To students of Big Five accounting firm culture, Andersen (until Enron came along) was widely accepted as the crème de la crème, with the most mythic cult status in the business world. In a word, Andersen was cool. Its partners commanded top fees, its name was synonymous with respect and cutting-edge knowledge. And when you worked there, you did everything "the Andersen way."

Now that the so-called Final Four are carving up the Andersen employee and client pie, it’s interesting to speculate about how Andersen folk will fit in at their competitors’ shops, and how clients will feel about moving their money to a non-Andersen culture.

First, the employees. Many Andersen workers have little choice in the matter these days – either they accept employment with a rival accounting firm, or risk wandering around, resume in hand, until the economy’s engine starts roaring again.

Whether they’ll admit it in public or not, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Ernst & Young are in the enviable position of cherry-picking their biggest competitor of both talent and clients at a bargain basement price. They don’t need to offer Andersen workers much in incentives – all they have to do is give them pay parity and most top-level talent will bring their business with them. What could be easier?

And while the revenues come pouring in full steam ahead, they probably won’t feel much pressure to help either their employees or the ex-Andersen folk in adjusting to a new work environment. You can almost hear managing partners at the Final Four telling their in-house disgruntled partners, "Hey – if you bring in as much business as these ex-Andersen partners, we’ll pay you more, too." And this to the Andersen folk, "Well, that’s the way things are done around here, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door."

As for the private and public company clients left seemingly in the lurch by Andersen’s almost certain dissolution, they’re hardly left out in the cold. They forged years of personal relationships with their Andersen handlers and it’s a sure bet that they’re just waiting to feather the nest of whichever firm gives their contacts the softest landing.

The only casualties in this war of attrition may be the small percentage of ex-Andersen executives who just won’t be able to fit into their new environment. "For some Andersen people, to come in as the new kid on the block and be told ‘that’s not the way we do it here’ that’s going to be a difficult adjustment," said industry consultant Allan Koltin.

So difficult that some may not feel it’s worth the effort and move on. But they’ll be in the minority, and this time next year, the Final Four will probably be humming along just fine, with everyone singing the same tune.

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