I spent today at a seminar on an emerging “sexy” accounting topic, if such a beast exists. I drove mid-morning to a bucolic corporate office park to listen to an (actually) quite fascinating lecture on future accounting issues. The day – coming after a week away in the Poconos – was a good transition, mentally, back into the consulting world.
During breaks I wandered out with some of the odd mix of clients and fellow consultants and watched CNBC playing out on the plasma screen in the lobby. We sipped catered coffees and watched our retirement accounts shrink. More importantly, a few of the consultants and I who were involved in one of the players in today’s drama watched as things, well, changed.
I have seen people laid off and rebound to bigger and better things. I remember one of the early traumatic moments in my working career, when a young woman who had worked earnestly for me had been deemed unworthy of continued employment by my superiors. I was asked to let her go, and did, knowing full well she supported her family by herself. A year later, she was employed by the client she had worked on with me, happier, healthier and better paid. Leaving Mother Corporation does not always result in the immolation of the individual.
Yet at the same time, it is amazing to watch your client die in a flicker of numbers on a cable business channel. I thought about the people I like at my client, and the people I don’t like, but all people with lives like mine – a new dishwasher being delivered, hopes to replace that junker ’98 they’ve been driving, the good intentions to finally start saving for retirement this year. It’s not an easy thing to think of the looming impact of a systemic failure on these people. I know these people – if they are smart and personable and capable – will survive and move on. But at the same time, the flickering numbers have become more and more deadly to more and more of us. Thousands of people who worked overtime without pay, who didn’t expect anything but a biweekly paycheck and a shot at a promotion will find themselves scanning monster.com and nibbling at their savings while executives cruise off with multimillion dollar exit packages.
“Every little thing is gonna be alright” is Little Buddy’s favorite lyric from his favorite song, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” I hope he’s right. I think he’s right. All of us, at a primal level, want to believe he’s right. Bloated corporations have failed throughout the history of capitalism and new, hungry, opportunistic corporations have arisen on their ashes. I know my current client will die – if not today, tomorrow or the next day. Good riddance. I hope the people who keep the corpse propped up manage to slog through to their next mortgage payment. I have to believe they will, and I will. I know I will, because I’m already attending seminars and getting educated in the next wave of accounting and governance regulations (that, and my writing career will take off like Stephen King’s – positive thinking, eh?)
So this was a good day to spend away from the belly of the beast and watch another collapse unfold silently, with close captions, on a lobby TV. The eerie quality of a collapse on mute was worth seeing. Watching a ship run ashore from the shore is more abstract that watching from the deck, but – perhaps – no less disturbing. Two vast and trunkless legs of stone, eh?