Who can you trust?

The guy who controlled the purse strings had a little too much say on purchases and returns. Then we found out why.

Even though we were the largest group of service companies in the country, we were years behind in the use of computers to do everything from bookkeeping to stock control and dispatch of the service fleet.

One day, though, we got great news: The owners had finally hired a VP with CIO skills who would take us right into the 1990s.

Over the course of the next year, each of our branch offices was equipped with the latest in servers, PCs, VPNs, monitors, and custom written software for everyone. "Mao" (as we called him) was also given several offices to supervise from HQ, as the owners wanted him to understand our business thoroughly.

One day we heard that our longtime CFO resigned. We later learned that Mao had conducted an audit and found that our trusted CFO had been siphoning funds from the company. Mao was making himself an integral part of the management team, and ensuring everything was being done to his exacting requirements. Not six months after we received the new equipment, our UPS battery backup failed for the server. I called the IT office at HQ telling them the "bad battery" light was lit. Two days later we received a completely new replacement. I packed the old one away, awaiting an RMA or call tag to send it back and promptly forgot about it.

Several months later we got our P&L and while scrutinizing it, I found that we were charged for that UPS unit that should have been under warranty. I sent off an e-mail disputing this and asked for a correction.

Six months later I received a call from Mao wanting to know about a dinner meeting I had supposedly had with Fred, our branch's regional manager to whom we reported directly. Mao just wanted to know how it went. Confused, I asked him specifically where and when this meeting was to have taken place. He told me and I said that I'd never had a dinner meeting on the date he mentioned. He asked me to be very sure, and I repeated what I'd said. He apologized and said he'd just gotten his information wrong.

One day sometime later, we lost a backup tape drive, again under full warranty. I called our IT people, who sent out a warranty replacement, but this time they requested the defective drive back. As I was friendly with several of the IT people, I asked if a lot of these were failing. Their reply: "Don't ask."

Several months later, we heard Fred had been fired. Turned out Fred was making a tidy little income by submitting bogus expense reports. And he recorded that I'd had dinner with him on this one occasion! Again Detective Mao uncovered another crime ...

Next fiscal quarter, I got the new P&L and that charge for the in-warranty UPS was still there. And in addition, they charged me for the tape drive. These should have been credits.

I fired off a request to credit these two errors, but this time I copied everyone, demanding these charges to be removed immediately.

Months passed and Mao spent more time scrutinizing my operation and making life miserable for me. I was cautioned that if I didn't "straighten out," I would be removed. As a long-time employee, I'd never had problems before as I did with Mao. Eventually, I quit.

Many of my colleagues expressed sympathy and even some of Mao's peers expressed disbelief. My numbers didn't justify the pressure I was subjected to.

I immediately was hired to what turned out to be my dream job.

Another six months went by. I got a phone call at my new job from a VP from my old job, asking to meet with me. We met that afternoon and the owner of the company was with him. They proceeded to tell me that Mao was no longer an employee of the company.

Seems Mao was not the person everyone thought. First, all the new computer equipment had been sole-sourced to one company -- no bids. That was bad enough, but as you might have guessed ... he owned the computer distributor in secret!

That's why they never wanted the old equipment returned, and more importantly why I and countless others were charged for in-warranty replacements as well as items that had extended warranty. And in the end, I had asked too many questions.

I received a heartfelt apology and an offer to return. With a smile on my face that lasted several weeks, I graciously declined and wished them well.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.