Andersen Employees Bolting Firm Before Layoffs Come Down

By CONOR DOUGHERTY
Staff Reporter

Local employees of beleaguered accountant Arthur Andersen are starting to leave the firm.

"We're seeing more candidates come from Andersen, and many of them have not been laid off," said Thomas Schulte, managing partner of RBZ LLP, with 98 accounting professionals the 10th largest firm in Los Angeles. "They say things like 'I didn't get (fired) this time, but I might next time.'"

At the end of 2001, Andersen employed 1,259 professionals in L.A. County, according to a Business Journal survey, roughly 75 percent of them accountants. The Chicago-based firm announced on April 8 that it would slash 7,000 of its 26,000 U.S. employees, but a spokesman declined to discuss L.A. staffing levels.

While sources estimated that as many as 400 positions could be lost in L.A. as a result of the cutbacks, many at Andersen aren't waiting for the ax to fall.

Schulte said he had received around 50 resumes from local Andersen accountants and was considering hiring at least a few of them. "I see it as an opportunity. These are very talented people who are coming our way," he said.

Ron Proul, president of the Century Group, a Los Angeles-based executive recruiting firm that specializes in accounting and finance professionals, says his firm has been contacted by about 100 Andersen employees, many of them still with jobs. "Those people are definitely exploring their options," he said. "They want to know what the job market is like and if they should be concerned if they stay."

Proul said a good portion of his clients will find new jobs, but he expressed concern about the number of applicants entering the market at once. "I don't know how competitive the marketplace will get with all these people out there at the same time," he said.

Bad timing

The timing is not great. In the midst of the "busy season," loosely defined as the first quarter of the year, accounting firms generate the bulk of their revenues. At the conclusion of the busy season, many firms, particularly smaller ones, see a lull in business. "We need people at the end of the summer, not now during busy season, so the timing couldn't be worse," Schulte said.

He said he would prefer not to add staff when the workload is light. "The busy season is done, so it's not a hiring time," Schulte said. "The next hiring time wouldn't be until September or October. A lot of those people will have to wait until then."

Some former Andersen employees have managed to land on their feet.

Zachary Shuman, managing partner of Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt in Los Angeles, said his firm has hired one Andersen employee, described as a young accountant who had not been fired.

"The determination about whether Andersen will survive is still up in the air to a lot of (its) employees," he said. "These are talented people very bright and they're hedging their bets, trying to get into the marketplace before the collapse, if there is one."

Meanwhile, at Century Group, Proul and the company's chief executive, Harry Boxer, are spending most of their day dealing with the Andersen situation.

"We have people going on interviews for positions from staff accountants to VP's of finance" said Boxer. "The sad part here is all the people who were laid off were the people with no tenure. And now all the seniors and managers have twice the work and they'll probably leave because their support has been undermined. It's a vicious cycle."

"We're still waiting to see what's going to happen," said Audrey McKiver, on-site manager at Andersen's downtown office for Ultimate Staffing Service. McKiver was reluctant to speculate on the fate of Andersen's administrative employees but said she didn't think any executive assistants had left the firm. "I think they're trying to keep the executive assistants with their groups," she said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.