Behind Closed Doors, An Attitude Adjustment

A Frank Audit

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Augusta, GA

By Al Gray

Auditors have hang ups. Everything has to go through several drafts so one does not ruffle feathers or bruise egos. After an audit report is finally issued, the horse has escaped the barn. By the time a response is expected, the horse has gotten hungry and come back or he has wandered into a glue factory.

When the universe of the audit is a major capital spending project involving major construction, decision making hasn’t the luxury of 30 or 60 day response times. Delaying a week can have six figure consequences.

In 1983 we were constructing a soap plant addition in Augusta. Our writer was the project auditor. In conjunction with project management a very simple, audit reporting form was developed and implemented for specific transactions. Everyone on the construction team was expected to answer within 5 days, pledging action in most instances. Bigger reviews went through a more formal process, but foot dragging was not allowed there, either.

The process worked so well, that it was taken down the road to the mega $1 billion tissue mill that Fort Howard Corporation decided to plop down in a swampy tract in Effingham County. Trouble reared its head, because the nucleus of the management team had just finished a paper machine addition at Muskogee, Oklahoma. They had gotten into some habits that didn’t include pushy auditors, much less one with a whole staff.

Begrudgingly they all came around.

There was one holdout – Frank Buck, the construction manager. Frank was a big boned former carpenter who had worked his way up to a lofty position from getting results. Frank balked at responding to the few reports that came his way. He even balled one up and threw it at this auditor, snarling “I don’t DO paperwork!” Eventually Frank came around a little.

It was just a little, though. Frank’s favorite description of an auditor was, “One who comes in after the battle is over and bayonets the wounded.”

One day in the later years of the project, some dust got under my contact lens inside the office building. I ran into the men’s room to a mirror over a lavatory to pop the burning contact out and wash it. Having accomplished that, I turned to leave.

I had not noticed, but the far stall door was closed. When I turned to leave, this sort of small, embarrassed voice said “Al Gray, is that you?

It was Frank.

Turning to face the stall door, I responded, “Yes, Frank it’s me.

He said “Can you believe I walked in here and sat down and there ain’t one scrap of toilet paper? Can you hand me some?”

But Frank you don’t DO paperwork!

That sure was a flimsy door.

Frank’s missing paperwork was my best ever audit report.

Frankly, that was my best audit retort.***


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