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Nicely said Mr Musk

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Long boring meetings that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Maybe you’ve tried to give the impression of being interested in what was being said but in reality the meeting wasn’t relevant for you and your mind was wandering to other more interesting things.

Well, if you’re not a great lover of excessive meetings then you are not alone. In fact, you share the thoughts of an incredibly successful and admired business person. Namely, Elon Musk.

Mr Musk’s current business interests include Tesla and SpaceX.

In the past he founded x.com which later became PayPal. Paypal was subsequently bought by eBay for $1.5 billion.

He currently has a net worth in excess of $20 billion.

But what does he think about meetings?

In an email to his staff that was leaked to the electrek website there were a few productivity recommendations:

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

Nicely said Mr Musk.

A great recovery

We’ve all made mistakes but the key thing is how you recover from those mistakes. ASOS, the global internet clothing company recently made a mistake but recovered from it really well.

ASOS is an incredibly successful company. They sell over 80,000 products on their website and last year had over 15 million active customers and sales of nearly £2 billion.

One thing they are not that good at though is using the spell check function as they printed 17,000 packaging bags with the slogan “discover fashion online” spelt using “onilne” instead of “online”.

Now, what would you have done in that situation?

Would you have ignored it and hoped that no one noticed or cared about it?

Would you have scrapped the bags?

ASOS did neither of those and recovered brilliantly by tweeting:

“Ok, so we *may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo. We’re calling it a limited edition”.

So, depending on how you look at it you’ve either got a bag with a typo on it or a limited edition collector’s item.

A brilliant recovery by ASOS. Turning a typo into some great publicity.

Can you trust an accountant?

That’s an interesting question and I’m sure that along with most other professions there are people you can trust and people you can’t trust.

If I asked the question about trusting accountants to the rock band Deep Purple though I’m pretty sure what answer I’d get.

Dipak Shanker Rao looked after the accounts of Deep Purple for more than 20 years.

In fact, to be fair when I said that he “looked after” the accounts maybe I should have said that he siphoned off more than £2 million of the band’s money without their permission.

Mr Rao has admitted “borrowing” at least £2.27 million from two of the companies within the Deep Purple empire. HEC Enterprises and Deep Purple (Overseas) owned the copyright to a lot of the band’s songs but the companies went into receivership in 2016.

Out of the £2.27 million borrowed by Rao, only £477,000 has been recovered. Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover (members of the band) are suing Mr Rao for up to £4 million.

In the meantime, Mr Rao has been struck off as an accountant and banned from managing or controlling a company until 2028.

One of Deep Purple’s most famous songs is called “Mistreated” and I’m sure that they feel that way at the moment…

How much do Big 4 partners get paid?

KPMG UK released their results last month for their most recent accounting period and they showed a fall of 10% in pay for the KPMG partners when compared to the previous year.

Although the firm’s revenue rose by 5% to £2.2 billion, it’s profit fell to £301 million.

The firm wrote off a number of technology investments.

KPMG, like the rest of the Big 4, have invested heavily in technology companies in an attempt to stay at the forefront of technology.

Unfortunately for KPMG, not all of their investments were successful. Bill Michael, the Chairman of KPMG, highlighted one investment that hadn’t done so well – KPMG had committed £3 million to Flexeye, a tech company that analyses large amounts of data and it hadn’t proved to be the wisest investment.

Whilst profits fell, it hasn’t all been bad news for KPMG as their audit practice grew by 10%.

Back to the average pay of the KPMG partners though and although their average pay fell by 10% I’m sure that the partners will still be able to afford to buy a sandwich for lunch.

The average pay for the KPMG partners was £519,000 each.

That’s not too bad is it?

But how does it compare with the average pay from the partners of the remaining Big 4.

The most recent reported results show the following average pay per partner:

Deloitte – £865,000

EY – £677,000

pwc – £652,000

It looks like Deloitte partners will be having the more expensive sandwiches for lunch.

Gin and whose tonic?

Drinking a lot of gin may not be good for you but it looks as though it is good for the tax authorities.

There’s been a change in the drinking habits of people in the UK.

Gin is suddenly very fashionable, especially the flavoured gin made by smaller distilleries. Last year 40 new gin distilleries opened up in the UK bringing the total distilleries crafting gin to 273.

This has made the tax man very happy. The reason he is happy is that there is a very high rate of VAT and Duty on hard spirits such as Gin compared to less alcoholic drinks such as beer and cider. VAT and Duty on a bottle of Gin accounts for more than 75% of the cost of that bottle and with designer gins such as Death’s Door gin retailing at £55 then that’s a pretty good return for the tax authorities.

This increase in demand for gin has resulted in duty receipts from spirit sales overtaking duty receipt from beer sales last year for the first time.

In 2016 the tax authorities collected over £11 billion from alcohol sales which is an equivalent amount to what a 2p increase in income tax would create.

So, they you go, the next time you wake up in the morning with a hang over from drinking too much gin at least you’ll know that the money you spent has proved a tonic for the government and helped increase their tax receipts.

KPMG fires unethical partners

Picture the scene – you’re the senior auditing partner of KPMG in America with more than 30 years of experience serving some of KPMG’s most prestigious clients. There are over 9,000 KPMG people in the US who look up to you as the boss.

You receive some leaked information about which of your audits the US audit watchdog is going to examine as part of their annual inspection of how well KPMG perform audits.

Do you:

(a) Disclose this unethical breach immediately, or

(b) Try to keep things quiet and make sure that the audit files of the audits selected are perfect?

Unfortunately for Scott Marcello, the (now ex) head of KPMG’s audit practice in America, he didn’t choose option (a).

The background to the issue is that every year the US audit regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) selects a sample of audits to inspect and ensure they have been performed properly.

A former employee of the PCAOB had joined KPMG. A friend of his who was still working at the PCAOB tipped him off about which audits would be selected for inspection this year.

The confidential information was then passed up the KPMG hierarchy until it reached Mr Marcello.

We can only guess what Mr Marcello and 4 other KPMG partners were planning on doing with the leaked information but one thing was for sure and that was they didn’t disclose the leak.

Whilst the 5 partners clearly weren’t very ethical, KPMG as an organisation acted quickly once they found out about it.

The 5 partners were fired and Lynne Doughtie, the chairwoman and chief executive of KPMG was quoted as saying “KPMG has zero tolerance for such unethical behaviour. Quality and integrity are the cornerstone of all we do and that includes operating with the utmost respect and regard for the regulatory process. We are taking additional steps to ensure that such a situation should not happen again”.

The PCOAB publish the results of their inspections and the previous results of the KPMG inspections perhaps give a reason for why Mr Marcello was keen for any help, whether it was ethical or unethical.

In 2014 and 2015, KPMG had more deficiencies in their audits than any of the other Big 4 in America.

38% of their inspected audits in 2015 were found to be deficient whilst in 2014, 54% were found to be deficient.

I’m not kicking a ball, I’m being looked at.

Professional footballers must have a great life. Playing football and earning significant amounts of money. Oh, and using some very clever tax advisers…

There are serious amounts of money being paid to some of the top footballers. Payments of in excess of £200,000 per week are fairly common (over £10 million per year).

This income doesn’t simply go into the tax return as salary. No, there are far more sneaky/clever [delete as you feel appropriate] ways of minimising the tax liability (or should I say maximising the after-tax income).

One of the methods used to minimise the tax is to make two types of payments to the player.

One would be for playing football whilst the other would be for “image rights”.

“What are image rights?” I hear you say.

Well, the basic idea is that the player would agree to let the football club use his image in any sponsorship or TV deals that the club has.

Without going into too much technical detail, the key difference from a tax point of view is that the payments made to the player for playing football would be classified as employment income and would be taxed at 45%.

Payments for image rights on the other hand would in effect be rental payments for an intangible asset. Players would assign their image rights to a company (where they could be the 100% shareholder) and the company would only pay corporation tax of 19% on the income.

With the globalisation of the Premier League, there are now numerous players who are not tax domiciled in the UK and if their image rights were channelled through a non-UK company they could potentially escape tax altogether.

Given the size of the payments involved there’s a lot of tax at stake. The Treasury in the UK has just initiated a project on players’ image rights and government technical experts will visit all English Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premier league clubs to review matters.

In the meantime, most of the readers of this blog are not professional footballers but instead undertake far more interesting finance and accounting activities in an office. Why not suggest to your boss at your next pay review that you’d like image rights instead of a pay rise so that you can receive more tax advantageous rental income from an intangible asset via your personal company…

Not the brightest fraudster

There are clever frauds and there are not so clever frauds.

Both are morally wrong but this gentleman’s attempt at fraud clearly showed that he wasn’t the brightest individual. It’s also resulted in him receiving an 8 year jail sentence.

Mohammed Shareef from Harrow in the UK ran a number of ice-cream shops and thought that an easy way to fraudulently obtain money was via his VAT affairs.

If somebody is registered for VAT they have to charge VAT on their sales but they can offset any VAT on eligible expenses. If the VAT on their sales is greater than the VAT on their purchases, they pay the balance to the tax authorities. If VAT on their sales is less than the VAT on their purchases, they can reclaim the excess VAT suffered from the tax authorities.

This is where Mr Shareef’s grand plan originated.

His plan was to submit false VAT repayment claims and to do so he needed some false VAT expenses.

Mr Shareef’s plan went to his head though as instead of small amounts, he submitted false VAT repayment claims amounting to £1,669,463 over a number of years.

These claims came to the attention of the authorities and they investigated the expenses. They found that Mr Shareef clearly didn’t have the greatest criminal mind in history.

Ignoring the shops he actually owned, he instead submitted invoices for shops that didn’t even exist.

He also claimed he had no knowledge of certain documents but they were all found on his computer and investigators proved he was the author of the documents.

He also created fake bank statements but these statements were obviously fake as they had spelling errors in them. He also had fake 2012 statements where he had mistakenly put transactions in with a date of 2011.

He was found guilty of cheating the public revenue and sentenced to 8 years in jail.

Should you employ good-looking men?

That’s an interesting question and unless you’re a modelling agency then the answer for most jobs should be that looks aren’t important and it’s the ability to do the job that counts.

Research from Aarhus University in Denmark though has raised some interesting observations which could have an impact on fast food restaurants.

The study found that women were more likely to order healthy options such as salad instead of unhealthy options such as chips when they were in the company of a good-looking man. The research found that a woman was more likely to go for low calorie items when they were with a handsome man.

This healthy eating wasn’t present though when a women was eating with a good-looking woman.

Men on the other hand, tended to spend more on expensive food and drink when they were with an attractive woman.

Whilst we can probably guess that a woman doesn’t want to be seen as somebody who could eat a whole restaurant on a date and a man wants to be seen as wealthy and able to afford expensive food, Tobias Otterbring, the author of the study puts it nicely when he says “this research reveals how, why, and when appearance induced mate attraction leads to sex-specific consumption preferences for various food and beverages.”

He went on to say that “the most valued characteristics men seek in a female mate are beauty and health, whereas status and wealth are the top priorities for women.”

He also said that the study findings suggested that fast food chains should consider whether to employ good-looking men in case it encouraged women to look elsewhere for healthy options.

Somehow though, I can’t see many fast food restaurants saying that “good-looking men should not apply” in their job adverts.

A bit of a tpyo

We’ve all done it. Pressed the wrong key on the keyboard and before you know it you’ve sent an email or report with a typo in it.

Most of the time these are fairly harmless. This, together with spellcheck facilities means that normally it’s not a major problem if there’s the odd typo.

Unfortunately though, if you’re a software coder then a typo can have a major impact.

Cloud services are where companies store their data on remote servers held by companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Last week, numerous websites which use Amazon’s cloud servers went down. These were major websites such as quora.com and soundcloud.com. Amazon subsequently revealed the problems were down to an employee who was trying to fix a software bug in a billing system but typed in the wrong string of characters.

Amazon said that “the command was intended to remove a small number of servers. Unfortunately, one of the inputs was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended.”

Amazon quickly resolved the issue though and stated that they had “added safeguards to prevent capacity from being removed when it will take any subsystem below its minimum required capacity level. This will prevent an incorrect input from triggering a similar event in the future.”

There are lots of advantages of using cloud servers but as this illustration highlights there are also disadvantages.