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Accountants - A necessary 'Evil' and dull profession
I remembered my boss once calling me ‘a necessary evil’ – at that time, I did not take much notice about his statement, since I was new in the company, having been just appointed a Group Financial Controller, an equivalent to a Chief Financial Officer, a term which was unheard those days. Subsequently I came to the conclusion of his statement, of course, with no help from him. The positive side was, ‘I was needed to keep the records and the finance in order’, so that the Management team understood what the company spent on and what was available to be spent. The negative side was, he would make such statements when I did not approve of the outlay of his more expensive “toys”, so his statement was not really complimentary in that manner, either way. What my boss did not understand was, it was not for me to say whether his expensive “toys” should be capped or not, it was that my monthly paycheck was issued to me to be a custodian of the funds and to ensure that whatever expended should be accounted for – ah, the word is “accountability” , which, unfortunately was not in the dictionary of such people like my boss. He felt that what he spent on was my accountability – a dreadfully dangerous definition, for me, that is.
All being equal, accountants are accountants, irrespective what position held – whether you are a lowly accounting manager / accounts executive or a high CFO, you are basically still an accountant. One tends to apply what is being learned from college, and sooner or later will find the principles slowly ‘disappearing’ or ‘forgotten’ in time as a career progresses when ambition takes over. Compromises often sets in when one tries to be in the “Team”. If you disapprove, you are considered not a ‘team player’, so, how does one balance the equation? Of course, this is not a political campaign during an election or a popularity contest, where one wants to be considered “NICE” in the management team, so, why should I be nice? You may ask! If you are not, you may well find yourself out of the circle very fast – and you may have to look for alternatives!
Accounting is considered a very dull subject, irrespective of how much one wants to liven it up or make it more interesting, it is still dull. What a lot of people do not know about accounting is, there are so many aspects in an accounting profession, that when mentioned, may astound more people who are not in the profession, or for that matter, people starting out in the profession may be equally astounded.
Getting an accounting degree in a University or College seems easy enough, if you can get through the exams, with subjects like statistics, cost accounting, financial accounting, etc., all point to “dull”, period. The challenge actually comes after graduation. One may find out, sooner or later, that the Cash Flow in the company may not be as healthy as what the college book normally says, and that everything balances out beautifully. In reality, most companies do not have healthy cash flows, having borrowings and always in the negative, during economic downturns, especially – that’s the challenge for the accountants to ‘fix’, or that’s what the bosses think the accountants should do.
The first 6 years of my life in the accounting profession can be considered awful, in terms of remuneration for my services rendered. The first 2 years in my career almost caused me to leave my eventual position leading up to Controller status. Why? The manual mental calculation, which we called “casting” those days, of Inventory stock sheets which were at least 1 inch thick was sufficient reason to quit – and doing it for 2 years continuously, left me totally and completely devoid of numbers in my pay package. Personal computers or PCs were unheard off when I started in the profession. Even calculators were considered primitive by today’s standards, and extremely expensive, and totally not a privilege to junior staff at all.
I was never a 9 to 5 person sitting in an office, and that is what was expected for an accountant those days (perhaps even now). Fortunately, after securing a position as an Internal Auditor, subsequently, I had to travel to the subsidiary companies from my office – a breather from the 9 to 5 job, or so I thought. Then in my earnest and ‘eager to please’ attitude to my immediate supervisor and to prove my worth, I used all the knowledge acquired during my days as an external auditor that I should not be an embarrassment to him. Very soon, I discovered some documentation which were not quite legal in the approach to completion of certain acquisitions of properties, by none other than the Head Honcho of the entire Group of Companies. Even my immediate supervisor reports to the Head Honcho, so I thought the quickest way to get unemployment benefits was to submit a written report on my findings, which I did, but not in a written format. Verbally I seek a ‘pow-wow’ with my supervisor, about this, my thought was to avoid a scandal, not a cover-up, how naïve I was, then.
Soon enough, I was informed that there was a vacancy as a Controller in one of the better performing subsidiaries within the Group, which led to the position I mentioned at the beginning of this Hub. First thought, of course, was that my services were recognized and thus justifiable promotion was accorded to me. Subsequent thoughts came, after my acceptance, were – they had to get rid of me, before I do more damage to the reputation of the Head Honcho of the company. They cannot fire me, not wanting me to be a whistle blower, which they think I will be, if they do that, and so, they took the more ‘honorable’ step as to boost the morale of the staff that positions can be filled internally.
Well, I did not stay forever in the Controller position, but that is another story altogether. Moral of the story? Being at the top may not be as gratifying as it should be, after initiation into a ‘dull’ profession.