Retired Andersen CEO and Managing Parter, Duane Kullberg was part of a panel discussion that went on at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin this week where he was the featured speak on the “The Rise and Fall of Arthur Andersen”.
Mr Kullberg was part of a panel that included our friendJim Peterson of Re:Balance and Bill Goodman, President of Schneck SC, a firm with offices throughout Wisconsin that also discussed the future of the audit profession.
Mr Kullberg served as the Andersen CEO from 1980 to 1989 but “the profit-driven company culture in the 1990s, that valued sales more highly than the ethically rigorous auditing practices that built the accounting firm,” was ultimately brought the firm down.
The greed came from the development of the consulting business that became a signficant part of Andersen’s business during the 1980s:
By the time Kullberg took the reins, Andersen was an international player, increasingly involved in providing consulting services. By 1988, it was the largest consulting firm worldwide, deriving 40 percent of earnings from that side of the business.
That brought growing demand for greater independence and a bigger piece of the money pie from partners on the consulting side, while those on the tax-audit side militated against revising the company’s historic approach to treating all partners as financial equals.
So the seeds for the firm’s demise were planted long ago and it was due, dare we say, partners that were jealous over the booming consulting side of the house. After Kullberg split the consulting from the audit/tax the feuding got bad and lawyers got involved. Then the bright idea of rebirthing the consulting business within the audit/tax firm came about:
Under Kullberg, two operating units were created: Arthur Andersen, the tax-audit/accounting group, and Andersen Consulting, both under Andersen Worldwide, each under its own managing partner.
The equal compensation system also was revised, with funds being set aside to reward individual partners and teams of partners for superior performance.
Fissures widened dramatically in 1997 when Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) won an arbitration against Andersen Worldwide and broke off on its own after the tax-audit group set up its own competing consulting service
“All of a sudden, they went back into the arena of business consulting. It was untenable,” Kullberg said.
The rest of this story is well-known. If not, there’s a play coming out this spring. That should catch you up.