Corporate finance in the land of oz.

Author:Joslin, Mark W.
Position:From Where I Sit - Brief Article

You don't have to be a Wall Street junkie to know that not too long ago, a string of dynamite was lit at Enron headquarters in Houston -- and is still going off throughout corporate America. Every time the dust settles from one explosion, a new fuse gets lit, igniting a fresh storm of controversy and turning a market capitalization into rubble. Blamed for holding the match in this ongoing affair is a little-known radical group that goes by the name of "corporate finance professional," for which I must confess to being a member.

One of the minor inconveniences I've experienced throughout my career is explaining to those outside my profession what it is I do. After graduating with an accounting degree, passing the CPA exam and receiving my master's degree in finance, the most common misperception that I've routinely tried to correct was that most of my time was spent working on tax returns and that, as a tax expert, I was capable and willing to give advice on personal tax matters.

As my career progressed into management positions, those around me outside the corporate world began to understand that my working time was probably spent in ways they would never really understand, so the questions have become more shallow and less probing. I've also taken to using occasional analogies to bring what I do into clearer focus, borrowing from terms and events that are more easily recognized. This really comes in handy when news events exposing snippets of insight into my world -- like the Enron situation -- reach the more curious around me and I'm called upon to help make sense of them.

However, far from being a minor disturbance in "the force," Enron has ripped a gaping hole, exposing a whole new breed of alien creatures previously unknown to the uninitiated. I've found myself searching lately for the right analogy to help put things in order for my various constituencies.

I've started and stopped this effort a few times, selecting -- then rejecting -- choices that seemingly fit, but each time finding fault upon further reflection. My first choice of Enronesque analogy was "Gone With The Wind." I found the title and war setting very apropos, but just couldn't make a...

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