Case Detail

Case Summary

Arthur Andersen (C): The Collapse of Arthur Andersen

Case Number: 5-205-253(C), Year Published: 2011

HBS Number: KEL560

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Authors: ; Robert J. Crawford; Charlotte Snyder

Key Concepts

Strategy Management; Public Relations; Leadership; Crisis Management; Organizational Culture; Accounting; Ethics; Regulatory Management

Abstract

The cases describe the demise of Arthur Andersen, a firm that had long set the industry standard for professionalism in accounting and auditing. Once an example of strong corporate culture with a commitment to public service and independent integrity, Andersen saw its culture and standards weaken as it grew explosively and changed its mode of governance.

The (A) case describes a crisis precipitated by the admission of Waste Management, a major Andersen client, that it overstated its pretax earnings by $1.43 billion from 1992 to 1996. The resulting Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation ended with Andersen paying a $7 million fine, the largest ever levied against an accounting firm, and agreeing to an injunction that effectively placed the accounting giant on probation. Students analyze the causes of Andersen’s problems and advise Andersen leadership.

The (B) case covers Arthur Andersen’s relationship with Enron, one of the great success stories of the “new economy” boom. When Enron’s aggressive use of off-balance sheet partnerships became impossible to hide in autumn 2001, news reports stated that Andersen auditors had engaged in extensive shredding of draft documents and associated communications with Enron. Students are asked to act as crisis management consultants to Andersen CEO Joe Berardino.

The (C) case details Andersen’s collapse following its indictment and conviction on criminal charges of obstructing justice in the Enron case. Its conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on narrow technical grounds, but by then Andersen had ceased to exist, eighty-nine years after Arthur E. Andersen had taken over a small accounting firm in Chicago. Students can focus on the impact of media on a reputational crisis.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the importance of people, culture, and values in implementing effective reputation management processes
  • Identify the teachable moment in a crisis that leaders can leverage as an opportunity to improve a firm's reputation or core identity, to reinforce values, and to drive change
  • Understand the impact on crisis management of the media landscape and regulatory decision-making
  • Realize the fragility of corporate cultures and the need to actively maintain them, especially during difficult times

Number of Pages: 10

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Management, Strategy

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Accounting Services

Organization Name: Arthur Andersen

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Gender: Male

Year of Case: 2005