Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Preface to The Andersen Years

In December 1983 I interviewed for a position in the Tax Division of the Arthur Andersen Denver Office.  I was a college senior contemplating how to interact with the cold, cruel world upon my graduation in five months from the safety of academic life.  I had previously interviewed with four of the other "Big Eight" accounting firms that existed at the time and had received three job offers.  Those offers sat unaccepted on my messy desk.  I just couldn't see myself working in the stuffy corridors of any of those firms that shall remain nameless in the spirit of diplomacy. 

I know what you are thinking:  If a dude goes and majors in accounting then he should expect to work in stuffy corridors where stuffy people roam.  Perhaps that was a truth I could not avoid.  Arthur Andersen was my last hope.  If I didn't sense a fit there, or, heaven forbid, if they didn't offer me a job, what was I going to do?  My plan B was law school, but in all honesty I was really tired of academics.

The Denver metro area was experiencing a record cold snap in December 1983.  I awoke on Wednesday morning December 21 surprisingly fresh from a college Christmas party the night before.  As a Denver native I felt a sort of civic duty to provide a place for some of my out of state Regis College classmates to gather and toast the cold while they waited for flights home for the holidays.  This may not have been the best way to prep for an interview, but I figured I had little to lose.  I would go in loose and relaxed and let the chips fall where they may.

I shaved and broke the fast with corn flakes, yogurt and toast, my go to college morning meal.  I put on my lone suit, a three-piece charcoal grey pinstripe number.  Yes, we wore vests back then.  I didn't have an overcoat to deflect any of the minus 20 cold, minus 50 wind chill.  A college senior of divorced working class parents has few luxuries.  The god of 1975 Ford Granadas was smiling on me that day and my ride started on the first try.

 I arrived at Andersen's downtown office and asked for Emily Carson, the recruiter who conducted my on campus interview.  Emily provided me my itinerary and introduced me to my first interviewer.  I won't torture my readers with details of my interview process, apart from a future chapter on my interview lunch.  Suffice it to say I felt at home among the personalities I encountered.  My early Christmas presents were an offer letter to start work at Arthur Andersen in the Tax Department in the summer of 1984 and a book chronicling the Firm's first seventy years.  In case you are wondering the starting salary detailed in my offer letter was $20,000.  Had the offer letter reduced my annual wage to an hourly rate I may have reconsidered the whole premise of my career.

My Andersen epic lasted from June 4, 1984 to July 24, 1997.  I started keeping a journal of sorts almost from my first day.  It was not a "this was my day" journal.  I planned to be an over achiever and I initially used my journal to note advice nuggets that would help propel my rise in the firm.  These insights might not mean much to a normal person, but to an aspiring tax geek they were the foundation stones to build an exemplary career. 
From June 12, 1984:  Get a copy of the weekly PLRs routed to your mailbox (PLRs are Private Letter Rulings that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues to taxpayers seeking guidance on specific issues)

From July 9, 1984:  Go through the glossary of key terms in the Arthur Andersen Oil and Gas Tax Manual.

From August 27, 1984:  Ask how to get the audit experience I need to fulfill the experience requirement needed to obtain my Certified Public Accountant License.  (After passing the CPA exam tax professionals needed to work on an audit to get the requisite number of hours of audit experience).

You get the idea.  These were not the kind of work tidbits that would inspire a John Grisham novel about the Firm where I worked. 

Looking back it is hard to reconcile this type of career nerd behavior with the persona of a pretty normal 22 year old.  As you might expect my diligence in keeping the career tactics journal quickly gave way to something more entertaining, at least to me.  Before the leaves started to fall the notations in my journal began to take on a different tone.  Instead of monitoring the minutia that I would need to master to one day become an Andersen partner, I started writing down the things that struck me each day from my interactions with my coworkers and clients:  Tidbits of advice, jokes, personal anecdotes, or memorable escapades.

 For 13 years I chronicled the people in My Andersen world who taught me, critiqued me, scolded me, sought my advice, worked for me and generally served as the family I spent time with for more than half my waking hours.  From these observations I have compiled a set of stories to pay tribute to these characters and the Firm that brought them all together. 

What follows are tales of my experiences at Andersen as they might be discussed over beers (or red wine if you prefer) with a close friend or two who shared many of the experiences.  As such the tales unfold as a mosaic rather than a chronological recounting of my Andersen days.  One story triggers a memory that leads to another story -- and memories are seldom linear.

I have decided to use "stage names" rather than real names for my characters.  The characters and the stories are one hundred percent real.  Still, in recounting a story from memory and journal notes there is an inherent lack of precision in sequence, dialogue, and emotional content.  Therefore it seems only fair to my subjects that I give them the cloak of a secret identity.  I fully expect that many of my Andersen Denver mates who read these tales will have no problem matching the character identities to the real people behind them.  That is part of the fun.  Characters who appear in more than one story will maintain consistent stage names for continuity and to give credit to their body of work. 

I had initially contemplated going through the rigor of writing a book and all the drama that goes with that process.  Then I had an epiphany of sorts and realized I am not that good of a writer and the extra commitment required might just mean I never publish my work.  My goal is to share memories.  I suspect that I can most efficiently do that through the wonder of the Internet.

I will do my best to be articulate, organized, and readable.  I can't promise James Joyce-like grammatical precision.  In return I offer my creation at the bargain price of free.

So, let the memories roll.  My plan is to issue a new story approximately once a week.  Of course life often gets it the way of a plan, but I will do my best to stay on schedule.

There is a time and a place for the serious analysis of why Arthur Andersen is no longer here.  Others have already rightfully told that story and more probably will in the future.  That is not my purpose. I come to these pages to fondly remember a special time in my life.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific introduction, John. Waiting for the rest of it. Best wishes.