This week, the Mississippi Business Journal turns its editorial focus to professionals: attorneys and CPAs.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the CPA profession and a ton of respect for the men and women who represent the public in matters of accounting and taxation. I was a practicing CPA for about 18 years before I left the accounting profession and ventured out into other lines of work.
In a recent conversation, the editor challenged me to recall a few amusing anecdotes from my years in public accounting practice.
So, why not, I thought.
Off to a good start — eventually
I began my career with Ernst & Young here in Jackson. I had been offered a job with the now defunct national accounting firm of Price Waterhouse in New Orleans, but the job offer was rescinded when I got drafted into the Army. Bummer! Even though the cloud of military service hung over my head, Ernst offered me post-Army employment, and I will always be grateful to them for taking a chance on me and giving me some peace of mind during my Army years.
When I started practicing accounting in 1973, there was probably no more than two or three computers in Mississippi. We actually worked with journals and ledgers contained in heavy binders and accounting entries were written in ink.
One Saturday evening I was working late down at the old Milner Building and decided I had done about all that my endurance would allow. I had laid out the ledgers across my desk and when that space was all used, overflowed across the trashcan.
The conclusion to this story is probably pretty obvious by now.
The janitors came and carried out the trash, including the ledger that was lying across the can.
I spent Sunday morning going through the trash looking for the ledger rather than working on my accounting project. The ledger was recovered and I learned a valuable lesson. To this day, I don`t use a trash can for anything but trash.
Don`t drink it
Once I was dispatched to Bogalusa, La., to collect inventory samples of a liquid fertilizer called “Nature`s Plant Food” for lab analysis.
As auditors, we needed to know that the huge tanks actually contained fertilizer and not just colored water. About the time I got to Tylertown, I realized that I didn`t have a container to collect the samples in. I stopped in the local Five & Dime and bought the only containers they had. I suspect the lab up in Cleveland had never received samples in plastic baby bottles before or after.
Ooops, meant to sign ‘em
After three years with Ernst, I struck out on my own. Wallace Collins and I began our little CPA firm with just the two of us. Since we couldn`t afford clerical help, I was the clerk typist for our first few months in business. In order to portray a bigger organization, I typed my initials backward in the slot at the end of letters where the typist`s initials go.
Once, while suffering dire cash flow inadequacies, we mailed our bills without signing the checks in hopes that, by the time the error was discovered and the checks returned for signature, we would have the money to cover the expenses. It worked for us. However, I don`t recommend this strategy to anyone since some have suggested that it`s of questionable legality. Fortunately, that was 30 years ago and, surely, the statute of limitations has run on our little indiscretion.
Appreciating the unexpected
During our early years in practice friends and relatives were very generous in recommending new clients. One of our largest clients called and asked us to meet with a lady friend of his and see if we could help her with her income taxes.
I have rarely been so caught off guard like I was the day the woman came by for our initial meeting and announced that she only had one ovary. Trying to think of some appropriate response led to an embarrassingly long silence. It was her way of telling me she wanted to get married soon because of this physical situation. That explanation would have been more than sufficient for me. She had certainly given me more information than I needed to fill out her tax return.
Once I mailed some blank checks to a client who was incarcerated in federal prison. I was paying his bills during his “absence” and had run out of checks. I enclosed a stamped return envelope so he could mail the checks back to me. I got a reprimand from the Federal Bureau of Prisons for trying to sneak contraband into a federal inmate. It seems that stamps are contraband in federal prison. These are things they don`t teach you in even the best of colleges.
Oh well, I’m really enjoying this little trip down memory lane, but my space is just about filled. Perhaps we can do this again sometime.
My hat`s off to the hard working, ethical men and women who practice public accounting in Mississippi. Their hours are long, but their devotion to public service is great. It is a noble profession and they deserve our respect and appreciation.
Thought for the Moment — Unless their business is show business, people who must get phone calls at their restaurant tables shouldn`t be dining publicly. — the late publisher Malcolm Forbes
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.