The Joke My Accounting Professor Told the Class

Day one of Accounting 101 at UW Milwaukee (a very long time ago) the professor told the following joke: Three accountants are interviewing for an entry level position at a Wisconsin company. The CFO asks the first candidate, “What’s one plus one?” The candidate responds, “Two.” The CFO shows them the door and says, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Candidate number two is asked the identical question which results in the same response and outcome. Finally, candidate three is asked, “What’s one plus one?” Leaning forward in her chair, responding in a low voice she says, “What do you want it to be?” 

The point of the joke is that accountants aren’t just bean counters who compile financial reports, but in reality, their job is to understand and leverage GAAP and the federal tax code to allow companies to legally manipulate their income (cash vs. accrual), assets (LIFO/FIFO), expenses (depreciation) and other adjustments (tax credits) to allow them to arrive at a particular result. When it comes to being a “global” business, a whole new set of regulations, international treaties, export development programs and trade resources are at play that not a single position or job description covers soup to nuts, not even close. However, just like all companies need a good accountant (or team of accountants), for successful exporters, understanding and, more importantly, utilizing the many state and federal trade resources is a must.

I have been fortunate to have worked for multiple companies over the years from the most basic, where the international sales and marketing effort rested on just one person (myself) all the way to a multi-national corporation with an 8-person international division that was responsible for sales into the Americas, Oceana and Asia less China (overseas offices handled EMIA and China directly). As you probably assumed, the multi-national did the best job in terms of implementing the necessary procedures and protocols to support the international sales function. However, many state and federal trade programs and resources went unutilized, not because they were not applicable, but because they didn’t fall into a specific category and, therefore, they didn’t end up on anyone’s radar.

When meeting with a company to discuss international growth, I prefer to meet with the CEO or CFO to determine which of the state and federal resources will have the biggest impact per the company’s current situation and longer-term goals. Having buy-in from the company’s executives is critical not only for the delegation of responsibilities, but also to increase the likelihood of success, especially when international expansion plans can take months to implement followed by years of management until the full ROI is realized. 

Lastly, making the transition from an “international” company to a “global” company is a never-ending pursuit that requires major shifts in thinking and, quite often, company culture. A truly global company does not have a dedicated international division working separately and independently. Rather, the company must collectively think in terms of the global marketplace, the opportunities to create new products, to cut costs, improve efficiencies and increase productivity on a global scale. If your company is up to the challenge, the Wisconsin SBDC Network can provide the guidance to make that goal a reality. Please contact me to learn more: