Matters Column

Knowledge is power, in both life events and business

August 3, 2018
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It has been inspiring watching the rescue of the youth soccer team in Thailand. They were trapped by rising water in a cave. One thing I noticed in the interviews with the rescuers is their humility. They expressed repeatedly that it was not heroism. It was doing a job. On 9/11, I remember watching the firefighters and police running toward the carnage. Again, the humility and stating that it wasn't heroism, it was their job. The common thread I saw in interviews with both situations was a frequent mention of training being the core of their courage. 

First, I have to give my humble opinion as to the difference between education and training. My education was at the University of Detroit. It was a wonderful experience, but I am not sure it taught me that much of business career value. My degree was in management, but I ended up in accounting.

My choice of accounting was the result of a conversation with my father’s CPA. We had lunch, and he told me if I wanted to understand business, being a CPA was the method of learning about business because accounting is the language of business. I did not need any more education at that point; I needed training. One of the errors I see in thinking about education is the view that a college degree is an ending. It is, in reality, a beginning. Just because I did not pursue a career in management, the education I got was not wasted. The value of a college degree is you have been educated in how to learn. Education can make you interesting. Training makes you employed.

No matter your business, your knowledge combined with your experience is what makes the business go. Training and experience for employees give the security of knowing the job can be done. The divers in that cave did not do it alone. They had assistance from an excellent group of support staff. I would imagine that given where the divers were going, they had well-trained support.

I have had conversations for years with Bill, who is a friend who served in Vietnam. I have not served in the military. It has amazed me that people can be asked to face the horror of war. How do you get someone to charge an entrenched, well-armed enemy? When I have raised the question with Bill, he has often mentioned training and teamwork as the key. That did not register with me until the kids were rescued in Thailand. The SEALS knew what they were doing. Their courage is in part due to the character of the person and another factor is training and experience. I have always viewed courage as a function of character alone.

Now, to bring this into perspective of everyday small business. One of my favorite success stories was Alliance CNC. I asked Dick Czarniecki, the owner, where he got the courage to leave a secure job and start a successful tool grinding business. His answer was that he knew the product, the market, the cost structure, equipment needs, pricing and personnel requirements. It still takes a lot of courage to start a business but knowing what you’re doing helps. Another thing that lent itself to Dick's success was he sought out and listened to and acted on the advice of his advisers. Dick recently sold the business.

I read an article for CPAs about doing estate and trust work. That type of work is complicated and mistakes can be costly. The article stated there are three stages of development in advisers to estates and trusts. Stage one is ignorance. At that stage, you should just walk away from the job. The scariest are the people who know about half of what they need to know. Plugging in the parts that you don't know is very risky and should cause sleepless nights. The second stage is when you have enough experience and training to complete the project. The third stage is when you can take on a complicated estate with confidence. That is where you want to be in whatever job you are engaged in. The more you know, the less you have to fear expensive mistakes.

Success occurs when preparedness and opportunity meet. Opportunity can be a business opportunity, a military event, a romantic encounter (a good friend of mine married the homecoming queen) or a life-threatening crisis. In each situation, training and experience will determine the outcome. It is not usually a hero’s objective to die in the pursuit of their goal. It is their objective to do their job. They minimize their chances of dying or suffering severe injury by becoming competent in what the project requires. The same is true for any business venture. Be a good Boy Scout. Be prepared.

Wouldn't you think the fear of the unknown would be remedied by making the unknown known? My first job in public accounting was with a firm that had no training. I do not have a degree in accounting, so I thought I would be shown how to do things. The training was having a pile of files dropped on my desk and told to do financial statements and a corporation tax return. How do you suppose that turned out?

My life became a lot less stressful as I learned how to do the work. A lot of time and negative emotion could have been avoided by making sure I had the tools to do the job. I have advised many young people to look closely at a potential employer for the training they would be provided. The large CPA firms have provided excellent training for new employees, but the smaller firms in the past could not afford the training. One way the training deficit with the small firms has been mitigated is the internet. Most training can be found there at a reasonable cost.     

We may never be in a heroic situation, at least I hope not. Remember that everyday life runs on the same principles as major events. Even though your life is not in danger, the more you know about what you do, the less you have to be afraid of. 

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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