I am sending this email on New Years Day. So, I thought I would write New Years Day stories. Before I tell the stories (they are true), I should lay out the point. The point is there are many things that must be done to get the numbers right, in big and in small companies. Nuts and bolts kinds of stuff, like bank reconciliations, proper account coding of expenses, good forecasts and cash flow modeling. If the basics are not done right, irrespective of company size, the numbers won’t be correct and will be of no use to the owners for evaluating performance, planning, obtaining new credit, and on and on. Sometimes the basics, in retrospect, are funny. Now to the New Years stories:
Rat Story One:
I was taking an inventory for a client, many many years ago. It was a commercial grain marketer. One of their grain elevators was in Baltimore. It was an older elevator and there was lots of caked corn and bean dust inside the elevator, from many years of use. We took the inventory at night after the close of business on New Year’s Eve so we could have a good audit cutoff. Pitch black, we are dropping measuring tapes from the top of the elevator into the circular bins to measure the depth empty. We knew the quantities that each cylinder held based upon how empty it was. It was me and one assistant, plus one of the elevator managers. We hear scraping noises above our heads. Remember: it is pitch black in this grain elevator. I turn the flashlight towards the upper walkway, not 3 feet from our heads. There had to be over 30 pairs of eyes, at least it looked like 30. My assistant and I were scared to death. The manager said not to worry, they would scurry off soon enough after they ate their fill. They were just large rats that lived in the elevator. The things you have to do to get the numbers right!
A few years later. New Years Day. On a farm in central Indiana. We are taking a count of the sows and little pigs at my client’s farm to satisfy bank credit requirements. It was cold, but mostly it had been rainy, so the ground was soaked and muddy. This was not like pig farms now that are all enclosed, and in some of them you have to wear footies, and white lab coats. No, this was outside. Each sow had her own little building (think dog house). We had to get each sow out, because the little pigs were inside and we needed a count. There were about 50 sows. Did I mention the mud? Do you know what else is in the mud where the pigs live? They did not really have the kind of sewage drainage and retention ponds back then, like they do now. We were walking in it. I hit one spot that was softer than the others. Sunk my boot about a foot, got the boot stuck, lost my balance, pulled my leg out of the boot. My foot, then me, landed in the mud. Did I mention what else was in the mud? The things you have to do to get the numbers right.
Rat Story 2:
Same as the first client. Taking inventory the next day (January 1) at their elevator in Cincinnati on the Ohio River. They were loading corn onto a barge that was headed to the port of New Orleans. Big conveyor belts ran underneath the elevator. The managers could open the bins and dump the corn from the bins onto the moving belts which went out to the barges on the river. I am looking at the conveyor which is full of corn moving to the barge, and moving pretty quick. A lot of dust. I take a glance, think I see something, and look more closely. On top of the corn is the largest rat I ever saw, on its back, dead, legs in the air, with rigor mortis. I turn to the elevator manager and ask: what is that dead rat doing in the corn? Right then it dumped off the end of the conveyor belt into the bowels of the barge along with all the corn being loaded. The manager said not to worry. That just counts as foreign material, and as long as the percent of foreign material does not exceed the sales contract terms (6 -12% depending on the quality) there is no problem. The point here is not the things we have to put up with to get the numbers right, but the things you learn trying to. Note to readers: this was not corn for human consumption. It was corn for animal feed. Good news there, huh?