Wednesday, March 20

Honesty is the best Policy - A Short Story

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. 


susan said...

My early work experience was chiefly in the area of bookkeeping, something it turned out I had an affinity for but no real interest in following as a career. Although I appreciated the beauty in balancing books in a double entry ledger system I far preferred drawing and painting. At the time I'd never heard the term 'starving artist' and if I had I would have thought it romantic. You're very much to be congratulated for following through both with the degree and then your dreams for a more substantial future for yourself and your family. I'm glad Doc Manders, kindly though he surely was, turned out to be wrong about your abilities.

I enjoyed the story of your first drive in the company car. I'd never driven much and only automatic cars when I bought a manual shift car as my own first because it was substantially cheaper. How hard could it be, I thought? Then I drove it home through ten miles of heavy traffic following my patient husband. When I finally managed to get it parked next to our house I was covered in hives. It took me two days before I was ready to drive it again.

I hope you're enjoying a smooth recovery.

gfid said...

This is so refreshing, dear friend, as I'm still in recovery from the job from H-E double hockey sticks.... From which I was let go.... Not sure what the future holds for me yet, but after reading your reminisce I feel more hopeful. Many blessings, And can't wait to hear what you get up to in future. I hope you're recovering well. said...

Hi Lindsay!
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Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan and GFID,
Thanks for your interest.
Susan – As a ‘starving artist’ you also have, and are continuing to bring your abundant talent to share with us.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the story.
Sure you will “bounce back.
Keep your chin up!!
Best Wishes
Thanks for your interest – currently recovering from back surgery limiting my time on the computer but once on the mend in a few months will visit.

Mercutio said...

I enjoyed your story; very fast-paced and action-oriented, and the turn of phrase.

Of course, it would seem as if honesty would be among the priority of desirable qualities in an accountant or auditor.

In my line of work, the auditors are the ones to call me back into the office for clarifying procedures on filling out forms, demanding signatures from persons wholly unavailable, and the like.
But without them there, things would be such a tangle, certainly.

Best wishes, old friend; and a speedy recovery.