Friday, December 6, 2019

Even Bad Bosses Can Offer Something

This was a Thanksgiving holiday I will surely not press amongst the pages in my scrapbook. First on Black Friday while everyone was cramming into the nation’s retailers desperately seeking discounts, I was stuck in a tire center for 6 hours waiting for a wheel alignment and struts to be installed on my VW to the tune of $800.

Then, just to make the weekend complete, I came down with the flu and have been virtually bedridden for the past five days. So, as anyone who is mired in their bedroom for long periods of time knows, eventually cabin fever begins to set in.

So, thinking about the topic for my weekly blog I figured out during my working life I have had, give or take – roughly 37 direct reports. No that’s not a misprint, 37.

I reflected on what I took away from each of them and naturally, depending on their leadership qualities and job competence, it varied from person to person. Some were absolutely career changing, while others made a contribution here and there. Some management tenures were short-lived and still others were fortunately not around long enough to display their obvious shortcomings.

But I can honestly say that there were only two direct reports in my career that I gleaned absolutely nothing from, and both were and still are destined for anonymity. Not to be petty and vindictive but good riddance!

And the lessons I learned as it turns out did not have to be complicated.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Statistics for the Ages - Literally

Ever been in a bar or perhaps a family gathering and observe a group (or pair) of stat-crazy sports fans passionately argue baseball averages or football passing yardages totals?

I refer to them as the stat geeks – those rabid folks who can recite Stan Musial’s phenomenal on-base percentage or prove why Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time. Was Washington’s Redskins Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen really the best passing quarterback of the past six decades? I’m sure there’s someone out there who can spew out the numbers to back that claim up.

How about some statistics that have nothing to do with sports? I’m talking about uncomfortable succession planning figures that should make even the most stubborn procrastinator sit up and take notice.

How about the following?

  • The Beatles broke up 50 years ago.
  • Vanna White, statuesque letter turner on the Wheel of Fortune is 62 years old.
  • Rolling Stones legendary front man Mick Jagger is a great, great, grandfather.

How about some non-show business stats?

  • One person turns 65 every 8 seconds in this country.
  • 75 percent of the 420,000 plus members of the American Institute of CPAs will be eligible to retire in 2020.
  • Less than half of the CPA firms in the U.S. have a formal succession plan in place.

Okay that’s enough shock therapy for today although that last one should give any and everyone reason to pause.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Back to the Future

More years ago than I want to remember (hint, the Oval Office was occupied by someone with the initials R.R.) I interviewed for an associate editor’s position at a publishing company in midtown Manhattan. The offices were in a newly completed spiraling glass structure – one of many high-rise projects on the construction docket that year in New York City.

After the perfunctory Q&A, the interviewer showed me around the space which included a “relaxation room” replete with couches soft music and EZ chairs, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium on premise. Smoking which was still allowed at the time in many companies was strictly forbidden. Those with an insatiable nicotine habit were forced to light up outside – no matter the weather.

The HR executive explained the amenities were a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors and a reason why the turnover rate at the company lingered in the low single digits.

For those keeping score at home I didn’t get the job, but always remembered how the company viewed its employees and the importance of standing out in a competitive field.

Which brings me to today’s missive.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Today’s Succession Market – A Harsh Reality

Two months ago, my neighbor of more than 20 years hung out a “For Sale” in front of his house. He told me it was time. His children were grown and out of the house and he was closing in on retirement from his job with the county. His wife had retired just months before. He had set his sights on North Carolina and showed me the blueprints for his retirement home.

He was one of those true do-it-yourselfers, he mowed his own lawn, repaved his own driveway and installed a new front door. His home was always immaculate, and I assumed it would sell immediately.


The sign is still out and despite a few nibbles no one has made a concrete offer. I asked him what the problem was, and he said the realtor told him that it was truly a buyer’s market and home shoppers could be a lot more selective than even as recently as five years ago.

So, he waits and waits and waits for an offer that hopefully will come before the New Year.

Which in a roundabout way sort of brings me to the accounting marketplace – particularly regarding succession and M&A.

This week I had to have a painful heart to heart with a practitioner in his mid-70s – a sole owner with no succession plan. When I asked him our $64,000 question about how many more years he wanted to work full time – he simply replied “forever.”

Friday, November 1, 2019

It Must Be the Altitude

More years ago, than I care to remember I attended the University of Denver and graduated without fanfare. I think my sole accomplishment during my tenure there was being listed in the Metro phone book.

I had always heard about how being 5,280 feet above sea level affects you both physically and mentally – a fact hammered home convincingly after participating in a touch football game the second day on campus. After six or seven plays, I was wheezing like a 40-year chain smoker and had to sit on the sidelines for a while.

But I believe it does funny things to your cognitive processes as well, another Denver-centric fact that became blatantly obvious last week during my CPE sessions there at a major vendor conference.

Okay to be fair the annual event was primarily focused on tax and technology and the attendance at my dual 100-minute sessions for lack of a better term “reflected” those major segments – as succession planning was obviously far down the list in terms of interest.

So, with over 1,300 attendees crammed into one venue, only 40 or so of them (and that included the audio-visual guys) felt succession planning was important enough for them to attend.

And that was unfortunate because if I may be shamelessly immodest for a moment, I felt they were two of the best sessions I’ve ever facilitated in nearly 15 years of teaching CPE. Seriously. Although standing for that long resulted in a rather painful plane ride home the following day.

But back to the topic de jour.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Elephant(s) in the Room

Next week I am scheduled to jet off to the Mile-High City of Denver where I will deliver a couple of presentations on succession planning at a global software vendors massive user’s conference.

I was flattered when they accepted my speaking proposal but harkened back to when we would regularly exhibit at this event complete with a booth and marketing materials and generate little or no interest from attendees. We collectively figured we were simply catering to the wrong audience.

Perhaps this year will be different.

As evidence, I have already received several emails from attendees who claim they are looking forward to my presentation. I was both flattered and puzzled. Just a few short years ago I taught a similar session at this same event some five years ago and the audience more resembled a haunted house in number than a standing room only crowd.

So, what has changed?

I would like to think they many have finally resigned themselves to the fact that they can no longer ignore the elephant – or perhaps closer to the scale of the problem – the wooly mammoth – in the room – succession planning or lack thereof.

Mark Twain once remarked that no amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot. I’ll be somewhat more diplomatic and tell anyone that will listen there is a virtual Mount Everest of statistical and real-life evidence that the profession is dangerously behind on succession planning.

Yet most firm owners prefer kicking the can down the road and putting the inevitable off for yet another year.

Case in point. Last year I was working with a sole practitioner in the Northeast who was approaching the dreaded six-five. His practice generated roughly $1 million in billings and made an easy “tuck-in” for larger firms.

Yet, he decided to spurn any offer and opted for the “P” word – procrastination.

Let me tell you what happened in the course of several months. His IT system went on the fritz – requiring an expensive upgrade. One of his key employees resigned and he suffered the loss of a 50K client that he never saw coming.

Now he’s forced to accept far less profitable terms should he finally make the decision to merge.

I should use that as a marquee case study during the conference on the importance of succession planning and see who salutes or at least pays attention.

I don’t know how much has changed in five years, but that’s the skeptic in me talking.

We’ll see.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Why Dilbert Will Always Remain Relevant

Since its debut in 1989 I have been a faithful and unwavering fan of the parody cartoon Dilbert. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a cynical and satirical glimpse of a white-collar office with a cast of characters including lazy and problematic co-workers, a pointy haired boss without a clue and even a cat in the role of an evil human resources director.

But for a lot of us who were, and are, mired in the corporate arena, some of the strips hit far too close to home – particularly with regard to undeserved promotions and questionable upward mobility. Many of you can probably cite examples of C-suite incompetence that not only went unpunished, but often rewarded.

Case in point. A publishing company I once worked for was losing money like a leaky dinghy. Since the majority of its revenue was derived from classified and display advertising sales, upper management hired a consultant to ferret out the problem. It was discovered that the company actually counted more vice presidents in their New York office than actual salespeople.

After the problem was “solved” by basically letting go of several overpaid and useless executives, the CEO was incredibly awarded an “Excellence in Business” certificate by a local organization.

Fast forward 10 years or so later, I was unceremoniously saddled with a micromanaging superior who insisted on putting his pipsqueak hands on everything that fell under my purview including artwork and editorial submissions.