Forty-two years ago I sat down to make an important life decision, my second in two years. The first was to go to graduate school instead of accepting a commission in the Marine Corps. The second was to join Price Waterhouse. Marriage would come later.
I was the first in my family to go to college. I did well, and was aggressively recruited by the then-Big Eight and a few more firms. My final decision was between Price Waterhouse, now PwC, and McGladrey Hendrickson, now RSM. Arthur Andersen, which had developed a business model chasing blue-collar kids like me, came in third.
Like many students, I sought the advice of trusted professors. They told me that PW was the hardest firm in which to make partner, but that only increased the stature of the firm for me. My final decision to choose PW was based on the silliest of reasons. Because PW did the Oscars, my mother knew who they were, while my family knew nothing about the other firms.
There’s been a fair amount written about the brand damage that the firm will suffer, but I will reiterate: PwC has seriously damaged its brand with the Oscars fiasco. They won’t lose many clients over it; I doubt they’ll even lose the Oscars. Brian Cullinan has been humiliated, but will not be fired.
But somewhere tonight or tomorrow or next fall, some talented blue-collar kid is going to choose another firm and that is where the real damage will be done.
Paul Gillis PhD CPA, is a retired PwC partner who is currently a Professor at Peking University