I'm a CFE

Tom Golden, CFE, CPA

Professional speaker, author and retired partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers

“I’ve often said in mentoring staff that no matter how smart you are, no one’s successful without someone else giving them a hand up the ladder of success,” says Tom Golden, CFE, CPA. Golden, a professional speaker, author and retired partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), now focuses on speaking engagements and the debut of his new novel but says he owes a debt to all who have helped him during his professional career.

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I grew up in Philadelphia and then central New Jersey where I attended high school.

On my first public company audit I was exposed to fraud in a manner most aren’t. I was assigned to audit the largest asset on the balance sheet. A week into the audit I suspected anomalies in the books. Without telling anyone, for fear of being wrong, I conducted my own clandestine investigation at night and on weekends. A month later, with the earnings release less than a week away, I called the audit partner at home in the middle of the night to persuade him to come in and review my findings. He did. Hours later I found myself presenting to the company’s board of directors. Later that day, when they announced the company’s earnings release would be delayed indefinitely, the company’s stock fell so fast the NASDAQ suspended trading. Soon, both the SEC Division of Enforcement and the FBI showed up, and I became the lead witness assisting in their investigation. A year later the company filed for bankruptcy and their assets were sold for pennies on the dollar. Wharton published a case study on the fraud, and I’d found a new career.

In the fall of 1980 I sat my wife down in our kitchen and told her of my dream job. I would quit my job as a sales manager at a small cigarette and candy distributor, earn an MBA from Indiana University, take the Becker Review course, pass the CPA exam (I had only nine hours in accounting), and then get a job with one of the Big Eight accounting and auditing firms. Two years later, at the age of 32, I was the oldest audit associate that Coopers & Lybrand ever hired in the Indianapolis office. C&L later merged with Price Waterhouse forming PwC.

While working as a manager at PwC, partners at the Indianapolis office allowed me to start a fraud investigation practice. By 1996, they made me a partner and moved me to Chicago where I could continue building the practice on a larger scale. I found myself running large-scale investigations around the globe, and when I retired, my Chicago practice was PwC’s second-largest fraud practice in the U.S. with three partners and 38 professional staff. We were having the time of our lives chasing bad guys!

Interview skills, and in particular admission-seeking interview skills, are at the top of the list of unique skills a CFE must acquire and excel doing. Arguably, there’s no better evidence of a crime than the voluntary confession of the perpetrator. This is why fraud education is vital. When I ran my practice at PwC, attaining the CFE credential was mandatory among all my staff, as was regular ACFE training. If you’re serious about this profession, there’s no debate on this matter.

Being a CFE is my most cherished professional activity — just behind investigating and catching crooks!

In 1991 a good friend, and CFE, told me about the good work being done in Austin, Texas, by a couple of ex-cops. That would be ACFE Founder and Chairman Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA, and ACFE President James D. Ratley, CFE. I attended an ACFE training course, met the two of them and was hooked — there was no turning back. Two years passed and they convinced me to run for a board position. I became chairman of the Board of Regents several years later. Nearly a decade after retiring from PwC, I still always enjoy being in the company of CFEs, which is why I present to ACFE chapters every chance I get. Being a CFE is my most cherished professional activity — just behind investigating and catching crooks!

The toughest thing for me to accept early in my career was that most corporate crooks weren’t being prosecuted or were receiving lenient sentences. Many people inaccurately said these were just money crimes and insurance would make the victims whole. The combination of the Enron and WorldCom fraud discoveries was the last straw for me. Those executives destroyed jobs, pensions, careers and, in the end, the self-respect of thousands of employees. Anyone who called that a “victimless crime” had no heart.

I knew why auditors weren’t discovering fraud: They weren’t learning about it in college. Universities in Chicago didn’t have courses on fraud examination. Auditors weren’t responsible for finding fraud; the CPA exam didn’t even include fraud examination questions and the public wrongly believed it was the auditor’s responsibility to find fraud.

So, I spoke with my colleagues, and we developed a plan to make changes. I called the dean of the School of Business at DePaul University. He was on board in minutes. In just three weeks we put together the first three-hour lecture for the 2002 fall semester graduate forensic accounting course. We would develop the rest of the classes on the fly.

A couple hours before the class began I received a call from a forward-thinking Chicago Tribune business reporter. He’d heard about our course and asked if he could observe. Two days later I read a front-page article about that event in the Tribune.

One month later I received a call from a John Wiley & Sons editor asking me to write what they would market globally as “the seminal guide to forensic accounting.” After telling him that was a bit ambitious, I agreed to lead such an effort.

PwC agreed to support, financially and otherwise, what turned out to be a three-and-a-half year effort to produce and then disseminate “A Guide to Forensic Accounting Investigation,” now in its second edition. PwC purchased 30,000 copies and passed them out to selected PwC partners and managers around the globe, and gifted thousands to business executives and directors. Finally, we were moving the ball in the right direction.

At the conclusion of many of my speeches some would say to me, “You tell a good story. You should write a novel.” So I did! The experts say, “Write about what you know.” So I did that, too. My professional book, “A Guide to Forensic Accounting Investigation,” was written with a strict purpose in mind — to educate. I wrote “Sunday Night Fears” out of pure fun.

My first novel takes Sam Halloran on a journey. Sam grows up with an abusive and alcoholic father but overcomes the odds by landing at an elite Big Eight accounting firm. What follows is Sam’s clandestine investigation leading to the discovery of a pyramid scheme on his first public company audit. Sam is confronted with tough choices, both professionally and personally, when he finds himself in an affair with a beautiful seductress who he believes may be aiding with the cover-up. “Sunday Night Fears” has many twists and turns. You don’t have to be a CFE to enjoy it, but I know CFEs will appreciate the authenticity of the investigation.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is associate editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.

Golden will be joining a panel about the Rita Crundwell embezzlement case at the 29th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Las Vegas this June. He will join several of the case’s key players to give a 360 degree view of how the investigation unfolded. Be sure to check FraudConference.com in the upcoming months for a full lineup of speakers and sessions.