I'll have to admit, I'm intrigued by Joseph Berardino, the chief executive at Big Five firm Andersen. Both personally and professionally.

On a personal note, he, like myself, is an Italian-American reared on Long Island, with a father who was in the insurance business. He also studied accounting in college, with obviously far greater success than did I. From everything I've read about him, he took a hard work ethic straight up management ladder to eventually hold the top post at Andersen. On the surface, at least, he seems like a basically decent fellow but whose corporate world is crumbling around him.

When the Enron disaster boiled over, Berardino, to his credit, didn't hide behind the Fifth Amendment like some of the other prairie dogs at his firm or at Enron.

He sat before angry lawmakers and testified on several occasions - albeit deftly parrying the brunt of Enron's failed audit and secret partnerships on the outdated GAAP model. He also appeared on several financial shows and "Meet the Press." He didn't perform a Baryshnikov-like pirouette as have many involved in this disgrace.

Yet, as the top man at a firm which is scrambling not to just retain clients, but simply to survive, it's probably time for him to step aside.

Some would argue that Berardino has only held the top post at Andersen for roughly one year and reams of documents have shown that the hijinks between Enron and Andersen auditors began long before he occupied the corner office.

But the truth is that in an event of this magnitude, someone very high up has to take the fall. And unfortunately for him, the Enron scenario imploded during his tenure. Subsequently, he should be the one to commit seppuku. That's the unwritten part of the job description when one ascends to the chief executive post at a company.

In truth, his exit would actually lend credibility to a profession scrambling to recapture just that. It would show naysayers, who for years prior to Enron maintained that the profession is incapable of disciplining its own, and someone high up is at least willing to accept the blame for what happened.

It would also go a long ways toward restoring the public's faith, whose perception of those preparing earnings reports and those auditing them, has dropped precipitously over the past several months.

Last week, Andersen appointed former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to head an independent body to oversee activities of the firm.

Volcker and a three-member panel will have sweeping authority to shape future policies at Andersen including hiring and firing personnel.

Joe Berardino should probably save Volcker the trouble of placing that inevitable call to his office and asking him if he's got a minute.

-Bill Carlino
william.carlino@amgpubs.com

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