To me, WGN-TV in Chicago is synonymous with three things: the Chicago Cubs (sadly, only for one more year), Bozo the Clown, and Tom Skilling. For more than three decades, Skilling has been chief meteorologist at WGN, and he celebrated his 40th year with the station last August. While other meteorologists in Chicago get three- […]
When people ask, "Is so-and-so the next Enron?" they usually don't make a strong case that "so-and-so" is much like Enron. Rather, "It's involves some accounting mumbo jumbo, so let's call it Enron." Which brings us to Valeant Pharmaceuticals, who hasn't had a good day. A report from Citron Research claims that the company is […]
And it's not even close! Over at Crain's, Claire Bushey reports on the pecking order of the largest accounting firms in the Windy City: In 2014, New York-based accounting giant Deloitte stood head-and-shoulders above other Big Four firms in Chicago, raking in fees totaling more than $76.5 million from companies here. In the local market, […]
Enron declared bankruptcy on December 2, 2001. Two days later, Andersen CEO Joe Berardino wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, responded to the events in a very accountant-like fashion: My firm is Enron's auditor. We take seriously our responsibilities as participants in this capital-markets system; in particular, our role as auditors of year-end financial […]
Enron's former CFO was at the University of New Mexico last week speaking about, well, fraud and stuff because that's pretty much the only thing you can do when you're a well-known convicted felon who played a part in bringing down your former company and a prestigious accounting firm. Water under the bridge and all […]
Normally, having a heart attack is a terrible thing. As an old guy, it's near the bottom of your to-do list and you likely do everything you can to avoid it, including giving up cigarettes, red meat, and fast women. For Enron founder Ken Lay, a heart attack was the best thing that could have […]
The other night I was listening to Episode #2 of the Thrivecast (which I highly recommend) with Jason Blumer and Greg Kyte. At one point in the podcast they were talking about innovation in the accounting profession and Jason made a comment that struck me: "The PCAOB is new and they have a slew of regulations. Cool. I got a new […]
“In my opinion, the problem today is 10 times worse than it was when Enron had its implosion in what was called the era of corporate fraud,” said Fastow. “The things that Enron did, and that I did, are being done today. In many cases, they’re being done in such a manner that makes me […]
Skillz, who has been in prison since 2006, had his 24-year sentence reduced today by 10 years by virtue of a "court-ordered reduction and a separate agreement with prosecutors." This has been an ongoing battle ever since JS appealed his sentence and it was vacated in 2009 because "a sentencing guideline was improperly applied." Persistence pays off! […]
The good news for ex-Enron CEO Jeff Skilling is that he'll be released from prison almost 10 years earlier than his original sentence of 24 years. The bad news is that the release date is still four years away and while his attorney appreciates the closure, he feels there's still some injustice: "The proposed agreement brings certainty and […]
Maybe not Christmas 2013, but some Christmas in the not so distant future: Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who is serving a 24-year prison term for his role in the energy giant's epic collapse, could get out of prison early under an agreement being discussed by his attorneys and the Justice Department, CNBC has learned. Skilling, who was […]
With apologies to Crazy Eddie's Sam Antar, Andrew Fastow might be the most notorious CFO in the history of financial reporting fiction. Mr. Fastow, as you're probably aware, was the Chief off-balance sheet-SPE web-builder at Enron. In other words, he's one of the guys you should probably be thanking for your jobs. Fastow was released […]
As dutiful capital market servants, it is crucial that you know all the important dates in the history of your craft. The day Andersen died. The first day the computerized CPA exam was offered. The moment you knew that your joke of a college band was going nowhere and that a degree in accounting was […]
The ex-CFO of Enron, oh humbly, asks: "If the internal and external auditors and lawyers sign off on it, does that make it okay?" History has shown us that, "that all depends." However, maybe things have changed? [via HBR]
[caption id="attachment_52236" align="alignright" width="150" caption="People are still letting this man speak."][/caption]
Of course CNBC would put this guy on TV today.
Asked whether lessons had been learned since Enron filed for bankruptcy, Berardino said, “we’re still learning” and pointed to the sovereign debt crisis currently engulfing the euro zone. “(Enron) ran out of time in terms of its liquidity and a lot of the same elements — leverage, the need for liquidity, crisis when you lose confidence — are repeated in all those examples. And I would argue we’re now living through it with the sovereign crisis in Europe,” he said. “There are a lot of the same elements.”
Now, I don’t know Professor Ketz personally, but my highly acute sarcasm detector is going batshit crazy. Less subtly, MACPA Editor Bill Sheridan gives us the timeline of the events that transpired starting with Enron’s filing. Bill gets a little weepy about the whole affair, writing:
Remember how utterly chaotic that time was? News that shook CPAs to the core surfaced almost daily, and the next day brought even worse news.
Okay, I was in college when Enron went bankrupt so I don’t remember things being “chaotic” unless you count the whole “9/11 was less than 3 months ago” thing. What I do remember was an Andersen partner who came to campus for our Accounting Society meeting (BAP didn’t have a chapter at my school) alone and he didn’t really seem to know anything more than what I imagine was being reported in the news and our faculty advisor noticed it too. So for him and his fellow partners, yes, things were probably royally sucking. And yes, things did get worse when Andersen was convicted* of obstruction of justice, surrendered their state licenses and closed up shop.
So maybe all that stuff is bad. Maybe it’s really fucking bad and it causes people to cringe to think about it but even Bill sees the upside:
You could argue that the profession is better off because of it. We took our lumps, rolled with the punches, and emerged on the far side stronger and more trustworthy than ever. “That which doesn’t kill you,” etc., etc. Still, I’m not in any rush to go through something like that again. Are you?
Jesus. Can we quit acting like Enron is still a big deal? Lehman Brothers was the size of ten Enrons. TEN. And Ernst & Young, no matter what happens, looks like idiots and continues to claim that they bear no responsibility and everything is still hunky dory. Andersen got off easy. Enron went bankrupt. The firm got fired. And fired again. And again. Then the firm died. The end. Their partners and employees moved on and everything was cool. I mean seriously, even C.E. Andrews got another job. If Ernst & Young continues on, they’ll have this hanging over them until something worse happens. Enjoy that.
But back to Enron. Thanks to Enron, we got Sarbanes-Oxley. We got The Smartest Guys in the Room. And we got that awesome Heineken ad. If you think about it, lots of you probably got your job thanks to Enron. Which means you probably owe your house, your spouse, your dog and a whole bunch of other shit to Enron too. You should be thanking your lucky stars that Jeff Skilling was such a ballsy mark-to-market wizard.
And yet people choose to remember it as, “That one time where we almost DIED!” And the mainstream press, in its blissful accounting ignorance, loves to dig it up in every article that is remotely accounting related.
I don’t know about you all but I’ve moved on. Enron was this bad thing that happened to the accounting profession but other bad things have happened – far worse things – and other equally bad things will happen. Maybe if people had learned something the last ten years and tried to do things better instead of maintaining the status quo, there wouldn’t be a French guy busting your chops. Here’s to the next 100 years. Thanks, Enron.
*SCOTUS overturned the conviction on a technicality (apparently an important one) but that doesn’t bring the firm back now, does it?
Technically! He’ll be in a halfway house until later this year (BOP says December 17) but getting out of the big house has to feel good.
However, Drew won’t be able to apply for a position at one of those Chinese companies who are losing CFOs left and right. He still has to get reacquainted with society and whatnot:
“It’s a bridge, if you will, a transition period,” said bureau spokesman Edmond Ross. The purpose of the halfway house is for prisoners to reestablish family ties and adjust to society outside of prison, he said. Prisoners are allowed to leave the facility to go to their jobs, but their movements are still controlled. “They cannot come and go as they please,” said Ross. “Their lives are restricted to the rules of the halfway house.”
First things first, Andy – Twitter account. Oh, and maybe subscribe to our enewsletter.
“[R]eally, when you get down to it, the guys at Enron never would have done this. This is so blatant, so extreme,” Gates said of state governments’ accounting practices generally. “Is anyone paying attention to some of the things these guys do? They borrow money — they’re not supposed to, but they figure out a way — they make you pay more in withholding to help their cashflow out, they sell off the assets, they defer the payments, they sell off the revenues from tobacco.” [HuffPo]
“I don’t think the SEC’s culture is one that will make this effective one iota,” said Sherron Watkins, a one-time vice president at Enron, referring to expanded protections for whistleblowers included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. If she was in the same situation today as 10 years ago, when Watkins approached government authorities about accounting fraud at Enron, she would probably instead take her information to an organization like WikiLeaks, Watkins said. [Paper Trail]
U.S. Lawmakers Reach Accord on New Finance Rules [WSJ]
By the end of this one, can’t you picture an exhausted Barney Frank with his tie loosened to mid-torso, pants undone with fly wide open open and some staffer dabbing his sweaty brow?
“After more than 20 hours of continuous wrangling, Congressional Democrats and White House officials reached agreement on the final shape of legislation that would transform financial regulation, avoiding last-minute defections among New York lawmakers that had threatened to upend the bill.
After months of uncertainty about how the U.S. would craft new rules, the agreement offers th ince the financial crisis of how markets and the government will interact for decades to come. The common thread: large financial companies are facing a tougher leash.”
Just in case you missed it yesterday, former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt isn’t nearly as excited as some people about the bill. The President is expected to sign the bill before July 4.
Sidenote on this one: how the Journal managed to slip Maxine Waters through as one of a dozen “players” in this bill should cause you to question – if even for just a minute – the credibility of the paper.
Florida Appeals Court Turns Down Heat, For Now, On BDO Seidman [Re: The Auditors]
Francine’s take on the decision by the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal to order a trial in the Banco Espirito v. BDO case. An event she isn’t thrilled about, “My doubts about the efficacy of a new trial are based on the disappointing, frustrating and completely unsatisfying way the court and the judges in this case have proceeded. Some of the additional comments raised by the Appeals Court do not bode well for this plaintiff’s chances next time around.”
Supreme Court Rolls Back a Law Born of Enron [NYT/Floyd Norris]
In more Congressional ineptitude (at least in the eyes of the SCOTUS), former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling won his case at the high court, arguing that “the concept of committing fraud through depriving an employer of ‘honest services’ was not adequately defined in the law,” Floyd Norris writes.
In other words, the “idea” of fraud being a kickback or a bribe is obvious and was defined. Manipulating mark-to-market and off-balance sheet accounting rules or “something else equally outrageous” were not and thus the law was unconstitutional. Long story/short, Norris writes, is that
Funny story on the way to this Skilling outcome – if the SCOTUS rules against the PCAOB (it is expected on Monday), “It will blame Congress for writing bad laws,” Norris writes. And who forced Congress into action on Sarbanes-Oxley?
BP: Oil-Spill Cost Hits $2.35 Billion [WSJ]
Has anyone handicapped this? Obviously the $20 billion reserve is a good ballpark figure but the overs have to be a pretty solid bet on that. Takers?
Caturano being acquired by RSM McGladrey [Boston Business Journal]
The firm fka RSM McGladrey purchased Caturano and Company, the fifth largest firm in Boston. The deal, if approved by H&R Block, would make
RSM McGladrey…the fifth largest firm in Boston.
“Could you buy me a cup of coffee? Inmates aren’t allowed to touch money or approach the machines. They could put me in solitary for a week.”
~ The former Enron CEO is adjusting to his 24 year vacation.
After mixed reviews, it seems that no combination of nostalgic accounting fraud, raptors in Brooks Brothers and former President Charles Logan could save Enron the musical.
Enron on Broadway to Close Sunday, May 9TH, 2010 [Broadway’s Best Shows]
So preview of Enron the musical opens in just over two weeks but most of you probably aren’t aware because busy season has been sucking the life out of you. Since we always feel your pain here at GC, it somehow slipped past us that the role of Ken Lay was announced last month and the role has gone to Gregory Itzin who played spineless President Charles Logan in one of the seasons of 24 that we can’t remember.
Anyhoo, since most of you living in New York avoid Times Square (except 5 TS peeps) like the Plague and the rest of you probably need a break, check out a few photos from the Broadhurst sent to us by readers:
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.
• Companies are making fewer accounting mistakes [USA Today]
“In another potential boost to investor confidence, the era of sloppy accounting appears to be ending,” declares USA Today. Okay but perfection is unattainable people, so until machines take over for you, keep at it. In the meantime, the results presented by Audit Analytics certainly indicate that things are going in the right direction.
We don’t want to be the party pooper here but if accounting is less sloppy, i.e. more sophisticated, doesn’t that mean that the methods for massaging the accounting are also more sophisticated? Just chew on that while you check the the findings.
The article lists three reasons for the improvement in reporting:
• There is steady and ongoing improvement. The number of companies with restatements and the number of restatements have declined in each of the past three years.
• Mistakes are getting caught sooner. Among the companies with restatements, errors covered a period of 476 days, or less than a year and a half. That’s down 7% from 2008 and well below the 716 days, or nearly two years, of problematic numbers restated in 2006.
• Restatements are less serious. Restatements reduced companies’ reported earnings by $4.6 million on average last year, down dramatically from the $7.2 million and $23.5 million hits in 2008 and 2006.
Even though it’s virtually impossible to eliminate restatements, we must admit that these are encouraging trends. Another thing to keep in mind is that accounting rules are becoming increasingly complex so it’s not like things will be on cruise control from here on out.
• Defiant Rep. Charles Rangel vows reelection bid despite uproar over alleged ethics violations [NYDN]
Ethics violations be damned! The 79-year-old announced over the weekend that he would be seeking reelection. It would be his 21st term in Congress, first winning election in 1970. Even if Rangs is able to do another victory dance, holding on to his Chairmanship of the Ways & Means will be a different matter entirely. PBO has already distanced himself from Chuck and some are saying that even Nancy Pelosi is getting creeped out a little too.
• Skilling Asks High Court for New Trial Minus ‘Tar and Feathers’ [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
The Supreme Court will consider Jeff Skilling’s appeal today in the Enron scandal that he was convicted of four years ago. Skilling’s attorneys will argue that the trial should not have been held in Houston where it would have been “impossible” to get a fair trial.
Skilling’s appeal says the atmosphere in Houston when the trial began in January 2006 was one of hostility toward him, fed by unrelenting and “searing” media coverage. The appeal points to a Houston Chronicle column titled “Your Tar and Feathers Ready? Mine Are” and a local rap song, “Drop the S Off Skilling.”
The 12 jurors reflected that antipathy, Skilling contends. During pretrial questioning, three said they were “angry,” three said they had negative feelings toward Skilling or doubted his impartiality and one said that all CEOs were “greedy,” according to his appeal.
Skilling is currently doing far worse than tar and feathers (probably NBD in this day and age), serving a 24 year sentence in a Colorado prison. If the SCOTUS rules in his favor on the “jury-bias” issue Skilling would get a new trial which open old wounds and could create a media circus (we hope).
They already share a first name.
Other than that, they probably don’t have much in common but does anybody else have a problem with the fact that the head of the energy trading unit that Citigroup sold to Occidental last year is setting up a hedge fund?
It would be an entirely different situation if Andrew Hall were leaving Occidental to do this, but he isn’t. Instead, he will wear both hats simultaneously.
That sure sounds like a clear conflict of interest to us. After all, fee structure of a hedge fund clearly incentivizes Hall to favor its investors over Occidental’s, though the oil company has a 20 percent equity stake in the fund.
The FT doesn’t explore this issue for some reason, referring merely to the fact that the two companies will be run “separately” and that the trades will be done “in parallel,” whatever that means.
And the article’s point about this deal having an air of history about it seems woefully misplaced.
Forget the fact that Hall’s hedge fund, Astenbeck, is named after a village near the historic German castle he owns. The more telling historical reference has to do with the conflict of interest. Indeed, the last time we saw a conflict this clear-cut was when Andrew Fastow ran some of Enron’s key off-balance-sheet partnerships while serving simultaneously as its CFO.
It was the disclosure of that particular factoid in a footnote that helped prompt short seller James Chanos to question Enron’s financial results back in early 2001.
And maybe this is just a coincidence, but Enron was an energy trading company as well. Remember Get Shorty?
As a side note, my colleague Matt Quinn wonders if Hall’s hedge fund will attract a lot of Citigroup’s former fund investors, and even draw Citigroup itself as an investor. That would certainly make sense if the bank is forced to get out of proprietary trading, as the Obama administration is proposing. Plus the bank would get to benefit from trading without having to reflect the risk on its balance sheet.
But the big question is, would Citi and its investors be treated better than Occidental’s shareholders?
The honor goes to Stephen Kunken, best know for his role as James Reston in Frost/Nixon. He will be alongside Norbert Leo Butz who will be playing Jeff Skilling.
We located the list of the cast for the London production of Enron and there is a role for “Arthur Andersen” and two for “Lehman Brothers” so these key roles still need to be filled.
Back to the future Tony winner; we don’t envy the research that Kunken has ahead of him since we’re assuming that he’ll have to channel the book cooking prowess of AF. Then again, since he’s an actor, he only has to pretend to know what he’s talking about with regard to accounting and financial reporting; there’s accountants out there doing that every day.
Kunken Will Play Enron CFO on Broadway [Playbill]
In a development that will destroy the secret society of Big 4 management in the UK, a “radical” governance code has been implemented that will require the Big 4 to appoint outside “independent non-executives” that will oversee “public interest matters; and/or be members of other relevant governance structures within the firm.”
According to the code, these new independent non-executives will make us all feel way better about what audit firms by “enhanc[ing] shareholder confidence in the public interest aspects of the firm’s decision making, stakeholder dialogue and management of reputational risks including those in the firm’s businesses that are not otherwise effectively addressed by regulation.”
But that’s not all! According to the introduction, “It should also benefit capital markets by enhancing choice and helping to reduce the risk of a firm exiting the market for large audits because it has lost public trust.” In other words, everyone still is freaking out about who the next Andersen will be. Apparently this “should” help your concerns by encouraging companies to consider other audit firms.
What a coinky-dink, Grant Thornton was just asking for help on this last week! Not really sure if this what they had in mind for but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?
The Financial Times claims that “Accountants broadly welcomed the move, although some in the firms’ international networks were unhappy about the possibility the UK code might pave the way for ‘creeping regulation’ worldwide.” In other words, people in the U.S. don’t like it one bit.
Plus, the FT didn’t quote any accountants that “welcomed the move”. The exception, of course, is the chair of the group, Norman Murray, who said that the new code was “‘as user-friendly as possible but seen to have some teeth.'” Not sure what that means but it sounds like he’s a believer.
Another member of the board, John Griffith-Jones, co-head of KPMG Europe, was less enthused. All he could manage was that he hoped that the move would put the “‘Enron query to bed.'”
Something tells us your hopes will be dashed, JGJ. Enron is the story that never ends. Especially in the MSM. Plus it’s on the stage now. Those tunes will be in your nightmares.
Auditors required to adopt UK code [FT]
audit firm governance code.pdf
Way back in August we told you about the unimaginable: accounting fraud on the stage. For those of you worried that the British production of Enron wouldn’t make it to the States, we have BIG NEWS for you.
Enron begins previews on April 8th and opens on April 27th at the Broadhurst Theatre and we’re sure it will sweep the Tonys come awards time. That is, if KPMG doesn’t screw up the count.
For you theatre junkies, you’ll be happy to know that Norbert Leo Butz has been cast in the role of Jeff Skilling. NLB is best known for his roles in Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Is He Dead? The rest of the cast has not yet been determined but we’re still pulling for Hugh Jackman in the role of David Duncan.
The preview for the British version appears below and — GASP — mark to market is mentioned. So for those of you that aren’t so culturally inclined, maybe this will been enough to pique your interest. See you at the show.
• Geithner Said to Be Seeking TARP Extension Until Next October – Timmay is expected to scribe a letter to Congress letting them know about the little extension. [Bloomberg]
• Standard Chartered Sees No ‘Material’ Impairments in Dubai – Let’s remember this for future reference. [WSJ]
• Lessons Lost – Gary Weiss links to GC in his remembrance of Enron. Does anyone else remember Enron? [Portfolio]
• Obama’s Stimulus II – BO wants to help small business by letting them “eliminate capital gains taxes on the sale of small firms, allow them to continue to expense capital investment, and give them tax breaks for hiring new workers.” Sounds nice but Howard Gleckman says, “It’s a bit like throwing a drowning man a 64-inch flat panel TV. He might love to have one, but not right now.” [Tax Policy Center]
• U.S. SEC Sues to Freeze Assets Of ‘Ponzi Scheme’ – Rockford Funding Group LLC, come on down! [DealBook]
It goes without saying that the lack of stage and screen productions of anything related to accounting is no accident.
We Americans crave the spoon-fed Hollywood experience and don’t have much patience for cerebral art. The Brits, on the other hand, have decided that accounting fraud is truly meant for the stage because Enron will start showing at the Royal Court Theatre on September 7th and run through November 7th, according to the Theatre’s website.
Get the details, after the jump
The comedic tragedy stars Samuel West as Jeff Skilling and it has gotten excellent reviews in previews, indicating that they avoided the accounting aspects completely.
No word on the whether the play will make its way to the States but if it did we’d suggest James Gandolfini as Skilling, merely for the crucial scene where Skilling has a vein pop out of his forehead when he blows a gasket on an earnings call with skeptical analysts. We’d pull for Hugh Jackman as the Arthur Andersen partner but we’re guessing that it would end up being Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Discuss your casting choices in the comments and if you’re in London, you can see the play for as cheap as ten quid so go get yourself some culture.
Enron…The Play [Bruce Carton/Compliance Week]