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Thursday, March 14, 2013

THE ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT TAKES A HOLIDAY

Most kids grow up wanting to be firemen. Not me. But after attending the New York State Fire Chiefs' annual meeting at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, I could understand why youngsters aspired to ride the red trucks and turnout coats. Driving on the New York Thruway, dozens of trucks passed me, sirens blaring. At first I thought it was a major fire, but then realized that the attendees were announcing their arrival. Each truck had a different New York town or city with its name meticulously hand painted in  gold leaf. Fire fighters are a hardy group, great drinkers with camaraderie engulfing the group. It was like a big fraternity party, and I enjoyed every minute there. Veterans in the printing industry will remember that in the 1980's, Xerox ran commercials featuring a "monk". The point was that Xerox copiers  had forced monks out of business.  The monk played by comic Jackie Eagle (his son Ian is currently a sportscaster in New York) would roam the printing exhibit floor, shaking hands and trading one liners. We became good friends. The first day at the Concord, a voice shouted "Dick" and I turned around to see the short, rotund comic standing in front of me.. He commented, "Left the printing industry, huh." I explained that I had a new responsibility. As it turned out he had a gig at the Concord and was the first night's entertainment.

Near the end July, studying our general ledger, I noticed our sales commission were higher than expected. I hadn't received the second quarter reports, so I called Walter Harrrington, the financial VP. He transferred me to Gordon Cody, who managed the accounting department.  Evidently one of his older employees had taken ill and was not available to send the paper work. Someone else had done the job, but neglected to send me copies. Being on the road as much as I was, I hope the matter would be resolved. It wasn't.

In October I headed to Washington D.C. to make the presentation to PIA's Marketing Excellence award winners. For some reason, Jim Wilkens had contacted Peter Drucker, the management guru, and solicited his permission to use his likeness on the medals I presented. Drucker's expertise was not in marketing, but it was to late to make a big deal about that fact. Exhausted, I returned to my room about 10 p.m. to hit the sack. The phone rang. It was Paul Holder calling from Cleveland. "I don't know how this happened but I think my commissions for the first nine months are $3000 more than they should be," he explained. I told him not to worry, I'd straighten out the matter when I returned to the office. I tossed and turned all night long wondering how severe the accounting error really was..

It took three days to find that the person in accounting had neglected to deduct the bogie (the base which must be hit before commissions are paid) when calculating bonus checks. The over-payments to  Tom Melchers, Mike O'Hara and Paul Holder were minimal compared to those to Ron Andriani and Emdio Gaspari's. Five years earlier, Emidio had purchased a computer. There was no way he didn't know he had been overpaid .as Ron was eagle eyed when it came to checking his bonus and when you are overpaid by 30% in the first nine months you notice  it  Their not saying something had me steaming. It was a Thursday and I tried to calm down before calling Emidio I was told he was not in his office, I left a long message detailing my concern, but trying not to show my rage. It was rather a harsh message. Next I tried to reach Ron. His over-payment was more than 10 times  Paul's. I left a message with his secretary that I wanted to see him the minute he got back to the office. The secretary saw that I was fuming. What I did not know was that Emidio  had called Ron that evening and told him to  stay out of the office, until I cooled down. . Ron didn't show up on Friday, supposedly he was making sales calls. Over the past five years, Ron and his wife, Joan, Carol and I had become friendly. We went to dinner and theater. They were fun to be with. Though I never fully believed some of his stories, I now knew I couldn't trust him.

I meandered over to the president'ss office. Jack Abely had already been advised of accounting's errors. He asked how I wanted to handle it. "It wasn't their fault, but both of them knew they were getting a lot more than they should have, and I'm really upset that I can't trust them. Let's omit their year-end bonus and deduct the balance of the over-payment of the course of next year. It will be like a loan with no interest., and they won't be hit all at  once," I suggested. He gave me  an okay. The following Monday Ron entered my office. "Close the door," I demanded. Based on the message left with his secretary and conversations with Emidio, they both knew they were caught with their pants down.  "You're going to pay it back," I told him. "I don't have it anymore. I built a swimming pool," was his response. If he had invited me for a swim, I would have punched him. I don't believe I have ever been that riled over a personnel situation before or since. And even though Ron was one of the best salesmen I've ever worked with, the trust in him had evaporated.