Life after Arthur Andersen

Audit team finds a new corporate home, with flexible work arrangements intact

Erica O'Malley and her team had a good thing going.

As a group of 13 Arthur Andersen auditors, they had autonomy in their roles and the permission of their supervisors to work flexible and reduced schedules. They could work freely from a client's location, their Andersen offices or from home. As such, O'Malley, a married mother of five, was able to work about 28 hours per week.

Then on March 14, Andersen was indicted for its role in the Enron scandal. Not only did O'Malley see the end nearing for her team's employment, who would hire the group - and let them continue their flexible work arrangement?

"There had to be somebody out there who needed us," O'Malley recalls.

O'Malley and her team were not alone. Thousands of Andersen employees, including some 800 auditors in Chicago alone, were being laid off, so competition for jobs would be stiff. How could a person or work group find new work - with an employer willing to accept a flexible work arrangement?

For O'Malley, it came down to professionalism - and chutzpah. Her group, which specialized in helping companies review employee benefit programs, including pension, benefits, and health and welfare plans, was recognized as being skilled in its area. And it had an impressive client roster of Fortune 500 companies that would follow the group to any new firm.

"We believe we're the best in what we do," she says. "We weren't desperate."

While other Andersen teams were being shopped by their senior partners, O'Malley, as ranking staffer in the group, was left to look for suitors. The team had only two requirements: Job offers would be extended to the entire team, and flexible work would be part of the arrangement.

After three months of searching, by July they were in final talks with accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP. But since Grant didn't have a formal flexible work program, O'Malley had to convince executives of the benefits of alternative officing. She played up her team's professionalism, its attention to client service and success with flexible work.

By month's end, O'Malley had been named a partner heading up Grant's new employee benefit assurance department in Oak Brook. Nine of her 13 team members took the offer, which included the freedom to work from home, Oak Brook, downtown Chicago or any suitable location as needed. The others chose to pursue other opportunities.

"It's not about face time, it's about client service," says O'Malley, who spends much of her time meeting with clients and reviewing their programs. "The bottom line is you need to have thought it all through and then you need to sell it. Know your business, how to deal with your clients and your organization. And always be positive. We were confident we'd never be out on the street."

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