PricewaterhouseCoopers (or PwC) is the world’s largest professional services firm. It was formed in 1998 from a merger between Price Waterhouse (PW) and Coopers & Lybrand, both formed in London. When I joined PwC in 2005, I heard stories about the factions that had been created in the firm by the merger of PW folks and Coopers. I had worked with PW and later PwC in Latin America during the JP Morgan Year 2000 Project. PW was JPM’s auditor and I was the PMO Director for the initiative for the region.
Stories I heard represented PW as the global firm, the professionals with a worldly view and accustomed to working with the largest global companies. Coopers professionals were characterized as more provincial and more “middle market.” When I started auditing in PwC’s Jersey City office, home of their Global Independence and Compliance functions, I also heard more about the Coopers & Lybrand independence violations that the firm had inherited during the merger. The consequences of these violations for the firm have been significant and long lasting.
It wasn’t until tonight, when I had the pleasure of meeting a long time reader of the blog, that I heard the PW wristwatch story. My reader is a former PwC partner, elected to the partnership prior to the merger by PW.
He told me that, prior to the merger, when PW professionals were elected to the partnership they received a beautiful and expensive watch as a gift from their fellow partners, the firm. The face of the watch had a subtle, classy PW logo. Partners were proud to wear it and it was a none-too-subtle reminder that you were, “always on the clock for your clients.”
After the merger took place, no similar custom developed immediately for the new partners of the new merged firm. In fact, there was great resentment and acrimony over the wearing of the PW watch. Coopers partners complained that it was a slap in their face, a divisive sign that clearly identified which partners were PW and which were Coopers in partner meetings, at clients, at events.
Eventually, the merged firm leadership decided to ban the wearing of the PW watch in the office and for all firm functions. My reader says he probably still has the memo. The firm forbid PW partners to wear the watch! My reader, although a newbie partner at the time of the merger, said his feeling was they would have to pull the watch off his dead body to stop him from wearing it. The tenured PW partners were even more vocal. They flatly refused to comply. The Coopers partners were insulted and hurt over PW partners wearing their watches and the PW partners were insulted and hurt over being forbidden to wear a treasured memento of their accomplishment.
The firm later created a new gift for partners with the PwC logo. This new watch, however, was, according to my source, a cheap imitation of the one the PW legacy partners were accustomed to. In my reader’s opinion the post-merger partners were definitely gypped.