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.