A Parable on how outsourcing could save you from an embarrassing Christmas
Long before I won the lottery and landed a job in Sales & Marketing, I worked for an insurance company (I won’t give the name, for obvious reasons). It’s a big company; our humble Abilene, TX office employed 1,300 souls, tidily arranged in two huge cubical farms reminiscent of the movie Office Space on PED’s. Younger me, even fresh out of the Air Force, was unprepared for the frighteningly Byzantine bureaucracy. But most notable was the Klingon-style system of promotion.
Let me explain that. Our Program VP had occupied her position for some 15 years when I came on board, and she still held the position after my 5-year indentured servitude ended. Anchor dropped for 20 years, recalcitrant and immovable no matter how many middle-management careers lay vexed and hamstrung behind her. Her firm intention was to die in office. Her Second-in-Command, the Director, wouldn’t be eligible for a promotion until she retired, was fired, or died. This poor chap was the corporate world’s Prince Charles, waiting to inherit a throne he’d spent his working career building toward, only to have its current occupant show every intention of outliving him. In those five years I watched his hair shift from dark and full to gray and…less full, all the while his boss remained firmly entrenched.
That was just how management worked in that company at the time, and she wasn’t the only one. First-line supervisors were at their post twenty-plus years, and up the chain. After finishing my degree, I quickly realized the only options available to me were having an extralegal Deep Web hit put out on an EVP somewhere, or find another job.
Having nothing but the utmost respect for the law, I opted for the latter.
Which found me shortly thereafter at a local manufacturing company, working as a controller under the CFO. She was an interesting character – very competent at her job, very tough, and dedicated to her work. She gave me my first job in accounting, and my first management role in the civilian sector.
She was also, well, there is no other way to put it – cheap. I remember one year for Christmas she gave each member of the staff a single packet of (and I am not joking) store-bought McCormick Chili mix – one packet to each of us. Why? Well, it happened that there were enough packets in the value-sized box to give one to each member of her department without having to buy a second box…and it had been on sale.
You might say ‘economical’ is a better word. Smart well-to-do people stay well-to-do by being economical. Yes, the company saved a sizable amount of money in its payroll as everyone in accounting was paid the exact minimum amount legally allowed for a salaried/exempt employee. She, on the other hand, was making a comfortable six-figure salary with bonuses larger than my gross take home (I should know, I ran payroll), and she drove a Hummer H1 that guzzled gasoline like Boris Yeltsin took to Stolichnaya.
Her parsimonious habits towards payroll belied a very liberal and openhanded attitude to paper consumption. We leased three(!) 25 x 50 ft climate-controlled storage buildings just to hold the paper copies of every document, journal entry, invoice, and accounting transaction the company had generated in its 30-year history. No joke – in triplicate.
After working there a few months I suggested, in a moment of free-thinking weakness, that I take on the responsibility of digitizing those records. After all, we were spending upwards of $18k a year on the storage, and 5-10 hours a week of my time ensuring staff filed everything appropriately, ferrying it across town to storage, and trying to find obscure data at the whim of the CEO or CFO. You don’t need a Harvard PhD to do that cost-analysis. It was madness. This is the 21st Century. We aren’t talking about the ’70s or ‘80s, this was literally the mid-2000’s. And even in 2008, terabyte data storage was a lot cheaper than the rent on those buildings.
She wouldn’t have it. Computers were “too untried” and “had no place in accounting.” I countered by pointing out she wasn’t using Sage 200 and Quickbooks on an abacus, now was she? Not that that argument got me anywhere…
Business has changed. It just has. Especially since COVID-19. Now entire company parks sit empty as thousands of workers forgo the daily commute to work, sleep just a little later, and try to pass off their Crocs and house robes as “business casual.” And yes, thank you, I am wearing my Crocs and house robe while I write this. Business casual.
Working remotely was once the province of the privileged elite, but now it is simply how companies function. Working onsite is the aberration. Why drudge into a conference room when you can crank up a Zoom meeting? Why occupy your cubicle in the 4,800 sq ft open office, when you can RDP into your workstation from your living room couch?
This is an age of interconnected efficiency. Sure, you can hire twenty Oil & Gas accountants and pay them in coupons and McCormick Chili packets. But it would be cheaper to just hire the pros at Eddye Dreyer. And it would spare you the shame having to buy them embarrassingly cheap Christmas gifts. While you’re at it, ditch decades of hard copy and go digital. This is a magical age where solutions like WolfePak and DocVue not only exist, but work well together. Why pretend that technology stopped in the 1970’s?