When the big audit failures of Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. came to light, the last person the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants needed as their chief executive was Barry C. Melancon. Even after the dismal performance of Arthur Andersen LLP at Enron and the collapse of the accounting firm, Melancon, 44, still argues that accountants should be allowed to solicit lucrative consulting deals from the companies they audit. Melancon insists there is no proof that Andersen's auditors were influenced by the firm's side deals. His stance left AICPA with little say as Congress drafted reforms.
No one should have been surprised. It was Melancon who, just before the scandals broke, led the organization to spend $4.7 million to try to persuade its 340,000 CPA members to offer a new, easier-to-obtain credential that would nonetheless certify that its holders possessed "breadth of knowledge, strategic focus, and professional rigor." Melancon thought this would help draw in more young people to the profession, but the proposal was rejected.
Melancon, who earns $600,000 a year, signed a second five-year contract in 2000. "I am very passionate about this profession and this organization," he says. "I am a change agent." If accountants really want to win back trust, they should change agents.