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Inside Arthur Andersen: Shifting Values, Unintended Consequences.

By Susan E. Squires, Cynthia J. Smith, Lorna McDougall and William R. Yeack. Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 185 pages. $24.95.

Among the first of an expected spate of books about the collapse of Arthur Andersen, this is no quickie recap by a journalist, rushed out to exploit ongoing interest in the subject, but a thoughtful look back by a group of former Andersen organizational experts.

That background is worth mentioning, because apart from a writerly beginning--a narrative about the sentencing of David Duncan, the former Andersen partner in charge of the Enron Corp. account, replete with a few reconstructed quotes--the book is more historical in nature. Much of it recounts the growth of the 89-year-old (at its death) firm from a one-office operation to a multinational colossus, and the ensuing change in its corporate culture as the process of auditing and consulting itself changed.

Much like IBM Corp., renowned for its relentless approach to training and standardization, Andersen had a rulebook governing virtually every situation and every practice. Apprenticeship was a key concept, and senior partners provided constant mentoring. Its St. Charles, Ill., training center was also legendary for churning out well-schooled accountants.

So how did this benign patrimony fall apart? The strains of managing a global operation led to a divisional approach, and the consulting division grew enormously in the 1970s and 1980s; by 1980, it had became one of two practice divisions, and by 1989 it had its own independent business unit, Andersen Consulting. By the 1990s, the consulting arm and the rest of the company "began to move in different directions and to lead separate lives." When Andersen Consulting formally split off in 2000, the rupture was final.

The authors conclude that while greed and the consulting/auditing split were partly to blame, the real culprit was the industry-wide cultural system, in which conflicts of interest and pressures to please clients have escalated into a veritable witches' brew. While Inside Arthur Andersen isn't rich in context, it's a well-researched and effective summary of the firm's evolution and slide into oblivion,
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Title Annotation:book review
Author:Marshall, Jeffrey
Publication:Financial Executive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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