because the audit file didn’t weigh enough.

First case of outright fraud I’d discovered during an audit. It wasn’t the last, but you always have fond memories of your first, don’t you?