September 16, 2013   //   Business Consulting   //   By Randy Rupp

I am 47 years old and still dreaming about not being prepared to take a college exam.  Now if I were to tell a dream therapist he or she would probably give some deeply neurotic explanation about not being prepared to face life’s challenges.  I am going to think about this dream a bit differently.  For me to explain my thought process, I need to go deeper into the dream so that you can see where I am coming from.

Follow me into dreamland. Okay are you here with me?  Yes? Good!  See that skinny guy in the second row with the bushy light brown hair?  That’s me, circa 1988.  No really, I once was 140 pounds and I actually had a full head of hair.   

I am sitting in a literature class preparing to take the last final exam of my college career.  Pass this one and I am off to adulthood!  Although literature was never my favorite subject, this was certainly going to be the most satisfying exam of my college career.

The professor enters the room with stack of books, none of them the same.  What is interesting is that the books are very nondescript, no writing on the covers, no words, just different colored covers.  As she begins to pass them out she says to the class, “As I put a book on your desk, do not open it.  After they are all passed out, I will instruct you to open the book and read the first two chapters.  After you have read the two chapters, I want you to write a short paper, no more than two pages, about what the story means to you.  Talk about your emotions and how the story makes you feel”.

One word crossed through my mind as I heard the professor explain the final exam; “AWESOME”!  Although not much for literature, I have never had trouble putting my feelings onto paper (or later in life, on the internet), so this is going to be a snap.

As she walks past my desk, she reaches into the middle of the stack and places a brand new black covered book on my desk.  The book is so new that you can see by looking at the binding that it has never been cracked open.  As I sat, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to open the book, a bit of anxiety came upon me.  “This is too easy, there has to be catch”, I thought to myself.  And with that, the final book was distributed and the professor proclaimed, “Class, you may now begin”.

Without hesitation I opened the book, turned to the first page and I saw the following written on the page; ”Это было лучшее из времен, это было худшее из времен”.

Sweat was pouring down my face.  I frantically began turning pages. There had to be something; some similar word to English or some pictures that would help me to gain any insight as to the story that was being told.  This couldn’t be; I was not going to finish college, I would need to go another semester.  Then suddenly……

…. my alarm goes off.  With my heart still racing, I sit up in bed and realize that it was just a bad dream, and that college was oh so many years ago.

As business owners, I wonder how many of us have the exact same experience every time that our bookkeeper or accountant gives us our monthly, quarterly or annual financial statements.  You see, your financial statements, they tell a story about your business on a particular date and time.  The problem for most is that the financial statements are written in a language that they do not understand.  They even have chapters.  For instance you have one chapter that explains your current liquidity, your current assets.  There is another chapter that explains the investments that you have made, your long-term assets, then there are your current liabilities, your equity, gross sales, cost of sales, administrative or fixed expenses, and finally, the end of the story, your net income or loss.  For most businesses the end of the story is one of two outcomes; lived happily ever after or died in fiery car crash.

As accountants, we get excited over that rote list of numbers in the financial statements, heck they are even a bit sexy, but for most, the story told is incomprehensible.  Heck, like in my dream, there are no pictures, nothing to follow along with.

We always hear about how your financial statements need to be timely and accurate to aide in the decision making process.  Let me further suggest that your financial statements need to be meaningful.  To be dynamic, there should be reporting mechanisms that not only tell the story, but actually bring it to life.  Do yourself a favor, challenge the status quo, dare to be different and develop metrics and key performance indicators that can be graphically displayed to help tell the story of your success or failure.

So getting back to my dream, “Это было лучшее из времен, это было худшее из времен” translates to “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in Russian.  If only I had seen a picture of London or Paris or the names Charles Darnay or Sydney Carton I would have realized that I was given “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens to read and report on, but then again, if I had, I wouldn’t have written this great blog!

Randy Rupp, CPA, CCIFP, rrupp@muellercpa.com or 630-524-5270