From Handling Pirates to Handling Accounts

By Sharu

With a sleeve tattoo of a curvaceous women on both his arms and flowing long hair, Vince looks more at home behind the wheel of a Harley Davidson surrounded by his biker gang than behind a desk collecting money surrounded by cooked food. Vince is the owner and manager of Vinalon’s Eatery which is the business that me and my partner Emma are consulting for. It only takes a few minutes of interaction with Vince to realize that there is more to him than what meets the eye.

Vinalon’s Eatery was created by Vince’s mother in the 1990’s and they are amongst the oldest businesses in the Jagna Business Center where they operate. In a turn of events reminiscent of ‘The Godfather’, Vince gave up his career as a sailor for a maritime company in order to help save the family business. And like Michael Corleone, Vince is smart and determined. It is these characteristics that make our engagement with him productive and enjoyable.

Prior to our first client meeting with Vince, we had prepared our queries based on Peter Drucker’s “Five Important Questions”. Five minutes into our conversation with Vince we realized that it was useless. A lot of the questions that we had prepared were not relevant for Vinalon’s Eatery. To compound the problem, we had an abundance of questions and Vince had a scarcity of time. This meant that we had to improvise and prioritize questions on the spot. Unlike a large organization, a manager here does not have the luxury to sit and talk. They are more hands on and involved in the business. They like to do more and talk less. Our initial meeting was punctuated by interruptions from customers and employees. Moreover, Vince’s mother would occasionally circle our table like a vulture with a quizzical look on her face, wondering what the three of us were talking about. It was obvious that she has little patience for accounting and marketing.

Vince’s mother reflects the broader mindset of small entrepreneurs in the Jagna. They do not understand the importance of book keeping and accounting. They have no time for concepts such as “product differentiation” and “branding”. However, Vince is different. During our first meeting, he pulled out a tattered book in which he has been keeping a track of his expenses and daily profit. Having no prior accounting knowledge, Vince had created a home grown accounting system that best suits his daily needs. Going through the book we could see some accounting errors but the system by and large worked for him. The real difficulty for him was recording all his daily expenses accurately. Sometimes when his mother buys ingredients she does not record it. Another pressing question that we had to answer was how to keep the finance of his business separate from his personal one.

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Vince’s tattered record keeping book

Based on his current system we proposed a few solutions to improve the accuracy of the entire system. After a couple of days of brainstorming with Emma we came up with a system that built upon his existing one and we made sure that it was simple and intuitive to use. We bought small books so that he can keep a centralized record of his expenses instead of having in pieces of paper that were prone to get lost. We assigned employees to handle each book. We also reworked his income statement so that he can accurately measure his daily profit (he was overstating his profit previously) When we came the teach Vince how to use the system we could sense his fear. It was funny to someone who is trained to handle Somalian pirates tremble in front of accounting.

Due to his lack of business knowledge and communication gap, it was difficult at first to teach him and get our point across. However, due to his determination after an hour he began to grasp the accounting system that we designed for him. He began to interact and raised some important issues that both me and Emma had ignored. We had to work on the spot the solve the issues and tweak the system. Having taught him the accounting we decided to monitor his recording. After a couple of days, not only was he recording everything accurately, he also began to streamline the system. He managed to combine a few transactions without losing the accuracy. Instead of just blindly following what we said, he started thinking independently and figuring out ways to improve the system.

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Me and Emma discussing some issues while teaching Vince the accounting system

As we get to the business end with our business, there are still some important things that we have to solve. With the accounting issues under control, we have now shifted our focus towards product enhancement and marketing. We aim to help his improve his catering business, design menus and posters and finally create set meals that will appeal to different segments of his customers.

At present a lot of our ideas get rejected because Vince’s mother is reluctant to change. However, after seeing the benefits of a proper accounting system, she has begun to soften up. At least now she does not have a quizzical look on her face when circles our table.

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