This excerpt is published with permission from Roast Books. The Profit is inspired by an oft-quoted work by Kahlil Gibran and concerns the erudition and sagacity of one Piers Black, “revered by men and universally desired by women.” It’s part of a series of “Great Little Reads” and can be purchased on Amazon.
…As Piers prided himself on his extraordinary wisdom and eloquence, which he knew came not from this world but from the very heavens themselves, a small bespectacled man in quaintly formal attire that seemed more suited to a bygone age rose to his feet and said: Oh great and gracious tsar of the economic stratosphere, speak to us now of accountants.
And Piers smiled, saying: I thank you, kind sir, from the depths of my being, for in offering me an opportunity to speak of this most caricatured and and undervalued of all professions, you have given me license to rectify one of the most insidious misconceptions of our age. The accountant, as he pursues his craft without flamboyance or ostentation, will always be the object of ignorant jest, yet it is in the immutable blandness of his ways that his true genius is to be found.
For the essence of greatness lies not in the things we see but in those things which transpire in the secret places where the glorious gifting of one’s birthright is refined to shimmering perfection. Just as the Olympic athlete preparing for his moment of destiny hones himself on the training ground, driving his tortured body until the sweat trickling from his brow becomes a torrent of pain and self-denial, so the accountant working diligently and meticulously amidst the mountain of invoices, balance sheets and tax statements, paves the way for glory of a far more lasting and fulfilling kind.
Yet in his tireless push for the spoils of victory there is one vast difference between the champion of the numbers and the medal-seeking Olympian. It is, for the most part, not to build his own reputation that the accountant strives so zealously, but for the glorification of the captains and generals of commerce and industry. And if in his unsung endeavours he becomes indelibly anodyne and unappealing, a colourless, characterless man who exhibits all the charisma of a stale cheese sandwich, this is also part of his singular talent.
For in his all-pervading greyness the accountant cloaks himself in an aura of reliability and respectability. And, as such, he is, with a few notable exceptions, the last person to arouse suspicion or controversy. Thus can he become a buffer between the forces of uncompromising legality and retribution and the unfettered ambition of the thrusting man of commerce, who seeks to carry himself and his company to ever-greater financial horizons by any means his trust man of figures can devise. For many a vast commercial empire and many a splendiferous boardroom career has been shaped on the innovative wheel of creative accounting.
As great artists like Rothko and Mondrian blended together an amorphous array of shapes and colours to create a visual feast on canvas, so the accountant weaves his financial magic with a concoction of tax loopholes, tax shelters, offshore bank accounts, write-downs and write-offs, to produce a tapestry of tax avoidance that is truly beautiful to behold. And if in his displays of fiscal eloquence he strays a little from the paths of financial regulation, who is to say that he is any worse than the politician who is economical with the truth or the lawyer whose spiralling fees are a travesty of true recompense?
Yet in your gratitude to the Svengalis of the balance sheets, be not swayed beyond reasoned objectivity. For the ethos of commercial supremacy is forged in the fires of self-advancement, and true self-sacrifice is as rare as a soft-hearted pawnbroker. So, whilst these self-effacing men are indeed unceasing in their labours for the benefit of those who employ them, there is for the accountant himself the potential for financial reward that can carry him to his own heights of opulence. And even though his persona may seem more suited to the faceless masses than the ranks of the movers and shakers, does not many an accountant boast an even more lavish and enviable lifestyle than those whose books he lovingly nurtures?
So know you that whilst in his outer trappings the accountant is the soul of anonymity, he is rarely what he seems. Show me a po-faced paper-pusher and I will show you a swaggering hero, a William Wallace of the boardroom, a Lancelot of the commercial battlefield, jousting fearlessly against the armies of the taxman and the VAT inspector. And though the world appears to pass him by as he sits single-mindedly at his desk, the epitome of soulless passivity, in his carefully-ordered strivings he is as deadly as the cobra, silent yet poised to strike with lethal swiftness. For the accountant, too, dreams mighty dreams of greatness; he, too, seeks to write his name large in letters of gold on the eternal balance sheet of the cosmos.
And though your mind seeks the vainglorious high of self-promotion, deep inside you yearn to be as he of sober suit and boring tie, unseen but always seeing, impassive yet burning with inner passion, bereft of glamour and magnetism yet filled to overflowing with single-minded dynamism. For does not control of the yearly accounts and audits confer ultimate power on he who undertakes them? Does he not have the fate of even the most consummate master of corporate strategy in the palm of his hand, knowing that in his artful juggling of the company’s books he can either lift his paymaster to unprecedented new levels of profit and and approbation or plunge him into oblivion?
For it is beyond question that my team of unparalleled accounting artists, labouring ceaselessly to maximise my profits and broaden my empire, have carried me to the highest peaks of commercial glory. Yet understand that it has not been without my own personal diligence and intervention into their secretive ways that I have come this far without more than the most superficial wounds. For the laudable sway of self-interest will eventually ensnare even the most incorruptible of men. And though he strives to produce yearly figures of the most glittering hue, how can it be that the accountant would resist the temptation to salt away unseen sums for himself?
Thus must you be as the night owl, seeing under the cover of darkness, forever ensuring that these men of devilish cunning are under surveillance, stepping in boldly to clip their wings when they fly too high for their own good. For it is true that I have sacked more accountants than most public companies employ in a generation, and it is only in my unfailing magnanimity that I have sent them on their way with golden handshakes far beyond their merits.
Yet be not dismayed by my caveat, for in its true and pure form accountancy is a profession of the highest honour and reward. If you would spurn the high of self-aggrandisement and seek fulfillment of the unpretentious kind, be as the bass player in an orchestra or the mechanic in a Grand Prix team, going about your business unacclaimed and invisible, fashioning yourself into an irreplaceable cog in the commercial carousel. And when you have shuffled off the self-serving demands of the ego and assumed the mantle of all-pervading drabness, then will you become an indispensable grey blob on the corporate landscape, a John Major of the corridors of financial power.