I packed my bags again and made a move over to Coopers & Lybrand. The firm in Toronto was a pretty dynamic place. The partners were far more independent at C&L then they were at Clarkson’s. Clarkson’s had a very corporate management style. C&L offered the partners more latitude to run their own practices. The staff members were more relaxed. It was a better place to work.
I had my first taste of politics at Coopers and it tasted bitter. There were a few of my peers who had set their sights on becoming partners at the firm. It was their life-long ambition. It’s what they wanted and they would pay any price to achieve it. I’m not kidding, these were serious people.
So what I saw for the first time was jockeying for position. What that generally involved was what we lovingly referred to as “brown nosing”. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, it means someone who sucks up to you to gain your favor. This is done by doing stuff for someone for no apparent reason, laughing at stuff that they do that wasn’t supposed to be funny, agreeing with everything they say, etc… Now it’s not to say that many of these people were not competent, but they understood the game. And the really sad part about all this is that brown nosing works! Who doesn’t like to be flattered all the time? Sure, we say it’s awful, but most of us love it.
For those of us that couldn’t or wouldn’t play the political game, there was always the door. I was one of the people that were shown the door.
In those days you didn’t get fired, you were simply told that you wouldn’t make partner, so you had no future with the firm. It was very effective. Why pay severance and get into that ugly stuff? Employment prospects for CAs were excellent at the time, so getting axed was unnecessary.
The firm was right. I hated my work and it showed. I tried to get back into the audit practice, but no one would have me. I had failed to establish myself at Coopers and no one would help (in fact I left the firm for a new job in industry but returned to the firm after I discovered that the company I joined was a disaster. And besides, it was a position in that group’s tax department. Need I say more. This would happen again in a future role with another organization. More on that later).
So I was on the prowl, again. Looking back, the whole thing was ridiculous. Time was passing, years without progress, years without learning. I was still young, but not that young for someone who hadn’t found their way.
I took the wrong turn when I left the audit practice. I took my eye off of my eventual goal, investment banking. I didn’t realize that joining the tax group moved me from being a generalist in auditing to being a product specialist in tax. Because I hated tax, well, I was screwed. So the job search began again.
An opportunity popped up
Sometimes things just pop up that can change the course of your life. For some unknown reason, I was asked to assist Coopers, New York in a publication on the tax treatment of a new financial risk management tool – an interest rate swap. In the mid-80s these were new products developed by a number of banks in New York. I found the product interesting and then used the knowledge I developed as a platform to look for a job with Citibank Canada. It worked. After a series of interviews, I was offered a position with Citibank Canada and once again packed my toys and left for a new job. I was joining Citicorp Investment Bank to work on developing the market for interest rate and cross-currency swaps in Canada.
Unfortunately, this was another wrong-headed decision. Why? I was to work in the capital markets group of the bank in Toronto. Although it was a great job in and of itself, it was off target. I thought that I might be able to use that platform to move over ultimately to investment banking. That never happened. One again, I lost track of my objectives and was was ashore on a strange island.
Boy, writing this is exhausting. I did the same thing repeatedly with the same result. I had to leave Coopers, but there was no rush. But instead of taking it slow, I hopped on the first bus that came by.
I loved working at Citibank, but once again I hated the work that I was doing. The same theme is developing throughout these posts. You MUST chase your dream. If you fail to do so you’ll end up like me. Rudderless and without direction. As each year clicked by, I was getting further and further behind. I didn’t notice because I was busy. But I was not building a firm foundation through learning and experience because of all the changes in the nature of my jobs. A fish out of water flopping around on the beach!