In my forthcoming book, The People Zoo, there is a major section dealing with Mentoring. Some of the stories deal with people who mentored or assisted me at critical times in my career. Some of the stories are about how I mentored others. What follows is one of those. With the start of a new year and a world filled with uncertainty, I thought a fun story, with a message, might be perfect. As always, this is a true story, from my days in public accounting, which I call:

Saving Smelly Harvey’s Career

Well that is quite a title even for a book called The People Zoo!

This may be a story of extreme mentoring but maybe it is just an excellent example of how open, honest discussion with a young person can sometimes really help.

Harvey, not his real name, was a young audit assistant in the Cleveland office of Arthur Andersen, a fine firm that had somehow just promoted me to Senior Auditor. Harvey was one of forty young assistants hoping to work hard for a dozen or more years and climb the ladder with hopes of someday becoming one of the select, very well-paid Partners.

Young assistant auditors like Harvey worked in a range of industries and audit engagements reporting to up to as many as a dozen senior auditors over the course of a year. These senior auditors, of which I was now one, were only a couple years older but we had power since we evaluated, promoted and recommended that an assistant “pursue other interests” outside of AA&Co. A big deal at age 25!

One day a bunch of us Senior Auditors are in the office and we are comparing notes on this year’s crop of assistants. This same conversation occurs in every service organization-law firms, hospitals, and especially on television shows like Grey’s Anatomy! This type of constant evaluation and ranking also occurs throughout nature. The alpha wolves watch the younger ones and decide who can stay in their pack and who gets sent away. And just like on TV or in a wolf pack, some of the younger assistants are coming out better than others.

The conversation eventually turns to Harvey who had worked for me and several other seniors. On the positive side Harvey is considered bright, likable and a very hard and effective worker.

But there is a negative. One of the other seniors, not delicately, suggests that at the end of a long work day, Harvey smells! Even I agree with this analysis.  And this was a real problem; no one gets to Partner if they smell! It just doesn’t happen.

I nobly say that one of us must talk to Harvey!

Everyone says at once: Right, you do it, Brad!

As it turned out the next week, Harvey and I were traveling out of town together to work on a bank audit. One of the other seniors knew this and once this fact came out I was really stuck! I had to talk to Harvey while we were alone a hundred miles from our Cleveland office.

We would be by ourselves at dinner often that week, so this would be the ideal time, I concluded. But how exactly to bring the subject up? This is not taught in any accounting program at college or even at AA&Co.’s extensive training center.

I decide that at the end of dinner our last evening out of town I will just bring it up. The conversation goes like this:

Brad: Harvey, the other senior auditors and I were talking about you last week and you received high marks on all the critical technical and work areas!

Harvey: Wow! That is great. I really appreciate you telling me. Were there any areas for me to improve?

Brad: Yes, and it was a bit awkward but an issue. At the end of the workday someone suggested you smell. So, I have to ask, do you shower daily?

Harvey: Yes, I do and it’s not always easy since I live with my two brothers.

Brad: Wow. Ok. Here is a thought. Do you use deodorant every day?

Harvey (looking down, never good in a wolf pack): No actually I don’t. My family just never did.

Brad: Why don’t you try it! I use Right Guard!

Harvey: I will get some right away and thanks again for taking the time and being so honest with me!

Brad: It’s a senior job and you are a great guy with what everyone agrees is a lot of potential!

Epilogue part one: Harvey corrected the issue. We became very good friends. I was at his wedding to Sue (her real name), a wonderful woman.

Epilogue part two: A dozen years later, Harvey became a Partner in AA&Co. They moved to Cincinnati, and we sadly lost touch. Maybe he will read this story and call! Maybe even take his old mentor and his wife out to dinner! And I assume he is still using Right Guard!