Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 9 - Sometimes Sweet Retribution

          Simpson headed back to Kentucky today. I don’t think he learned very much about closing the books. In fact I think he found some of the routines a bit daunting. It’s a very convoluted and intensely manual process. We take a lot of information out of the system, schedule it on spreadsheets, manipulate it, and then journalize the results back into the general ledger accounts. It is an arcane system, non-integrated, fraught with opportunities for error, and ridiculous. I knew that when I hired on. I was okay with it because I knew that I could deal with it. It fit my background. It provided me a lot of ways to look like some kind of accounting hero by streamlining relatively simple tasks. I was happy until the board of directors and the owners decided to sell the company.



         Honestly, I had landed a cushy job in a successful niche business with a podunk, backwater accounting system that no hot-shot wizard accountant would ever want to have to deal with. Management was happy with the information they were getting. I knew how to make them even happier with a minimum of effort and hassle. I had a sweet situation, and I had security. All of that changed almost overnight. Thinking back on it makes me want to cry.
          I lost the job before this one in 2006. The circumstances were different, but not so different as to make losing that job rankle less. In fact it may have rankled more. The company I worked for then reorganized in a pre-pack bankruptcy. That means that the reorganization plan was drawn up and approved by the creditors before it was ever filed. It was in and out of federal bankruptcy court in less than 36 hours. At the time it was the fastest pre-pack bankruptcy in the history of bankruptcies. It may still be. I don’t know.
          In any event, part of the plan specified that the company had to trim its annual overhead by $15 million. That meant a significant reduction in administrative personnel, and that reduction included me—unfortunate, but it happens. That’s the polished surface, the face, that’s put on these kinds of things, and when it happens management adopts a stern and funereal posture and waxes eloquent about how saving the company entails making some hard decisions, some difficult choices, but they have to be made for the greater good of the company and the greatest number of stakeholders.
          The reality though is that down in the trenches some poor schmuck has to decide who goes and who stays. These decisions are difficult, painful even, for the sweethearts, but they are easy for the jerks. They are especially easy for the fatuous, vacuous bastards furiously working their own agendas. My name got added to the list by one of those hot-shot wizard accountants who was advancing his career at my expense. Then the addition of my name to the list was approved by a succession of empty suits—the very crew that had made it necessary for the company to reorganize in bankruptcy in the first place. Had it not been for an unfortunate series of boneheaded decisions taken against the best advice of people who knew better, the company would have turned around nicely and posted attractive profits. Now the soulless louts who had made those decisions were deciding that I was dead wood, part of the detritus that had to be jettisoned to keep the company afloat. The result was I was out on the street looking for work, and the serendipitous consequence of that was I ended up with a better job in a better place. Thank you very much, you fatuous, vacuous bastards, because the serendipity was only short lived.
          When my current company decided to sell, all the wonderful backwater ease that went along with my new job went right out the window. What I was left with then was a monumental amount of work to accomplish with woefully inadequate systems. What had been quaint was now the modern bookkeeping equivalent of the Aegean Stables. If only it had smelled so sweet.
          There was one interesting development. Cerberus—a major player in the private equity investment game came knocking on our door with interest in acquiring the company. Cerberus is perhaps not a household name, but they are huge. At that time they owned a controlling interest in GMAC. They were quickly developing a majority stake in our industry in North America. They have since bought Chrysler. At the time they were high flying wonder kids with a mountain of cash and the investment world at their feet. At the same time they were courting us and launching into their due diligence exercises they were also buying the company I had just come from—the company of fatuous, vacuous bastards—those guys. Cerberus already had a deal with them. They had signed a letter of intent and made an announcement of sorts. When the boys from Cerberus found out that I had come from the company they were buying, they were very interested to talk to me.
          One of them—I later found out that he was the lead on the due diligence team—came to my office and closed the door.
          “If you had just bought your former company,” he said, “what would be your primary concern?”
          I'm not a big believer in karma, but I swear to you that the heavens opened up at that moment, and I heard angels singing. 

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