ITT Grinnell

While taking the Becker course that Fall I landed a job doing accounts payable work with ITT Grinnell.  I would work there about ten months.  

Working for Grinnell was fun.  It was in what was probably the oldest run down building on the Seattle waterfront, quite close to Pier 70.  I would often go over to a little hot dog stand on the pier for lunch, then sit outside and watch the ferry boats, the runners in Myrtle Edwards Park, and the tourists.

It was an interesting business, but the monthly closing process was a madhouse.  Grinnell is one of the few makers of heavy industrial plumbing supplies such as massive valves with big wheels for knobs, fire hydrants, and stuff like that.  Their customers were the big construction companies or their plumbing subcontractors.  The sales process was a little chaotic, in that the customers would routinely order extra so as to protect their schedules, and then return things later that were not used.  So there was pretty hefty flow of credits back to the customers.  The sales journal, while computerized on an old Burroughs machine, took a whole lot of work to keep straight. More than half of the staff worked on it.  Fortunately for me, that was not within my scope of work.

For some reason, it seemed like the sales department would bring in about half of their sales orders on the last two days of each month right when we were doing closing.  For the first few months, this had no impact on me, since I was working payables, not receipts and invoices.  But my boss, who will remain nameless here, liked me.  He was from the Detroit area too, so we had a lot to chat about.  Sometime around May of 1979 he gave me a small raise and made me one of the leads for the closing process.  It was still just the payables, but he would routinely pull one of the three payables clerks (counting myself) and add them to the team working invoices and credits, which he personally supervised.

Me being the lead was kind of silly since almost everyone else in the office had more experience, but the fact that I was taking the Becker classes and working on getting my CPA certificate was starting to payoff.  Also, I could talk to people about their complaints about the workload and coach them through getting it done.  We would often work to midnight or later during the closing process.  Everyone was super tired and worn out by the end of the day.  My boss would provide some relief by sending out for some pizzas.  But still, it was just too much.  In effect, we were quite literally running a sweat shop.

 

The building had no air-conditioning.  We were on the top floor, and that July it was hot in Seattle.  I promised to do what I could to get more help.  After the complete mess of the July closing, he promised me we would have more help for the end of August.  So I in turn promised that to the team.  But the help didn't materialize, and no effort had been made to get any.  Since I couldn't keep my promise, I would either have to make some stuff up to keep the team working or quit.  So I decided to hit the bricks once again.  It was a good thing too. 

 

A few months later my old boss and the sales manager were arrested for fraud.  The closing chaos had been a deliberate effort to hide what was really going on.  All of those last minute sales orders that would come in late in the day when we were trying to get the closing reports done were phony.  The sales manager had been splitting the extra commissions with my boss to help him cover it up.  They were washing the credits forward trying to hide them in the nxt months closing, but of course the amounts were growing and one can only hide so much like that.  The company's auditors caught it. 

 

I am so glad that I never touched the receivables there, but it sure taught me to be cautious about suspicious practices in an accounting department.  Some of those lectures back in school about what fraud looks like started to have some real meaning.