• Accounting News Roundup: Public Shame, Layoffs and Audit Campaigns | 03.01.17

    By | March 1, 2017

    Public shame

    By now, everyone knows that PwC partner Brian Cullinan handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty which set off the huge Best Picture fiasco at the Oscars. This is the version that was widely reported on Monday and then confirmed by the firm later in the day. Whether his tweeting was the culprit or not, we’ll probably never know, but in the court of the public opinion, it’s that distraction that led to the mistake.

    The Wall Street Journal got the microscope out for a closer look at Cullinan and, no surprise, he’s a smart, affable guy who enjoys his job:

    A record-setting javelin thrower at Cornell University, Mr. Cullinan has been considered by Hollywood executives and the city’s nonprofit community to be an affable, professional accountant called in to deliver frank assessments about studio finances. A more than 30-year veteran of PwC, he became known to new audiences since he was named co-leader of the firm’s Oscar balloting team in 2014, and immediately showed himself comfortable with the gig’s showmanship. That year, he walked the red carpet carrying a briefcase of winning envelopes, and had a mock tug-of-war with nominee Cate Blanchett over it.

    “He definitely enjoyed that day of being in the spotlight,” said one Hollywood executive who worked with Mr. Cullinan.

    The same executive said that the firm loved it too. “[PwC] definitely embraced that dynamic: ‘We’re part of the Oscars ceremony. We’re not just the auditors.”

    Can you blame Cullinan? Or the firm? It’s show business, after all. Would everyone be happier if the partner was a wooden, joyless, party pooper? Yes, we had no trouble mocking all the gimmicks and hype around it, but they have full-time employees who come up with that stuff. It’s their job! Huge companies don’t waste these high-profile moments, they exploit them. PwC is no different.

    And because we’re simply talking about tabulating some ballots and handing envelopes to people, no one thought anything could wrong. Especially PwC. And when it did go wrong, in such spectacular fashion, people relish in shaming those responsible. In this case, that’s mostly falling on Cullinan. Not everyone agrees with PwC  singling him out, but that’s what the firm chose to do.

    As a culture, this is what we do now; when regular people make highly visible mistakes, we buckle them in, jeer and whip digital tomatoes at them until the next person worthy of our scorn comes along. The brilliant Jon Ronson wrote an entire book about it and someone should give Brian Cullinan a copy. At this point, he should at least know that he’s not alone in this 21st Century version of public humiliation.

    Elsewhere: 5 PwC Scandals Far Worse than Oscar Envelopegate Mix Up

    Caught on tape!

    While many people will feel bad for Brian Cullinan, I doubt anyone is going to pity Uber CEO Travis Kalanick after a video of him being a jerkstore to an Uber Black driver was given to Bloomberg.

    The exchange between the two men included this choice quote from Kalanick: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”

    He’s apologized.

    Layoffs: inDinero

    Accounting startup inDinero is laying off 20 people, according to multiple reports.

    What’s the IRS up to?

    According to the Wall Street Journal, auditing more offshore earnings and transfer pricing as part of a baker’s dozen of new “audit campaigns.”

    Previously, on Going Concern…

    John Prumatico wrote about accountants’ résumés. Also, we stumbled across a photo of AICPA CEO Barry Melancon having an interesting conversation.

    In other news:

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    Image: iStock/SIphotography

    • Big4Veteran

      1. Brian Cullinan is not a victim. I do not understand the sympathy many people are expressing towards him.

      2. Cullinan is not the only culprit. His partner, Martha Ruiz, deserves criticism as well. She could’ve (should’ve) rushed the stage as soon as the wrong winner was announced. She could have reduced the damage. Instead, she froze and panicked (just like Cullinan).

      3. I understand PwC’s urge to squeeze every last ounce of publicity out of the Oscars. But all of these stunts now make PwC look exponentially worse in hindsight. The accountants’ job is to stay in the shadows. If everything goes well and no one sees or hears from the accountant, this is the greatest sign that the accountants did their job. PwC already gets plenty of publicity from the standard 30-second “partners on the red carpet holding the briefcases with the envelopes” shot that appears on every Oscars telecast. That has, and always should have been, more than enough publicity for the firm.

      4. As @Big4Veteran tweeted the other day, all PwC (and Big 4 staff) should never forget this incident the next time a partner is reaming their ass for making a relatively much less significant mistake. I KNOW that a staff who makes a mistake 1/100th as bad as the one Cullinan made in front of 100 million people would immediately be fired. I wonder what will happen with Cullinan.

      • Jess

        Every comment you make is spot on. Damn, they both were being stupid.