Spring 2003

John J. O'Connor
Vice Chairman
PricewaterhouseCoopers


John O'Connor serves as vice chairman, Services, for PricewaterhouseCoopers. As such, he is responsible for the firm's Assurance and Business Advisory Services (ABAS), Tax, and Financial Advisory Services practices and Marketing, Communications and Industry programs in the United States. He previously served as Americas leader for the ABAS practice. Prior to taking leadership of ABAS, Mr. O'Connor served as the managing partner of the Boston office and the ABAS regional leader for the firm's Northeast region.

Mr. O'Connor joined the Boston office in 1973 and became a business assurance partner in 1982. As a client service partner, he has focused on technology clients, including Raytheon and Tyco International. He led the regional technology practice prior to assuming his managing partner responsibilities.

Mr. O'Connor earned his B.S. in accounting from Suffolk University. He holds memberships in the Massachusetts Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (including the Trustee Science Committee) and Suffolk University. In addition, he is a member of the national Board of Directors of the American Ireland Fund.

Executive in Residence: Vice Chairman of PwC on Rebuilding Public Trust


"This is certainly a challenging time for our profession," opined John J. O'Connor, vice chairman, Services, for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest of the Big Four accounting firms, who was an Executive in Residence on Monday, March 31, 2003. In his remarks, O'Connor addressed the recent corporate failures that have created uncertainty in the investment markets and drastically changed the dynamics of the accounting profession. "Capital markets function based on the reliability of financial information and ... when the reliability of that information comes into question, the capital markets go into disorder."

  [John J. OConnor]
John J. O'Connor talks to Pace students
O'Connor, who holds responsibility for the firm's Assurance and Business Advisory Services (ABAS), Tax, Financial Advisory Services practices and Marketing, Communications and Industry programs in the United States, spent the day at the Lubin School of Business on the New York City campus interacting with students and faculty. His day started with a formal luncheon with a small group of faculty, students, and staff, during which he discussed the very critical issue for the accounting profession—rebuilding public trust.

According to O'Connor, the loss of trust is the number one reason that keeps investors from going back into the market: "As a profession we have to step up and demonstrate that our audits are effective, that they do provide the public with reliable financial information, and that they help create efficient capital markets. What we need to do today is to figure out the way of rebuilding that confidence," he explained to the luncheon audience.

During the afternoon lecture to undergraduate students, O'Connor said that a change in the top leadership is the first step to establishing integrity and trust in the industry. "We need to have better leadership.... The tone at the top is critical. Integrity and personal responsibility are the two primary qualities required of business leaders today," he continued. Speaking about the controversy going on in the analysts' community in terms of questions about their objectivity, O'Connor commented: "Analysts must understand the business model of a company.... We are likely to see analysts separated from the investment banks, [which will] create more objectivity."

"PwC University" Changing Company Culture
According to O'Connor, PwC was the first public accounting company to acknowledge it could do better in preventing the scandals and that it was ready to close the gap between the public's expectations and the accounting information available to it. He explained that closing the expectations gap really means that PwC intends to go beyond professional standards to do a better job in detecting fraud, predicting the sustainability of the business model, establishing and maintaining effective internal controls, and conducting high-quality audits.

When asked by MBA students, who crowded the lecture hall for the evening session, what in-house improvements were being undertaken at PwC, O'Connor described the experiential learning program "PwC University" targeted at changing the culture within the company. Launched a year ago and including partners from all over the country, the program involves discussions of critical issues, exercises, and debriefing of the values in question such as teamwork, courage, leadership, etc. Judo exercises, for instance, help partners stay focused on the problem, conversations with professional actors exercise concepts of courage and ethics needed when dealing with clients, and getting together to change tires on a race car show the importance of teamwork.

"I would argue that being transparent [in reporting], being accountable, taking personal responsibility, having integrity are the most important things in regaining trust," O'Connor said in talking of other solutions suggested by the work being done at PwC.

Speaking about benefits for the future, O'Connor concluded: "We have to make a set of global accounting standards, global audit standards, and some type of global structure about capital markets because they are very different in different countries."

O'Connor holds a B.S. in Accounting from Suffolk University and is a member of the Massachusetts Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of Suffolk University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.