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Business Lessons at 20 Below


Russ Gambrel, Senior Consultant – January 2014

I was recently posed the question about whether I would trade the wisdom one accrues over hard-fought decades for something as shallow as youth.  My response was both immediate and unqualified and, I believe, sounded like HECK-TO-THE-FLIPPIN-YES!!   Go ahead and keep all your head knowledge…just give me back the sweet, halcyon days of blissful ignorance.   Then, suddenly, reality returned and the conversation halted as a young birthday party guest shot me in the crotch with a Nerf bullet.   I guess I’m stuck with wisdom.

My father used to tell me there were life lessons swirling around me every moment of the day if I would just shut up and listen.   Upon hearing this sage advice, I’m sure the teenage version of me successfully tuned it out with some more Van Halen.   These days, however, I’ve come to value the wisdom Dad passed on to me and it came into play when recently I was summoned to the midwest to oversee an inventory count.    And in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t so much choose to shut up and listen as much as it was forced upon me by circumstances.

The client in question was a food company specializing in frozen products.  I was sternly warned by the CFO that the blast freezer was kept at a brisk 12 below and that the blowers made it feel closer to -20.   The older, wiser version of me listened and dressed warmly.   Upon entering the freezer, a gigantic Costco-sized room with two arctic blowers each the size of an SUV, I was stunned at how quickly the cold consumed me.   I was wearing double thermals and two wool hats and after 10 minutes or so, it just didn’t matter.   A fully exposed person would surely die in there inside of an hour.  When I finally escaped the freezer into the adjoining room, my body was overtaken with the sensation of extreme warmth.  I felt like I had been instantly transported to the Tropics as the heat began to overtake my body.   The client, seeing my face bathed in relief, asked me to guess the temperature of the room in which I was now standing.   I blurted out  ‘ I don’t know-  must be 70 or 80 degrees in here”!   He then informed me that we had merely moved into the fresh meat locker; kept at a balmy 34 degrees.  I was stunned and my body –still in denial-  was pretty sure we were in the Bahamas.   Then a lightbulb.  The auditing lessons came flooding into my frost-bitten brain:

  1. You can be both sincere AND sincerely wrong
  2. The head thinks where the feet stand…or once stood
  3. When you make assumptions you make an ‘ass’ of me and ‘umptions’

Flying back to #RVA a few days later, I realized how much that trip to the blast freezer had impacted the remainder of the engagement. Throughout the week I found myself asking how many of my conclusions could possibly be tainted with bad assumptions and faulty assessments of the people performing the controls.    Even the most objective of auditors is colored with personal bias and all it took was a brush with hypothermia to remind me so.   My father would surely be proud.

Russ joined Fahrenheit in 2012 as a senior business consultant and project manager bringing over 17 years of experience in project leadership, SEC reporting, auditing, accounting, IT systems and internal control design.  Russ is a former controller and university instructor, has served in finance and accounting roles internationally, and has extensive consulting experience in designing and implementing internal control environments, including S-Ox. Russ is a graduate of Baylor University with a BBA in Accounting and is currently completing a Management in Information Systems degree at the University of Maryland.

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