What's your Problem?

I've really screwed up. My company division has been losing money for years, but with some clever accounting and a nod and a wink from our company accountant, I've managed to hide the loss.

by Jeremy Bullmore

Now he's leaving and our new and ambitious accountant is certain to uncover the losses. Shall I play the innocent and pretend it was the previous accountant's fault (he'll be retired by then) or come clean and admit that I've known about it all along? In my defence, the financial situation is starting to improve.

A: It's all too easy to imagine how you got yourself into this disastrous plight. Faced with a small but embarrassing deficit, you massaged your numbers at the end of one financial year, blithely confident you could easily make up the difference later. You saw this as technically irregular but nothing more than a smoothing out of the figures. No-one would know. No harm done.

But, of course, that initial deficit proved impossible to repair; so with every year, the gap got wider and the scale of the necessary deception greater. I bet it was only in retrospect that you came to realise the magnitude of the hole you'd dug for yourself.

Understandable it may be, and I do have some sympathy for you. But the time for dissembling is well and truly over. That the financial situation is now improving provides you with no defence. It is not even relevant.

That you should consider dumping the blame on the retiring accountant is both impractical and despicable.

You have absolutely no choice but to come clean immediately. Your old accountant is certain to be implicated, but you must protect him as much as you can: he was, after all, following your lead.

I hope your company doesn't decide to bring criminal proceedings against you - but as I'm sure you now realise, it could. If any part of your bonus was based on your fraudulent divisional figures, you'll be particularly vulnerable.

At best, you've jeopardised your career, your reputation and your pension.

Show any weasel signs of truculence or self-pity from now on and you'll lose the support of even the most forgiving. Only total openness and evident, sincerely felt remorse will do. And, I should warn you, even they may not do enough.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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