Before I start in to this, I have to share what has become my favorite family story about saving Sweet Briar.  A couple of weeks ago my extended family gathered for dinner.  Someone made a comment about my work on saving Sweet Briar, at which point my mother Robin said “Yes Jay, why ARE you doing so much? It’s Ally’s college, not yours!” Not missing a beat (since she never does) Ally quickly cut in “No Robin, there’s a lesson here – never mess with my college or I will sic my husband on you.” I still laugh every time I think about that.  Sooo true.  But on to today’s events…

We all make mistakes, right?  Some people pay their bills and forget to sign the check, turn left when they should turn right, close a college when they don’t have to, or even stake their reputation contained in a 32 page CV1 attached to a supplemental expert report which claims to have found a $17 million error.  It happens.

So let’s look at that last one in the list…  Yesterday I posted an article about SBC’s own expert uncovering misrepresentations in their audited financials.   I really couldn’t see how the company that has been preparing the audited financials for years could have consistently made this error and never have it caught by any of the four CFOs the college has had.  I am not a CPA, and the accounting I do know has never delved into accounting for non-profit endowments, so I asked for some CPAs to help me out. Several responded to the call, and there was much discussion.

I was still struggling with the whole Net Unrestricted Assets thing when I was sent this explanation from Jessica Hiveley (’97) in which she was making the case that the expert’s adjustments were correct (she had also sent a spreadsheet):

In any case, the Net Assets concept is somewhat similar to the Equity concept used by for-profit companies; it can be a bellwether for how a company is doing, financially.  If I were on the Board, I would look at the total unrestricted net assets to get a sense of how the operations are doing, and whether there’s enough on hand to cover expenses in case of emergency, etc.  However, the unrestricted net assets includes real estate, which, while you can sell it and use the cash from the sale, you can’t really include it in ‘money on hand to pay the bills tomorrow’ — sort of like including a car and house in your net worth.  So, by excluding the real estate from the unrestricted net assets (which I do on rows 22 and 35), you can get a pretty good gauge of how things are going.  As you can see, the amount originally reported on row 22 paints a much different picture than the restated amount on row 35.  If I were on the Board, and if I would have seen the correct amounts, I would have been raising the alarm bells and waving the red flags long before now, especially if this error goes back several years.

AH HA!!!!

They both fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against Jay Orsi when his wife’s college is on the line!” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!2

Pssssst!  Hey!  Accounting dude! I see what you did – you made that adjustment like you would for any other non-profit because real estate is part part of net unrestricted assets, and that would make total sense and be a good call…

UNLESS THE LAND WAS RESTRICTED AND COULD NEVER BE SOLD, you know, like, it ain’t unrestricted?

To be clear: Jessica was looking at this in a very narrow scope, for free, in her spare time in an effort to help me understand why the guy was doing.  She is my new best friend today.  🙂   On the other hand, the expert CPA with a CV longer than my car was paid to arrive at this conclusion, and went so far as to append his original report in order to specifically make this error.  lol

And as for the other two numbers he adjusted? They magically add up to the exact same number as the $17M error, and he did not give any real details showing how he arrived at those numbers. Furthermore, he states the endowment was only $86 million when the financials show there were $88 million of investments.  How is the endowment smaller than the investment portfolio?  Looks like a plug to me.

Here’s a spreadsheet if any of you number crunchers want to take a look.

That report never should have been written, much less filed.  SBC should ask for a refund.  The audited financials are correct.

BOOM!

<drops mic>

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  1. 32 pages?  REALLY?!  Dude… Expert Witness CV template “1.4.1 brevity (as a guide, a CV should not generally extend beyond 3 pages)”.  Nobody cares that you went to a 1 hour CE class in 1994.

  2. See how I set that up?  Oh the cleverness of me!