Posts Tagged ‘work’

Well, two tales today, anyway.

I’ve told the odd – some of them very odd – story from my accountancy career in the past, those that aren’t genuinely covered by an NDA or that it’d be unethical to disclose.

Yes, if you’re new to the blog, you may not know that I used to be an accountant, an audior and in due course, after taking the commercial shilling, a financial director, and then a director of finance.

For the US readers, since I understand ‘financial controller’ is often the person who can add up best,

    UK financial controller – US equivalent: VP Finance
    UK financial director – US equivalent: Chief Financial Officer

But, as mentioned above, most of the really good stories I would tell, I can’t… because of the aforementioned Non-Disclosure Agreements or it would just be plain wrong to do so, ethically.

My first day in accountancy, I started the day with about a dozen others, all fresh and incredibly naive, still of the opinion that there was some fundamental goodness in the careers on which we were about to embark.

Actually, that’s not fair; I still think that, to a large extent, and still believe that the job I did, all the jobs I did, were necessary and important.

But yeah, twelve or so young kids, eager and stupid, or rather ‘pretty ignorant’, about accountancy as it is actually practised.

The staff partner ushered into the board room and gave us the usual spiel about the firm: the different departments, the types of work, the likely career progressions, the study leave… I clearly remember two things he said, even now.

1) If you come back from study leave with a tan, you’d better have a damn good reason

2) You’re going to hear lots of stories about things that have happened to accountants; odd tales, funny stories, just flat out weirdness. Trust me, by the time you’ve been in this game for three years, you’ll have a fund of stories this high… either stories that have happened to you, stories that have happened to colleagues, or stories that are like urban myths. Everyone knows they happened… but no one knows quite who they happened to… or you’ll hear that they happened to six different people. Anyway, let me start you with some of them.

And then he regaled us for two hours, giving us befuddlement with one tale, laughter with another, and jaw dropping exasperation with yet another.

But he was right, as he was in so much else in my two years working at the company. I eventually had my own fund of stories. And, maybe, over the next few weeks, I’ll tell some more.

But for now, for today, two stories; both happened to me, both completely true.

Here’s the first, which I was reminded of earlier today, the time I was called a “corporate whore”. Not in the office, or directly related to the work, but merely when I told someone what my job was.

I was at a party, just before New Year’s. I knew maybe a quarter of the attendees, maybe. But the hosts, while not being close friends of mine, were very close friends of friends of mine, and they’d invited me.

And, as always happens at such things, an hour after getting there, I’m chatting to people I don’t know, one of my friends next to me, Somehow we got onto the subject of people being mistreated by employers. And then someone said something like companies exist to mistreat their employees. And that all employees should revolt against their employers. He didn’t say whether it should include violence, but he didn’t obviously exclude it.

The person who said it was, admittedly, very drunk, and very loud, but not quite very obnoxious. And, as always, everyone grants a kind of amnesty-while-drunk-as-long-as-you-don’t-hit-someone at parties.

And that’s when he started… I’d say arguing, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a flat assertion, said with as much passion as someone now asserting “but we voted to leave!” would express. Yes, that much.

So that’s when he moved onto how companies were inherently ‘evil’, and should be abolished en masse. And who did he attribute blame to this for? Accountants.

Accountants were the spawn of Satan, or something like that. I don’t remember precisely.

My expression was, apparently, not entirely filled with shining admiration at this forensic analysis of companies’ behaviour and accountants. I mentioned, hoping to squash this, that I disagreed, but yeah, some companies didn’t exactly enhance their reputations with their actions.

“Do you work for a company?”

“Yes… I’m a financial director.”

“Oh, right… a corporate whore, then…”

It’d be lovely to say that the room fell silent, that everyone stood there, shocked.

But, no, of course not. There were a dozen or so people in the room, I guess. And only a couple of them heard the comment. But I could feel the small area of the room grow just a bit colder, just a little bit sharper. In a movie, there’d be one of those ‘go into close up on budgie’s face while the rest of the room blurs’ shots.

Before I could say anything, though, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, and another guiding me out of the room, and I left, much in need of a cigarette. Moments later, the host came out, full of apologies. They weren’t necessary, genuinely. I knew they’d’ be horrified, as they were.

But yeah, ‘corporate whore’. That was a new one.

Here’s another one. Again, less to do with the actual work, but absolutely about working in an office, any office.

In that first job, the firm maintained a satellite office at a large client. The client was huge, in corporate size, I mean. One parent company, literally dozens of subsidiaries, and we were the auditors for all of them.

(Smal digression but I genuinely don’t know if that arrangement would be allowed these days; I wonder…)

But it was a small satellite office, a single medium sized room, seven of us in there; the partner, his deputy, two seniors and three juniors, including me.

And there was a window. A lovely window. That opened, and in the heat of a hot day, the breeze through the window made working in the room just a little more pleasant. Especially for the desk that was right by the window, and the chair in front of it. The partner’s deputy sat there.

And then came the first time when the deputy was off for a month or so for some study leave and Tax exams as I recall. And one of the seniors, a cocky lad named Ralph as I recall, baggsied the desk for the month.

Didn’t bother me; I was very low in the hierarchy. Then the deputy returned, and taught all of us, myself included, a lesson in how to handle that situation.

The deputy, whose desk it was, strolled in after the exams… to find Ralph still sitting at the desk.

“You like that chair?”

“Yep.”

“You want to keep that chair, and the desk…?”

“Yep.”

“No problem… no problem at all… just as long as you take the work that goes along with it.

I swear: Ralph turned pale. And vacated the chair so fast it was genuinely surprising.

And Ralph was never quite the same cocky sod again…
 
 

See you tomorrow, with something else, the usual Tuesday ‘something else.

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.

I’m a huge fan of the work of the late Alistair Cooke; it’s rare that a month will go by when I don’t load up the iPhone with some Letters from America and listen to them while out on a wander. Though I’d been listening to his work – and reading his writings – for some twenty years before he died, I was never under the impression that I ‘knew’ him, nor that I would ever be fortunate enough to meet him. I would have liked to discuss politics with him, and the media, and the colours of the trees in the Fall. I suspect, however, that we would not have personally liked each other that much. Biographies of the man, and articles written about his after his death show a man utterly dedicated to his work, and a warm, wry companion, but someone without that big a sense of humour about the work. 

It may be a fault of mine, but I find it hard to genuinely like people who don’t have a sense of humour about their work. That’s not to say that such people work any harder or less hard at their chosen trade or profession than those who can tell the best jokes about their jobs. And of course, I’m excluding those who are having a rough time of it at their work, or who are doing a job they really don’t like, which can happen for any number of reasons.

One of the primary requirements for someone being invited onto the panel for hypotheticals, the panel which Dave Gibbons and I ran at the main British comics convention for over a decade was to have that sense of humour, an innate sense of the ridiculous about what they did and do for a living. And I don’t think it a coincidence that the most successful panellists were those who exhibited that during the panel.

About two-thirds of the way through the run, a very famous writer was supposed to be attending the con. This man, a very famous writer, I remind you, looked to be the perfect person to invite onto the panel; he’d written a critically acclaimed and popular SF series, and had written some well received comic books. I didn’t know this man, but in the old phrase, I knew a man who did. So I dropped my acquaintance – another comics writer, also very well known – an email. They knew all about hypotheticals, and in fact had an open invitation to appear any time they were over. My contact didn’t exactly warn me off inviting the very famous writer onto the panel but did earnestly the recommend I read some interviews with the writer. I did do and quickly realised that although the writer had a warm sense of humour about many things, he did not seem to have one about either his writing or the craft of writing itself. I never invited him onto the panel (and as it turned out, he didn’t show at the con either; personal circumstances got in the way.)

For most of my adult life, I worked either as an accountant in the entertainment industry, either as a practicing accountant doing other people’s books, or on the commercial side in a finance department. I’ careful to say that I was an entertainment accountant, not an entertaining accountant; there are many of the former and precious few of the latter. To my constant delight, I found that almost all of the ‘talent’ I encountered was genuinely as nice in person as they appeared on screen, often nicer. However, there were always the exceptions, as there are in every field of human endeavour. There are lots of people supremely gifted at what they do, who are absolute shits as human beings, whether that’s because they hold and express racist, sexist or homophobic options, are quick to anger and use their fists, hold political opinions that are – to be kind – less than progressive, or are just very unpleasant people.

It’s in politics and sports however, that it strikes me as most jarring. I follow the first with great interest and the second hardly at all. (Although I have a fond feeling for ‘my’ football team, it goes no further than being pleased when they win and displeased when they lose. I’ve seen only a handful of matches in my life and have no great wish to see any more.) But it’s within those two spheres it seems where the tribal nature of ‘fandom’ and support coincide to allow people to ‘excuse’ the personal behaviour of the ‘stars’. 

If the lead striker of, say, Manchester Athletic (yes, I know they don’t exist, I’m just using an example) a footballer of astonishing talent, came out with a comment that was at least arguably racist, many fans of the team would excuse the comment or seek to lessen its impact merely because the man is good at scoring goals. If he said something homophobic, fans would say he’d been misinterpreted at best, or agree with him at worst. If he commented on the Middle East, no matter what he said, no matter how well sourced and intelligent or ignorant and naive, fans would excuse him merely because the man is good at scoring goals. I believe this firmly, because when a footballer made a symbol widely associated with anti-semitism, the fans did excuse the footballer in question, saying he’d been misinterpreted, saying he didn’t mean it, excusing his actions.

A boxer, a man who to be honest, I’d never heard of before last week (told you I don’t follow sports) made homophobic statements. His name is Tyson Fury, and yes, that’s his real name. He’s not denied making the comments but insists their neither sexist nor homophobic. (They are.) It may be that he genuinely believes they’re not. (They are.)  It could be that he’s genuinely so unintelligent that he doesn’t realise they are. (They are.)

And his fans excuse him. His fans say he’s being treated unfairly. His fans say everyone’s overreacting. 

It reminds me of nothing so much as the excuses offered by supporters when politicians from the right, from the Conservative Party, from UKIP, from the BNP, make racist statements or by their actions attempt to reduce the severity of racist behaviour. (Yes, as I’ve mentioned previously, there’s a fair amount of anti-semitism on the left, but the home of anti-semitism, of racism, of homophobia, and of sexism, is on the hard right.) Whether it’s a UKIP MEP saying he wanted to join an EY committee on Women because “they don’t clean properly”, or another UKIP politician saying floods are attacks by God because of legalisation of equal marriage, or many, many other examples, Conservative MPs delighting in stopping Private Members’ Bills to make life better for less fortunate poeple (so many examples)… Tyson Fury is merely the latest example of a person very good at what they do, who’s also apparently a horrible, horrible person. 

I once queued up to get something signed by one of my favourite comic book artists; despite my fairly immediate discovery that he was an arrogant self-entitled shit, that doesn’t stop my admiration of his work. It certainly put me off him as a person though. 

No one is obliged to be a nice person. It’s better if they are, but no one is obliged to. No one is obliged to agree with all of my positions on anything (though I do wish they’d do so on some of them) but I’m always disappointed when someone whose work I enjoy is not a nice person. 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that in comics, however, almost every talented person I’ve met – almost – is an equally nice person. I don’t know many politicians, and I don’t know any sportspeople. I hope I could say the same about them, but I’m less convinced than ever that’d be the case. 

This was going to be a going cheep but it got away from me a bit. So, you get to read it here.

I was talking recently to a friend about how much I’d enjoyed WALL•E, and how I forget each time I watch it just how damned funny it is. I’m not sure why, but WALL•E himself (itself?) reminds me of V.I.N.CENT from Disney’s The Black Hole. Except that I realised that I’sd been spelling it wrong when I tried to remember for what V.I.N.C.E.N.T. was an acronym. I looked it up and discovered both the correct acronym, and also that it was a pretty crap acronym at that: Vital Information Necessary Centralized? Please…

Of course, it’s far from the only crap acronym; sometimes you absolutely know that the acronym came first and the explanation followed when whoever thought of it was asked what it stood for. Something similar happened when I was at Manchester Poly – the student union’s newspaper was called PULP, which was so named because the then editor (years before I was around) loved the name and only reluctantly some time later had to come up with something entitled Polytechnic Union Literary Publication.

And that reminded me of my favourite ever episode involving acronyms, the inspection of the firm for which I was working by the dreaded JMU. No, that’s not the acronym. That’s not even an acronym, really. It’s just an abbreviation. Anyway, the JMU, or Joint Monitoring Unit to give it is proper name, used to be the guys that came in to check you’re following the rules of auditing, and to confirm that all the bits of paper that should be there… are there. (It’s been replaced since 2005, but this predates that…)

The JMU were not checking whether you were right or wrong in the opinion you form as part of the audit, you understand, merely that you can back up with paperwork and tests any opinion that you have formed. And if you’re not 100% perfect, they can shut you down as an auditor. Just. Like. That.

We’d been expecting an inspection for a year or so – it was our ‘turn’ to get one – so for some time, me and my then boss commenced, once every couple of weeks, a final review on all audit files we’d completed in the past year, and all current ones we were now completing. In order to ensure we didn’t miss anything, I developed a one sheet summary that was entitled something like “Final Review Sheet”.

You know me, Mr Original.

Of course, it wasn’t known as that inside the firm.

No, inside the firm, the final review during which we made sure all the boxes on the Final Review Sheet were ticked was known as the F.O.A.D. review. Yes, quite obviously, since this was the last time we’d see the files for a year while they were in archive: the Fuck Off And Die review. But it was always called simply the F.O.A.D. review. Or, sometimes as a verb. As in: “Lee, don’t forget we’ve got to F.O.A.D that client’s files before the weekend…”

Of course, the acronym was never actually written down anywhere. I mean, that would just be asking for trouble.

(That’s called blatant foreshadowing, by the way.)

Comes the day of the JMU visit; everything’s going fine and dandy, and the sample files they’ve chosen at random are all passing muster. We’re about 20 minutes through the review meeting at the end of the day and one of them asks me and my boss, “Just one more thing. What’s an F.O.A.D review? Only on the notes and queries for [name of client]’s last year’s audit, there’s a note in your handwriting, Mr Dales [my boss], noting to ensure you completed it before Mr Barnett went on holiday.”

My boss looks at me, and only someone who knew him very well would have detected the look of panic in his eyes. Barely a second later, I say “Oh, that’s the Financial Operating and Asset Development review. We do them every three years or so with clients to check they’re neither over- nor-under capitalised and also to compare their return on capital employed against the market sector in which they operate.”

The two blokes from the JMU look at each other and for a moment I think they’re going to say “Oh, come on!” but they just nod, write it down and then ten minutes later, they thank us for our time, apologise if their inspection has disrupted our work… and they’re off.

As they leave, my boss just looks at me in sheer, unfettered admiration. “Where the fuck did that come from?”

I just smile and silently thank the gods of inspiration…