From Spreadsheets to Shareholder Letters: A Value Proposition for 404 Work

“Future Growth Drivers with the acquisition of PowerQuest and ONTechnology during the year, our market opportunity sits at more than $30 billion, with a forecasted compounded annual growth rate of nearly 20%. This position provides Symantec with the opportunity to deliver strong double-digit growth over time. We enter fiscal year 2005 with an unprecedented leadership opportunity and a clear intent to capitalize on the product breadth and capabilities that set us apart. We plan to move forward in our key growth markets, using the power of our technology platforms to meet the needs of customers, effectively leverage an ecosystem of partners, and provide more value to our shareholders. Our relationships with customers and channel partners are clearly driving Symantec’s results. By responding to their requirements with a broad portfolio of technologies for securing and managing the complexity of today’s IT environments, we help customers reduce the cost of dealing with an increasingly complex infrastructure and help ensure the integrity of their most precious asset information. In doing so, we expect to realize the true growth potential of our company.”

The above extraction from the 2005 Symantec shareholder letter was presented by my Introduction to Accounting class last week. As the presenting students, mostly young 20 some things, proudly read this passage, I could not help but think what a pile of feline excrement this was (Ron Baker simply thought that the passage had been created by some form of Dilbert™ shareholder letter creation machine). I inquired as to what they thought about this passage and, without dissent, I was told that they liked it and they described how it was communicating the opportunities and direction of Symantec.

Holding my lunch contents below my esophagus, I editorialized my opinion as to the uselessness of such writings. Not only is it a prime example of sophomoric collegiate hyperbole reminiscent of a futile attempt at trying to impress the professor with clever language its obtuseness cancels any true communication.

Maybe I am alone in this thinking, however here it is: Lets amend SOX and have qualified Communication Auditors (CAs) certify that the external communications are written in clear and plain language. Instead of the overly common litigation-paranoid dispatches where much is written and little is said, the CAs would simplify and clarify. Maybe we should utilize the famous Einstein “kid test”. Meaning if a 6 year old can comprehend the message, then there is clarity; if not, “ReDo” until it passes the kid test.

Who cares about the technical attributes of a spreadsheet to properly calculate the accrued vacation of a division when the written report to the company’s owners is completely unintelligible? And… I don’ t know about you, but I would think that auditing, testing, and clarifying shareholder communications would be a more enjoyable career then re-footing spreadsheets. Additionally, there are probably large segments of under-employed English majors, languishing in unchallenging positions at the local 7-11 that would simply leap at the chance to work in a SOX C3 (C3 means: Clear, Compelling, and Communicative) environment. These CAs, leveraging their honed C3 skills would ultimately write an auditor’s report, opining that was is written, is in fact, presenting all necessary information in conformity with Generally Accepted Communication Standards (GACS) and that they followed appropriate Statements on Auditing Corporate Communications, (SACS). This report would be, of course, written by the Institute for Financial Accounting Communication (IFAC) . I can just envision the auditors’ report, written by a committee, it ultimately supplants the refuse it was intended to prevent with its own hideousness.

So….upon reflection – maybe I’ll just sell my shares in Symantec because if they can not communicate their vision with clarity, how will I know if they ever achieve that which they indicate is achievable and instead invest my money in something more tangible, like the Tulip Bulbs from Holland.

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