PricewaterhouseCoopers plans to lay off part of the consulting staff in its advisory services business.

PwC sold its main consulting business to IBM in 2002 when many other audit firms spun off their consulting units in the wake of the Enron scandal. At that time PwC lost many of the professional consultants who had spent years with the firm.

The consultants in advisory services have mainly been drawn from the audit staff as well as some recently hired consultants. According to the blog re:The Auditors, written by Francine McKenna, a former director at advisory services, that move produced a culture clash between the old-line audit partners and the newly hired consultants. The unit failed to meet its growth target last year and much of the staff was underutilized.

According to messages on the Vault message boards, the layoffs are planned across different markets, offices and industries.

PwC, however, contends that the layoffs are not extensive. "While the overall advisory practice continues to grow, we continue to hire employees," said a spokesman who asked not to be identified. "An assessment of our practice resulted in a decision to separate 120 people out of more than 3,500." The layoffs affect managers and director-level staff. Seniors and associates are not affected. The cuts represent less than 3 percent of the staff, according to the spokesman.

"They've been struggling for a while," said McKenna, who now runs McKenna Partners. "They had not gotten the big projects. It is very hard to make it successful when the big projects are in the hundreds of thousands and not in the millions of dollars."

She said that PwC ran the unit more like an audit firm than a consulting firm in the way proposals were written. Although PwC has laid off some high-level directors and managers, it has been looking to make the cuts quickly to save money as soon as possible. "My understanding was this was going to be a quick thing," said McKenna. "There was just this massive set of meetings in the last few days so the majority of people's last day would be Friday. It's all about money and getting out as quickly as possible."

She noted that the cuts were not performance-based, and that even employees who had been at the firm for a short time and had not had an opportunity to prove themselves were being cut. The main cuts are happening with employees who are not being utilized on current projects.

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