Consultants


Consultants

Business consultants are often the people who recommend these complex partnership and off-balance sheet arrangements to companies. Consulting firms typically advise firms on tactical issues, like how to enter a new market, and strategic issues, like acquiring or spinning off other firms. When it comes to consulting, the king is McKinsey & Co. McKinsey is a consultant for more than half of the Fortune 500 firms. In 2001, McKinsey had 7,700 consultants based out of 84 locations worldwide and generated $3.4 billion in revenue. [12] This represents more than a 40 percent market share of the consulting business.

McKinsey has not been implicated in the Enron mess the way Arthur Andersen was. However, McKinsey was a long- term consultant of Enron, recently earning more than $10 million per year in consulting fees from the troubled firm. In fact, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was a McKinsey partner and consultant before joining Enron. McKinsey promoted many of the business strategies used by Enron. One example is the "asset-light" strategy. McKinsey advised that a company in a normally capital- intensive industry could get an advantage by divesting itself of the physical assets required to do business. Instead of owning and operating oil pipes, the firm contracts the use of another firm's oil pipes. Rather than being a firm based on physical assets, it became based on a myriad of contracts. Enron became very good at negotiating, contracting, and financing. This experience may have also helped Enron move to another strategy promoted by McKinsey ”off-balance sheet financing.

One common area for consultants is advising on tax reduction strategies. Consider the shenanigans that Tyco International Ltd. goes through to reduce its U.S. taxes. Tyco is an electrical manufacturing and services firm, and in 1996, it moved to the tax haven of Bermuda. [13] It has also created more than 150 subsidiaries in other tax-friendly places like Barbados and the Cayman Islands. The purpose of these entities is not, for the most part, to conduct business. The purpose is to shelter income from the United States so that it does not have to pay taxes. Tyco is very successful at this. Tyco's CFO claimed that these strategies cut the 2001 tax bill by $600 million. Most of the taxes Tyco pays are to foreign countries . All of this happens beyond the eyes of an investor. The annual report does not provide information about its mysterious subsidiaries ”with names like Driftwood, Bunga Bevaru, and Silver Avenue Holdings. Congress seems to have finally noticed that it is losing tens of billions of dollars in tax revenue from companies using these strategies. It is exploring some ways to crack down on corporate tax avoidance . It is about time ”the increased revenue to the government can help all Americans. Maybe the executives and consultants can use their immense brainpower to increase business and shareholder value instead of just avoiding taxes.


When the Auditor is also a Consultant

The advice of consultants can be very beneficial to a firm. However, it can also be very detrimental. One potential problem for a firm's shareholders occurs when a consulting firm also conducts the auditing services for the company. Some advice might be too aggressive in terms of accounting methods . Other advice might just be dubious. However, the income to an accounting firm for conducting an audit is far lower than the fees earned by consulting. Therefore, the auditors may get pressure from their own firm to overlook borderline practices. This is a serious conflict of interest for the auditors . Their duty should be one of effective monitoring for the shareholders. Instead, their bonuses are often dependent on how much money the consulting group earns for the firm. Upsetting the consulting group risks earning a lower bonus. In fact, this conflict may have played a significant role in Enron's demise, as Arthur Andersen was a significant Enron consultant.