When a Federal Bankruptcy Judge appointed a fraud investigator to lead the uncovering of details in what would become the largest payroll tax fraud case in U.S. history, that professional picked a 30 year-old to run communications for his operation.
The fraud examiner who was put in charge of untangling a mess of historic crime and thievery was Joe Whall, who passed away last weekend at 82, after a truly remarkable career. That 30 year-old was me.
In recent years, I realized that most of the people who helped me jump start my PR career were either retired or had passed away. I have tried to make time to thank as many of them as possible and let them know how much their confidence and trust has meant to me, when thinking back on the experiences that gave a broadcast news guy giving PR a try an established track record. With Joe, though, I never created the chance. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about him and what he did for me with the hope that it will motivate you to do what I should have done. Please reach out while you still can to someone who put you in a position to succeed.
Joe Whall started out as a Detroit cop, then owned a security company then became a forensic accountant. In everything he did, Joe was guided by a sense of values – right vs. wrong meant everything to him and he could consistently separate the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” He was also guided by a sense of humor.
We first got to know each other professionally when he got the opportunity of a career. His firm was hired to investigate and root out fraud at a gigantic payroll company. The owners had fleeced its customers for years, taking money out of paychecks that was supposed to pay health insurance premiums and, of most interest to the government, taxes, and used it to line their pockets. The Court appointed Joe CEO of the company, after a government raid that seized more than a million documents. With the company’s owners arrested, Joe’s job was to not only determine how the fraud occurred, but also keep the company as a going concern, with a plan to generate revenue to pay the company’s debts. News reporters were calling him daily, as it was a big story. He chose media to handle that, all the way through a plan of reorganization and a sale with the company, trusting my counsel when I barely had the skills or experience to develop it. He trusted my gut, our PR plan worked, and I’ll always appreciate it. This case was one of several from those days that I do and will always draw from when working with clients in business crisis.
Together, we worked on communications for a few more high-profile Whall investigations, including for a school district whose superintendent staged a special millage for a technology tax that ended up funding his family IT business. After the school board accepted that report, I was invited out for dinner with the Whall Group team and treated like a true member of it. I’ll never forget it.
Joe and his son, Chris, a CPA who was his right hand on the high-profile cases, saw how good of a business outsourced HR could be when done honestly, so they started their own company – Dynamic HR, for which Tanner Friedman has been an appreciative client since our day one.
While I wish I had said this to Joe himself, I write now to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – please know that his memory will live on, with great appreciation and gratitude.