Monday, March 23, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - Howard Matthews' Story #16 - Post-Wesleyan

In the 16th installment of my grandfather's story he is deciding what to do after Wesleyan, working and studying in New York City and getting married.

By the time I reached my Senior year at Wesleyan, I decided that Business would be my career field. I was accepted at Harvard Business School and was assured of financial help by Mrs. Manville, but the burden of debt I had already incurred and the fear of adding to it influenced me in a decision to embark at once in business. At that time the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants was appealing to liberal arts college seniors to consider going into Public Accounting under a program whereby they would place graduates with CPA firms regardless of whether they had any knowledge of accounting. Their program was based on the expectation  that men with a liberal arts background supplemented by the CPA staff on-the-job training would up-grade the accounting profession.

I applied and was sent by the Institute to be interviewed by a New York City firm. I was received by the top partner of the firm who engaged my in an hour-long conversation of Plato! However when I learned that this firm, although highly regarded, was not national in scope, I decided to talk it over with Mike (Cornelius) Berrien, a Vice President of the Hanover Bank (now Manufacturers Hanover) in New York, who graduation from Wesleyan in 1896, was a member of my fraternity and had told me that if I ever needed a recommendation he would give it. He agreed that a connection with a large national and international firm would be preferable. He then scribbled a note to Andrew Stuart, a partner in Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., 40 Exchange Place, N. Y. City and told me to deliver it. I did and was hired effective the following September, 1928.

Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co was, still is, large, with offices all over the USA and the world. The New York City office was a staff of 400. They gave a series of training classes for their junior staff members but, in addition, I enrolled in the School of Business at Colombia University, attended evening classes there for three years, 1928-1931, and lived in John Jay Hall on its campus. the classes met from 6 to 10 pm which meant that frequently I had my evening meal at 10:30. At the end of my three years, the Dean of the school urged my to give up my job and take a year of day-time classes in order to qualify for an MBA degree. I could not afford it, wanted to get married and anyway my goal was a CPA degree, which is a State-granted degree and, at that time, required 5 years experience in accounting and auditing in addition to passing State examinations. Perhaps this was a mistake in my part, as ears later, the top partner in PMM & Co told me they no longer hired anyone without an MBA degree. However, by this time, I was beginning to think I did not wish to stay in accounting all my life, but I continued to study on my own after we were married and at the completion of 5 years in public accounting took the State exams. On January 30, 1934 I was notified that I had passed all of the exams in Auditing, in Theory and Practice, in Accounting and in Law. (Of the 1,500 who sat for these exams 4 ½% passed them). I was granted my degree (CPA) by the University of the State of New York as of March 16, 1934 and a short time later was admitted to membership in the American institute of Certified Public Accountants and have remained a member in good standing for 48 years as of 1983.

My work as a member of the NYC staff of PMM & Co was enjoyable, tedious, demanding, tiring and exciting. It was varied: Cartiers and American Cynamid on 5th Avenue; banks and brokerage houses on Wall Street and in Newark; manufacturers in Rome and Rochester, NY; the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, etc, etc. The Cartiers assignment was an interesting one. It involved determining, in the place of the management, the amount of commission to be paid each salesman, each month. This may sound simple but it was not. It involved reviewing all of the charges to customers accounts (none of their customers every paid cash) and all of the credits for payments and items returned. And if a salesman had received a commission for an item later returned, it was deducted from his future earnings. And there were other complicated rules that had to be observed; the rate of commission, was it to be shared with another salesman, etc. so that the work of an independent auditor was desired. And the amounts involved were fabulous.

The hours in public accounting were horrendous, especially in the first 3 months of the year when, for weeks on end, we worked every night until midnight. And at other times, bank audits and brokerage house audits, which always were "surprise" audits, required that we stay on the job the first day until all the cash was accounted for and all vaults secured. I arrived home many nights at 1:00 am and had to be up and off again at 7 the next morning.

These were not easy times. The great depression brought bank closings, stock market failures and many people out of work. The size of PMMs staff was reduced 50% but fortunately I was retained although at a 10% reduction in salary the first year of our marriage. But with Dagmar's good management we lived through it, budgeted entertainment at 50¢ per week, dabbled in a few investments and even bought a second-hand Chevy.

The happy couple with Dean Chanter

Dagmar and I were married on September 19, 1931 by Dean William George Chanter of Wesleyan University (an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister) at Dagmar's brother's home in Manchester, CT. The pastor of her own Lutheran Church had refused use of her church by a non-Lutheran minister. The reception was held at the home of her parents. We set up housekeeping in East Orange, New Jersey, from whence I commuted to New York via the Lackawanna railroad. My brother Charles and his wife Nellie also lived in East Orange and he commuted to his job as Assistant Treasurer of the Pittston Company in the Empire State Building in New York.

Next week, in my grandfather's words, fortuitous happening #3.