Andersen is much too busy these days weighing the serious matters of financial reporting, auditing responsibility, and the limitations of GAAP.
It's time to breathe deep, put those heavy thoughts out of their heads, and concentrate instead on a bit of pop-psychology offered years back by Robert Fulghum, when he wrote the famous essay, "All I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten." As you'll see, it's perfectly suited for today's harried auditor or CEO.
First, Fulghum advised, "Share everything." - Well, so far that's been problematic for Enron and its auditors. Andersen would love to share its auditing documents to help shed some light on the nation's largest corporate failure, but oops, someone decided to shred them a few months back. And Enron's CEO would love to share his insight into why his company collapsed, but his lawyer doesn't think he should, so he'll plead the fifth.
The next tenet: "Play fair." We'll have some trouble with this one, too. While Enron's top executives were busy cashing in options on the company's suddenly sliding stock, rank and file workers were forced to hold on to their stock certificates until they became virtually worthless. That wouldn't go over well in kindergarten, either.
"Don't Hit People." Well, so far Enron and Andersen's shenanigans haven't devolved into physical violence, but the congressional hearings have just started, so we'll just have to wait and see.
"Put things back where you found them." Enron and Andersen should have taken this to heart when they kept all of those shady business dealings off of the company's balance sheet, leaving investors in the dark about the mounting debt that would soon bring down the house.
"Clean up your own mess." Andersen's making a good show of doing this by offering to take responsibility for some errors in its audit of the energy giant, but it's still wide of the mark. Mostly, Andersen and Enron are blaming each other for the company's propitious slide toward bankruptcy.
"Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday." Andersen already professes to have thought deeply and learned a lot from the Enron debacle, and is busy singing about all of the changes it plans to take to make sure the public confidence in audits and Andersen is restored.
"When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." This seems to be the evolving strategy of the Big Five firms, who stand to lose the most from this growing scandal, in terms of both reputation and revenue. Suddenly every large accounting firm sees a new need for stricter regulation, better audits, and more open communications with investors.
As regulators and congressional leaders start honing in on what's wrong with the way large firms audit public companies and making moves to set things right, Andersen and its Big Five counterparts will no doubt wish they were back in kindergarten, when life was much simpler. -Tracey Miller
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