Why reviving the Arthur Andersen brand isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Back from the dead.
Back from the dead.
Image: Reuters/Mark Baker
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Some brands are so tainted that they’re unsalvageable, deservedly relegated to the dustbin of history. That’s why you probably won’t see an energy-trading start-up call itself Enron or a financial firm adopt the name Lehman any time soon, if ever.

The same might be said for Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that failed in 2002 thanks to its role as the auditor of Enron’s vast book-cooking empire. But a group of Arthur Andersen alumni is reviving the brand: What was once known as WTAS, a San Francisco-based tax consultancy, is now Andersen Tax.

Why would a tax consultancy openly embrace a name associated with the aggressive use of paper shredders? Despite the Enron taint, for many of the people who once worked at Arthur Andersen, the reputation of the accounting firm founded in 1913 is still associated with a “cherished legacy of integrity,” according to Mark Vorsatz, head of the firm that acquired the rights to the Andersen name:

Arthur Andersen was the standard bearer for the accounting industry and served as the benchmark against which all other firms were measured. We recognize that embracing our new name is a bold move. However, we plan to reclaim a cherished legacy of integrity and independence that have served as the foundation of both WTAS and Arthur Andersen.

But the attempt to reclaim some of that cherished legacy will only go so far: Vorsatz promises that Andersen Tax will never offer audit services.

As Vorsatz’s company has grown, it has branched out from individual tax advice to corporate tax consulting. It has also recently opened several offices in Europe. This is why adopting the Andersen brand makes sense—the 85,000 staff that Arthur Andersen employed just before its collapse (the majority outside of the US) are now scattered throughout the corporate world.

Many Andersen alums see the accounting firm’s rough treatment for its role at Enron as an injustice, especially given the never-ending legal troubles of the remaining “Big Four” accounting firms. Former employees from outside the US were particularly miffed that the scandal brought down Andersen’s entire global operation.

Some 30% of CFOs at large listed companies in the US—a key target market for Andersen Tax—spent time at one of the big accounting firms during their formative years. Today, roughly as many of these finance chiefs passed through Andersen as Deloitte or KPMG, according to recruiter Crist/Kolder Associates. CFOs with public accounting backgrounds are even more prevalent in places like the UK, where Andersen is prominent on many résumés.

WTAS commissioned a poll of financial professionals about the Andersen brand, and found a surprisingly high share of respondents gave it high marks for ethics and quality. Although the general public may associate Andersen with scandal, Andersen Tax will try to rekindle the good feelings about the accounting firm’s glory days among those who knew it from the inside. “If an Andersen guy calls you, you go meet them,” said one former staffer some 10 years after the firm’s unseemly demise.