Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective Okay, who’s to blame?

The Retailer’s Perspective Okay, who’s to blame?

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As we find ourselves here at the beginning of 2010, we start a whole new era of responsibility. Everyone that is except a lot of the banking and Wall Street executives that think no one is paying attention because they haven’t been caught... yet. It’s now time to start putting names with the economic disaster that was 2009. Let me explain.

In another lifetime, I was an executive at one of Nashville’s premier video and film studios. About two weeks after I got promoted to the head of the studio I became suspicious of our bookkeeper. (Trivia: bookkeeper is the only word in the English language that has three sets of double letters - just thought you’d like to know.)

I suspected something was wrong, and on her day off I walked into her office and asked her assistant to hand me the checkbook. She said no. I said yes. She said no. I just went to the bookkeeper’s desk and took it. The assistant said I’m going to lunch and that was the last time I ever saw her, literally. Uh oh. I’m getting a bad feeling here. My hunch was correct... we were screwed.

I spent an agonizing afternoon trying to make sense out of all the negative balances. We ended up being about $70,000 in overdraft. How did this happen?

Then the phone started ringing. Usually the calls asking for accounts payable went to her office. Now they were coming to mine. Oh no, this is getting worse.

The owner of the company had to catch a red eye from Vancouver to Nashville. By the time he got to the studio I’m white as a ghost. The problem was far worse than I originally thought, and getting worse with every phone call.

My favorite call was from our phone company. We had a huge phone operation and a huge phone bill every month. The phone company told me that if they didn’t have a check for $7,500 FedExed to them by 10:30 the next morning, we wouldn’t have phones at 10:31. Oh well, $70,000 in overdraft, $77,500 in overdraft, what’s the difference. I cut the check and prayed.

For the next 6 or 8 weeks, the problem got worse and worse. I was drained. What else could go wrong? A lot, I discovered.

Then one day, I didn’t get any new surprises. Yes, I still had a lot of old surprises I was working on, but no new ones. Then a month or so passed and only one or two minor problems cropped up to add to the list, but now it was just mop up and clean up work.

Should the company have survived? No way. It was un-savable. But it survived.

I’ve written before about my Friday tradition of raising my glass and saying the toast: Damn, I’ve got to come back to work on Monday. That arose out of the company directors all gathering around the boss’s office on Friday for a beer and realizing that somehow we’d survived another week and we all had to come back on Monday and do it all over again... it was agonizing.

Now that I’ve got that happy little story out the way, let me tell you why I told it to you.

When that crash occurred, my boss (who owned the studio) was hell bent on revenge against the bookkeeper. He was busy going through the books and finding out how much she had stolen, how she did it, where it went, was any of it left. All the while, the other management staff and I were busy trying to just keep the company afloat long enough to get it back on it’s feet. We realized that if we spent too much time trying to assign blame, we weren’t spending enough time trying to save the studio.

It took about a year to pull off that miracle, but once business was stabilized, it was time to find out all of the answers. Right about then I changed jobs and never found out how the story ended with the bookkeeper, but that situation parallels our current economic crisis. Here’s how.

Back in late summer of 2008 something smelled fishy and I suspected something was wrong. By October of 2008, someone walked in took the checkbook and realized the economy was doomed by some bookkeeper’s bad decisions. Then for months and months everything was collapsing, new problems were being discovered every day. It grew worse and worse by the day.

Then, after a while, just like what had happened to me at the studio, things stopped collapsing. Governments started writing big checks they couldn’t cover just to keep the phones on, so to speak. Then after about a year or so, things have begun to stabilize. Every now and again something will pop up like the Dubai credit problem, but the markets barely wobbled over that one. The economy is beginning to stand on firm ground and now it’s time to assign blame.

This global economic meltdown didn’t occur because of an earthquake, a hurricane, or a computer glitch. It occurred because a handful of human beings made very bad decisions using other peoples money and some very unscrupulous business practices... and it backfired.

It’s time to start putting names with those decisions. I hope our government will now start the task of scouring the books, holding hearings, issuing subpoenas, and holding those people that did this accountable, because it was a man made disaster. It’s now time to find out who did this and make an example of them so it will be another 80 years or so before someone tries something this stupid again.

And don’t feel bad for them. At the level this occurred, they’re already long time friends with their new cellmate Bernie.

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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