New Delhi, May 19, 2018

Perhaps Bobby Parekh, employee number eight and the last India CEO of defunct Big Five firm, Andersen, is also the best flag bearer of ‘the Andersen Way’.

Sticking to the SOPs he learnt at the firm has kept Parekh in good stead in all four innings of his career; as managing partner of the largest Indian Big Five firm at a young age of 34 in 1998, then CEO of EY, and later as founder of tax and advisory venture BMR and his eponymous firm Bobby Parekh Associates. “I have followed the same principles in every stint. The firm has to be quality-focused, solution-oriented and driven by thought leadership. We have to offer a differentiated level of service and advice. Period,” said Parekh.

Built on these principles, Arthur Andersen & Co, the parent of both Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting, was known as a firm with a Midas touch; it was India’s best, fastest growing and highest billing professional services firm until it went bust.

And Andersen’s unique culture groomed a crop of youngsters who today occupy leadership positions in India’s leading professional services firms (see list). “Like Citibank and Grindlay’s which were talent factories for banking in India, Andersen has played that role for the Big Four firms,” said Parekh.

So why has Andersen talent—both Arthur Andersen (AA) and Andersen Consulting—that dispersed after the dissolution of the accounting major done well at other firms? With their training, wide exposure, desire to excel and global mind-set, the Andersen folks fitted in rather well at EY or KPMG that were scaling up fast. “For us, a collaborative mindset, strong technical expertise and the ability to be one with our culture and shared values is imperative,” says Rajiv Memani, Chairman and Country Managing Partner, EY India

Replicating global policies, Andersen India hired the best, invested heavily in training, and created a hard-driving result-oriented culture. When multiple interviews for jobs were unheard off, article clerks and new candidates had to go through numerous rounds. “I was fed up of the interviews, I came in at 9 am and meetings went on and on. I ended up meeting everyone in the office,” laughs Mukesh Butani, Founder, BMR Legal and employee number 28 of Andersen India. In 2004, Butani, Bobby Parekh and Rajeev Dimri started BMR Associates along with a number of Andersen young turks.

In the first few years, the firm only hired staff accountants, aka article clerks (interns in accounting lingo today) from Sydenham in Mumbai and SRCC or LSR and St. Stephens in Delhi. It even hired chemistry and physics graduates and then taught them auditing. The firm looked at not just pure academics but people with well-rounded personalities. “I was the president of the students union in my college and the Andersen HR folks had come to me to arrange a small town hall for a pitch. They were late, I told them to go back. They ended up hiring me as an article instead,” said Mritunjay Kapoor, National Head Market and Strategy, KPMG India, who joined Andersen in 1995.

New hires were trained in places like Chicago, Segovia and Eindhoven followed by an intense localized intervention that was run in Oberoi or Taj Mumbai. Andersen pushed its recruits; if an article could do a manager’s project, he would. “The firm put youngsters in front of clients very early on. And when you are put into the deep end at a young age, the exposure forces you to learn a lot. And across verticals, there was a lot of focus on putting everything into business perspective,” said Romal Shetty, President Consulting at Deloitte India.

Ahead of its time, the firm had development programs at each step change. Even the firm’s Partner Development Program (PDP) worked across levels. “My last PDP was in Vancouver with Ameet Parikh (then Assurance head) and Narayan Seshadri (then consulting head). We were 10 senior global partners and it was serious training,” says Butani who was a global partner.

Andersen believed that leaders produced leaders. “Partners kept telling us storiesabouthowspecialweareandhow this firm was unlike others,” says Uday Ved, ex-head of Tax, KPMG. No wonder they swung to Tina Turner’s ‘You’re Simply the Best, Better than all the Rest’. “Andersen made its employees feel special, inculcating a mind set and culture of thinking big and the belief that they are thebest,” addedRohitMahajan, President Risk Advisory, Deloitte India who used to be a manager (2000) in Anderson.

“Two of the most important mottos of the firm which stand us in good stead even today were ‘Exceed Your Clients Expectations Every Day’ and “Walk the Talk”. Both these are true north to a lot of the Andersen folks today when it comes to making a hard decision or doing the right thing. And yes, if what you delivered to your clients doesn’t meet those high exacting standards, start over again,” says Ram Sarvepalli, who leads EY’s largest practice area— Advisory - in India.

In service firms, a lot of learning happens by observation and the Andersen leaders stood by their managers. An ex-Andersen manager recalls an incident when he was presenting a strategy piece to the board of directors of a top Delhibased business. The family patriarch didn’t agree with the Andersen conclusions in the report. “The promoter was trying to bamboozle our suggestions and seeing the promoter wouldn’t budge, Vijay Sahni (then Andersen CEO) gotupandwalked out. We followed suit. He told us well done boys,” he says.

Across the globe, Andersen followed a true ‘one firm’ culture. The office and furniture were standard across the globe (even the door), audit worksheets was brought in from Dubai, audit rings came from Munich, and an Andersen manual documented even little things like how papers should be stapled. “Even today, I format documents better than my secretary. That eye for detail becomes a part of your daily work life,” said a partner in a Big Four firm.

And the Andersen snobbishness was part and parcel of the culture too. “I remember walking in New York office once. A partner stopped by, and said, “If we wear a white shirt, we wear only starched white shirts”. Never again did I wear an unstarched white shirt to office,” said Butani.

Way back in 1993, all Andersen employees were given laptops. Managers flew business class and stayed in five star hotels— no questions asked. In late 90s, managers with 5-6 years of total experience drew salaries of Rs 35 lakh plus per annum and were empowered to take big decisions. “Compensations levels of Andersen in 2002 and some of the firms today are comparable,” says a senior leader in a Big Four firm. At a time when every CA firm in India would pay pittance, Andersen used to pay around Rs 5,000 or more and also paid overtime by the hour to its interns or articles. “It was often joked that Andersen employees were paid twice the competitor’s salary but made to work thrice as hard,” said Shetty of Deloitte. The strict up or out culture made sure that who struggled to cope were replaced.

A lesson that stayed with a lot of Andersen managers was that if you are offering top quality service, you can charge a premium; the firm’s billings were the highest in the industry. Old timers recall that when the Andersen network was collapsing and the Indian team started merger conversations with other big four firms, they were shocked to see the difference in their numbers. “Take any metric, revenue per partner, gross margins, net margins, and net profit per partner. We were way ahead of other firms in all benchmarks,” says CEOof aprofessional services firm, who was involved in negotiations. Global companies keen to enter India gave Andersen million dollar plus  projects plus the Foreign Investment Promotion Board(FIPB) work broughtin bigbucks.

In assurance and business advisory, the firm worked with some of the largest transformation projects -- of stateowned electricity boards or bigger banks hit by the stock market scam.

It’s said that old habits die hard. The Andersen managers, even after 13 years, often say “but in Andersen used to do it this way’. The Andersen Mumbai office was in Express Towers and the partners and associates were told, always pass through Trident to Oberoi or vice versa. You will meet some clients for sure. “Even today my driver knows that if he has dropped me at The Oberoi Hotel, he will pick me up at the Trident side of the hotel.” says Munesh Khanna, ex-head, corporate finance, PWC.

Today, with an updated database on around 800 ex-AA people, thealumni are connected through social media groups. “When we hosted our first Alumni dinner after a gap of 10 years, we got an overwhelming response from everyone. Not only professional employees, but also support staff, secretaries, office boys, everyone came and shared stories about how they still missed AA and its culture and how it created a long lasting impact on their lives,” says Jeenendra Bhandari of MGB Advisors. AAites across firms agree: Once an AAite, you are an AAite for life.

[The Economic Times]