Largely silent until now about their firm's travails, employees of Arthur Andersen LLP are fighting back in an attempt to save the company from collapse — and save their jobs.
Protest rallies Thursday morning in Philadelphia and Washington, coupled with a grass-roots lobbying campaign and full-page newspaper ads, show a feistier public attitude as Andersen fights the criminal indictment that could put the 89-year-old accounting company out of business.
In Philadelphia, about 600 people in bright orange T-shirts reading, "I am Arthur Andersen," converged on a park near the firm's branch office, an office with 900 employees.
"These people have never worked on an Enron account, they never did any shredding, but like 80,000 other people at Andersen, they're part of this indictment, and they don't deserve to be," said Andersen partner Bill McCusker.
Andersen's lawyers pleaded innocent Wednesday to an obstruction of justice charge and called the first indictment to arise out of the Enron Corp. collapse "senseless."
"We would not put our clients at risk with something like that," Gene Frauenheim, managing partner of the beleaguered auditing firm's Houston office, said after the company's court appearance Wednesday.
Employees wearing "I am Andersen" T-shirts and carrying "Save Andersen" placards ringed the Houston courthouse Wednesday where Andersen entered the plea.
"We wanted people to know there are faces that go with Arthur Andersen," said David Howard, an Andersen employee for 28 years, at the Houston rally.
The company also took out full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, headlined "Why we're fighting back." They called the government's action "a tragically wrong indictment of our whole firm" and "a political broadside rather than a focus on the facts."
Andersen officials insist the employees' efforts are not so much directed from above as tapping into frustrations shared throughout the firm, whose name has crumbled almost overnight as a result of its role as auditor for bankrupt Enron Corp.
"This is less the firm's strategy than a grass-roots expression of innocent people's feelings about being unfairly tarred by the actions of a few," said spokesman Patrick Dorton.
Accounting industry experts voiced doubts about whether the campaign can work, particularly with the exodus of blue-chip clients growing daily. BB&T Corp., one of the nation's largest consumer banks, defected Thursday, a day after Houston energy company Dynegy Corp. did so. Both replaced Andersen with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Edward Ketz, associate professor of accounting at Pennsylvania State University, called it "a last desperate effort in the P.R. game" to get Congress to step in and keep Andersen from going out of business.
"I think the story of Enron has resonated basically to the bone for so many Americans that they want justice done," Ketz said. "Rightly or wrongly they are looking at Andersen in part for that justice because Andersen obviously had an audit failure here in approving things that shouldn't have been done."
Katherine Dorn, a campus recruiter who works at Andersen's Chicago headquarters, said she was stunned by the speed of Andersen's unraveling and concerned about possible layoffs.
"There is a general feeling of shock and disbelief among so many of the employees who had nothing to do directly with the Enron audit or destruction of documents," said Dorn, 24, who has joined in the petition-signing and letter-writing campaign.
Marianne Blackstock, an Andersen employee in Houston for the last 6 years, also was fearful for her job.
"It's an uncertain time," she said. "It's like having your execution date set and you keep getting a stay every day."