Sometime in late 1967 I was seated at a head table beside a gentleman by the name of Lorne Lodge, who was the President of IBM Canada. I don’t remember exactly what the event was, but as Mr. Lodge and I were both CAs I suspect it was an Institute function of some kind.
During the course of the dinner Mr. Lodge seemed to take an uncommon interest in me, especially the route I’d taken to become a chartered accountant after leaving school at age fourteen. He seemed particularly impressed that I was one of the ten CAs from industry who had been chosen for the CICA In-depth Tax Course. I assumed he was just being polite, but at the end of the evening he gave me his business card and said, “If you ever want to work for IBM, just give me a call. I’ll make sure we have a place for you.” Given that I’d become a bit disenchanted with TCPL at that time, I thought that serendipity had once again entered my life. This time I was wrong; but on with the story.
After handing in my resignation from TCPL at the meeting with Al Martin, as described last week, I dug out Lorne Lodge’s business card and called him. Upon determining that he remembered me, I told him I had just resigned from TCPL and wanted to take him up on his offer of a job. I thought he’d invite me in for an interview, if not with him then at least with IBM’s personnel people. But instead, he asked me how much salary I expected. I gave him a figure that was about $1,000 a year more than I was making at TCPL and he replied that that seemed fair and asked me when I could start.
Because TCPL in general, and Al Martin in particular, had treated me well (there weren’t even any hard feelings when I resigned) I felt I should give them a full month’s notice so that they’d have time to find a good candidate to replace me. Accordingly, I told Mr. Lodge I could start on Monday, February 12th. He simply said that that was fine and that I should report to a Mr. Carl Murray, who headed up IBM Canada’s tax department. Sometime during the week of February 5th I received a telephone call from Carl Murray. He gave me directions on how to get to his office in the IBM complex on Eglinton Ave. East at Don Mills and said he’d see me at 8:30 on the 12th.
In 1968, IBM, Imperial Oil, Honeywell, and Kodak had the reputation of the best companies to work for in Toronto, so I was really looking forward to my new adventure. The excitement didn’t last long. My first disappointment took place in the reception area. I thought that I’d be greeted by an extremely efficient and attractive receptionist who would summon Mr. Murray’s secretary (no doubt a gorgeous former model) to usher me to his lavish office. Instead, I was confronted by the first male receptionist I had ever seen.
When I identified myself and told him that Mr. Murray was expecting me, he didn’t consult a list of eagerly-awaited visitors, but rather picked up a huge three-ring binder, turned a few pages, asked me what Mr. Murray’s first name was, ran his finger down the page at which the binder was open, picked up his phone, dialled a four-digit number and after a moment said, “There’s a guy here to see you.” A couple of minutes later a friendly looking, bespectacled, middle aged man came into the reception area, and held out his hand saying, “Hi, Lyman, I’m Carl Murray. Come along.”
I followed Carl through what can best be described as a labyrinth of modules of offices, mostly open mode where moveable partitions and potted plants defined personal space. (I was thinking how embarrassing it would be to have to ask Carl to lead me back to the reception area and meet me there again the next day, lest I get lost.)There were individual offices along some of the walls, but not all of them had doors, just an open space to pass through. When I inquired about this Carl explained that the size of your office, the number of windows you had, and whether you had a door, depended on how senior your position was.
After passing through three or four modules we finally arrived at an area that had four or five desks arranged outside an office that did have a door. Only one of the desks was occupied. Carl and I paused there while he introduced me to a guy whose first name I’ve forgotten but whose last name, I think, was Jamieson. For the purpose of this narrative I’ll call him Jack. Much to my surprise, the entire IBM Canada tax department consisted of Carl and Jack. Carl told me I could choose any of the empty desks I wanted; quite a comedown from my fairly spacious office and half-a-secretary at TCPL.
I made small talk with Jack while Carl fetched a couple of coffees (there were no secretaries or junior staff) and invited me into his office, which was when I knew there was no serendipity this time around. The conversation went somewhat like this.
“Lyman, I don’t really have anything for you to do. All of the tax planning and any really complex compliance work are done by our auditors, Price Waterhouse. That’s why we have empty desks out there. Often there are two or three PW tax people here at a time. And, frankly, there are times Jack and I don’t have enough to do.”
“What did Mr. Lodge tell you he wanted me to do?”
“All he told me was that a hot-shot, young CA would be joining me today.”
“Well, let’s go see him and find out what he has in mind.”
“Mr. Lodge has gone to Belgium for three months on some secret assignment and is not to be ‘disturbed over minor issues’.”
“Then let’s talk to whoever is running the place while he’s gone.”
“I already have. He said that Lorne said nothing about you and that I should find something to keep you occupied until Lorne gets back. Look, I’ll do what I can to find some things for you to do. In the meantime, fill out these forms for Personnel.”
He pointed to an area that had already been filled in and asked, “Is this the salary you agreed to?” I told him it was. Then he said, “Well don’t mention it to Jack because it’s more than he’s making.” I asked if Jack was a CA and found out that both he and Carl were CAs and former PW tax guys. I left the documents with Carl, went out and picked a desk, and started the most bizarre period of “work” I ever experienced.
I don’t for a minute doubt that Carl tried to find something for me to do, but he simply couldn’t. Carl gave me a list of newspapers and magazines that were available to be delivered to me and I ticked off every one that I would be even remotely interested in. Every day the Globe and Mail, the Star, the Telegram, and the Wall Street Journal would be delivered to my desk and on Thursday the Financial Post, the Financial Times, and The Economist would accompany them. I also read every IBM manual I could get my hands on. But I didn’t work a minute.
This went on for three weeks. On Monday, March 4th I went in to Carl’s office and asked him if there was anything on the horizon for me to do. He said he’d talked to every senior finance person and no one seemed to want to take on someone who they might lose as soon as Mr. Lodge got back. He went on to say that there were no special projects on the go that could use me. I told him I couldn’t take this for another two months and that I was quitting, effective immediately. I didn’t think the situation could get any more bizarre, but it did. The conversation continued on something like this.
Carl said, “I understand completely, but will you do me a favour?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Will you make it effective March 15th?”
“Carl,” I replied, “I’ll go nuts if I stay here another day let alone another two weeks.”
“You don’t have to stay, just make it effective as of March 15th. It will get you two more weeks’ pay and make life a lot easier for me.”
I just had to ask how.
“You’re not going to believe this,” he explained, “but our system can only automatically handle resignations that are effective on paydays. If you quit on a payday I just have to submit one short slip, but if you quit on a non-payday I’ll have to spend a couple of hours filling out forms and writing reports.”
I dated my resignation letter March 15th, had a good laugh with Carl and Jack, made a telephone call and left IBM in abject bewilderment at how a corporation that was that screwed up could be so successful.
I don’t recall ever seeing or talking to Lorne Lodge again, I think he transferred to the US head office shortly after returning from Belgium.