As a senior in college I was recruited by the consulting division of Arthur Andersen, a company now facing criminal charges for, basically, lying. Since that time, the consulting business has split off, and even at the time of my interviews in the late 1980s, “Andersen Consulting” was beginning to divest itself of its association with what we called the “bean-counter” side of the business, even though the two groups shared a name and office space in downtown San Francisco.
So anyway, midway though my interview day, I was sent to lunch with two recent recruits — guys who had been with the company for a year or so. The idea was to give the interviewee a chance to ask “real” questions — about the work, the corporate culture, the people — without fear of being judged for asking the questions. In fact, the HR person told me to ask specifically those questions that I would be afraid to ask of the managers and partners during my interviews. “Ask whatever you want; it’s all off the record,” she enthused.
I was still a bit shy, and probably overwhelmed to pry too deeply, so I didn’t ask anything that might incriminate me. And it’s a good thing I didn’t.
Six months later I returned to the same office for my first day of work. The HR rep welcomed us to the company, and congratulated us on being offered jobs. “How did you think your interviews went?” she asked us all. “Did you expect to receive an offer?” And then: “Did you realize that the people who took you to lunch reported to me on everything you said?”
This was an object lesson in what I perceived to be Arthur Andersen’s SOP: say whatever you have to say to get people to do what is most beneficial to the company. Or in other words: lie. So although many years have passed, and most of the players have changed, I am not surprised to see this particular Big-N accounting firm sink so deeply into an abyss of accusations and corruption that its future existence is threatened.
Just for fun, you can search Andersen’s website for fraud or jail time. In an apparent failing of their indexing system, a search for destruction of evidence returns no results, which is darn ironic, don’t you think?