Published October 24, 2012
Eric Sikola has been looking at expense report data long enough to know the most-extravagant items that employees actually get approved on their expense reports.
Mr. Sikola is chief executive of ExpenseCloud, a privately held provider of software that allows employees to file expense reports by snapping photos of receipts with mobile phones.
He can't help but look at trends in the data his company collects. And topping his list are--you guessed it--strip clubs.
No recession, no sluggish recovery, no looming fiscal cliff has been powerful enough to stop guys from taking their best clients out for a really good time.
"It happens all over the place," Mr. Sikola said, "but it happens in Texas more than anywhere else."
He has no explanation for this regional spike in expensed strip-club visits. It may be that some towns in the Lone Star State offer no better place for lunch.
"You can go there and have a good steak. Sit there and watch a football game," Mr. Sikola said. "It's not just a place to go and get a lap dance. Theoretically, that's what we may be seeing expensed."
Yeah, sure. Unfortunately, his data doesn't break down what's spent on food, what's spent on drinks, and what's spent on gyrating naked women. But another extravagance on Mr. Sikola's list are receipts from Victoria's Secret.
"What the heck is somebody expensing at Victoria's Secret?" he said. "These aren't just $5 gift cards."
He doesn't have an explanation for this either. It's just in the data.
"It's just funny that this goes on in America," he said.
I have expensed some odd things over the course of my career, including a $395 heart scan. (And no a stripper didn't break my heart.) I had this imaging procedure done in 2004 after President Clinton had his heart attack. I wrote about the calcium buildup in my own pump.
What I learned is that I will never live long enough to expense tens of thousands of dollars worth of wine. Maybe it's because I'm a Bud man. But unfathomable wine tabs are also on Mr. Sikola's list.
"It could be they closed a million-dollar deal and decided to buy five or ten grand worth of wine for the client," he explained, "but it kind of makes you go, wow, that's a lot of wine."
This isn't even what they do at big companies. Mr. Sikola's clients are mostly firms with 1,000 or fewer employees. They are professional services providers, consultants, attorneys, and sales people who are wining, dining and lap-dancing their way into deals.
Besides those from Victoria's Secret, Mr. Sikola said he sees a lot of receipts from Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) and Men's Wearhouse Inc. (MW). Perhaps folks spill some of that $10,000 wine order on themselves, then they have to buy a new suit or two on the company's tab.
Some people will expense anything no matter how well they are paid, nickeling and diming their companies for sport. One recent example: Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) employee Greg Smith has a tell-all book out that complains of an executive expensing a $1 tube of ChapStick for a client while out on a ski trip.
Don't worry. The ChapStick is on me.
What an employee can expense starts with the culture of a company, Mr. Sikola said. Some companies seem to believe they have to spend more to make more. Others, not so much.
"Some companies could care less about a receipt," he said. "Some require a receipt for a penny."
Another item on his list: parking tickets.
Imagine being able to violate parking laws with abandon, knowing the fines will go to your employer. Pull up to any Victoria's Secret or strip club you like. Leave the car there all night. Who cares? The boss is paying.
"We are not judging it," Mr. Sikola said. "We just know people are submitting it."
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)