Sunday, May 17, 2009


BUS STORY # 133 (Free Enterprise, Family Style)


There’s a rider I run into now and again who’s an accountant. The last time I saw him was a couple of months before the economy tanked. He’d just quit a job with the state which had been driving him crazy because, he explains, as an accountant, he likes the numbers to add up. He was thinking about doing consulting work.

I saw him again recently on the ride home. He allowed he’d picked a terrible time to give up his job, and finding work had not been easy. He told me he was currently working as a consultant for an outfit that needed its books put in order. He said it was like trying to find the pieces of something that had been blown up.

He said the company was pretty interesting if you weren’t worried about job security. It had about 50 employees, and most of them were extended family members. He reckoned only three of them were employable in the real world.

He described the workflow as a steady, month-long intake of orders, the filling of which was put off until a few days before the end of the month. Then there was a mad flurry of order filling which resulted in not getting all the orders out before the billing cycle, and getting a portion of them wrong because of the rush.

He was especially amused by the salesmen. They work on commission, he explained, and they have a tendency to add an extra zero or two to their sales total. Nobody checks out the sales before the commission checks are issued. Later, when the “error” has been discovered, they go pressure the bookkeeper not to record the correction so they won’t have to refund that percentage of the commission. Hey, it’s family.

The company had been making enough money to float this family support system until the first of the year, when some of their clients started going out of business. Now, it seems they have a cash flow problem. He laughs, then tells me the only other employees who understand the situation are non-family members. Non-family members, including himself, have no clout, of course.

He says he keeps his head down and does his job as best he can for as long as it or the company lasts, whichever comes first. He sees the company going out of business sooner rather than later. But what both aggravates and amuses him is that the public perception will be the company will have been just another casualty of the economy.

“Well,” I told him, “in a sense, that would be true.”

To which he responded, “Well, at least it’s the employees and not the CEO who’re making out like bandits.”

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