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Understanding Bankruptcy

Driving The Ambulance
and Not the Hearse

The idea that bankruptcy is useful and important was something I learned as a child in Canada. I grew up with bankruptcy because my father, Murray Hahn, was an accountant who specialized in insolvency. (In Canada, the role of bankruptcy trustee is often filled by an accountant.) As I got older I would, from time to time, help out in my father's office, where I learned about insolvency and bankruptcy.

My grandfather, Irving Hahn, often worked for my father. My grandfather's job was to process the assets when a small business needed to be liquidated. After taking a full inventory, he would organize whatever he found to ensure that what remained of the business could be accounted for and sold efficiently. As a teenager, I sometimes helped my grandfather, and I have many memories of counting, lifting, moving, and organizing.

My father was an innovator in his field, and I grew up watching him assist many, many people. Murray Hahn saw his job as being more than a businessman. He taught me that the role of the bankruptcy trustee was to give the honest debtor a second chance, a task he carried out for many years. In February, 1997, his professional contributions were honored, when he was made a life member of the Canadian Insolvency Practitioners Association.

Over the years, my father handled a great many bankruptcies, sometimes for high-profile companies. However, he also helped individuals, including a many small-business owners. His favorite saying was that his job was to "drive the ambulance, not the hearse".

As such, my father devoted much of his time to counseling people who were down on their luck. He taught his clients how to reorganize their obligations and how to budget their money, making it possible for them to continue to earn a living and, thus, maintain their dignity.

When my father talked about his work, he would tell me that he considered himself to be as much a social worker as an accountant. Over the years, as I watched him help so many clients and their families, I realized just how important his job was — what he did made a difference.

As a result, I learned a lot about why businesses fail (the biggest reason being poor management), and how important bankruptcy could be to both individuals and businesses, especially small businesses. What I didn't understand until I was older is that bankruptcy itself is one of the most important tools of modern economics.

Read more about Murray Hahn

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