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Auto Supplies, a Condescending Partner and Chick-fil-A: An Inventory Count Horror Story

What is the worst inventory observation you've ever done? My coworker once counted grain and had to scale the enormous storage vat and look down into it. That wouldn't work for me. I harbor a pathological fear of falling into one of those things, suffocating among the wheat shafts, and winding up ground into a box of breakfast cereal. (I had a damaged childhood, okay?)

I've heard other crazy inventory stories –- a friend from Oklahoma had to count cows. Another auditor at a paper mill had to leap over smouldering vats of pulp to get to the weigh station, which totally validates Caleb's theory that auditors are the most heroic among tax, audit, advisory. 

In years past, we've even heard of semen and dildo counts. My own inventory observation from hell happened that one time the controller and the partner threw off the gloves via speakerphone. On my personal cell phone. After the client bought me Chick-fil-A.

The client, an automotive supplier, had a pretty clean warehouse. Anytime I'm not wading through ankle-deep mud to count used car tires, I'm happy. Halfway through the day, the client bought me an overstuffed bag of Chick-fil-A, a Diet Pepsi, and three chocolate chip cookies because -– as the controller told me — “We love our auditors.”

Hours later, things were not so jovial. I emailed the updated inventory counts to my senior. The counts were off. Way off. Both the senior and the engagement partner called me and said, “Does this look normal to you? No. You're doing additional counts.”

We made our new selections and did the counts. Again. Still off. Way off. By this time, I was sweating through my suit coat. Did I seriously miscount? The counts couldn't possibly be this bad. No way. Yeah, I know, it should be the other way around -– the client should have been sweating, not me but -– anxiety disorder, man. Anxiety disorder.

After I emailed the second count to the senior, the engagement partner called me again. “Let me ask you a question. Can I sign off on this and have assurance that these counts are right? No, Leona. The answer is no. Put the controller on the phone.”

The controller –- who'd earlier in the day bought me a Chick-fil-A feast, looked like Dolly Parton as Lorna Davis in A Smoky Mountain Christmas. She refused to take the phone and insisted I put the partner on speaker phone. “Anything he says to me, he can say in front of everyone.” About a dozen or so employees were skulking around the table.

“Here's the thing, Dolly,” said the partner through the speaker. “The counts are off, and my expectation is that our count would match your count, considering your crew just counted. Do you see what I'm saying?”

“I don't see it as an issue.”

“Not an issue? Let me explain to you the point of a physical inventory,” said the partner. “We do this –”

As the partner –- via speaker phone, I'll remind you — explained the purpose of a physical inventory to the plant controller while her dozen skulking employees listened, Dolly got up from her desk and sashayed out of the room. All the employees watched her leave.

“– to ensure that –”

“Um, hold on a second, partner -” I had to cut him off. I wanted to die. “Um, Dolly will be right back.”

“What? We're on a conference call.”

“I know –- she'll be right back…” I looked to the dozen skulking employees. “She's coming back, right?” Nobody knew.

“Well, why don't you call me back?”

The controller sashayed back into the room about fifteen minutes later. We set up another conference call -– still on speakerphone -– still on my cell phone. “Okay, Dolly, here's the thing. I'm not signing off on this inventory until we have assurance that your counts are correct, and I don't have that assurance.”

“Okay, well, I'm not recounting jack shit. We've been here twelve hours.”

“Well, here's the thing, Dolly. Let me explain to you the purpose of this inventory.”

“I don't need you to explain shit to me.”

“Okay, Dolly, well, obviously you do because the counts your crew recorded to not match the counts we just did.”

“This is bullshit.”

“I'd have the crew recount if I were you because obviously –”

“I sent them home already. This is bullshit.”

“Okay, well, you may think so, but your job is inventory management, and it doesn't seem to me…” As the partner again started explaining the point of the count, the controller pulled out her jewel-encrusted cell phone and started tapping the screen with her hot pink talons. Then she put the phone to her ear and sashayed away.

“Um, partner, uh – hold on. Dolly had to make a call,” I said into the speaker phone, still wanting to die.

“What do you mean she had to make a call? We're in the middle of a conversation here.”

“Um, do you want me to have her call you back?”

“No, I'll wait.”

“Is she coming back?” I asked the dozen skulking employees. Nobody knew.

Ten minutes later, Dolly sashayed back into the room and said into my cell phone, “Call up the CFO and tell all this bullshit to him, partner. I just got off the phone with him. We're firing you when this bullshit is finished. We've had it with your shit.”

Twenty minutes later, we were back on the warehouse floor doing a third count, which, by the way, still off. The controller continued to berate the firm. “We've been wanting to fire your bullshit firm for a while now. Your partner is so condescending –- telling me that I don't know what the point of a physical inventory is? The CFO hates you guys, too. I'm finding a new auditor tonight.”

By 9 pm, we'd finished the third count and weeded back through the original inventory selections to search for any “hidden or lost” boxes of steering wheels, etc. that we'd missed. We found none. The partner finally gave up on the count and let me leave the client site.

Before I left, I stopped by her office to thank Dolly for the Chick-fil-A feast. She told me to fuck off. #AuditorProud