Tag Archives: Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’

Money in Business

Many of you know that I consider myself a ‘Recovering Accountant.’  I spent many years doing the ‘numbers’ for everything from small mom-and-pop companies to mid-sized corporations.  The only place that really didn’t work for me, was the Large Company which starts at 500 employees.

I have worked in a bunch of different industries.   One of the cool things about accounting is that businesses always need someone to tell them how much money they didn’t make! When in trouble, a company will let go of people in sales before they lay off the accounting staff, THAT means Job Security 101.

I’m proud of the work I did and the difference I made.

What I want to talk about here is a couple of fascinating things I found going on in Corporate America.  Actions that made jobs and the overall success of the business very challenging to achieve.

Early on in my accounting career, my dad taught me something that most accountants don’t know and most companies don’t even try to understand.  Everyone thinks that Accounting/Bookkeeping is about taxes, paying bills, and making the numbers balance.  Certainly, those are very important tasks, however, the real magic happens when you get the numbers from accounting early enough that you can do something about it!  Most accountants get nervous about giving estimates.  I get it, you want to be right, and have it all neat and tidy.  That’s great for capturing history, not so great for finding out what’s not working.  You want to see what’s happening and make changes NOW, not after it’s all done.  That means that you need to look at the numbers before they are all pretty, perfect, and balanced.  You need to use the SWAG (Scientific, Wild Assed Guess) method and show what is happing now!

It often took me months to get owners, department heads, and managers to let me share more numbers with them.  They just wouldn’t believe that I was there to help them.  I’m delighted to say I broke down those walls and got the managers where they would ask for more specific reports on different products.

Usually, companies have ‘Silos’ which are business divisions that operate independently and avoid sharing information. I was fascinated to learn that colleagues were reading Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ and applying the techniques they learned in dealing with people inside the company! Studies have shown that the best way to make money and succeed in business is to keep your customers and employees happy.  How do you do that if they are trying to run over each other at every turn?

I’ve seen a lot of crazy things working as CFO, Controller, and Accountant over the years.  There was the family-run business where the ‘Manager, brother of the owner’ wouldn’t give any of the employees a new pencil until they turned in the stub of the old pencil. I was doing a temp gig for them and he was stunned when I declined the job offer he made.  Seemed pretty straightforward to me.

Then there was the Envious Owner. It was a small company selling a new disinfectant to dental offices.  There was only one salesman, and he was on the road all the time.  He was a fun, warm-hearted guy, as many salesmen are.  He loved traveling and was very effective at acquiring and keeping clients.  The Owner had a distinct idea of how sales should be accomplished.  They should at all times be dignified and professional.  Our salesman guy was known for wearing very colorful, off-the-wall ties, and actually used his daughter’s Toy Calculator because it had bigger, more readable numbers and was fun.  Clients loved it.  Not so much loved by the boss.  He grounded the salesman and kept him in the office.  Not surprisingly, sales slipped.  One would think any business would be thrilled to have an effective salesperson who liked being on the road.  For that Owner, it was all about image.

I know that most of my readers are sole proprietors or small business owners. The versions of the cautions above are still there, they just may be more in your head with you playing all the roles.  What might you do differently after reading about these ideas?  Which ones have you experienced?  How do you want to interact with employees and customers? How do you think of money in your business?


Shell Tain, The Untangler