The Lone Ranger: Part Two

This is a story from more than a quarter century ago. It happened in 1991.

It was the last time I put on a costume at Halloween, and one of the very few times that I have done so since I became too old to go door-to-door in the quest for chocolate. (Note: I still accept chocolate, and most sweet things, when offered.)

My costume that day: white levis, white shirt, black half mask, a pair of white handled cap pistols…and the dreaded cowboy hat.
Why, you might ask, was that my costume…especially when you consider where I wore it: to the weekly management meeting at the tax software development office of the largest accounting firm in the world. {Part I detailed (with probably too much detail) how I got to the table that day.}
It was in Sarasota, FL. The meeting would be chaired by a fellow we’ll call Frick. The bully in the room was an alcoholic hillbilly and his right-hand man, that we’ll call Frack. Three years down the road Frick would be fired and I’d get his job. Frack headed back to the hills of West Virginia and wasn’t seen again after getting axed.

I was one of two managers on tax software we’ll call “TD” that Andersen developed for corporate tax departments. Frick and Frack hated everything about TD….and did anything they could to treat our teams like redheaded stepchildren (a phrase I detest…many of my favorite people happen to be gingers!).
I had been fighting battles with Frack for a couple of years before that day 26 years ago. Neither of us woulda pissed on the other if they were on fire…
So why was I dressed like the Lone Ranger? It was Ollie’s idea.

Ollie was the other TD manager. Great guy. His product was dirt simple and small. Federal tax return. Cake.
I had the states. It was huge. Complex. An air craft carrier of a software project….

But Ollie had to endure a lot of the same grief that I did, because of being outcasts in the eyes of F&F. {He had gotten ballsier recently now that we reported to “A.M.” a partner in Chicago WHQ. Frick and Frack wouldn’t write our annual reviews…but they still held most of the office admin cards. They still could, and did, fuck with us.}

One day Ollie walks into my office and shuts the door. “There is something that we really need to do at next week’s Tuesday management meeting.”
“Yeah Ollie…what you got?”
“I’ll dress as a blind man and you come as the Lone Ranger and we’ll make a grand entrance by being a minute late and….”

“Whoa? I’m coming to work in a costume? Ollie, have you lost your fucking mind!?”
“Next week Frick&Frack say that employees can dress like it’s Halloween. No wool, silk and cotton required…anything we want. Let’s have some fun!!”

Ollie went on: “They brought in Zeus Breakerson from MICD months ago promising us project management tools and data. Not a damned deliverable yet from that windbag!! I’m still managing blind. You have even a bigger need for those tools.
Plus you are always fighting a bunch of battles and raising hell. The items you put in your weekly status report…holy shit Steve! Balls…you got ’em! You hit them with a 2 by 4 right between the eyes. You ARE the lone ranger.”
I guess I was.
Too many people are afraid for all kinds of “reasons.” Fearful to speak up. Living in fear of bullies.
The conference room at the Tuesday status meeting had a lot of scaredy cats at the table.
The weekly status for all 30 projects in the office of several hundred employees were submitted on Monday and assembled into a package that went to all the attendees of the weekly management meeting, plus to at least a dozen Andersen partners in Chicago, NY, Seattle, LA and Milwaukee.

One of the 5 sections of the weekly report was titled “Management Issues.” Most weeks, 29 of the reports said “None” no matter how many actual issues there might be. Mine was always the odd ball, with several well documented and indisputable mgmt issues.
The other 29 project managers were shocked that anybody would speak up.
I never met so many pussies in my life, scared of incurring the wrath of a drunken West Virginia hillbilly. Sad.
Ollie & I took a 3 hour lunch that next Monday and went on the quest for our costumes. At the first stop we got him a cane and some dark sunglasses. He was set.

Finding me a pair of white handled cap pistols was a snap. Surprisingly the black half-mask was challenging.
The hat was the real challenge. I hate wearing a cap of any sort, other than a “sock cap.” I always hated cowboy hats even 40-plus years before I met the franchisor in 2001 who I dubbed “the faux cowboy.” (NOTE: I was a rabble rouser franchisee too, getting my name on Gordo’s “hit list” for most of my 8 years in the hair-cutting business. Stories there too….)

Before our lunchtime shopping trip I told Ollie that “maybe I should dress as Don Quixote instead?” Unlike the Lone Ranger I didn’t win every battle…not even close.
Here’s how that Tuesday went down:
At noon I closed my office door and got into character: all white, except for my black half mask and black shoes. Then the two of us sat in my office “prepping.” More accurately you’d call it plotting…and laughing our asses off.

At 1:01 pm…a minute after the door to the conference room had closed…Ollie entered, tapping the cane. “I can’t see where I am or where I’m going…I’m trying to manage, but I’m blind!! Without some help, how am I gonna get to where I need to be? Can the god of the sky come to my rescue? Zeus I call on you. Oh great god…help me!”

I entered midway thru his spiel and helped him to a seat.
I let the room know that the Masked Man had arrived. I said something about bad men running rough shod over others, and that it was going to stop. As I laid my two “guns” on the table I said: “These are loaded. I don’t want to hear any lies or bullshit, or I’ll be using these babies.”

Immediately Frack started to run his mouth. Ollie and I had predicted that would happen. Frack hadn’t said 5 words before I was letting him have it with both barrels. “I said no bullshit….”
Pop, pop, pop, pop.

Ollie: “Ok Frick…lets get thru this weekly mgmt reporting package quickly and spend the meeting resolving management issues. Maybe Zeus here finally has an actual deliverable for us. Steve, put those sidearms down. But remain at the ready.”

I’m not sure how many times I popped a cap during the next hour. It was several. Frack was “shot” numerous times. The bully never did have a sense of humor. And if possible, disliked me even more than he had an hour earlier.
That was the most fun I had had in a long time. That first few years in Floriduh was some tough duty. But there were lots of good times. Lots of good people. I’m lucky to still call many of them friends, a quarter of a century later.

Ollie had a great idea. I had an absolute blast, “shooting” at a bully.
The partner in Chicago WHQ who I reported to thought it was funny too….he called within an hour after the meeting and we had some laughs. He wanted to make sure that Ollie and I had charged our costumes to our expense accounts.
A.M. was an Awesome boss.

The Lone Ranger: Part One

This is a two parter. Part 1 is gonna get me from Corvallis, Orygun to Sarasota, Floriduh. It’s a 9 year journey. I’ll try to condense it.

Part 2 is gonna have me dressed as The Lone Ranger at a weekly project status meeting in the tax software offices of the largest accounting firm in the world. You’re gonna have to wait to hear about me dressed in white levis, white shirt, black half mask, a pair of white handled cap pistols…and the dreaded cowboy hat.

In May, 1981 I was a long-haired, scraggly, denim-wearing student in the “post-bacc in accounting” program at OSU. I had slowed my weed and homemade wine consumption, from the pre-80’s level. Notice I said “slowed.” Not “stopped.” But at Oregon State, pre-AA&Co. I was already a work hard/play hard guy.

In May, 1982 I started in the tax division in Portland, OR office of Arthur Andersen & Co.
Hair cropped. Wearing wool, silk, cotton and shined wingtips. At the time, the WSJ and other news organizations would refer to AA&Co. as “the Marine corps” of the Big 8. When I left Andersen 14 years later, it was down to the Big 5…and the Firm still had the same reputation.

I always impressed you as a strack jarhead, right? Who’d thought that I’d last 14 years in “the Marines”?

–>In ’82 the microcomputer was just being introduced into the business world.
Andersen was always a technology leader, and not just in the accounting profession…in the business world.
–>The spreadsheet “standard” at the time was something called Visicalc. Lotus 1-2-3 followed. Then Excel took over.
–>I became the spreadsheet jock of the Portland office.
–>I worked on spreadsheet based apps in WHQ in Chicago. Some very cool stuff…and a great town in which to play hard.

–>The name of the WHQ group at 33 West Monroe had an unfortunate acronym.
–>The group was called Computer Aides to Tax Practice. (cat pee)
–>I was on the firmwide CATP team for several years, containing one person from each of the five US regions.
–>I made annual trips to Comdex in Las Vegas with the CATP team for three years.
–>What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Ditto my other CATP related boondoggles.

–>In my first 3 years with AA&Co. I was cautioned at evaluation and annual review time that I needed to do something besides spreadsheet based projects or my chances of promotion were slim.
–>Thanks to Betsy Crudele for staffing me on a couple of clients with heavy “compliance work” and transaction planning projects.

–>I fast tracked to manager, getting promoted to manager in 1986 after 4 years with AA&Co. I think this accelerated path was because of, rather than in spite of, the microcomputer.
–>Have I told you that I was a work hard/play hard person? After ’86 I ramped up both of them. Lots of “keep bringing drinks until I’ve burned thru that” as I’d slap a Grant “half yard” onto the table.

–>Andersen decided to bring tax preparation in house and buys a company based in Sarasota that has a PC based package. It takes years and lots of $$$ before the software from the west coast of FL (A-plusTax) is robust enough to replace FastTax in the Andersen offices.
–>The majority owner and the “brains” behind A+ is a guy we’ll call Frick. More about him in Part 2.
–>His right-hand man is a bully, a hillbilly and a drunk. Call him Frack. More about him too….
–>The people in Sarasota insist that their depreciation package is as good as FastTax. —–>Andersen puts together a team to test the A+ depreciation modules. And test it. And test it. I spend a couple of weeks in Chicago as one of the test leads. We find 100s of issues with the depreciation calcs. My write-up is delivered to Frick&Frack.

–>A few months later I was the “sign-off manager” for the OR1040 package from A+….testing the state package for individual returns. F&F in Sarasota receive another long list of points from me.
–>When a friend leaves the Portland office, I inherit her client…and the most complex, convoluted reorg in the Firm at the time. It was ugly. Tax tech memos I was writing had to be approved by several Firmwide experts. I almost worked too hard for the next 9 months to find time to play. Almost. I was now the spreadsheet jock, tax software tester, Code&Regs geek who could manage large projects.
–>But I knew that being a traditional CPA was not in the cards…for the same reason that I give people when I tell them why I don’t have pets: I’m too impetuous and too irresponsible. Plus I get bored.

–>In late 1988, I was picked to be the sign-off manager on the 1120S software developed by A-plus: was it robust and accurate enough to be used in the Andersen offices?
–>Test prep involved a couple of weeks in Cleveland.
–>Followed by a couple of trips to Sarasota in early 1989.
–>The s/w wouldn’t even print the 1120S for the first several days we were in Floriduh! WTF?
–>That was the first time that I laid eyes on Frack. He immediately tries to intimidate me with something like “Oh, you’re that Steve Weece guy huh? We’re gonna teach you a few things son.”
–>Daily status meetings with Frack while in Sarasota were not fun. Who likes being lied to and bullied? And how many bullies like a target that won’t back down…and who likes to tussle a bit? I was Frack’s target…and his nemesis.

–>Back in Portland after the 1120S fiasco, my HOTD (head of Tax Division)…we’ll call him JP….wants to discuss an “opportunity.”
–>Andersen has acquired a second s/w company….we’ll call it TD. Based in Hotlanta, but the development had been moved to Sarasota. TD software was sold to Fortune 1000 clients. Big dollar annual license fees. (A+ was sold to small CPA firms…for small dollars.) Many of the companies licensing the TD software were audit clients of AA&Co. That’s where the real money was.
–>The opportunity for me: transfer to Sarasota and be one of the two managers on TD’s state product. Call it SM. This was the aircraft carrier of tax s/w projects. Requiring lots of bodies and $$$. On top of it, the product was deficient from a technical tax perspective….i.e. full of errors and bugs.
–>I knew that I was not suited to continue in the line office career path of the Marine Corps…for lots of reasons.
–>My wife had always wanted to live in FL. Happy wife, happy life. (She still lives in that fetid swamp of a state, with its bugs, its humidity, and its lack of geographic diversity.)

–>I flew down to Sarasota to be “interviewed”…even though some big unit partners in the Firm had called JP, my HOTD, and told him that it was just a formality. They wanted me to be in Sarasota full time.
–>The interview was a very strange one.
–>It was supposed to begin with Frick, starting at 9. It was probably 10:30 before I saw the weasel.
–>Then it was lunch with both Frick and Frack. Only “lunch interview” I ever experienced where one of the interviewers had several drinks.
–>After lunch I spent an hour in Frack’s office. He was very direct when we wrapped up: “If it was my call, I’d never bring one of you “line” people here. I’d send that damned TD product back to Atlanta. I’d never hire an Andersen person. And certainly not a shit stirrer like you.”
–>Frack had thrown down the gauntlet.
–>Bring it on Frack!  A few years later the F&F boys were gone, and I moved into Frick’s office.

–>The close of the interview was with an Andersen Consulting partner who was in theory running the office. Call him JG.
–>I don’t remember his exact question, but I remember my answer: “I don’t agree with Frack on much. I strongly disagree with him on one thing: the partners of the Firm need LOTS of Andersen people involved in the tax software business, and some of them need to be based here. Frack said that if it was up to him that there would be no Andersen people in the building.” That was not the end of the conversation with JG.
–>When I got back to Portland, my HOTD and I got together at the Veritable Quandary after work. Lots of my “play hard” evenings started there.
–>He had received a call from JG. JP asked me about my interview. I filled him in. JP said that he hated to lose me in PDX…but he knew that I was the right guy for the challenges in Sarasota and that I was up to the task.

–>I finagled another trip to Sarasota before I committed to the transfer. “Paula needs to feel good about the decision too.”
–>I remember the two of us walking on the beach talking about the “opportunity.”
I told her that I could be throwing myself into the lion’s den. And that the guy who ran the den was a vindictive, sadistic, drunken hillbilly.
–>Frack turned out to be even worse that I imagined.
–>The wife really wanted to move to FL. I liked the software development game. I was sick of dealing with the nightmare and complexities imposed by Ronnie Raygun’s Tax Reform Act of 1986.
–>May, 1989 we moved to Sarasota from Portland. She was 38 and pregnant with the first of our two children. The fun was about to begin.

Whew…that pretty much sets the stage for Halloween twenty-five years ago. That’ll be Part 2.

There are some other stories from my Andersen days too. Maybe I’ll write some of them down at some point….stay tuned.