I actually chose accounting twice.
The first time was in January of 1957 while I was still working at the CPR. Although the traffic management correspondence course that I was taking through LaSalle University in Chicago had a two-year term, I completed it in eighteen months. It wasn’t that I was a brilliant traffic manager; I just wanted to get it over with and receive my diploma.
When the diploma arrived it was accompanied by two letters. One was a standard form letter congratulating me on completing the course. The other one, though, ultimately had a profound effect on my life. It informed me that, under the terms of my enrollment at LaSalle, I was a paid-up student until the end of June and, therefore, eligible for six months of further training in any one of about two dozen courses which were listed on an accompanying sheet. The course list was in alphabetical order and the first subject listed was “Accounting.” For no other reason than it was the first item, I ticked the little box beside it and sent it back to LaSalle.
The covering letter I received with the course material indicated that I was now enrolled in “basic bookkeeping and accounting,” the first segment of LaSalle’s Certified Public Accountant program. As I browsed through the textbook and assignments I realized that I was going to thoroughly enjoy studying this material and solving the accompanying problems. I was always a very organized neat freak, and accounting seemed to have been designed for that type of person. The sum of the column of figures on the left had to equal the sum of the column of figures on the right; for every debit there had to be a credit; I even had to draw neat little lines under the columns of figures and neat little double lines under the totals. But by the time the six months were up I was well into preparing for my foray into radio announcing and declined LaSalle’s invitation to continue with the CPA program.
The second time I chose accounting was the first weekend in January, 1958.
I arrived back at Union Station in Toronto from my ill-fated, and very short, radio career in Chatham about 10:00 pm on New Year’s Day and took a cab to McBride’s. I slept in on Thursday, organized my room in the afternoon and went down to my girlfriend’s place Thursday night. Friday, I went downtown to the CPR freight office to see if I could get my job back; but when I walked down Simcoe Street to the employee entrance something told me not to go in but rather to spend the weekend thinking about what I should do next. I had enough money to last me about six weeks so I figured I could take my time and find a really good job, not just some stop-gap position.
Saturday night I went to Maple Leaf Gardens and watched (much to my delight) the Chicago Black Hawks defeat the Leafs 4-2. Sunday, I went out to Lakeview with Mae and Eric for dinner at Ethel and Barney’s. Of course, they were all very interested in knowing what my plans were. By dinner time on Sunday I was able to tell them exactly what I planned to do.
Since having had my epiphany in front of the CPR freight office on Friday I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do. The first decision I made was that I would not go back to the railroad. Even though I enjoyed the work, had a lot of friends there, and would almost certainly be re-hired, going back seemed like a sideways move at best. I thought about trying another small-town radio station but concluded that I’d become a city boy and would never be happy in a small town environment, which, much to my chagrin, I had to learn again sixteen years later – but that is, literally, another chapter in my life story.
Sitting prominently on a shelf above my desk in my bedroom at McBride’s was the accounting textbook from LaSalle. Leafing through it I was reminded of how much I enjoyed doing the accounting assignments. My decision was made. I would become an accountant.
I could hardly wait to get my hands on the Star and Telegram on Monday to look for accounting jobs. There were a number of ads in both papers for accountants and accounting clerks, so it looked like my decision was a good one. There was one ad that appeared in both papers that particularly caught my attention. TransCanadaPipeLines was looking for a junior accounting clerk. With my six months of CPA training, coupled with my enthusiasm for getting into the field, I figured (no pun intended) that I had a chance. So I called and made an appointment.
There were two reasons this job really appealed to me. The first was that TCPL was located on the corner of King and Church streets, an easy subway ride from McBride’s at Yonge and St. Clair. The second is that the pipeline company had been prominent in the news since it came into existence in 1956. In pushing through a parliamentary bill to grant TCPL the necessary rights to build its pipeline, the Liberal government exercised the hated “closure” rules, leading to its defeat in the 1957 federal election. Add to that the challenges involved in building a pipeline that stretched from the Alberta/Saskatchewan border all the way to Montreal, and TCPL seemed like an exciting place to be.
Later in the week I met with three people at TCPL. The first was a personnel officer by the name of Andy Jessen. He had me complete an application form, looked it over, and then told me a bit about the job. It was strictly a clerical position with a starting salary of $250 a month. This was about the same as I’d been making at the CPR, but the hours were nine to five instead of eight to five. When I asked whether there was a union, Mr. Jessen emphatically said, “No; promotions are based strictly on merit.” He also seemed relieved when I told him that was exactly how I thought things should be. I was then taken down a couple of floors to be interviewed by Hugh Hamilton, the head of the Plant Accounting Department, where the opening existed.
As we walked through the Plant Accounting Department to Mr. Hamilton’s office, I realized that I desperately wanted this job. There seemed to be about thirty or more people in the department, all in their 20s or 30s. The men all wore suits and ties and the women all wore nice suits or dresses. The furniture was of a high quality. Every desk had a telephone and most of them had state-of-the-art electric adding machines and calculators. The atmosphere smacked of professionalism, many notches upscale from the CPR freight office.
I was introduced to Mr. Hamilton, and after shaking hands with him I sat down in one of the visitor chairs in front of his desk. He studied the application form carefully and then asked me a number of personal questions. Throughout the interview Mr. Hamilton made a number of notes on a separate sheet which he ultimately attached to my application form.
He seemed particularly intrigued that, even though I was just a little past nineteen, I’d been working for almost five years. I felt good when he commented about this but became somewhat deflated when he added, “But none of it was in accounting. Why do you think you’re qualified for this job?” I pointed out that I had six months of CPA training and that the ad indicated it was a junior position.
While he was mulling this over I added, “And there are two reasons I really want this job, sir. I love accounting, and I think this would be a very exciting place to work. You’re doing something that’s never been done before in this country.” I got my hopes up again when he said, “Well, that last reason you gave is the very reason I took this job when it was offered to me. I was happy at Imperial Oil but, like you, I thought you don’t often get a chance to be a part of history.” Although I never asked, and he never told me, I think this is the reason he decided to take me to the next interview, which was with the Chief Accountant, a CA by the name of Graham Austin.
My meeting with Mr. Austin didn’t last very long. He perused the application form and Mr. Hamilton’s notes and then asked a few personal questions, including why I wanted the job. I gave him the same two reasons I gave to Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Austin then thanked me for coming in, shook my hand, and directed me to the elevators.
Thinking that there were probably a number of applicants for the job, I wasn’t worried when the weekend arrived and I still hadn’t heard from TCPL. Because I wanted that job a lot I didn’t answer any other ads or go to any other interviews. I spent the week going to a couple of movies, playing pick-up hockey at Ramsden Park and attending five broadcasts of The Happy Gang at the CBC studio on McGill St. On Monday, January 13th, I got a call from Mr. Hamilton asking me if I could start work the next day.