A $250,000 lesson

Departments - Editor’s Insight

October 10, 2017

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but it’s even easier to ignore them. While I’m writing this column (mid-September when I’m writing this) I find myself doing the former.

For our State of the Industry report, we collect a ton of research data that’s placed in a spreadsheet. It’s numbers on top of numbers on top of numbers, and it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of green industry geekdom.

While my problem right now is focusing too much on numbers, contractors seem to have the opposite problem. We hear from a lot of contractors who don’t look at their numbers enough. Money is coming in, and that’s all that matters.

Such was the case with Rob Atema, owner of Rivertop Contracting. He thought he knew his numbers and had processes to make sure everything was on the straight and narrow, but found out he didn’t.

He was so confident things were going well that he was excited to talk to us a couple of years ago about how he turned his company around after the Great Recession forced him to lay off most of his staff. It was such a great story, that we put Rob on the cover of our September issue in 2015.

But a few months ago, he reached out to tell us a different story – an employee had been stealing money from his company for more than a year. In fact, while Rob was filling us in back in 2015 about how the company was turned around, his office manager was committing the crime.

It started off small, but by the time the employee was caught, the company was out $250,000. You can read more about it on later in the issue.

While your numbers may look good on the surface, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper to confirm they are as they appear.

I give Rob a lot of credit. Some people would have wanted to keep that quiet, but he learned a valuable lesson, and wanted others to avoid going through what he did.

His company was growing fast so he and his executive team were concentrating on operations and sales. They’d look over the profit and loss statement, but it looked good because of the way the office manager was stealing.

“As landscape professionals we, or at least most of us, would much rather be in the field than the office,” Atema says. “But what I have learned is you must force yourself to have office time and learn your numbers – all of them.”

While your numbers may look good on the surface, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper to confirm they are as they appear. Set aside office time to understand the financials of your company. It could save you from losing $250,000, or losing your entire company. – Brian Horn