Doc Manders (as he was nicknamed) was a kindly senior internal auditor at the Lands Department in Sydney where I was employed in 1964 but his piercing blue eyes left little doubt as to how he felt about my intended departure to take up a position in private enterprise. “It’s only the few that make it outside the security of the public service – and you haven’t got it.”
After innumerable “knock backs” I had developed a winning technique to land my next job by giving the impression I was a very fast adapter to any new challenging work environments. Doc Manders’ view was that I must have been ‘’ loose with the truth”.
My first employer was a fledgling retail business which eventually was to blossom into a major force. The Managing Director welcomed me at the Arncliffe headquarters. ”Well young man seeing you’ve passed those tough accountancy exams you must be smart,” admitting to me he had found it all too hard and had quit. “So we will be counting on you!”
What they didn’t realize was my failure to mention my work experience confined to the archaic public sector single entry system would mean I would struggle to come to grips with the complexity of private enterprise. Worse still the first assignment was at the large Neutral Bay store – more than two hours round trip using the company’s manual car. My driving experience was only on wide country roads in an automatic vehicle.
Onlookers grimaced, on that first day, as I lurched forward in a series of kangaroo hops as the ever faithful Holden groaned in agony. Travelling across the Sydney Harbor Bridge sweaty palms made it difficult to stay in the correct lane. Sudden corrections were negotiated in response to the angry howl of horns around me. On arrival I resembled the smelly Dick Tracey comic strip character ‘B O PLENTY’. Furthermore a black mark was registered against me when the company car repair bill came in - it eclipsed all previous records for brake, clutch and gearbox repairs. Rumor had it; the quiet young accountant was a hoon.
Inevitably I did struggle to complete all the work scheduled and after only six month I was told I would have to be let go. My second position with a spare parts wholesaler wasn’t much different – except it lasted longer and I had enough sense to leave before I was asked.
By that time any semblance of confidence had dissipated and at the same time I now needed to establish myself given my recent marriage plans. Applying for what appeared to be an ideal position in a midsized manufacturing company I was greeted by a much older but affable Chief Accountant intent on hiring his ‘’ right hand man” to ensure he was then able to move up the corporate ladder.
But during the course of the interview the futility of again attempting to take on more than I was capable of was becoming increasingly evident – flashes of guilt prompted me to ask myself why I was wasting this man's time; particularly as he looked a little weary, if not laconic, during the course of the interview. It suddenly occurred to me Doc Manders was right after all; a less challenging position, even possibly back in the public sector was the go. At the end of the interview he had asked if I had any further questions. So I stammered nervously, losing all pretence of outward coolness, “I think the job is totally beyond me.”
The Chief accountant looked at me intently. What came next was totally unexpected – for rather than admonish me for wasting his time he proceeded to share with me his distaste for all of the preceding young “smart Alecks” he had interviewed that day. “How could I ever train any of them to take over from me,” he said.
Fortuitously I was the last cab off the rank and as I nodded in agreement I felt pleased that at least he wasn’t going to vent his displeasure on me for wasting his time. But then, to my surprise, a thin smile crept over his lips as if he was savoring a moment of anticipation- like a quiz master waiting a few seconds to keep everyone in suspense until the winner is declared, “Young man, you’re a breath of fresh air – someone I think I can mould into the fine young accountant you aspire to be …..”When can you start!?”
Perhaps he was my guardian angel giving me a leg up when I needed it most; from that day on everything more or less started to make more sense according to HOYLE.
The story is of different era, unlikely to be repeated, but it taught me that honesty is the best policy.