Now chairman of BDP Media, Simmons was greatly affected on a personal level by the collapse of Andersen, and believes that ‘what happened to Andersen was what was happening widely; but for the grace of God, others could have gone there too’.
After working for 30 years at Andersen UK – 22 as a partner – watching the firm grow from 200 staff to thousands and ‘to see it destroyed wasn’t easy’, laments Simmons.
He was working as a consultant at Andersen when the firm collapsed, having retired and returned as a consultant around the very auspicious time of December 2001. Despite his defence of the firm’s actions, he acknowledges ‘there were errors made in the management of risk’.
‘Auditors do need to draw lines that should never be crossed. But then pressures build up and people can make bad judgements they believe are reasonable at the time,’ he says.
Simmons became chairman of BDP Media, an e-learning content provider, in 2002 following his 30 years at Andersen. The transition from company to partnership, he explains, wasn’t a great jump.
‘In the last five years at Andersen I had more responsibility. I was senior UK partner dealing with building practices. Now I’m an executive chairman. It’s in a smaller arena but the same principles and approaches are there,’ he says.
Simmons was fortunate in many ways as his reputation was already secure before the collapse. As well as being a former senior partner at the firm, he has served as a director of the Cranfield Information Technology Institute, chairman of the Bow Group and, perhaps most illustriously, as deputy secretary general to the International Accounting Standards Committee. An active supporter of the Royal Academy of Arts and Arts & Business, he was awarded the CBE in 1995.
As for lessons learnt, he says the most crucial is to ‘keep focused on the fundamentals and don’t lose sight of that’. But he really believes that the situation was a natural economic cycle that could reoccur.
‘It was one of a series of events that have occurred periodically. It didn’t teach me anything. It’s a bit arrogant but I saw it at the time as the sort of event that happens whenever you get to the top of the economic cycle. This wasn’t the first time these problems have arisen and it won’t be the last. What was particular about this is that it led to being fatal for Andersen,’ says Simmons.
Could things have been handled differently? Well, yes, he says, but ‘it’s difficult to say how, as at the time I’m sure everyone who made decisions took them on the basis of honest judgements’.
He maintains that for Andersen it was a case of ‘wrong time, wrong place’. And adds: ‘I’m sure that a year before Enron collapsed, most of the other big firms would have bitten your right arm off to have taken that client.’