Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Remembering The Boss

Yesterday I learned of the passing of Steve Conrad.  Steve was my “boss” for more than a decade in his role as the Partner In Charge of Arthur Andersen’s Denver office Tax Division (Steve appears under the alias "Jack Rayburn" in other blog episodes). More than a boss, Steve was a mentor and friend.  I will remember him as one of the most influential people in my professional career.

Steve had a knack for letting his tax team have some slack while still expecting and bringing forth the best in people. There are different ways to motivate and create the environment people need to succeed and excel.  Anybody who has ever worked at one of the large accounting firms knows they are both challenging and invigorating places. Steve’s easy going “one of the gang” style was just the tonic we needed. He told me once “This can be a hard place to work, my job is to lighten the load when I can.”  

I understand that Steve indicated he didn’t want any funeral or memorial.  That is like him - never showy or boastful, just a solid professional and a better man.  I have traded messages with many colleagues today who are likewise remembering the role Steve played in their lives.  OK, no memorial, but just a couple quick Steve stories in tribute.

Four years into my career the Denver economy was slow and Steve was looking to send somebody to our Houston office where they had more work than they could handle.  It was mid July and I had just come off a six week engagement of 12+ hour days. “Not Houston in the summer” I pleaded. Steve could have made me go, but he didn’t. He said, “OK, but next time you go and there is no discussion.”

Three months later Steve calls me into his office and says “They need somebody at A Plus as subject matter expert on the Oil and Gas module, pack your bags, you are going.”  A Plus was Andersen’s tax software development entity located in Sarasota, Florida. Steve could see I was approaching burnout and sent me on a six week recharge mission. Light work days, Florida sunshine, evening runs on the beach.  Those six weeks saved my sanity and my health at a time when the stress of the last year had worn me down.

Much later in my career Steve was giving me an annual review and asked the obligatory “are you satisfied with your annual salary adjustment” question.  I really had no gripes with it except that I knew I was making the same as a couple of other folks who were well short of my net supervised fees and billable hours.  I told him it didn’t feel like there was a distinction for giving extra effort.

The next day in my office mailbox is a plain white envelope with my name on it.  Inside is a personal check from Steve for $7500. I went to his office and told him I couldn’t take it.  He said I was right that I deserved more but that the firm guidelines wouldn’t have allowed it. He told me the Denver Tax Division was his business and as the owner of that business it was his decision to give me the check.  Weeks and months went by with me holding the check and Steve telling me he still couldn’t balance his checkbook. Finally I cashed it.

As an aside, I forgot to report the $7500 on my tax return. That resulted in both Steve and me getting nasty grams from the IRS.  Two tax guys messing up a simple compensation transaction.

As Steve would say - -”It’s beer :30.”  Grab a cold one and raise a simple toast to the life of a good man.