Arthur Andersen is reeling from months of damaging revelations, from being dropped by prominent clients such as Merck and Sara Lee, and from being indicted on Thursday for having shredded documents related to the Enron collapse.
But Suzanne Boorujy-Rummler, an Andersen executive who assigns auditors to a client's audit team, said the question had a surprising meaning when she heard it recently from Andersen employees who had worked for Merck, "they are looking for the next opportunity from within" Andersen.
Boorujy-Rummler said she had expected to hear of colleagues trying to jump ship -- "you'd think there would be a massive exodus." But instead, employees who had worked for Merck up until it dropped Andersen were calling her to find out what they could do to keep the firm going. "This loyalty culture is unbelievable here," she said.
Part defiance, part hoping against hope, many of the 85,000 employees of Andersen say that they are still on the job, serving the thousands of clients who have not broken with the firm.
"This is busy season, so there's a lot to do," said Lori S. Grey, director of civic and charitable programs for Andersen. Employees, she said, "have actually been serving their clients and doing what they are supposed to do. We have to fight back by staying in business -- by doing our jobs."
Although charitable initiatives are often among the first to be reduced in times of belt tightening, Grey said she had heard of no plans to cut back.
For Liz Altheizer, the director of recruiting for Andersen's consulting practice in Washington, uncertainty puts her on "the front lines.
Attracting new talent to the firm is difficult when prospective hires want to know what will happen in the future. "None of us knows the answer right now," she said.
For those who came up through the Andersen culture, the loss of face in the Enron scandal -- and in the wake of unprecedented criminal charges against a major accounting firm -- has left them "distraught," said Arthur Wyatt, a former Andersen partner who now teaches financial accounting and reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a former president of the American Accounting Association.
Like many other current and former Andersen employees, Wyatt criticized the government decision to file charges against the firm because they believe that whatever wrongdoing may have occurred was carried out by a small band of rogues and not by management.
"I can't visualize a group of people at the top of the Arthur Andersen organization authorizing destruction of records," Wyatt said. Now, he argued, innocent people will suffer. "There's nothing I can see that can save the day," he said, "because the process of resolving the indictment is a lengthy one and they don't have time. They'll be out of business before the thing is resolved."
"If they're innocent," Wyatt said, "that will be the most hollow victory ever seen. There will be nothing left for the victors."