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Divorce Case Provides a Peak into E&Y Finances

Divorce papers filed in Indiana by Ernst & Young CEO and ex-wife give competitors--and everyone else--a glimpse into E&Y value, deals.
Lisa YoonOctober 15, 2002

Ernst & Young, Big Four professional services firm, appointed Norbert Becker to the posts of global managing partner of finance and infrastructure and CFO.

Becker, a 23-year veteran of now-defunct accounting giant Arthur Andersen, joins E&Y at an intriguing time in the firm’s history. This week, some of the most guarded financial details of the closely held partnership were disclosed in divorce proceedings involving its chief executive Richard S. Bobrow. Those details including how the firm valued the consulting practice it sold in 2000 — and how much it pays its chief executive.

As a privately held firm, E&Y isn’t required to disclose its financial performance. In its latest annual report, Bobrow disclosed only that its worldwide revenue in the year ended June 30 was $10.1 billion, up $300 million, or 2.7 percent, compared with a year earlier.

But a 45-page opinion by a Superior Court judge in Hamilton County, Indiana, gives details of E&Y’s internal finances that would almost certainly be of interest to competing accounting firms.

For instance, the judge valued E&Y at $5.53 billion, a sum that does not take into account the huge premium that the firm received in the sale of its consulting practice to French information technology consultancy Cap Gemini. According to case documents, E&Y valued its consulting practice at $4.7 billion soon before it sold it to Cap Gemini for $11.3 billion in May 2000.

The disclosures have a number of precedent-setting implications. For one, the valuation techniques used by the court will be useful to other spouses in divorce proceedings where the couple’s assets include an interest in a private partnership.

According to the New York Times, two of the other accounting firms that make up the Big Four have already started inquiring into the disclosures. Robert D. MacGill of Barnes & Thornburg, the Indianapolis law firm representing Bobrow’s wife, Jan, told the paper, “We think this case is going to turn out to have enormous ramifications for business and in divorce cases.”

Bobrow’s stake in E&Y was 0.22 percent, or one-455th of the partnership, court papers show. The couple’s interest in the consulting arm before it was sold, the judge ruled, was $10.1 million. That would value the interest when the sale was completed, after the couple split, at about $24.9 million. Court documents also indicate that Ernst & Young had total capital of $502.2 million on March 31, 2000, and Bobrow’s share of that was $1.1 million.

The disclosures about E&Y’s finances are expected to whet the appetite of the other Big-Four firms. “Competitors are going to be very interested in this for all sorts of reasons,” said Shannon P. Pratt of Portland, Ore., who publishes the newsletter Shannon Pratt’s Business Valuation Update. For instance, he told the Times, that competitors will ferret out clues from the court documents to determine E&Y’s financial position. In turn, this information will be used to lure partners away or win acquisition bids.

Bobrow earned $2.75 million in salary in 2000, and $3.125 million last year, Judge Steve R. Nation of Hamilton County Superior Court in suburban Indianapolis wrote in his Sept. 21 opinion. In addition, the judge noted that Bobrow said he used a corporate jet owned by the firm, and an apartment in the same building as former General Electric chairman Jack Welch, another high-profile boss whose divorce proceedings were ignominiously revealed.

The judge noted that Richard Bobrow did not challenge Jan Bobrow’s appraisal request of E&Y’s value, however, the CEO and E&Y management fought disclosure of the value of the Cap Gemini deal, the value of Bobrow’s pension, and other financial details.

As for Becker, he brings copious international and senior-management experience to E&Y. He globe-trotted for Andersen—working in Brussels, Luxembourg, New York, Chicago, and London offices—and held various high-level positions, including area managing partner for the CIS, Central and Eastern Europe, Balkans and the Middle East, and country managing partner for Luxembourg before assuming his global infrastructure role. Becker also served as an advisor to the firm’s CEO from 1991 to 1992, and was a member of the European Operating Committee from 1998 to 2001.