I’ve referred to Frank Sanders in two earlier columns, I Find My True Niche, and More About My Coopers & Lybrand Career. In both cases I said that Frank was the most interesting person I’ve ever known, and in the latter column I promised to devote a full column to him. This is it.
First of all, as mentioned in I Find My True Niche, he had two names and two passports. His Canadian passport identified him as Francis Xavier Sanders; but he also had an Austrian passport identifying him as Francis X. Spanberger. He said he was born in Austria and that Spanberger was his real name, which I don’t doubt for moment.
When asked about the “Sanders” adaptation he explained that when he came to Canada, which wasn’t that long after the end of the Second World War, he thought life would be simpler if he didn’t have a German-sounding name. What he never explained, though, was how he managed to keep the two names and obtain the two passports. He would simply say, “You could do things like that back then.” But having two names and two passports was far from the only thing that made Frank interesting.
As also mentioned in I Find My True Niche, he steadfastly refused to accept a partnership in the firm, even though he had often been offered one. His stated reason for remaining a tax manager (one level below partner) was that he didn’t want the responsibility and liability that were inherent in being a partner. I believe that was part of it, but the fact that Frank was independently wealthy likely also played an important part in his position. Another factor was that Frank would work enough overtime in nine months that he was able to take off a total of three months (other managers qualified for three weeks vacation and partners for a month) and still bring in as much revenue as anyone else in the tax group. He would spend his three months back home in Austria; typically a couple of weeks around Christmas and the rest during the summer, which he wouldn’t be able to do as a partner.
The first few months I was with the firm I shared an office with Frank. I learned a lot about tax and a lot about life from him, but nothing more about himself than what is in this chapter. He lived two distinctly different lives: his three months in Austria and his nine months in Canada. By the accounts of people who visited him in Austria, during his three months there he lived the life of a wealthy aristocrat; but while in Canada, he lived the life of a common working man who barely subsisted from payday to payday. In Toronto he boarded with an elderly widow in the Yonge-Davisville area, took a brown bag lunch to work, and rarely did anything at night but work or play cards. He did ski during the season and enjoyed swimming on weekends during the good weather.
Speaking of weather, another interesting Frank Sanders feature was that he seemed impervious to the cold. He never wore an overcoat or winter jacket; even during a sub-zero blizzard Frank would show up for work wearing nothing extra but a huge scarf wrapped around his neck. On rainy days he simply got wet. Not being a skier I didn’t see this myself, but a couple of my partners who were skiers said they’d witnessed Frank, on sunny winter days, skiing with no shirt on, let alone a jacket.
Over the many years I knew Frank, even after I left the firm, I played a lot of poker and bridge with him. He loved playing cards and was one of the best card players I’ve ever known. He was also extremely well-read and could hold his own in conversations ranging from sports to science. The only time I didn’t enjoy being around Frank was during his fasting periods.
Twice a year, for a week or so, Frank ate barely a morsel of food and wouldn’t drink a drop of alcohol. He subsisted mainly on fruit juice and frequent doses of Epsom Salts in either water or black coffee. The problem was that after two or three days of his fast he became cranky as a bear. His theory was that by engaging in the two fasts he could eat and drink as much as he wanted to during the rest of the year, which he never failed to do. It obviously worked for him because well into his 70s he was a hale, healthy, powerful individual.
Frank never denied that he was very wealthy and, as mentioned earlier, mutual friends who visited him in Austria confirmed that he lived a very extravagant lifestyle over there. I never discussed with Frank how he made his money. Some credible sources, however, told me that it was somewhat as follows.
Just before the Second World War began, Frank was working for a US-owned carbon paper company in Osaka. Sensing the inevitability of the U.S. and Japan going to war, he approached a number of US-owned companies in Japan, including the one for which he worked, and entered into powers of attorney with them that would guarantee him a percentage of any proceeds from the sale of their assets that he was able to repatriate to the States. Frank sold as many shares and assets to Japanese interests as he could, and used the proceeds to buy diamonds. He then somehow smuggled the diamonds into New York, sold them, and turned the cash over to the U.S. companies, less, of course, his apparently substantial percentage. None of the companies had a problem paying him because without his efforts they would have realized nothing.
I have no way of knowing whether that tale is true, but Frank never denied having worked in Japan prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour, nor did he deny having spent the balance of the war years in New York. He also admitted that shortly after the war ended he returned to Austria and bought as much of the land and buildings in his home village as he could. He told me once that by the early 50s he owned almost half of it, but the family that owned most of the rest wouldn’t sell any of their holdings to him. By then he was also bored, so he decided to come to Canada and become a chartered accountant, which, of course, is how he and I became colleagues about fifteen years later.
Shortly before I joined the firm and became his office mate, while on one of his trips back to Austria, Frank married Agate, the young daughter of the family that owned most of the property in the village that didn’t already belong to him; so now he had most of the village, and a beautiful young wife to boot.
As mentioned, Frank would spend three months in Austria and nine months in Canada. Agate would spend three months in Canada and nine months in Austria. Their age difference notwithstanding, Frank and Agate had a family and, as far as I know, lived happily until Frank’s death.
Frank invited Anne and me a number of times to visit him and Agate in Austria, but we never got around to it. Based on the stories of our colleagues who took him up on the invitation, it was clearly our loss.
Every time I see that beer commercial about the “most interesting man in the world,” I think of Frank.