Tuesday, January 4, 2022

You Expensed What?


Welcome back and best to everyone for a happy and healthy 2022. Here’s hoping your holidays were COVID-free.

But on to today’s missive.

My first introduction to completing an expense report came courtesy of the head of accounts payable at the publishing company that was kind enough to give me my first job.

Jean was a dour, moody individual who managed to intimidate everyone – from the office maintenance staff to the CEO of the company. She ruled the department with the subtlety of Vladimir Putin and if your expense account contained something that was not allowed it was returned in an interoffice envelope with DENIED underlined and in bold red letters.

Once she discovered an employee going through her desk searching for a paper clip and in less than 30 minutes, he was a former employee. A short while later, one of the women in the classified department attempted to write off a fur coat. I kid you not. It was also one of the few times I saw Jean laugh – perhaps it was because said employee was last seen being escorted out of the building by security.

But that was then, and this is now. With what has been termed “the great resignation” with scores of workers ditching their present posts for greener not to mention remote, pastures, a manufacturer of expense management software has compiled a list of unusual expenses that were approved over 2021 – items that I could not conceive of passing official muster even 10 years ago.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Season’s Bleatings: A Wish List for 2022


Like most people I hope that whatever happened in 2021 stays in 2021. If I get handed another facemask when entering a store or have someone tell me that I am standing too close to them, you may very well see that vignette re-enacted on an episode of “Cops.”

Nevertheless, as many of us prepare to croon an off-key version of “Auld Lange Syne” in a week or so, I have compiled my personalized wish list that if all is holy – or even if not – will come to fruition in the coming year – particularly as it relates to the CPA profession.

So, in the spirit of the season and knowing full well some of you might take a slight offense here goes:

1.     In the ensuing 12 months I do not want to hear another practitioner rationalize that their succession plan will work if they can just locate a young CPA who can take over the controls and steer the ship into the future. It is not going to happen. EVER. Fifty thousand firms around the country and most a lot bigger and with deeper pockets than yours have the same strategy. Want to take a chance? Play Powerball. Your odds are about as good and think of the payoff.

2.     I realize that many of you have worked hard to build up your practice but let’s wake up and face north when it comes to how much your firm is really worth and please don’t ask me to find a buyer willing to pay as high as 1.5. A figure like that has not been seen since NSYNC was at the top of the billboard charts or Member’s Only jackets were considered stylish.

3.    Far be it from me to prevent someone from working based on their date of birth but in the sometimes-harsh reality that is M&A absolutely no successor firm is going to allow someone well north of 65 to continue working full time for 5-10 years. Not gonna happen. So be realistic about your full-time working timeline. Ditto for an aging practitioner looking to merge in a firm with younger folks. Again, when many of you were in their early to mid-30s would you affiliate with someone 75? Didn’t think so.

4.    Working remotely is here to stay. Period. The traditional workflow has changed so change with it. Several practitioners I know declined to invest in the needed technology to accommodate off-premises staff and as a result they lost staff to more progressive firms. Gee who could have seen that coming.


But enough grousing for the moment. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and a great 2022. Keep telling yourself it has to get better.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Winds of Change – Or Irrelevance!


During college I worked for a time at a Tex-Mex restaurant when in an effort to boost stagnant sales and customer counts, Joe, the manager gathered the entire staff one early Saturday morning and proceeded to draw the face of a clock on a piece of paper. The hands of the clock were squarely on 12. He held it up for a brief examination and then drew a third hand and positioned it five minutes past twelve.

“Most people think that change means having the clock hands go around until they again reach twelve,” he explained. “But even five minutes is change. We don’t have to reinvent ourselves completely, but we need to change – even if it’s slowly.”

In that most basic demonstration he managed to drive his point across and highlight the importance of change and more critically, adaption to change.

Of course, that was years before words and technologies like Internet, texting, email, and Smartphones became embedded in the American lexicon. But the strategic lesson remains the same about remaining relevant by adapting to change.

The landscape is sadly replete with examples of once-mighty stalwarts of business and industry who failed to change when it was necessary for survival. For example, Kodak once commanded a 90 percent global market share in film sales and film developing but failed to see the encroaching threat of digital photography, even though the company, incredibly, owned a patent on the technology but declined to take advantage of it. Reader’s Digest once boasted 16 million readers but missed the gargantuan opportunity with online publishing. Remember Blockbuster Video? The chain once had roughly 9,000 units but ignored the threat of encroaching competitors such as Netflix. Now exactly one unit remains in Oregon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

When it Comes to Service, There’s No Argument!


Years ago, the Miller Lite beer brand aired a long-running ad campaign which posed the endless argument about the product whether it was popular because of “Great Taste or Less Filling?” TV spots included a number of celebrities and professional athletes debating that question and one even highlighted a comical knock-down catfight between two supermodels who eventually wound-up tussling in a pool. 

Since I equate light beer in the same category as vegetarian cheese or non-fat anything, as a decidedly non-consumer it really didn’t matter to me why people bought it. But over the years I pondered answers to some equally difficult product questions particularly those pertaining to customer service.

To wit: If you were a customer in a restaurant, would you prefer great service or great food? Most people including myself would excuse mediocre cuisine in favor of good service. Somehow when service slows to a proverbial crawl or is non-existent, the food quality is shuffled to near irrelevance.

Case in point: I was once dining in a well-regarded and oft-written about Park Avenue establishment with a senior executive with a Southern-based restaurant chain. Throughout the meal we were basically ignored (okay to be fair Diana Ross was seated at the next table) and I actually had to go to the hostess stand to ask for the check. The next day I wrote a column about my experience for the 65K or so readers of my then publication and from what I understood, the no-nonsense owner handed out a slew of pink slips to the waitstaff and had the executive chef personally call me to apologize.

Friday, December 3, 2021

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and careful!


Last week I was on the receiving end of a personal record. And not one that I would brag to family and friends about.

To wit: 12 of the 15 calls I received over a two-day span were your basic spam – likely come-ons for auto warranty renewals or ads for replacement windows - and no less than seven emails were obviously textbook phishing expeditions. I sort of guessed when one email came my way via Banc of America, seeking to verify my login credentials. To top it off, the bank’s signature red and blue logo appeared as a blurry shade of black and white. Another one insisted that I had not collected on a $250 refund that was due (news to me!) and that they just required my Social Security number to verify that I was indeed the deserving party of this unexpected largesse.

That was about one step more sophisticated than those enticing multi-million-dollar “business opportunities” you receive courtesy of a generous entrepreneur from Nigeria.

But alas, with the joy and the family camaraderie the holiday season brings, it also brings an exponential increase in scams according to experts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Time to Say Goodbye


Last week in this space, I regaled you with sample vignettes of some of the lousy jobs I have held during my career. And conversely, there have been positions that have been nothing short of terrific with occasional fringe benefits exceeding anything I could have imagined.

Regardless of job satisfaction, I fielded an odd question during a recent CPE session from an attendee who stated that they were unhappy in their current capacity at a mid-sized CPA firm and wanted to leave but did not want to torch any of those proverbial “bridges.”

In full disclosure, our company specializes in succession – not recruiting. We have occasionally placed folks at accounting firms, but human resources is a niche we frequently outsource to those far more experienced in that arena.

But speaking from experience, I said that if nothing else, go to your direct report and tell them outright that you have accepted another opportunity. Thank them for the chance given you and then always follow that with a formal letter of resignation. It’s often an uncomfortable sit down, but it is something that must be done. I’ve been on both sides of that equation a number of times and the last thing you want to hear from an employee is an unexpected, “Hey have you got a minute?”

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

You’re Hired! Um, No Thanks!


As someone who has been a member of the U.S. labor force since the early 1970s, you may have surmised that I have had my share of, shall we politely say, lousy or unpopular jobs. Since this is a family blog, I could have described some of them in far more graphic terms and although tempting, I must decline.

My first post was as a movie usher (remember when we still had them?) at $1.85 an hour and all the popcorn you could sweep up after each showing. And when kid’s movies came to town that was a special treat, keeping throngs of unruly brats in line and warning them not to toss Jujyfruits at each other which they, not surprisingly, did with alarming frequency.

The next summer I applied for a job advertised under the banner of “lot maintenance supervisor.” It was an industrial park and my “supervisory” duties consisted of shoveling huge piles of sawdust from one location to another. That paid a skimpy $3 an hour. And say what you want about the weight of sawdust, by 4 or 5 o’clock it felt like I was shoveling barbells.

Not to be outdone, the very next year the Department of Labor assigned me to help transform a shuttered clothing outlet into a home improvement store. All was routine until the tractor trailers carrying the inventory arrived. I spent the next two weeks in 100-degree heat pushing a hand truck back and forth. On the plus side, I did however shed 10 pounds.