"Because of," "In Spite of," and Congressman Ryan

Apr 10, 2011

In the mid-1980s, I joined Oracle as Corporate Controller. Not only was I hopelessly under-qualified for that job, but the entire finance and administration function was held in generally low repute and didn’t add much value to Oracle’s operations. The principal problem, truth be told, was simply understaffing in an area not appreciated in a newly public company where engineering and sales were kings of the hill.

I and several other senior F&A managers begged Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CEO, to let us hire more staff. Larry, who is incredibly intelligent, immensely practical, and actually rather humane, refused. He told us that we could have more staff when we demonstrated that we could deliver results from the staff we already had. To us, this was an unfair, chicken-and-egg response.

But we all chipped away at the issue, producing a useful management report or two, helping the sales force negotiate a big deal, putting a novel sales compensation plan in place, and other little things. Slowly the purse strings loosened as it became clear that F&A could play a significant role in Oracle’s success. I left Oracle in 1989, but the progress continued over many years (albeit not always smoothly). Today Oracle is a technology giant, and a former CFO is its Chairman of the Board.

I’m getting to the point. Really. Bob Oster, Oracle’s CFO when I joined, counseled us to point to things that we accomplished in spite of the staffing limitations, rather than complain about what we couldn’t do because of them. It was good advice.

That’s advice Congressman Paul Ryan has followed. His budget proposal, the only one that seriously addresses the biggest issue – entitlements – has gotten a lot of press lately. But he has been articulating these proposals in one form or another for three years now, in spite of the facts that (a) addressing these issues is politically hazardous, (b) the issues are complex and hard to articulate, and (c) his was the House’s minority party until three months ago. When Democrats are asked why they haven’t put forth anything in the last 2 ½ years – not even a 2010-11 budget – it’s because of [place favorite excuse(s) here]. And all answers seem to have the word “Republican” in them. Really?

You don’t have to be an advocate of Rep. Ryan’s proposals to acknowledge a valid and principled effort. That is, unless you are a “because of” sort of person.

Folks, I will get back to talking about presenting numbers eventually, I promise. But some opportunities are just too juicy to pass up.

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people talking about financial statements and other numbers in ways that we can all understand. I welcome your interest and your feedback.

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