Only a year ago, Arthur Andersen LLP still looked like it had a chance. Despite threats by the Department of Justice and rumors that major audit clients like Delta Air Lines and News Corp. were jumping ship, the venerable 89-year-old firm seemed as unlikely to sink as the Titanic. “We will survive,” intoned then-CEO Joseph Berardino at a late-January press conference. “People know us. People respect us.”
The “us” quickly dissolved when Justice Department convictions forced the firm to give up its auditing licenses over the summer, leaving companies around the world scrambling for new auditors while a skeleton crew at Andersen juggled the inevitable lawsuits. Perhaps the saddest aspect of the whole debacle, though, has been its impact on Andersen’s respectable employees as they try to move into new jobs.
Overall, about half of Andersen’s 26,000 U.S. employees were swept into deals with other firms, including some 750 partners and 7,000 staff members who joined other Big Four accounting firms. Hundreds of others are finding out what it’s like to work at a start-up, with ex-Andersen partners heading up new specialty practices like Avail Consulting in Houston or Chicago-based Huron Consulting and hiring scores of former associates.
One former partner, Scott Taub, is on the other side of the table as deputy chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission. A few others became CFOs, most notably Melvin Dick, the partner once in charge of the WorldCom account; he became retailer Coldwater Creek’s finance chief in early June.
But many ex-Andersen employees are unaccounted for. “A lot of people clipped out of there because they didn’t want to be associated with the past,” says Allan D. Koltin, president and CEO of the Practice Development Institute. While some have set up Web sites (Andersenalumni.com and Andersenalumni.net, for example) to help foster links among alumni, no comprehensive, updated database of the firm’s erstwhile staff seems to exist. Traditionally, each office kept its own alumni records, according to former employees, and few were concerned with updating them in the haste to shut down.
In general, employers are more than willing to look past Andersen’s unfortunate finish when making hiring decisions. “There’s no taint,” says Gordon Grand, head of Russell Reynolds Associates’s financial officers practice. “On the contrary, people feel very, very badly for them.” Adds Christina Robinson, a Houston-based executive recruiter for ProStaff Finance & Accounting: “Even people who worked on the Enron account have had tremendous success finding new work.”
Atlanta-based Atlantic American Corp., a holding company for four insurance companies, lavishly detailed former Andersen partner John Sample’s various insurance industry assignments in an April 2002 press release announcing his hire as CFO. Sample, who had spent his entire career at Andersen, had worked with Atlantic through 1999. As a result, “there are few people who know more about Atlantic American, its business, and its people, than John,” said CEO Hilton Howell.
ChoicePoint Inc., Ernst & Young LLP, and Ilex Oncology Inc. made similar disclosures when they hired former Andersen partners to fill their CFO positions. “I have no problem with the Andersen association,” says Brian Rye, an Ilex analyst at Raymond James. “What would have given me greater pause was if they’d gotten someone completely outside the industry.”
John Bednarski, a litigation-services specialist, says his eight years with Andersen weren’t even an issue when he looked for jobs last spring. And since he’s joined Detroit-based consulting firm AlixPartners, about one-third of the office’s new hires have been former Andersen employees, with more likely to come. “You had to be an intelligent, fairly affable person to get hired at Andersen, and certainly to survive there,” says Bednarski. “As we’re growing, that’s the kind of people we’re looking for.” Personally, he says he’s in better shape post-breakup, with “essentially the same job” he had at Andersen but at a 40 percent higher salary and half the commute time.
Still, the transitions haven’t all been easy. “We were twice as big as the next-biggest accounting firm in Houston, and you don’t get that way without being good,” says Warren White, who logged 171/2 years with Andersen before cofounding valuation-services firm Avail Consulting LLC this past July. Now, he says, many of his former colleagues who have gone on to other firms are getting “ego shocks” when they are asked to adapt to a new culture. “They’re happy to have a job, but some of them feel somewhat like second-class citizens.” That Andersen partners auditing the clients they have brought with them often get double-checked and shadowed by incumbent partners doesn’t help matters, says Koltin. “Even when it’s not intentional, there’s the implication that somehow the Andersen partner might not be as trustworthy.”
Even Sample says his new job has taken some getting used to, even though he has known most of his new colleagues for years. Andersen “was a highly charged, very demanding atmosphere,” he says, with as many as 1,300 people in the Atlanta office. Now, at the much-smaller Atlantic, “I find myself involved in a lot more of the nuisance issues, things that at Andersen someone else would have dealt with.”
With the illusion of lifetime employment now gone for former Andersen partners, and new restrictions on the types of consulting services big accounting firms can provide, Koltin and others say the job transitions aren’t over yet.
Meanwhile, former CEO Berardino has struck out on a new career path of his own: the lecture circuit. With several big speeches under his belt in 2002, including one at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’s annual leadership conference this past November, he’s slated to cap off another conference, sponsored by The Advisory Board this month in Las Vegas entitled “Winning Is Everything.”
Alix Nyberg is a staff writer at CFO.
U.S. hires of some former Andersen employees.
Source: The companies
BearingPoint (formerly KPMG consulting): 1,575
Deloitte & Touche: 2,500
Ernst & Young: 2,300
Grant Thornton: 500
Protiviti (subsidiary of Robert Half): 760